Monday, July 24, 2006

Remembering Des, and demanding justice

DES WARREN on march (centre), flanked on his right by fellow-accused Ricky Tomlinson, now better-known as TV star.
Hairstyles have changed (mercifully!), but other things haven't, unfortunately. Radio Four last night featured a programme on "The Return of the Lump", about exploitation of Polish workers paid "cash in hand" in the building industry.

IT will soon be thirty years since building worker Des Warren was released from prison after serving three years on "conspiracy" charges for his part in the 1972 building workers' strike. Des was one of the pickets jailed at Shrewsbury, for having gone to that town to bring out unorganised sites.

Not only did he serve the longest sentence, but his health never recovered from the effect of tranquiliser drugs administered in jail. Des died in April 2004.

There were undoubtedly people in British politics and the judiciary who hoped the conviction of 24 workers for picketing and the particularly harsh treatment of their "ringleader" would teach trades unionists a lesson. Building employers who flout laws on safety and tax among others were doubtless simply glad "the law" had been enforced.
But the lesson we have learned may not be the one they wanted taught.

There are people in the Labour Party and trade unions who would be happier if the case of the Shrewbury pickets was forgotten, lest it remind us of their inglorious role, and spur our fighting resolve for the future.

But others have stubborn memories, reinforced by the ongoing fight each day for decent pay, conditions and safety in the building trade, for the workers' right to organise, and for the freedoms denied or threatened under this government.

Workers in the north-west, some of whom were involved in the campaign to release the pickets back in the 1970s, have organised an event in Liverpool on Saturday 5 August with the twin slogans
Remember Des Warren
Justice for the Shrewsbury Pickets

A major issue confronted by building workers in the 1970s was "The Lump", whereby workers rights and conditions were undermined with fictitious self-employment. Though forms change, casualisation has spread like cancer through British industry and services. It is usually imposed, by ending proper jobs, and though the work and hours expected from you are anything but casual, observance of your rights, conditions and safety, even prompt payment of your wages, may be.

In the building trade particularly it seems "the Lump" is back, though now the victims may be Polish and other east European workers paid cash in hand, exploited by gangmasters, and cheated of their rights and benefits.

So it is only right that the Liverpool meeting, besides demanding justice for the 24 pickets convicted at Shrewsbury is adding the demand:
"End casualised labour"

It's at 3pm, Saturday 5 August 2006 at the Casa, Hope Street, Liverpool
- Commemorate Des Warren
· Justice for the 24 pickets convicted of conspiracy
· End casualised labour

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