• Robert Spicer

Shrewsbury pickets: 40th anniversary

Shrewsbury pickets

In 1972, building workers held their first ever national strike for decent pay and health & safety at work. Five months after the strike ended, 24 trade union members were charged with offences allegedly arising from picketing in Shrewsbury in September 1972. They included individuals who were convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to imprisonment. Government files relating to the strike have been withheld from the National Archives even though more than 30 years have passed. We call upon the Government to release all Cabinet minutes, documents, discussion papers, civil service notes, reports and telephone records produced from 1972 to 1976 by Government departments, agencies and prosecuting authorities relating to the strike, the building workers’ unions, the arrested pickets, the prosecutions at Mold and Shrewsbury and the subsequent appeals, as well as any other material pertaining to the case that fall outside the above time period.

The verdicts and setences in the Shrewsbury case can only be understood if it is remembered that, at the time, the Conservative government was reeling from its defat by the miners in the industrial conflict of the winter of 1972, A number of significant questions remain unanswered. First, more than three hundred union members were involved in flying pickets which visited building sites in North Wales during the strike. For some undisclosed reason, only thirty-one of those were arrested and evetually only three imprisoned. The facts behind this selection procedure have never been revealed.

Two police forces recommended to the Director of Public Prosecutions that no charges should be brought because the ringleaders could not be indentified. Later, after a speech by the Home Secretary urging that charges should be brought, thirty-one of the pickets were arrested at their homes. Of these, twenty-four were eventually tried at Shrewsbury Crown Court.

Those who have always held that the law is a weapon used by the ruling class to maintain its privileged position may find their view confirmed by what happened at Shrewsbury.s

The expense of vast numbers of police in the investigation, the nature of the charges, the choice of venue, the long lapse of time between the ending of the strike and the start of the investigation, the harshness of the sentences and the selection for long prison sentences of only those pickets known to hold strong political views – all this only makes sense as conscious political action by the state.

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