By Cynthia Baldry, Workers’ Fight, March 1973
In Shrewsbury on 15 March, 24 building workers appearing in court were met by a show of solidarity from other workers, meeting outside the court and then marching through the town. They were also met by a massive attempt at intimidation by the forces of ruling class “law and order”.
All 24 (and not only six, as wrongly stated by the capitalist press and by the Morning Star) were up on a conspiracy law of 1875. There are also charges of damages, and added 14 days later, unlawful fighting and causing an affray. The police are using conspiracy law so that hearsay evidence will be admissible.
On 15 March the police stopped all traffic going into Shrewsbury with a complete road block. Wolverhapton builders were stopped six times on their way in. We then had to drive through a narrow entrance into a car park — containing about 300 police drawn up in formation.
Hundreds more police and steel barricades surrounded the court itself, whilst police and dogs confronted the defendents as they went into court from the back. The father of one defendant, John McJones, was hit by the police. His wife found herself on her own in a court supposedly too full for relatives — but full of dozens of police. Only six people were allowed into court to support the defendants.
As Pete Carter, a builders’ leader from Birmingham, pointed out, “the trial is a show trial, a political trial, an effort by the Tories to back up the [pay] Freeze by getting ‘public opinion’ on the side of the ruling class against our trade union practice of picketing. The issue is a class issue and we must respond as a class.”
Those who did respond to the call to come to Shrewsbury included Liverpool dockers and Shotton steelworkers, whose works were stopped for the day; building workers from Wales, Merseyside, London and the Midlands and representatives from four Courtaulds factories in North Wales.
The use of criminal charges is calculated to split support. The trade union bureaucrats are using this to avoid supporting the defendants. The defendants in UCATT were offered official support on 9 March only to hear the following day that it was being withdrawn. The excuse given? A lawyer had said the trial would cost too much. First time we’ve ever heard of a lawyer complaining about earning a lot!
On 14 March UCATT general secretary George Smith wrote to UCATT branch secretary Barry Scragg:
“… we have had legal advice on the lengthy and nature of the charges against the members involved in this particular situation and it would be doing the building unins a great disservice and indeed the trade union movement a great disservice to demonstrate or call a national stoppage in regard to these matters…”
In other words Smith will do nothing to defend workers prosecuted for official picketing! Some men are speculating that the union may be making a deal with the police to drop the conspiracy charge if the union drops support of the men on the lesser charges.
We must work to put pressure on the trade union bureaucrats to get official support but we cannot afford to wait for them to act.