DES WARREN, who died last Saturday after suffering from pneumonia and complications, will always be remembered as a great fighter, a true hero of the working class movement. He and Ricky Tomlinson were the Shrewsbury Two, jailed for picketing in 1972. I was also a builder on strike at the time. I remember Des Warren as a giant of a man in every respect.
The bosses and the Tory government set about breaking the building workers’ strike to set an example to the rest of the unions. They picked on the area near Chester because there had been weak local trade union traditions. Then they came up against the determination of the strikers in that area. Des was one of their key leaders.
That’s why they dredged up a “conspiracy” act from 1875. The real conspiracy was between the police, the employers and the Tory government. Ricky and Des were sent down because they refused to come to a deal and plead guilty when they knew they were innocent.
Des’s speech from the dock deserves a place in history. In it he said, “I am innocent of the charges and will appeal. But there will be a more important appeal made to the entire trade union movement from this moment on. The working class movement cannot allow this verdict to go unchallenged.” It was being mistreated in prison that Des and the rest of us all hold responsible for his declining health afterwards. He just was not the same man any more and also faced blacklisting.
Despite a long illness, he never lost his sense of humour. Sometimes when we would go to see him thinking we were looking after him, he was in fact looking after us. He retained his optimism as well, asking us what was happening in the movement.
But it was a terrible struggle for him and his wife Pat, who is as worthy in every way as he was. Some of us set up a trust fund to try to help with his treatment and make life a bit more comfortable. There was no backing from the official movement-it all came from below. And the battle of three decades ago is still being fought now. We are trying to go to court to get the Shrewsbury pickets’ names cleared and we’ve already forced the release of some important documents.
Without people like Des there would be no working class movement, no trade unions. He showed the very best our side can aspire to. That’s why his workmates and other union activists loved him. And that’s why the boss class unleashed all their vengeance against him.
Our thoughts are with his family, his wife Pat and sister Kath, and our determination to make the world a better place burns on.
Anwar Ditta, a heroic anti-racist campaigner, died last week.