The Socialist Unity Network

Obituary; Des Warren

Andy Newman

Des Warren died on 24 April 2004, having spent many years in ill-health which has been blamed on the systematic abuse of administering tranquiliser drugs to him while in prison (the "liquid cosh").

Des alongside Ricky Tomlinson, Arthur Murray, Mike Pierce, Brian Williams and John McKinsie Jones were all imprisoned in 1973 for sending a picket of building workers to Shrewsbury in furtherance of a national builders strike which demanded a minimum wage of 1 an hour, an end to the industry's appalling safety record, and an end to "the Lump" (a scam by the bosses where workers were paid a lump sum for work done, with no tax or insurance deductions, and no employment rights)

The trial and imprisonments were part of a conspiracy by Tory Home Secretary Robert Carr, and the building employers. They even appointed a judge with links to McAlpines, the giant building firm! The aim of this show trial was to criminalise basic trade union behaviour of picketing and solidarity.

The trade union movement is much weaker today than it was in 1973. But the future of our class, and the only hope for peace and progress in the world, requires that we rebuild shop-floor union organisation and that we rediscover the fighting spirit, the determination and bravery so ably shown by Des Warren.

We can give no better tribute to Des than reprinting his speech to the court :

Des Warren's speech from the dock - December 1973.
I have spent a week in prison now. The convicts and others in there told me that a speech from the dock would get me trouble. But I must speak out.

It has been said in this court that this trial has nothing to do with politics. Among the ten million trade unionists in this country I doubt if you would find one who agreed with this statement.

It is a fact of life that due entirely to acts of parliament every strike is now regarded as a political act. It therefore follows that every action taken in furtherance of an industrial dispute also becomes a political act.

There are those who even describe it as a challenge to the law of the land when men decide to work beyond the agreed week and ban overtime.

The building employers by their contempt of the laws governing safety regulation are guilty of causing the deaths and maiming of workers. Yet they are not dealt with by the court.

The law is quite clearly an instrument of a tiny minority against a majority. The law is biased. It is a 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. It was conceived under pressure from Tory MPs, who demanded changes in picketing laws.

I am innocent of the charges and I will appeal. But there is a more important appeal to the entire trade union movement.

Nobody must think they can walk away from here and forget was has happened here. We are all part of something bigger than what has taken place here.

The trade union and working class movement cannot accept this verdict.



May 2004

Obituary in the Guardian

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