Des Warren died, but the case will not
MARCHING for Shrewsbury Two,
"Free Dennis Warren and
Eric Tomlinson," says placard.
The struggle for justice still goes on.
A meeting in London on Monday will raise issues that people in power, and in government, and we may guess, some people in the workers' movement too, hoped they had buried for ever, at least four years ago. Des Warren, the last of the Shrewsbury pickets to be released from jail, died in April 2004, aged only 66, same age as I've just reached myself. Jailed for his part in the 1972 building workers' strike, Des served his full three year sentence. He suffered illness ever since as a result of his treatment inside. Though he made it with the help of friends to Liverpool to receive a Robert Tessal award the year before he died, he was already in a wheelchair, and had been unable to campaign as he wished for justice and truth.
On Monday night, Des' fellow-picket Ricky Tomlinson, who served two years before going on to eventually become a successful actor, will be on the platform together with miners' leader Arthur Scargill at a public meeting organised by the London group of the Shrewsbury Defence Committee, to demand an inquiry into the convictions and a reversal of the "guilty" convictions.
Also speaking will be UCATT construction union officer Mick Dooley, and Terry Renshaw, who was one of the two dozen building workers arrested with Des and Ricky, and is now mayor of the North Wales town of Flint.
The building workers were not arrested for any alleged offences when they went to bring out sites in Shrewsbury. They were taken from their homes after the strike was over, and the charges against them were "conspiracy". As Des Warren said from the dock, there was a conspiracy alright - between Tory Home Secretary Robert Carr and his colleagues, the vengeful building employers, and the police. But Warren did not just see this as an injustice against himself and his mates, but as a move against the whole working class. And since it was then Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins who kept him in jail and refused to reopen the case, Des also began to question the culpability of people in the labour movement itself, from TUC leaders to those in the Communist Party from whom he had accepted advice.
In 1977, assisited by some loyal Communist Party comrades, Des Warren published a pamphlet called "Shrewsbury, Whose Conspiracy?" It quickly sold out Later he wrote his book, The Key to My Cell. But before this in 1980 he reissued the pamphlet with a new introduction:
"I believe this re-publication is very timely. The Shrewsbury trials and jailings were Act One in the ruling class onslaught against trade union rights throughout the 1970s and now into the 1980s with Thatcher’s Tory government giving huge pay rises to the judiciary, police, regular army and reservists, coinciding with proposals to outlaw secondary picketing, weaken the closed shop, cut social security to strikers’ families, and other measures.
"Deaths in police cells have risen alarmingly, SPG squads are used against pickets, the death of Blair Peach has been covered up, juries are being vetted — a step towards the no-jury Diplock courts in the north of Ireland where Republicans are incarcerated in H-Block and Armagh concentration camps. This police/military dictatorship in Ulster is a prototype for use against British workers.
"Shrewsbury and its aftermath plays a key role because it not only exposes the conspiracy of the ruling class against our movement. It also shows how the leadership of our movement measures up to the heat of the class confrontation. Perhaps this is why Shrewsbury is such an embarrassment to sections of our movement who would like to forget all about it. Even some leaders on the left claim it is a ‘dead issue’.
"It is largely unknown that as a result of ill-treatment and maladministration of drugs by the prison authorities during sentence, I am a diagnosed sufferer from Parkinson’s Disease. After consultations with specialists, my own doctor has recorded in writing that I am suffering from ‘Parkinsonism caused by therapy given in prison’.
"This has prevented me from campaigning in the movement with the vigour I would like. It is a condemnation of the movement’s leadership — both right and left — that the lessons of Shrewsbury are being ignored. Unfortunately, I also have to condemn the leadership of my own party, the Communist Party which I have belonged to for 16 years and am still a member of.
"I cannot be accused of rushing into print with these and other criticisms. I have remained silent on them ever since my release from Leicester Gaol in August 1976.
"A few examples I have encountered; a solicitor acting on my behalf approached the TUC for permission to see their files on Shrewsbury to help me with the private prosecution I am bringing against the Home Office. The TUC refused, saying they have a 30-year ban on information involving relations with the government. And this from a body mandated by the movement to fight for a Freedom of Information Act!
"The head office of my own union, UCATT, has recently written to me rejecting a request for copies of certain documents about the union’s position on Shrewsbury. However, most readers of this pamphlet will be aware that the backsliding and double-dealing of the TUC and various right wing leaderships is common day-to-day practice. Indeed it would come as a surprise if they were to act in any other manner, and I don’t feel it necessary logo into detail here about their behaviour.
