Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Des Warren is back in print

THREE years after his tragic death at just 66, Des Warren, the steelfixer from North Wales who became famous as one of the Shrewsbury Two, jailed for their part in the 1972 building workers' strike, is back to inspire and pass on his experience to coming generations.

The Key to My Cell, the book which Des wrote after coming out of prison, describing how he came to find himself in the dock for leading fellow-workers fighting for decent pay and conditions, why the state had come down on them, and what he had learned politically, is once more going into print.

First published by New Park, the publishing firm of the Workers Revolutionary Party which Des joined after disillusionment with the Communist Party, the book often comes up when two or three building workers get talking after a union meeting. While it was out of print it was sought after, and old well-thumbed copies would be borrowed among friends.

Thousands of trade unionists took part in demonstrations and marches to free the Shrewsbury pickets. Two were kept in jail, Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson, now better known as an actor, and Des served longest. The campaign was wound down by union leaders and the Communist Party, with the promise that Labour in government would do something. Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins refused to help, and Des Warren served his full three years.

Des Warren died on April 24, 2004, after long debilitating illness largely brought on by the effect of drugs administered to him in prison.

New Park no longer exists. But thanks to the faith and commitment of some activists, Des Warren's book is being made available again, not just as a tribute to its author, but as a contribution to ongoing struggles.

Ricky Tomlinson, whom we saw on TV recently revisiting sccnes of the 1972 struggles and talking to those involved, is campaigning for the files to be re-opened on the pickets' case, and Justice for the Pickets. He has written a foreword to the new edition of The Key to My Cell, and next month he has been been invited to speak in Croydon, where trades unionists will be celebrating the anniversary of their hall, Ruskin House, on May 10.

Ritchie Hunter writes from Liverpool:

Dear All,

Find attached an A4 poster advertising 'The Key to My Cell' out in May 2007. Please spread this around. WE NEED MONEY to pay for the printing.

Two events in May:

1. 8pm, Thursday 10 May 2007, Ruskin House, Coombe Road, Croydon. Speakers include Ricky Tomlinson.

2. Writing on the Wall (WOW) Festival, History Day, Tuesday 15 May 4.00-5.30 pm, at Dean Walters Building (JMU) Upper Duke St.
Joe Sim, Professor of Criminology at JMU, will discuss the use of legal drugs by the state to control prisoners. Steve Tombs, Professor of Sociology at JMU, will discuss corporate crime and the construction industry today.

Meanwhile there's another way to remember Des Warren and take up again the cause for which he fought. This Saturday, April 28, is Workers Memorial Day, when we think about all those killed or injured in industry. "Remember the Dead and Fight for the Living" is the slogan. There will be events in various parts of the country and around the world. In London, the Construction Safety Campaign will start the day by joining local residents outside the Barret's Construction site at the corner of Thessaly Road, and Battersea Park Rd., Battersea, SW8 where a man was killed by a crane collapse. That's at 9.30am.

Then at 10.45am, marchers will assemble at Holland Street, London SE1, beside the Tate Modern, before marching to Tower Hill for a rally at 12.15pm. Speakers will include relatives of those killed at work, as well as trade unionists and campaigners.

There's also a picket on Monday morning, April 30, outside the Health and Safety Executive head offices on Southwark Bridge Road, from 8am to 9am, to demand more effective measures over the use of cranes, after three people were killed last year in crane collapses.

For more information about Des Warren's book and the Justice for Pickets campaign see:

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