Ricky Tomlinson, along with 23 other building workers who were imprisoned for picketing following the 1972 building workers strike, is calling for the Government to lift the veil of secrecy over prosecutions.
In a press conference at the House of Commons today, Ricky and fellow former pickets will be speaking along with General Secretaries, Frances O’Grady (TUC), Len McCluskey (Unite) and Steve Murphy (UCATT), MPs Tom Watson, Steve Rotheram and David Hanson, and film director Ken Loach. John McDonnell MP will be chairing the conference.
The conference comes as the Shrewsbury 24 step up their campaign to clear their names following the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling’s refusal to release documents relating to the 1972 Shrewsbury trials. Grayling recently informed the pickets that the documents will be withheld from public scrutiny for another 10 years, and the ban will not be reviewed until 2021. His reason? Grayling cites ‘national security’, holding the documents under Section 23 of the Freedom of Information Act.
Ricky Tomlinson, speaking on behalf of himself and his fellow pickets, says:
“We were building workers who were trying to get decent wages and working conditions. What’s that got to do with ‘national security’? We were convicted for conspiracy in 1972. We knew we were innocent. The government continue to throw a security blanket over what really happened during the 1972 dispute and the role of the security forces. We believe that the prosecutions were directed by the government.”
The Shrewsbury 24 case began following the major construction strike in 1972, when construction workers faced hostile and powerful employers, lump labour, and isolated workplaces that changed constantly whenever a contract finished. The building workers’ unions organised the first ever national strike in their industry. Due to the nature of the industry, the strike involved the use of picketing of building sites that were spread throughout the country. At the end of the twelve-week dispute, in September 1972, they succeeded in winning the highest ever pay rise in the history of the industry.
Five months after the strike ended, 24 pickets, who had travelled down from North Wales to picket at a site in Shrewsbury, were picked up and charged with over 200 offences including unlawful assembly, intimidation and affray. Six of the pickets were also charged with conspiracy to intimidate. None of the pickets had been cautioned or arrested during the strike. Approximately 70 police had accompanied the pickets on the Shrewsbury building sites at all times. No complaints were laid against the pickets at the time.
At the first Shrewsbury trial three of the pickets were prosecuted and found guilty of conspiracy to intimidate, unlawful assembly and affray. They were sent to prison: Des Warren was sentenced to three years on each charge, Ricky Tomlinson was sentenced to two years on each charge and John McKinsie Jones was sentenced to nine months on each charge, all sentences to run concurrently.
Jailing these building workers remains one of the most notorious acts of the state in recent times. All the might of the police and judiciary were used to stop trade unionists from organising effectively. The Government has used section 23 of the Official Secrets Act to prevent the pickets from gaining access to papers that show the extent of the campaign to send them to prison.
The Shrewsbury 24 Campaign was established in 2006. Their aim is to overturn this miscarriage of justice. All power to them.
To support the Shrewsbury 24, please sign the e-petition calling for the full disclosure of all Government documents relating to the 1972 building workers strike and the conspiracy trials at Shrewsbury.