Northampton bricklayer who became 'most blacklisted construction worker in Britain' dies

Brian Higgins became known for his campaigning work against the blacklisting of construction workers.
Brian Higgins became known for his campaigning work against the blacklisting of construction workers.

Tributes have been paid to a Northampton man who railed agains the blacklisting of workers after his years on the picket line saw him denied work.

Brian Higgins, originally from Glasgow, passed away at the weekend having served as the secretary of the Northampton UCATT branch.

During his life, the bricklayer became a prominent figure in the fight against the blacklisting of construction workers who were denied work because of their union ties.

In the 1970s more than 40 construction firms hired consultants to draw up a list of union 'troublemakers' - many of whom spent long periods unemployed as a result.

It was later revealed some of the information fed to the consultants came from union officials themselves.

Such was the extent of surveillance placed on Mr Higgins by the Consulting Association (CA), a file on him stretched to 49 pages. It led him to be known as the 'most blacklisted construction worker in Britain' and he was also put on a watchlist by the police Demonstration Squad.

Mr Higgins was instrumental in setting up a private meeting in Brussels with the European Commissioner Laszlo Andor, which resulted in new anti-blacklisting legislation being presented to the European parliament.

He was also one of the many blacklisted construction workers to write an open letter to the UNITE union calling for an investigation into its officers colluding in the formation of blacklists.

Last year, Unite's general secretary Len McCluskey “vowed to set up an independent union inquiry to investigate all evidence made available” to him about any officer collusion. “I will not allow any officer who has colluded in blacklisting to work for Unite,” he said.

Paying tribute to Mr Higgins, Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group, said: "Anyone who has heard Brian speak will remember his booming Glaswegian voice, disdain for union bureaucracy and his liberal use of industrial language.

"I've stood on pickets lines and attended union conference with Brian. I didn't always agree with everything Brian said and internal union polemics were part of his persona, but it is undeniable that Brian was one of the leading rank and file industrial militants of his generation."

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, Lothian MP Neil Findlay further described the former union shop steward as a 'working class hero'

In the mid-1980s, Mr Higgins was one of six building workers and active trade unionists who were “locked out” from working on a south London building site operated by the construction firm John Laing.

He became part of the Laing's Lock Out Committee, which continued to picket though it was presented with a High Court injunction to stop.

Writing for Blacklisted shortly before his death, Mr Higgins described how the collusion between union officials and the heads of the construction industry had affected him.

He said: "The thing about it which angers, in fact, enrages me most, is that some full-time officials undoubtedly aided and abetted blacklisting of rank and file union members and some are probably still doing this as the blacklist continues."