“Lucy Parker has been working hand in hand with blacklisted workers for a number of years. We have taken her into our hearts as one of us. It takes an artist to convey the emotional as well as the factual side of the story.”
Dave Smith, secretary of Blacklist Support Group
The construction industry blacklist contained 3213 files on individual workers. It was operated by The Consulting Association, a secretive anti-union operation established in 1992 by Sir Robert McAlpine Plc with directors of several other major construction firms. Subscriber companies paid to access files on job applicants identified as “troublemakers”, which included details of disputes over health and safety and unpaid wages, as well as involvement in political campaigns unrelated to the workplace. Once included on the list all trade union and political activities were recorded, and often long periods of unemployment ensued. It cost £2.20 to check if someone was on the list, McAlpines spent £28,000 in 1992.
This blacklist was long suspected by workers who experienced paranoia, poverty and often relationship breakdown. They were called conspiracy theorists, until 2009 when the list was seized in a raid by the Information Commissioners Office, due to suspected data protection breaches. With this discovery, the Blacklist Support Group was formed and the union members’ self-education in the law and battle to obtain justice began.
The film features these workers alongside student lawyers who are examining the case, pitting their impulse for justice against an understanding of the mechanisms of the law. The film brings together these students with construction workers and trade union activists from other industries to demonstrate how the concerns of one group become the concerns of another. Educational spaces are a focus of the film, through formal classroom settings to informal conversations and activist meetings the film captures a variety of moments where listening and understanding take place. Gradually we see the build up of a community who work together to support each other’s needs for change. During the scenes of group discussion the camera intimately follows the speakers, making the audience feel like they are seated at the table, almost part of the conversation and ready to speak.
The film brings in the Undercover Policing Inquiry as it has been revealed that the information gathered on them was obtained in part by an organised division of the Metropolitan Police set up to infiltrate groups to spy on domestic 'extremists'. The film asks us to remember the intrinsic connections between the private corporations which we rely on for our work and wages and the state that we rely on to protect our rights. It does not take for granted that justice will prevail but gives an indication of what action is necessary and what can be achieved through collective action. It goes beyond individual portraits, focusing instead on spaces and conversations that lead to change.
Is it a surprise to discover that the police have been spying on left wing groups and trade unionists? What are our leading industrialists doing today to protect their interests, and how do we prevent a new generation of trade unionists from having the same fate? Does the law protect human rights? Will these student lawyers be able to hold blacklisting companies to account or are they likely to gain employment working to protect corporate interests, where most jobs for lawyers will be. What can activists do?
Blacklist builds on research carried out over the past 4 years and will be exhibited and screened to introduce new audiences blacklisting and to encourage debates around employment rights, activism and the law. It is being made independently by City Projects and filmmaker Lucy Parker. It will be shown widely at cinema screenings, community events, art galleries, film festivals, Video On Demand and will be made freely available to campaigning groups.
Lucy Parker is a filmmaker and lecturer in filmmaking at Kingston University. Her films have been shown at Images Festival (Toronto), Anthology Film Archive (New York) and with the Independent Cinema Office, who distribute films to cinema’s across the UK. Research films for this project have been screened at Voltaire Gallery, London; Rhubaba Gallery, Edinburgh; Scottish Parliament (with Neil Findlay MSP), Birkbeck University and forthcoming at Eastside Projects, Birmingham. The project has built a strong support network from political, art, education and film organisations.
City Projects has produced works with leading British artists since 2004 including Anja Kirschner & David Panos, whose film The Empty Plan (2010) on Bertolt Brecht lead to a Jarman Award and a Channel 4 Random Acts commission. City Projects lead producer Kate Parker also produced Piercing Brightness by Shezad Dawood (2013) a feature film distributed by Soda Pictures to UK cinema's and produced on DVD. She has produced several films for Rosalind Nashashibi including Electrical Gaza (2015) which formed part of Rosalind's Turner Prize exhibition in 2017.
The project is Funded by Arts Council England, Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust, Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Kingston University, Lipman Milliband Trust and donations from unions and individuals. It is an independent production commissioned by City Projects and officially supported by the Blacklist Support Group. It will be shown widely at cinema screenings, community events, art galleries, film festivals and available on Video On Demand. It will also be made freely available to campaigning groups.