Report from Blacklisting, Bullying & Blowing the Whistle conference
“The biggest difficulty we faced with the blacklisting and the undercover police campaigns, is that people think we live in a liberal democracy and things like that don’t happen here”: these are the words of John McDonnell, shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his keynote speech at the opening plenary of the Blacklisting, Bullying & Blowing the Whistle conference at the University of Greenwich co-hosted by Blacklist Support Group (BSG) and the Work & Employment Research Unit (WERU) last weekend.
The aim of the conference supported by New Internationalist and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, was to expose the hidden underbelly of the modern workplace, where intrusive surveillance of workers is common and victimization of those prepared to stand up for their rights is widespread (but virtually ignored by the mainstream media). We certainly achieved that, with reports about the conference appearing in the press before, during and after the event.
The 4 core themes of the conference were: Blacklisting – Bullying – Whistleblowing – Police Surveillance. But the event was not just a conference, it was a book launch, a film premier and an art exhibition.
Speakers included: John McDonnell but also legal experts including; John Hendy QC, David Renton and Declan Owens, trade union leaders such as NUJ General Secretary, Michelle Stanistreet and ASGs; Gail,Cartmail (UNITE), Roger McKenzie (UNISON), Amanda Brown (NUT). Some of the UK’s leading academics in the field of work and whistleblowing were also in attendance such as Prof. Sian Moore, Prof. Keith Ewing, Prof. Phil Taylor, Prof. David Lewis, Dr Jack Fawbert and Dr Wim Vandekerckhove.
But it was the inclusion of activists on the panels that gave the conference its unique insight to the realities of the modern workplace and the weekend’s unique feel. From Roy Bentham and Dave Smith from the Blacklist Support Group, to Eileen Chubb and Dr Minh Alexander among many victimised whistleblowers speaking, plus Lee Jasper and Suresh Grover representing Black and Asian communities suffering under the austerity cuts and because of state surveillance.
Friday evening saw the film premier of the new ‘Blacklisted’ documentary by director Tom Wood (via Reel News) and the book launch of ‘Blacklisted: the secret war between big business and union activists’ by Dave Smith & Phil Chamberlain published by New Internationalist.
Art Against Blacklisting organised an installation of original works plus a photographic and art exhibition by supportive artists and photographers including works by Mike Huges, Shaun Dey, Guy Smallman, Jess Hurd, Zita Holbourne, Molly Cooper, Andrew Wiard, Mike Hughes, Lucy Parker and Joanne Fowler.
The biggest news story of the weekend and the most memorable session in the conference related to undercover police surveillance of activists. The police spy known as ‘Carlo Neri’ was accused of inciting anti-racist campaigners to firebomb a charity that he claimed was run by an Italian fascist. This allegation appeared in the ‘Blacklisted’ book launched at the conference and made the national press. ‘Andrea’, the female activist who was deceived into a long term relationship with the undercover officer spoke in public for the very first time at the spycops plenary session at the conference, which was chaired by the BSG and Police Spies Out of Lives spokesperson, Helen Steel. Andrea’s emotional testimony was the most memorable part of the weekend.
McDonnell told the delegates to the conference “You tell us what you want a Corbyn Labour government to introduce, and I will make sure it gets discussed at the highest level”. We intend to do just that.
Below are just a few of the press and photo-journalism reports generated by from the conference:
BSG would like to say a ‘massive thank you’ to everyone who helped make the event possible. From the speakers, the University of Greenwich events staff, the artists and musicians.