Unite the union and the actor Ricky Tomlinson have joined forces to call on MPs to demand an end to the conspiracy of silence against the Shrewsbury 24 and release papers suppressed for 40 years.
A backbench debate secured by Dave Anderson MP will take place tomorrow (Thursday 23 January) on the Shrewsbury 24 campaign which is demanding that the government releases papers related to the 1972 building workers strike. The documents are being withheld under Section 23 of the Freedom of Information Act, the section relating to national security. MPs are also being asked to sign an early day motion EDM 449 (see notes to editors) sponsored by Ian Mearns MP.
In 1973 Ricky Tomlinson, Des Warren and John McKinsie Jones were sent to prison on conspiracy charges arising from the strike. 21 other building workers were also tried at Shrewsbury Crown Court. They became known as the Shrewsbury 24 (see notes to editors).
Ricky Tomlinson, actor and former T&G member, who was sentenced to two years in jail said: “It feels like the Tories are waiting for us to die before they reveal the truth. Unless there is action now the ban on releasing these papers won’t be reviewed until 2021. Four of my comrades have already passed away and the eldest of the remaining 20 pickets is 86.
“The prison sentences and fines we received for picketing completely wrecked our lives. Many of my comrades were blacklisted and never worked again. Today we are urging MPs to please support our campaign and shine a light on the truth that has been hidden away for these long years.”
Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey said: “It is time to end this 40-year conspiracy of silence and release all the government documents relating to the Shrewsbury 24.
“There is something deeply wrong in this country when a 21st century government uses national security to withhold documents about ordinary working people who tried to improve their working conditions four decades ago.
“We believe the Tories are desperately trying to hide the stench of a great miscarriage of justice and we urge fair minded MPs to back our campaign to release all the government papers on the Shrewsbury 24.”
For more information contact Ciaran Naidoo from Unite on 07768 931 315
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1
Notes to editors:
In 1972 construction workers faced hostile and powerful employers, lump labour, and isolated workplaces that changed whenever contracts finished. The building workers’ unions organised the first ever national strike which involved the use of pickets at building sites across the country. At the end of the 12 week dispute, in September 1972, they secured the highest ever pay rise in the history of the industry.
Five months after the strike ended 24 pickets were 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 found guilty of conspiracy to intimidate, unlawful assembly and affray. They were imprisoned: 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.
Jailing these building workers remains one of the most notorious anti-trade union 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 backbench debate will be on the following motion which will then be followed by a vote: 'That this House is seriously concerned at the decision of the government to refuse to release papers related to the building dispute in 1972 and subsequent prosecutions of the workers known as the Shrewsbury 24, and calls on it to reverse this position as a matter of urgency.'
That this House notes the application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission by Ricky Tomlinson and other convicted building workers known as the Shrewsbury 24 who were prosecuted in 1973 following the national building workers' strike in 1972; further notes the support for the Shrewsbury 24 campaign from building workers’ unions the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians and Unite and many other trades unions; further notes that on the 40th anniversary of the dispute the Government continues, on the grounds of national security, to withhold a number of papers relating to the strike and prosecutions from being deposited at the National Archives under section 23 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000; and calls on the Government to release forthwith all such papers for public scrutiny.
• Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.