Monday, July 06, 2009

Return to Shrewsbury

ASSEMBLING for the off at Abbey Foregate.
RICKY TOMLINSON speaking at the rally.
CROWD was swelled by local people.

THE historic market town of Shrewsbury, and its abbey particularly, will be known to fans of historic crime fiction as the place from which Ellis Peters' detective monk Brother Cadfael sets out to investigate foul deeds and right injustices. The crowd that gathered at the Abbey Foregate on Saturday, July 4, are just as determined to uncover the truth and set right a real injustice that occurred 25 years ago.

It was to Shrewsbury that 32 building workers were brought after the 1972 building workers' strike to stand trial on alleged offences committed when they came to picket and persuade workers on nearby sites to join their strike. Oddly enough, none of them had been arrested on the day they came down from North Wales - indeed as Ricky Tomlinson told Saturday's rally, the police had escorted the pickets from site to site, and when they were about to go home the officer in charge boarded their coach to say thankyou for the way they had conducted themselves!

It was after the strike that police raided homes and took men into custody, and they wound up in the dock on "conspiracy" charges. As Tomlinson revealed, he had initially been approached to act as a prosecution witness
, perhaps because they knew his politics were different ("I wasn't always a left-winger").. As fellow-defendent Des Warren told the court, "There was a conspiracy, but not by the building workers". It was the Tories, the employers, senior police officers and judges who had conspired, and now we know MI5 was also involved.

After appeal, Ricky Tomlinson got a two year sentence, and Des Warren got three. Des died in 2004, having suffered drug-induced Parkinsonism as a result of the way he was treated in prison. Besides describing some of the harassment and frequent moves they went through, Ricky Tomlinson reminded us that a Labour Home Secretary could have freed them, but they spent more of their time inside under Labour than had been under the Tories.

The Shrewsbury pickets campaign wants all the verdicts against the 24 overturned, with an apology, but it also wants a full inquiry into what went on behind the scenes, with all the documents released. The government is still insisting that would endanger "national security!!

Shrewsbury picket Terry Renshaw, who has gone on to become mayor of Flint and, as he pointed out, sits on a police authority, told us "I'm the same man". He has seen Justice Minister Jack Straw in his efforts to obtain an inquiry into the case. Besides local trades union activists, other speakers included miners' leader Arthur Scargill, who had flown back from a meeting in France to attend, and of a newer generation of militants, Rob Williams, reinstated convenor at the Linamar factory in Swansea.

Besides building workers, some of whom had travelled from as far as Crook, in County Durham and Croydon in south London, Saturday's march and rally included sacked Liverpool dockers, with their banner, and members of the Amicus engineering union, and rail union RMT, post office workers, Unison, and PCS civil servants from the Telford and Shrewsbury areas. Des Warren's son and sister were also present. After the speeches we were able to quench our thirst in Unison's social club behind the county hall, and were entertained by Liverpool singer Alun Parry and Birmingham's Banner theatre.

But the unanimous feeling of all assembled was that this was not an end but a new beginning to our campaign; and local people, including some youth who joined us, were very pleased the campaign had come to Shrewsbury.There was applause to the suggestion that this become an annual event.

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