Michael Abbott

Trade unionist who fought fearlessly for building workers despite four decades of intimidation and blacklisting

The best tribute to Mick Abbott is perhaps the bulging dossier compiled on him for more than 40 years by the clandestine blacklisting organisation, the Consulting Association, which was financed by the big construction companies. Sinister CA files, used to deny Abbott and more than 3,000 others work and a livelihood time and time again, were assembled while the Liverpudlian fought against building employers’ reckless safety breaches.

Abbott, who has died aged 74 after a protracted illness, was made to seem a troublemaker by his CA file, which included scores of reports from surveillance, conversations, newspaper cuttings, plus photographs sent in by contractors as well as Special Branch and CID. In fact Abbott was not the stubborn type at all. One of 12 siblings born in Kirkdale, Liverpool, he was a father of four, a warm, dignified man who inspired trust. Full of Scouse humour, he’d always try to reason with employers when a clear wrong was being committed. It was their fault if they didn’t listen.

In 1979 Abbott was on the strike committee at the Sullom Voe terminal when oil and gas workers took part in a major stoppage. Abbott’s blacklist file soon added the entry; “This man is at Sullom Voe, Shetlands, he is one of the leaders of the North Sea off-shore strike. There are 7,000 men out on strike.” A scaffolder, he was a shop steward for what was then called the Transport and General Workers Union on many construction sites throughout the 1970s, leading a number of disputes over safety and pay including – with his brother Terry, also a TGWU stalwart – a stoppage by 2,000 at Stanlow oil refinery in Ellesmere Port.

An earlier major dispute came during the construction of Fiddlers Ferry power station near Warrington. A 1964 CA entry states: “Mr Abbott said: ‘I started on the Monday morning and the guy who was in charge said to us he wouldn’t take his lads up on the wet steel. At about 10.30am that morning an old man about 62, a steel erector, came hurtling down and was impaled on the steel barriers. We are always having to fight for safer conditions in the construction industry.’”

The 1972 building strike, the first national stoppage in the industry, calling for a pound an hour and better safety and working conditions, led to Abbott becoming close friends with Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson. Together with 24 other strikers, Warren and Tomlinson were put on trial the following year for alleged offences as flying pickets. Six were jailed after charges were brought under the hardly-used 1875 Conspiracy Act.

The convictions and sentences have become increasingly controversial following revelations about political interference by Tory government ministers in the prosecutions. Despite widespread anger over the jailings – which included three years for Warren and two for Tomlinson at Shrewsbury crown court – leaders of the Labour Party and TUC decided to limit protests to parliamentary level. Abbott, however, joined in, helping to raise money for the families of the activists, and in 1975 he was a main organiser of a march by building workers from Wigan to London to demand justice.

Demands for exposure of the shadowy political manoeuvres behind the trials continued with Abbott being elected national secretary of the Justice for the Shrewsbury Pickets campaign and organising demonstrations by people wearing “Justice My Arse” T-shirts. He was instrumental in raising funds to clear the activists’ names through an appeal to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, an action which is still in train. But he had to persistently argue against those who want to limit the campaign to the pursuit of redress at the CCRC.

Revelations in the last few years about the employers’ blacklist proved Abbott right. A total of 3,200 names were discovered on the CA’s database after an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office which raided a building in Droitwich in 2009.

Among documents found were invoices showing that 44 construction firms, including some of the UK’s biggest, were regularly using the database. Jack Straw, then Justice Secretary, told the Merseyside MP Peter Kilfoyle in 2003 that government records on the Shrewsbury case could not be released for “national security” reasons. David Clancy, ICO investigations manager, gave evidence to an employment tribunal that some of the information in files used to blacklist workers “could only be supplied by the police or security services.”

Abbott said last year; “My file goes back to 1964, and the last entry says that I rekindled the campaign for justice for the Shrewsbury picketers in 2006. They have been watching me all these years and passing this information around, blighting my life over four decades.”

Banned from sites, he became self-employed, installing kitchens. But he continued campaigning, including support in North-west England for the Construction Safety Campaign, which fights nationally against site dangers and abuse of regulations on asbestos and hazardous chemicals. Last autumn he and his brother Terry, secretary of the local trades council, were part of the all-night picketing in solidarity with 200 Hovis workers in Wigan who staged two walk-outs to successfully resist the imposition of zero-hour contracts.

Dave Smith, national secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, said, “Mick Abbott was an active member of our Group, running stalls at our AGMs, attending early morning protests and court cases. In 2012, Mick had private discussions with MPs on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee about the impact that blacklisting had on his working life and family. Despite serious illness, Mick continued to campaign against the blacklisting of trade union members and for the Shrewsbury pickets until his death. It is an honour to have known the man.”

 

Michael Abbott, trade unionist: born Liverpool 24 March 1939; married Mary (four sons); died Wigan 27 February 2014.

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits