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The state :: Shrewsbury 24
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Around 400 trade unionists marched through Shrewsbury on Saturday 4 July in pursuit of justice for the 24 building workers who were put on trial in 1973 following their successful 1972 building workers strike.
Sentenced at Shrewsbury Crown Court, Des Warren, Ricky Tomlinson and McKinsie Jones were jailed for 'conspiracy'. Des Warren's death in 2004 was linked to the tranquilliser drugs given to him in prison.
The 4 July protest was organised by Shropshire Trades Council with encouragement from stewards active in the National Shop Stewards Network, along with the Justice for the Shrewsbury Pickets committee. There was support from across the West Midlands and further afield.
Banners and flags from many unions, including Ucatt, RMT, PCS and FBU, could be seen as the march wound through the centre of Shrewsbury, as well as many from local trades councils including Croydon, Wolverhampton, Wigan and Warrington.
The protest was addressed by Ricky Tomlinson, together with Arthur Scargill from the National Union of Miners and Rob Williams, union convenor at Swansea Linamar.
The workers were jailed as employers and their Tory government desperately tried to strike back at increasingly militant trade unions.
We heard how the real 'criminal conspiracy' was to manipulate the 'evidence' against the pickets. To this day, Jack Straw - described as "a coward" by Ricky Tomlinson - refuses to allow the truth to be released under Freedom of Information laws.
Ricky quoted a letter from Straw explaining that the refusal to release information was because they were "records relating to security and intelligence". This confirms, as many have long believed, that the security services were involved in the jailing of trade unionists.
When Ricky finally got access to a document most of it was blacked out. Straw's letter went on to say that the refusal was to "protect the space within which the security agencies...operate."
Another scandal was the failure of succeeding Labour governments to exonerate the workers. Rob Williams attacked the current Labour government for not removing anti-union laws. When Rob said that unions should stop funding Labour, the crowd roared in approval.
Arthur Scargill pointed out the hypocrisy of some trade union leaders who are quite happy to go to Tolpuddle every year and praise the Tolpuddle Martyrs, but who will not countenance the breaking of anti-trade union laws today.
"The Tolpuddle Martyrs broke the law, and thank Christ they did, because we would not be standing here today if they hadn't!" he said to loud applause.
Ricky, Arthur, Rob and the whole crowd swore to continue the fight, including talk of making this protest an annual event until justice is achieved.
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Article dated 8 July 2009
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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