From the current issue of the Big Issue in the North magazine.
Actor Ricky Tomlinson will be joined by his former building worker colleagues on 16 December to present a petition to 10 Downing Street calling for the release of government documents relating to the 1972 builders strike.
Charged under the 1875 Conspiracy Act, Tomlinson was one of six men jailed for his role in the organising of flying pickets in Liverpool and North Wales during a national strike organised by the building workers union UCATT over pay and the casualised labour system known as the “lump”.
One of the Telford New Town sites that was picketed was called Brookside, the same name as the famous Channel 4 soap opera in which Tomlinson became a household name by playing Bobby Grant, a factory shop steward.
In the builders strike 300,000 workers downed tools nationally and were successful in raising wages, cutting back on subcontracting and lowering the rate of deaths and injuries on sites.
The dispute was one of a number in which workers successfully challenged the prices and incomes policy of the Tory government of Edward Heath.
Tomlinson was sentenced to serve two years for “conspiracy to intimidate” at his trial in Shrewsbury in 1973. Another of the six, Des Warren, received three years. Twenty-four building workers in total were found guilty of the charges brought against them. Much of the evidence of alleged violence and intimidation had been collected in a dossier supplied to the police by the National Federation of Building Trades Employers.
The Financial Times called the dossier “flawed, since it suggests the existence of a sinister plot without being able to substantiate the allegations”.
Established in 2006 the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign is seeking to overturn the men’s convictions. It believes the charges were politically motivated and that there was government interference in the prosecutions.
It believes the release of all government papers relating to the trials will prove the interference but in 2011 the Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke exempted the release of some records under the Freedom of Information Act until 2021, for “security reasons”.
An e-petition on the government’s website this year, calling for the release of the papers, failed to gather enough signatures to force ministers to act but the campaign will now present a paper version to 10 Downing St.
Eileen Turnbull, the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign researcher and treasurer, said: “Not releasing the documents damages government credibility and upholds our contention that the government back then had an involvement in the trials of the Shrewsbury pickets.
“We have had great support and 18 national trade unions, 200 local union branches and 60 trades councils affiliated to us are collecting signatures. Many individuals have also helped.
“We are confident of a large number of signatures being handed in to Downing Street on 16 December.”
Tomlinson and one of the other men charged, John McKinsie Jones, will be accompanied by union leaders Len McCluskey and Steve Murphy, and Labour MP Tom Watson.