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Inquiry spotlight on state spying on trade unions

by Bethany Rielly

TRADE unions are demanding answers on whether their legal and democratic activities were subjected to deep surveillance by a top-secret spycop unit over four decades. 

A number of unions have been given core participant status in the undercover policing inquiry.

There has been an angry response to revelations that spycops with two top-secret units with the Metropolitan Police spied on trade unions and collected information that was passed on to blacklist firms. 

The tactics of the units, the Special Demonstration Squad SDS, and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit are being examined by the inquiry. 

In an opening statement today, the representative of the Fire Brigades Union and Unite, Lord Hendy, said his clients wanted to emphasise that trade unions were “lawful organisations which play a vital role in any democratic society.

“The need for trade unions has been highlighted by the consequences of Covid-19 with tens of thousands of workers turning to them for advice and representation.

“Against this background, the burden of justifying undercover police intrusion is correspondingly heightened.”

Mr Hendy said that from the “very limited disclosure” of documents to the inquiry it’s known that police held files on at least seven trade unions. 

The inquiry has stated that no trade unions were specifically infiltrated by the SDS by officers between 1968 and 1973.

However, annual reports disclosed to the inquiry have shown that the officers infiltrated the “Shrewsbury Two defence committee,”  a campaign focused on releasing imprisoned trade unionists. 

Mr Hendy said that Unite also wanted the inquiry to investigate admissions by spycops lawyer Oliver Sanders QC earlier in the week that MI5 targeted a number of unions. 

Gareth Peirce, speaking on behalf of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), said the union suspected that undercover police officers played a role in the nationwide police operation against the miners’ strikes. 

The NUM wants the inquiry to consider how the actions of the police and covert investigations may have extended to the volunteers who supported miners at the time. 

She said: “The NUM believes that every indication of what it can put forward to this inquiry showed that what happened to the union was beyond the bounds of any justification. That plan was itself wholly, totally, outrageously unlawful.”

The inquiry will also re-examine if undercover policing played a role in the blacklisting of construction workers. 

Undercover cop Mark Jenner, known by his alias of Cassidy, posed as a joiner to infiltrate construction union Ucatt for five years. 

The spycop provided information on 300 people between1995 and 2000, with 16 ending up on a blacklist.

The illegal practice, which was exposed over 10 years ago, involved major construction companies accessing a list of 3,000 workers and their union activities. 

The list was compiled by the Consulting Association, which was closed down in 2009 after its role in wide-scale blacklisting was revealed. 

Collusion between Special Branch and blacklist firms was confirmed by the Creedon report.

Dave Smith, a blacklisted construction worker and secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, said the main intention of the undercover operations was to “disrupt the effectiveness of trade unions.

“These people have got an ideological hostility to trade unions at the highest level,” he told the Morning Star. 

The trade unionist was due to give an opening statement to the inquiry yesterday but it was cancelled due to a last-minute legal challenge. Campaigners have accused the inquiry of “censorship,” over the move.

“Lots of the British public don’t think that this happens, that the state is neutral,” he continued. “Our reason for being in the public inquiry is to expose as much of this as possible so that that sort of fairytale we’re taught in school, about liberal democracy and the state is on the side of the people and treats everyone fairly, is just exposed because they don’t - they are on the side of vested interests.”

RMT assistant general secretary Steve Hedley, another core participant in the inquiry, was spied on by two undercover police officers. 

He told the Morning Star that the two officers, Mark Jenner and Carlo Neri, intruded deeply into his and his family’s life. 

“What is the justification for spending millions of pounds for this SDS to go in and spy on people who are not committing crimes? We were doing legal trade-union activities and we were spied on for that basis.”


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