A case that saw trade unionists victimised by the bosses and the state in the 1970s went to the court of appeal on Wednesday.
Among the 14 activists seeking to overturn their convictions is the actor Ricky Tomlinson, who was sentenced to two years imprisonment.
He said, “It will have taken nearly 50 years for us to have our day in court.
“People will be shocked to know the lengths the establishment went to in order to punish the working class for trying to improve their working and health and safety conditions.”
The 14 were building workers who were prosecuted for picketing during a national building workers’ strike in 1972.
The trial is due to examine allegations that a covert government unit helped to get them convicted. Declassified documents suggest that Edward Heath, the then Tory prime minister, personally approved of the unit’s campaign to undermine left wing union militants.
It was a time of near-unprecedented class struggle in Britain, and the state wanted to hit back at activists.
The documents show that in 1973 the secret unit gave a dossier about activists to the makers of an ITV television programme.
This programme, called Red Under The Bed, was broadcast during the prosecution of six of the men.
The campaigners say that the programme biased the jury against the trade unionists, helping to get them convicted.
Heath’s aide, Robert Armstrong, noted in a memo that a transcript of the programme had been shown to the prime minister. According to the memo, Heath “commented that we want as much as possible of this sort of thing”.
The trade unionists also argue that police destroyed witness statements and that this fact was not disclosed to lawyers defending the men.
The Shrewsbury 24 Campaign has worked since 2006 to publicise the case and gain support from trade unions and the Labour Party. The campaign’s researcher and secretary, Eileen Turnbull, unearthed the fresh evidence necessary to persuade the Criminal Cases Review Commission to refer the case to the appeals court.
In total, after three trials in 1972, 1973 and 1974, 22 trade unionists were convicted of unlawful assembly, conspiracy to intimidate, and affray, while two were acquitted.
They were given sentences ranging from three years’ jail time to four months’ imprisonment suspended for two years.
“It was a politically motivated case designed to break a very high level of workers’ action at the time,” Ricky told Socialist Worker. “This was the first, and still only, national building workers’ strike.
“On 6 September 1972 when the so-called offences took place, the police said there would be no charges. Then the people at the top got involved and it all changed.
“Police and witness statements were destroyed and new ones prepared.
“Jurors were told by a court official that we would only get a fine if we were convicted. They were horrified afterwards.
“The judge was a gobshite. People’s lives were torn apart.
“My mate Dezzie Warren was sentenced to three years in jail and then given drugs which led to him getting Parkinson’s disease.”
Speaking to the court before he was sentenced, Des Warren said, “The law is quite clearly an instrument of the state”. “The law is biased,” he added. “It is class law and nowhere has this been demonstrated more than in the prosecution case at this trial”.
“Was there a conspiracy? Yes, there was. But not by the pickets. The conspiracy was one between the home secretary, the employers and the police.”
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