Exactly 30 years ago, on 19 November 1975 Cynthia Baldry died in Liverpool. She was a member of one of Solidarity/AWL’s forerunners, Workers’ Fight.
Aged 26 at her death, she had suffered since the age of 19 from a rare and incurable disease which finally killed her, lupus erythematosus.
Her political life spanned five years of gradual physical deterioration. Yet it was by any standards a life of intense activity and dedication to the cause of socialism and the groups she joined to fight in that cause — first the International Socialism group (now the SWP) and then Workers’ Fight.
These were years when the class struggle was at a much higher pitch. Cynthia’s parents had been members of the Communist Party in South Africa, and it was after some years of acquaintance with revolutionary politics that she joined the IS group in 1971.
In late 1972 she joined Workers’ Fight, and from 1973 until her deteriorating health forced her to stand down in 1975, she was a member of that group’s National Committee.
In 1972 workers at the Fisher-Bendix factory in Kirkby occupied against redundancies. It was one of the prominent occupations and “sit-ins” in this period. Cynthia was one of a group of IS members assigned to go through the files of the company, to “open the books: into the machinations of the bosses.
She was also active in the teachers’ union, the NUT. She was one of the “Liverpool 12” whom local union bureaucrats tried to victimise in 1975.
She was active in the tenants’ association during rent strikes in 1972. She was heavily involved in the battle over the closure of Shotton steelworks in North Wales.
Most importantly, she initiated, and for the first period sustained almost single-handedly, the campaign in support of the “Shrewsbury pickets”.
In the late summer of 1972 there was a national, official building workers’ strike. In many areas building workers used flying pickets to strengthen and spread the strike — a tactic pioneered by miners in early 1972, with the famous victory at Satley Gate coke depot. Later the same year tens of thousands of workers successfully struck and demonstrated to free five dockers (the “Pentonville Five”), jailed under the Tory government’s Industrial Relations Act.
But in early 1973, the police raided homes in North Wales and arrested building workers on charges to do with picketing during the strike. In total 24 pickets were brought before the courts charged on a variety of offences, with six facing the most serious charges. The 24 appeared together before the courts just once, in Shrewsbury on 15 March 1973.
It was one of the first steps in the ruling class’s fight back — a show trial to intimidate other workers and make flying and mass picketing illegal. After a number of trials, stretching until 1974, some of the workers were imprisoned, most notably Des Warren (a Communist Party member at the time) for three years and Ricky Tomlinson for two years.
Des Warren died last year, in part because of the effects of his imprisonment, and Ricky Tomlinson became an actor.
The flying pickets had been organised in the teeth of hostility from much of the trade union bureaucracy, concerned to confine workers’ action to “safe”, “respectable” channels. They adopted a similar attitude to the campaign to defend those on trial, and later to free those jailed and pardon those convicted — ranging from open hostility to grudging, half-hearted support. The 1974-79 Labour Government also resisted a powerful campaign to pardon the workers.
On the 30th anniversary of her death, we reprint Cynthia’s article from Workers’ Fight about the show of solidarity at the first court hearing in March 1973. The demonstration was very much a rank and file affair. There was only one trade union official present — as a “personal gesture” and fearful of victimisation from his national officials for attending!
Cynthia started the defence campaign in the pages of Workers’ Fight. She wrote, and Workers’ Fight printed, the first leaflets published by the locally-based defence committee set up on her suggestion. She continued to play a central role until the Communist Party (then a strong force in the labour movement) decided that it was, after all, interested, and took control of the campaign. Cynthia, a Trotskyist political enemy, was pushed aside.
There was an appropriate sequel. After Cynthia’s death the Workers’ Fight National Committee submitted an obituary notice as a paid advertisement to the CP’s paper, the Morning Star. It described her as “A Revolutionary Communist; initiator of the campaign to publicise the political conspiracy against the ‘Shrewsbury 24’ and to rouse the labour movement in their defence; fighter for the rebirth of a mass communist women’s movement; an unbreakable proletarian militant until her last days”.
The Morning Star rejected it, sending us back a rewritten version. They insisted on deleting the reference to Shrewsbury and decreed that Cynthia should be represented as fighting for, not a communist, but a “left wing” women’s movement.
They insisted on censuring the obituary of a class fighter. For them it was impossible to accept the true account of the Shrewsbury affair without conceding a lot politically to Cynthia, her politics and her organisation. This while they published an article (presented as an interview) by UCATT General Secretary George Smith.
Over Shrewsbury, Smith issued a circular telling UCATT members to treat the case as a legitimate criminal prosecution on which no trade union action should be taken. Cynthia’s activities had led to the exposure of this circular on the front page of Workers’ Fight.
In its own way the Morning Star paid a tribute to Cynthia Baldry — the tribute of a snarling cur capable of licking the boots of trade union scabs like George Smith, while suppressing the facts of the work of a dead militant in fighting to defend that scabs framed up members.