Saturday, 26 January 2013

"A Nod and a Wink...."

Back in the 70s, when I was the NUPE representative on my local Trades Council, I knew a number of activists in the building workers' union, UCATT. At that time, they told me of how any building workers who engaged in any activity to improve pay and conditions were placed on a blacklist, compiled by an individual that they could not identify. Recent disclosures have borne this out. It turns out that there was an actual organisation behind this blacklist, not some anonymous individual. This was indicative of the turbulent times for trade unionism in the UK building trade at that time.
Those of us with long memories (and greying hair) will remember the notorious "Shrewsbury Two" trial in 1973, in which Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson were found guilty of "conspiracy to intimidate" during an official building strike. One of the most disturbing aspects of the case was the fact that the trial judge said that conspiracy could be no more than a "nod and a wink between friends". The facts of the case are disputed - SEE HERE. Besides which, the details of the actual incident for which the Shrewsbury Two were actually arrested are often skipped over. "Mr I" from Shropshire, who has contacted me privately, says:

"I was actually working on a building site not too far from the one at the Oak pub in Shrewsbury where the incidents took place on the actual day. I did NOT witness it personally. However the looks on the faces of the guys who came racing up from the site and told us to get the fuck out of there as a bunch of mad, drunk Scousers had just taken pick axe handles to guys on their site left me in no doubt as to the truth of the matter. The driver of the digger never fully recovered. A pick axe handle to the legs and head tends to do that."

 However, Ricky Tomlinson is surely right when he points out that:
In 1972, building workers held their first ever national strike for decent pay and health & safety at work. Five months after the strike ended, 24 trade union members were charged with offences allegedly arising from picketing in Shrewsbury in September 1972. They included individuals who were convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to imprisonment. Government files relating to the strike have been withheld from the National Archives even though more than 30 years have passed.
Industrial action by workers should not be treated in this way. If it is possible for us to read of government decisions in wartime, 30 years after the event, then we should be able to find out just what the government and others were up to behind the scenes during that long-ago strike back in 1973. Not only are we denied an accurate knowledge of these important events in our labour history, but it will inevitably lead to rumours and wild speculation.
If, like me, you think these materials should be made public, then please sign Ricky Tomlinson's petition. If the government is allowed to suppress the truth about this case - what next?

1 comment:

  1. The official excuse of security is, frankly, pathetic. In what way can the official papers on a strike of 40 years ago have any impact upon our national security?

    My view is that the prosecutions were engineered by the Tory government of the day. However, governments always say that, apart from expressing disapproval of strikes, they never actually get involved. Even now they would be embarrassed if the public knew that a British government had intervened directly and decisively to crush a perfectly legal industrial dispute when they've always claimed to have a hands-off approach. It can’t be seen that a British government behaved in a way that is usually the preserve of despots and dictators.

    I can't think of any other explanation that fits the facts.