Revelations that Norman Tebbit was regularly briefed by a special branch on the activities of trade unionists while he was employment secretary underscore the need for both a public inquiry into blacklisting and for the Mittings Inquiry into undercover policing to investigate the matter.
Lord Tebbit made his comments on Tuesday 16 March at a parliamentary meeting about the Mittings Inquiry, which was organised by Richard Burgon MP.
Replying to a contribution by Dave Smith, of the blacklist support group, Mr Tebbit said that the level of briefing he received from the police was so detailed that he knew where trade unionists went on holiday.
Lord Tebbit also revealed that he held meetings with the general secretary of the electricians union EEPTU to discuss how to deal with “activists”. When Tebbit was secretary of state for employment from 1981-83, the leader of EEPTU was Frank Chapple.
Following the discovery of the Consulting Association blacklist of construction workers in 2009, it was revealed that information on some workers could have only have been supplied by the police or the security forces.
The subsequent revelations about the undercover police organisation, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), and the way in which it infiltrated and spied on many left-wing organisations including trade unions, provided further evidence that information they obtained was used to blacklist trade unionists.
Lord Tebbit’s revelations raise further questions about whether he was the only secretary of state to receive such briefings from special branch on trade unionists and how that information was obtained.
It is also vital to discover whether his Conservative successors in the role - Tom King, Lord Young, Norman Fowler, Michael Howard, Gillian Shepherd, David Hunt and Michael Portillo - and members of the Blair government in similar positions received such briefings. It also needs to be clarified if such briefings still occur today and how the information is obtained.
Unite has commissioned a barrister to fully investigate allegations of collusion of union officials into the blacklisting of construction workers. The union has secured £21.24 million in compensation for 465 workers who were blacklisted by the Consulting Association.
Workers spied on
Unite assistant general secretary, Howard Beckett, said: “Norman Tebbit's shocking revelations have confirmed what trade unionists have always suspected: Not only were they spied on by undercover police information but that information was passed onto the highest levels.
“In the first instances, the Mittings Inquiry into undercover policing has a clear duty to investigate exactly what information was passed to the government, about whom and for how long.
“Former ministers including Norman Tebbit need to account for their actions and explain why they approved of spying on entirely lawful organisations.
“The revelations on the collusion between a leader of EEPTU and Tebbit are equally disturbing. Unite has already instigated a barrister led investigation into concerns about potential collusion between officials and blacklisters, and any official found to have acted in this manner will be subject to the union’s disciplinary process.”
Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “Norman Tebbit has revealed the first definite link between undercover police officers, the government, employers and the blacklisting of construction workers.
“It is absolutely essential that a full public inquiry is held to finally reveal the full truth behind blacklisting to reveal who was involved in ruining the lives of thousands of construction workers.”