“Pardoning” 24 strikers - 47 years later!

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
30 March 2021

Last Tuesday, the Court of Appeal quashed the convictions of 24 building workers who had been prosecuted at Shrewsbury Crown Court 47 years ago, for nothing more than going on strike.

    Of course that wasn’t the charge at the time. In 1972, more workers were going on strike than at any time since WW2. The workers in question had helped to organise the very first national building workers strike - something that had always been regarded as too difficult to do, because of the practical problem of co-ordinating action across all the small and big sites across different companies, right across the country. And by the way, they did this before the advent of the mobile phone!

    What’s more, after 12 weeks on strike, they won the highest ever pay rise in the history of the building industry! And they resolved to carry on fighting, until they had got rid of the so-called “lump”. The “lump” was construction bosses’ way of avoiding hiring workers as employees. Instead, they were considered as “self-employed” and paid a lump sum for their work (hence “working on the lump”) and had to pay their own tax and NI. Of course, today’s bosses have reinvented a form of this “lump”. Many workers, including in the car industry, will recognise it!

    Five months after the construction strike ended, its organisers were arrested and charged with 240 offences: intimidation, criminal damage, affray, you name it! Six were charged with “conspiracy to intimidate”. Yet there hadn’t even been pickets during this strike, let alone confrontations with cops.

    In the end, 4 were sent to jail. Des Warren, a member of the Communist Party, got the longest sentence of 3 years. He served it in solitary confinement and under the so-called “liquid cosh” - injected tranquilliser drugs - as punishment for his refusal to stop fighting against his treatment. As a direct result, he died prematurely with Parkinson’s disease in 2004.

    It was his death that revived a campaign to appeal against the convictions of the original 24. And now at long last, they have all been vindicated.

    Undoubtedly, getting the courts to right the wrongs of this biased, anti-working class, judicial system, even after nearly 50 years, is a moral victory.

    But for Des Warren and the building workers who so boldly struck and won in 1972, a fitting tribute would be for all workers - including today’s 21st century “lump” workers - to come together and fight casualisation and bogus self-employment in all its modern forms, on the ground. And to take on board the lesson of the Shrewsbury 24: that real victory for the working class will only come the day we get rid of the whole rotten system, including its police, its courts and its prisons.