Double podcast episode on the 1972 building workers’ strike and subsequent backlash from employers and the state, which resulted in one of the biggest miscarriages of justice experienced by the labour movement in twentieth-century Britain. In conversation with two participants from the strike, Tony O’Brien and actor Ricky Tomlinson.

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You can listen to our podcast on the below links, or on any major podcast app. Links to a few below.

  • Part 1: conditions in the building industry, how the strike started and the flying pickets organised by the rank and file that spread it – available now for patreon supporters.
  • Part 2: how the strike ended, the framing of the Shrewsbury 24, Ricky’s experiences in prison, blacklisting, and the legacies of the 1972 strike – available soon.
  • Bonus: Ricky Tomlinson talks more about his experiences in prison, working in construction and as a trade unionist – exclusively for patreon supporters.

More information

  • For anyone who wants to learn more about the 1972 building workers’ strike and subsequent Shrewsbury trials, we recommend you read The Key to My Cell by Des Warren. You can get a copy of his book from the News From Nowhere Radical and Community Bookshop. Warren was a building worker activist who, along with Ricky, was framed during the events at Shrewsbury and sentenced to three years in prison.
  • Free the Six – Film made by film students Michael Rosen and Jeff Perks in 1974. It shows the lack of health and safety on building sites and also gives a voice to building workers who took part in the strike giving a  honest and clear accounts of how they organised flying pickets.
  • Our guest, Tony O’Brien, has also recently written the book Tackling the Housing Crisis: the Case for Council Housing and Directly Employed Construction Workers. Tony argues that housing is a human right and shows how the creation of a national public-sector construction organisation can fix our corrupt system controlled by building companies and property speculators. To order or read more information about the book, click here.

Media

Des Warren (speaking) and Ricky Tomlinson (to Warren’s right) addressing construction workers at Brookside site in Telford. PICTURE BY DAVE BAGNALL.

In the the above picture of the final site meeting at Brookside is a building worker called Clifford Growcott (bottom right-hand corner, back to camera). Growcott featured heavily in media coverage of the strike and subsequent Shrewsbury trials as ‘proof’ of violent picketing: in interviews, Growcott claimed to have been “punched and kicked like a football” and lost all sight in his right eye. However, as can clearly be seen above, Growcott is standing during the meeting unharmed (during the trial, as was pointed out by Arthur Murray, a building worker and friend of Ricky Tomlinson, photos from the day were presented in the wrong order so that this meeting was presented as happening first rather than last).

Des Warren’s counsel, John Platts-Mills, brought the attention of the judge to the fact that Growcott’s claims in the Daily Mail go “beyond anything he ever said here”. Years later, the media’s accusations of violence would grow more outlandish: when Ricky appeared on television in 1981, the Mail ran the headline ‘I was a victim of the picket who played TV hero’ claiming that Growcott was attacked by “a column of 80 pickets [who] pulled him off a ladder, kicked him to the ground and smashed his head in with a brick.” Readers can judge from the above picture as to whether that seems to have been the case.

Ricky Tomlinson (centre) speaking to Chief Superintendent Meredith. PICTURE BY DAVE BAGNALL.
Tony O’Brien (front, centre) during the 1972 strike. Photo courtesy of Workers’ Press/WRP.
Tony speaking on BBC News following a crane collapse in Canary Wharf, East London. Still taken from the Builders’ Crack documentary (see link to full video below).
2010 film covering the miscarriage of justice that followed the 1972 strike.
Builders’ Crack: documentary about rank-and-file organising in the construction industry in London during the 1990s.

Sources

  • The Key to My Cell by Des Warren. Get a copy here from an independent radical bookshop.
  • Shrewsbury 24 Campaign website, accessed April 26, 2022.
  • McGuire, Charlie, Linda Clarke, and Christine Wall. “Battles on the Barbican: The Struggle for Trade Unionism in the British Building Industry, 1965-7.” History Workshop Journal, no. 75 (2013): 33–57. Read it here.
  • McIvor, Arthur. “‘A Crusade for Capitalism’: The Economic League, 1919-1939”, Journal of Contemporary History 23 (1988), 631-55.
  • Mordsley, B. I. “Some Problems of the ‘Lump.’” The Modern Law Review 38, no. 5 (1975): 504–17.
  • Parliamentary debate on the Shrewsbury 24, 9 December 2015.
  • “Key events – “Bloody Sunday”, Derry 30 January 1972,” CAIN, accessed April 26, 2022.

Acknowledgements

  • Thanks to our patreon supporters for making this podcast possible and a special thanks to Stone Lawson
  • We’d also like to thank Dave Smith from the Blacklist Support Group for helping us contact our interviewees
  • Episode images courtesy of David Bagnall and Workers’ Press.
  • The music used for this episode was ‘My Name is Dessie Warren’ by Alun Parry. Stream it on Bandcamp or Spotify. You can also download it (and the rest of the album) here.
  • These episodes were edited by Louise Barry.

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Transcript

Coming soon!

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