"What is not so well known — and which I think it is necessary to examine — is the role of the CPGB leadership. I feel the Party at the moment is in a stranglehold of reformism. Advocates of-the ‘British Road to Socialism’ stick their heads in the sand. They do their best to ignore anything which is a contradiction of the ‘British Road’, and this includes Shrewsbury. This is a very dangerous game when the movement is under fierce Tory attack, and a game I’m not willing to play. I believe the interests of the working class can best be served by discussion of these issues. Here I list some examples involving Shrewsbury:
1. After my release from prison I was never de-briefed by the Party. Could it be this was because my experiences as a political prisoner would have shown that while the CPGB is committed to a peaceful road to socialism, the state is equally committed to using whatever weapons at its disposal and is already using inhuman and degrading methods in this country and in the north of Ireland (see Strasbourg Human Rights Court verdict).
2. My request for medical examination by Party doctors was not taken up by King Street. Was this because such medical examination would have found that inhuman and degrading treatment was indeed employed by the state in an attempt to make me accept the guilt of Shrewsbury?
3. The Party compounded its actions when the Morning Star refused to publish an article by Jim Arnison giving details about drugs abuse against the by the prison authorities. Jim Arnison wrote to the Star protesting at the failure to print the article.
(It is significant that in the Morning Star’s review of the past decade, on December 29th, 1979, the issue of Shrewsbury is dismissed in half a sentence. No mention is made of it being a political trial, nor even that we pleaded not guilty. Neither does the unprecedented building workers strike of 1972 even rate a mention. This is also an abrupt about-turn from the analysis by CPGB national industrial organiser Bert Ramelson who in 1974 described the Shrewsbury trial as ‘probably the most serious in its implications for the labour movement this century, and certainly since the jailing of the Communist leaders in preparation for the 1926 General Strike’.)
4. My requests for the Party to produce a pamphlet on Shrewsbury were rejected. Eventually, I was advised to write it myself. Later, I was told I had not been de-briefed because I had been considered too ill. Yet I was apparently not too ill to need examination by a Party doctor and not too ill to write an important pamphlet.
5. On completion of the pamphlet it took four months to persuade the Star to review it. At no time did the Party offer to help write, produce or distribute the pamphlet. Indeed I have evidence that steps were taken to discourage party members from reading it.
6. Two Morning Star journalists were contemplating writing a book on Shrewsbury and its lessons. It never transpired. Another party member — an author of some experience — did extensive research and wrote a detailed account of the Shrewsbury case. But was unable to find a publisher.
7. This left me the task of setting down the full facts of Shrewsbury in book form, and to find a publisher. It was during my research that hidden details and intrigue emerged, giving a greater insight into what Shrewsbury was really all about. The purpose of the book I am writing is to expose the full facts so that the movement can judge.
8. The research has uncovered many questions which have been bothering me — including, why the CPGB’s only advice to me while in prison was to co-operate with the prison regime, to wear prison uniform, etc, and submit applications for parole which would have meant recanting and accepting guilt from a political trial — apart from the fact that we were innocent of the charges against us — something I have never done because the Establishment would have used it to slander our movement and to underpin the deterrent effect which the Tories hoped the sentences would have".
Though things might not have worked out as Des Warren feared, Britain under New Labour still has the most restrictive anti-union laws of any country in Europe, and more on the way, and we have seen no let up in police powers, or violence. Des Warren outlived both the Communist Party, wound up by its leaders, and the Workers Revolutionary Party which he joined five years before it broke up in scandal. A new generation is finding ways to fight back against the system, and capitalism itself is not looking too good as we face global recession.
The working class which produced heroes like Des Warren still has not got a party worthy of its sacrifices. But the struggle for truth and justice for the Shrewsbury pickets, and the readiness to confront injustice and examine everything, including our own movement, as shown by Des Warren, are part of that wider struggle.
PUBLIC MEETING Justice for Pickets
7.30 Monday, October 27, at the Welsh Club,
157-163 Grays Inn Road, London WC1.
Mayor Of Flint Takes Fight For Justice For Shrewsbury Pickets To Jack Straw http://www.ucatt.info/content/view/574/44/2008/10/
Shrewsbury Pickets Campaign:
Chris Corrigan obituary for Des Warren: