Article published: Tuesday, September 18th 2012
In 1972, 24 trade unionists were arrested in the wake of the first ever national building workers’ strike. Six were jailed, in circumstances which union activists have long alleged were the result of political pressure from the then Tory government. Forty years on Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson, who was imprisoned for two years for his involvement, explains how fresh evidence has led to a new campaign to overturn their convictions.
We all like anniversaries and this year there has been a lot said about events 40 years ago. There was the miners’ strike that led to power cuts and the “Battle of Saltley Gate”. The dock workers were fighting for jobs and 5 shop stewards were sent to Pentonville Prison in July 1972 for contempt of court. The TUC called a national strike and an obscure fellow called the Official Solicitor intervened and persuaded the court to release them.
These were all important memories for me but 1972 stands out as the year that myself and fellow building workers stood up against the mighty building trade employers to fight for better pay and safer working conditions.
Our industry had one of the worst records for serious injuries at work and was probably second only to the coal mining industry for fatalities. We were on strike for 12 weeks and eventually, in September 1972, we secured the highest pay increase in the history of the industry.
But it didn’t end there. Five months later the police arrested 24 of us from the North Wales area.
North Wales! We were hardly the centre of trade union militancy in Britain. In October 1973 the first six of us appeared at Shrewsbury Crown Court and after a trial lasting ten weeks three of us were sent to prison for conspiracy to intimidate, affray and unlawful assembly. On appeal our convictions for affray were quashed but we still served our sentences: I received 2 years, Des Warren 3 years and John McKinsie Jones got nine months.
Our crime was to take strike action and organise picketing, just as the miners and dockers had done earlier in the year.
A campaign has been established to highlight this miscarriage of justice and to clear our names. The Shrewsbury 24 Campaign has carried out extensive research into the case and has discovered fresh evidence about the decision to prosecute us. We believe that it demonstrates that there was political interference in bringing these charges against us and we are asking the Criminal Cases Review Commission to refer the cases back to the Court of Appeal. We have a leading human rights law firm, Bindmans, acting for us.
I would like to thank all the national and local trade union bodies, trades councils and individuals that have affiliated to the campaign. Full details of the campaign, the 1972 strike and the trials can be found on the website, as well as details of how to join us.
I have created a Downing Street e-petition calling upon the Government to release documents from this period which they are withholding on grounds of national security! Please sign it, and help us get this miscarriage of justice put straight after 40 years.
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