Sunday, March 08, 2015

A well-earned tribute, and a timely book

MICK ABBOTT, in white Justice for Pickets tee shirt, with Ricky Tomlinson at Westminster

WIGAN building worker Mick Abbott, a dedicated fighter against the blacklist, and for justice for the jailed Shrewsbury pickets, has been honoured with a memorial plaque at the Casa, the club started by locked out and victimised Liverpool dockers.

A plaque commemorating the late Michael Abbott has been unveiled at The Casa on Liverpool’s Hope Street.

The anti-blacklisting campaigner, who died, aged 74, last year after a battle with cancer, discovered files that showed he was blacklisted due to his trade union activities and his raising of concerns towards health and safety on construction sites. The plaque marks the first anniversary of his death.

Abbott discovered that the first file against him dated back to 1964 when he was working on the construction of the Fiddlers’ Ferry.

Upon this discovery, he fought for the rights of other men that had also been blacklisted from working on building sites.

Researcher and Secretary of the Shrewsbury 24 campaign, Eileen Turnball, told JMU Journalism: “We meet in The Casa every month at The Casa to discuss blacklisting in Liverpool. Michael Abbott left us in 2014, but the blacklisting in Liverpool has always been prevalent, but it mushroomed after the 1972 building workers strike.”

This is a well-earned tribute.

This year will be forty years since the march from Wigan to London, of which Mick was one of the leaders, to demand the release of the Shrewsbury Two, trade unionists jailed on "conspiracy" charges after the 1972 building workers' strike.

The previous year I'd met some of the Wigan lads on a march against the 'Lump' system, called by UCATT, in Preston.  They had brought placards about the Shrewsbury pickets on to the march, and a few of us came down from Lancaster to join them. Mick Abbott and his pals were surprised to hear that I was working on the Heysham power station site, as they told me they'd been unable to get jobs there, having previously worked on Fiddlers' Ferry. (My lack of power station background might have been an advantage, as was the irregular way I was smuggled on site by an Irish acquaintance, bypassing the main contractor Taylor Woodrow's procedure).

Determined not to let the jailed pickets issue be dropped or forgotten, Mick was with Ricky Tomlinson when, after his release, he protested at the 1975 TUC over the continued detention of Des Warren. Ricky had been refused permission to speak from the platform, while right-wing bureaucrats were allowed to slag off the pickets. 

One of 12 siblings born in Kirkdale, Liverpool, Mick Abbott worked most of his life -when he could -in the building trade. He was a scaffolder, and a TGWU shop steward on several sites. Married with four kids, he was known as a warm, friendly man with a typically Scouse sense of humour, as well as a dedicated trade unionist.    

There were 400 people at his funeral. 

But even before their tributes, or the plaque at the Casa, Mick had been honoured, by being among more than 3,000 building workers on the blacklist. Documents he was able to obtain after the so-called Consulting Association was exposed refer to his involvement in the Fiddlers' Ferry strike and to his serious concerns over site safety.  

Des Warren, at his trial over picketing, famously said that there had been a real conspiracy - between the Tory government of the day, the building industry bosses, and the police. Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, one of the "gang and four" who went on to found the SDP,  refused to release the two pickets, so that as Ricky Tomlinson says, "We spent more time in jail under Labour than we had under the Conservatives".  A later Labour Home secretary, Jack Straw, told MPs that government documents concerning the Shrewsbury trial must be kept secret for reasons of "national security".

But then this Straw, recently in the news over his readiness to take remunerative retirement work, declined the chance to peek at his own file with the security services, when he was Home Secretary.  

Talking about the CA blacklist, Mick 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.”

The struggle for justice for the Shrewsbury pickets, demanding that secret files be opened so that the sentences can be squashed, the construction safety campaign - revealed to have also been subject to police spying, - and the battle against the blacklist, have been shown to be interlocking.

A new book about the blacklisting is being launched this week.

'Blacklisted: the secret war between big business and union activists' published by New Internationalist Magazine

Dave Smith , author
Phil Chamberlain , author
John McDonnell MP
Gail Cartmail Assistant General Secretary, Unite

Committee Room 15
Houses of Parliament

Followed by drinks and book signing at the Red Lion, Whitehall.

Anyone coming to the event in the Commons is advised to come half an hour early to get through security procedure. 

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