I went to launch this evening of Keith Ewing's important new book Bonfire of the Liberties and the Institute of Employment Rights new booklet Ruined Lives on blacklisting in the UK construction industry, also written by Ewing. I was expecting the usual drinks party. But no, it was a serious meeting of trade unionists at the NUJ headquarters. We heard from Henry Porter, who I find it hard to disagree with. He talked about the expansion of what he called "State patrolled space" and how each one of us is being made to feel that both we and everyone else are persons who may "harbour bad intentions". (Or, as John Berger wrote in Meanwhile, we find ourselves living as prisoners.)
Then the photo journalist Marc Vallée spoke about how he discovered the police were storing a private photo-database of everyone then can get pictures of at demonstrations, while intimidating us from taking pictures in public.
Then Pennie Quinton spoke about how the police used section 44 of the anti-terrorism act to stop her photographing a demonstration outside a London arms fair, even though she was an accredited photographer, and how the House of Lords supported the police and how Liberty helped her and her colleague go to the European Court to get a ruling that the police action was illegal.
Then we heard from Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group about how he was blacklisted in the construction industry as a 'troublemaker'. He waved his 30-plus page file. Afterwords he told me that the Home Office has helped to fund a National Dismissal Register which will become another database for employers. I couldn't believe it. We know that the government's aim is to gradually link up its databases, now our health and tax records could be mashed with an informal, private but state sponsored database that reports whether someone has been sacked (implicitly because they are "trouble") that is accessible to companies. I checked on the web when I got back, here is part of a description of it from PersonnelToday:
It appears that an employee can be included on the register if they have caused loss to the relevant organisation or a third party, although it is not clear whether this act needs to be dishonest, or whether a mere mistake is enough.
Since individuals can be included on the register without any trial or criminal conviction, there is a risk that it could be abused by employers, and individuals could be 'blacklisted'. Although an employee has the protection of unfair dismissal claims and could ask for their inclusion on the register to be changed or removed, this takes time, and the damage could already have been done.
This register has the potential to seriously damage an employee's work opportunities
Then we heard from a gentleman who had been subjected to a Control Order and he described his semi-confinement for years without knowing the charges or reasons, until a judge dismissed the case.
What was powerful was hearing at first hand, the testimony and experience of regular people caught up in a machinery driven by our government. The fight for modern liberty is no 'abstract' cause.
Finally, the author himself spoke. There are ten reasons to be worried about what is happening, and they need to be taken together.
1. Increase in stop and search
2. Increase in the powers of search and arrest
3. Increase in surveillance and intrusion by officials
4. Increase in CCTV
5. Massive increase in phone tapping
6. The retention of the illegal DNA database
7. The push for ID cards
8. Militarisation of the police
9. Development of Control Orders
10.Complicity in torture