The Justice for Shrewsbury Pickets Campaign has lost its founder and most lion-hearted champion. Mike re-kindled the campaign from dormancy when he retired in 2006, just as he promised Des Warren he would, when Des was dying from drug-induced Parkinson’s disease in 2004. For the first 5 years, the high profile that the campaign rapidly achieved was entirely down to Mike, who travelled the length and breadth of the country to build support. The intention was to persuade the TUC to organise a public inquiry to learn from the experience and overturn the 1970s criminalisation of mobilising solidarity action.
The campaign quickly became very popular, with a network of supporting organisations and individuals, all looking for a way to unite today’s campaigns against collective injustice with the unresolved issues from 1972 – casualisation, bogus self-employment, blacklisting of activists, poor H&S standards and inspection, and the behind-the-scenes ‘nod and a wink’ collaboration of employers, Tories, senior media, judiciary and police officials to prejudice public opinion against trade unionism. Wherever we went for support, it was forthcoming.
The campaign would not be where it is now without the National Committee that Mike recruited. He constantly reminded activists of Des’s statement from the dock, just before he was sent down for 3 years for conspiracy:- “Nobody here must think they can walk away from this court and forget what has happened here. Villains or victims, we are all part of something much 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 — the greatest heroes in Nazi Germany were those who challenged the law when it was used as a political weapon by government acting for a minority of greedy, evil men.”
The National Committee organised a lobby of parliament, 2 Early Day Motions, fringe meetings at UCATT, TUC and Labour Party conferences; we lobbied traded union leaders and Brendan Barber; we produced a DVD with Platform Films which has been shown all over the country; we have spoken at numerous trades councils. We campaigned for both the hugely successful annual Shrewsbury Pickets marches, in Shrewsbury organised by Telford and Shropshire TUC.
In the summer of 2010, out of nowhere, some members from the North West began to divide the campaign, insisting that the only campaigning they would do was to seek legal redress for the 24 convicted pickets. Legal redress was not on the campaign agenda until convicted picket Arthur Murray requested it, and since then nobody opposed it. Walking away from the National Committee will not overcome the criminalisation of mobilising solidarity action.
Unlike Mike and others of his generation, today’s young activists have no experience of the mounting world-wide optimism and strength of the struggle for socialism in the 60s and early 70s. And they have no other trade union organisation which is trying to develop their understanding of how that optimism and strength arose and was subsequently undermined. It was undermined by the unprincipled manoeuvring of all manner of left-talking people and organisations, not just the official leaders of the Labour Party and the trade unions. These left-talkers blocked the mobilisation of solidarity action that could have prevented the criminalisation of trade unionism 40 years ago, just as the mobilisation of solidarity action brought down the Heath government and forced the release of the Pentonville dockers. Instead, the solidarity of the 1970s was broken down using the same unprincipled tactics that were used against the National Committee — dividing the different mobilisations against collective injustice instead of uniting them, by claiming they are not part of the struggle for socialism.
Mike continued to be active, turning out and speaking up for every mobilisation against collective injustice, until he was put on palliative care at the beginning of February. He went on cheerfully talking and joking right to the end, with barely a moment’s self-pity, despite the excruciating side-effects of the 3 courses of chemotherapy he endured over 3 years, until the doctors could do no more. Mike’s determination, integrity and fortitude are beyond question, a blazing beacon to all who knew him, just like Des Warren’s. Des refused to allow himself to be called a hero, and Mike felt the same. