Treacherous Conspiracy by the Stalinists of the British Communist Party and the Trade Union Bureaucracy
By Laurence Humphries, RCIT Britain, 18 April 2021, www.thecommunists.net
On the 23rd March 1972, the convictions in of 24 Shrewsbury building workers was quashed by the Court of Appeal. Six of those building workers are now dead. The national strike of 1972 coincided with great class battles from 1972 to 1974. UCATT and the TGWU launched national strikes against working conditions and better pay. These battles were to lead to the election of a minority Labour Government under Harold Wilson after the Miners and the NUM defeated the Heath Tory government.
“The Court of appeal has overturned the convictions of 14 men sentenced for their involvement in pickets in 1972. Trade unionists who picketed during the national builders' strike were charged with offences including unlawful assembly and conspiracy to intimidate. Lawyers for the so-called Shrewsbury 24 had argued the destruction of witness statements made their convictions unsafe.” .
The Role of the Labour Government
In an editorial on the decision to pardon the Shrewsbury building workers, the Stalinist Morning Star (organ of the British Communist Party) seeks to excuse its role in the conspiracy against Des Warren, the most politically advanced picket organizer and a member of the party at the height of the strike. Unsurprisingly, there is no mention of their despicable role in relation to Warren and their ultimate betrayal of the strike.
“Nearly five decades have passed since 24 building workers were prosecuted for picketing during the first national builders’ strike. Several died before their names were cleared, including Des Warren, whose three-year jail sentence was the longest handed down. His health was broken in prison and he was blacklisted on release; he never worked again.”.
In 1972, with the election of the Tory Heath administration, Heath’s Home secretary Robert Carr was determined to smash the building workers strike by criminalising workers, charging them under the 1875 Conspiracy Act and under the accusation of violence and affray. The Tories used the capitalist press to portray the pickets as violent men with Warren as their ringleader. Des Warren and Eric Tomlinson faced the most serious charges and were jailed for 3 years. Warren was the last to be freed.
Roy Jenkins, the Labour Home Secretary, refused to hear any appeals from Warren. All the time he was incarcerated, he was moved from jail to jail, suffered beatings and victimisation from prison officers. Jenkins, who eventually broke with the Labour Party, was de-facto a right-wing politician inside Social Democracy. He can be compared to other traitors who recently did the same when Jeremy Corbyn was leader of the Labour Party.
In 1972, Warren was a militant in the Communist Party and part of the Charter Group, a rank-and-file group of building workers under control and leadership of the Communist Party. Pete Carter was the leader and an executive member of the Communist Party at that time. Warren describes in his book “The Key to my cell “, his incarceration in 1973: “From the very start of my sentence I had to keep fighting, not submit and refuse to accept guilt.” .
Warren’s disquiet with the Stalinists is also revealed in his book: “I had no illusions in the TUC or any of the Unions executive committee’s but my attitude was always that the Communist Party leaders were professionals acting in the interests of the working class. When I came out of Jail however I had developed a different idea of responsibility. This was I think the beginning of the breach between myself and the Stalinist leadership of the CP.” . While Warren was in jail, he refused to do prison work, even went on hunger strike because of the violence meted out to him and the refusal of Jenkins to consider him a political prisoner.
The treacherous Trade Union Bureaucracy
Warren has a whole section on how the trade union bureaucracy deserted the jailed building workers and refused to mount any action of solidarity. Both Jack Jones of the TGWU and George Smith of UCATT refused to act while working class prisoners were jailed.
“The Bureaucratic clique in UCATT achieved its aim insofar as the T&G leaders were concerned. The leaders of the latter union wanted no mass action to free us met at Congress house on January 23rd. the unanimous demand of the T%G committee for our release was transformed into a request for a review of the sentence.” . There was no mass action and just a letter writing campaign to Jenkins. This was their response when the mass movement organised demonstrations, pickets, and other solidarity actions. The bureaucracy turned a blind eye and did nothing. When Warren and Tomlinson made appeals to the capitalist courts for bail and release, they were rejected. So much for the bureaucracy’s plan to fight on Warren’s and Tomlinson’s behalf.
“On March 6th Len Murray (General Secretary of the TUC) said on behalf of the General Council that there was no question of calling for the release of the 6 men jailed at Shrewsbury.” .
