Des’ Speech from the Dock

Taken from The Key To My Cell by Des Warren.

I have spent a week in jail, and people in there and various other people, not including my counsel, have told me that it was always a mistake to make a speech from the dock, because whatever you are going to get will be doubled. I tried to explain to them that the system that operates is purely for the upper class, and I don’t expect any leniency or mercy from it, so I’ll continue anyway.

It has been said in this court that this trial had nothing do with politics. Among ten million trade unionists in this country I doubt if you would find one who would agree with that statement. It is a fact of life that Acts of Parliament have been passed and picketing and strikes are looked upon as a political act …

(At this point, Mr. Justice Mais interrupted to say: ‘You must not use this opportunity as a political platform,’ but I ignored him and continued:)

It therefore follows that every action taken in furtherance of an industrial dispute also becomes a political act. There are even those who say it is a challenge to the law of the land if a man decides not to work more than an agreed number of hours, and bans overtime. This is something known to many trade unionists as politically motivated interference by governments acting on behalf of, and under political pressure from the employers, and it now means that no trade unionist can enter freely into negotiations with the employers, and they can’t withdraw their labour – the only thing they possess as a bargaining lever – without being accused of setting out to wreck the economy or break the law.

On the other hand, employers, by their contempt of laws governing safety requirements, are guilty of causing the deaths of a great many workers, and yet they are not dealt with before the courts. Mr. Bumble said: ‘The law is an ass.’ If he were here now he might draw the conclusion that the law is, quite clearly, an instrument of the state, to be used in the interests of a tiny minority against the majority. It is biased; it is class law, and nowhere has that been demonstrated more than in the prosecution case in this trial. The very nature of the charges, the delving into ancient Acts of Parliament, dredging up conspiracy, shows this to be so.

Was there a conspiracy? Ten members of the jury have said there was. There was a conspiracy, but not by the pickets. The conspiracy began with the miners giving the government a good hiding last year. It developed when the government was forced to perform legal gymnastics in getting five dockers out of jail after they had only just been put there. The conspiracy was between the Home Secretary, the employers and the police. It was not done with a nod and a wink. It was conceived after pressure from Tory Members of Parliament who demanded changes in picketing laws.

Of course, there was a very important reason why no police witness said he had seen any evidence of conspiracy, unlawful assembly or affray. The question was hovering over the case from the very first day: why were there no arrests on the 6 September? That would have led to the even more important question of when was the decision to proceed taken. Where did it come from? What instructions were issued to the police? And by whom? There was your conspiracy.

‘I’m innocent of the charges and I shall appeal. But there will be a more important appeal going out to every member of the trade union movement in this country. Nobody here must think they can walk away from here and forget what has happened here. Villains or victims, we are all part of something bigger than this trial.

The working class movement cannot allow this verdict to go unchallenged. It is yet one more step along the road to fascism, and I would remind you that the greatest heroes in Nazi Germany were those who challenged the law, when it was used as a political weapon by a fanatical gang for a minority of greedy, evil men.

The jury in this trial were asked to look upon the word ‘intimidation’ as having the ordinary everyday meaning. My interpretation is ‘to make timid’, or ‘to dispirit’, and when the pickets came to this town to speak to the building workers it was not with the intention of intimidating them. We came here with the intention of instilling the trade union spirit into them, and not to make them timid, but to give them the courage to fight the intimidation of the employers in this area.

My Name Is Dessie Warren

Ian Prowse made a video for the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign of his cover of Alun Parry’s song My Name Is Dessie Warren. The track, about the unjust imprisonment of Des Warren for his part in the 1972 builders’ strike, is taken from Ian’s album Compañeros. The video is directed by Roger Appleton.