Warren’s Fight for Political Status and the Betrayal by Stalinists
While Warren was in Lincoln Prison, he refused to wear any clothes except a blanket similar to the internees at Long Kesh led by Bobby Sands. Bert Ramelson, the Industrial Organiser of the British Communist Party and a hardened Stalinist, wrote to Warren to cease the protest of only wearing a blanket. This was the final betrayal by the Stalinists. Warren tells the whole story: “He then told me (Ramelson) that if we cannot force your unconditional pardon through Industrial action my supporters would understand me going for parole. Give up the protest, get out any way, you can go for Parole we cannot force your release by action outside.” .
This was then the treacherous role of Stalinism. Ramelson and the leaders of the TUC wrote the whole campaign off. Warren was again moved from prison to prison, spending jail time at Wormwood Scrubs, Leicester, Bedford, Nottingham and lastly Lincoln. He had engaged in 3 hunger strikes in protests. At the same time Warren was given the liquid cosh medication (tranquilizer drug) prescribed by doctors after his hunger strikes. This made Warren disorientated, confused and unable to think rationally. Ramelson, the trade union bureaucrats, Jenkins and the Labour Government are all guilty of crime against Warren. Des Warren was released on August 5th, 1976. He was a changed man, affected by the liquid cosh given to him in prison. He would later develop Parkinson’s disease and end up in a wheelchair. In 1980, Warren finally broke with the Communist Party and joined the Trotskyist Movement. He died in 2004 from Parkinson’s disease, but the real culprits are the trade union bureaucracy, Stalinism and the Labour Government of the time. They colluded to destroy one of the best fighters involved in that historic battle of building workers to improve their conditions and pay. He must be remembered by all militants and principled socialists as one of our Greatest.
For a Workers’ Government
Nine years ago, I wrote an article which showed the role of Stalinism during the great class battles from 1972 -1974, organised by the building workers, the miners and the dockers. The miners defeated the Tory Government in 1974 and a minority Labour government was elected. The British Communist Party continued its historic role to betray, defend the bureaucratic apparatus and acted as agents of the bourgeoisie in the workers movement.
“During his time inside, both he and Tomlinson were to learn very quickly the nature and role of the Ucatt leadership and the Communist Party. Ucatt even refused to provide legal aid, despite previously having agreed to do so. Warren and Tomlinson fought for their status as political prisoners and refused to wear prison uniforms. They also went on hunger strike in protest at the refusal of the state to give them political status. As Des wrote, “It should be made clear to the movement as soon as possible that it was not a legal attack on us personally, but a political attack on the movement as a whole Des thought that while he was in prison the CPGB would be mobilising a mass movement to free him and Ricky. The working class in its thousands did attend many demonstrations and lobbies, but the Ucatt leadership did no more than lobby Labour, especially when it was returned to power in the 1974 general election. At no time did it consider trying to use the combined strength of the unions to free Warren and Tomlinson. It seems the Communist Party wanted to wash its hands of the whole affair. Ramelson and CPGB executive member Pete Carter bore the main responsibility for this treachery. They provided left cover for union bureaucrats like Ucatt’s George Smith. They had no intention of using their industrial influence to help free Warren and Tomlinson. They called for a public enquiry, sponsored motions in the House of Commons and mobilized for lobbies and demonstrations, but there was never a move to call for strike action at any time, despite the lessons of the Pentonville Five: if the TUC had called a general strike they would have been freed.” .
The Boris Johnson Government today, like the Heath government, wants to criminalize workers and the oppressed by bringing in legislation like the 'Spy Cops Bill' and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021. The turn towards chauvinism, racism and bonapartism shows the same determination that the Tory Government took during the Shrewsbury building workers' strikes. Indeed, revolutionaries can prepare for today’s struggle by learning the lectures of the Shrewsbury’s strike.
In this spirit, the RCIT in Britain puts forward the following proposals to organize the working class for the battles of today.
* Defeat bonapartism and chauvinism, fight against any attack on basic democratic rights! Revolutionaries argue for protests and strikes up to an indefinite general strike in order to overthrow this reactionary and hated Tory Government! Fight for a Workers’ Government!
* We need self-defense units to fight back against police violence and racist attacks! In case of an indefinite general strike, we even need a Workers Defence Guard armed to protect workers, migrants and the militant masses from police provocations and fascist attacks!
* To solve the health crisis, we need both to fight against bonapartism as well as we need to fight for a strong healthcare system! How to finance this? By the Expropriation of the Corporations and Global companies without compensation - and under workers’ control!
Join the RCIT become part of the struggle for the 5th International! Help us build a truly revolutionary, Socialist World Party!
(3) Warren.D: Shrewsbury Picket. THE KEY TO MY CELL: NEW PARK PUBLICATIONS. P.69
(4) IBID: p.72
(5) IBID: p.99
(6) IBID: p.105
(7) IBID: p.130-131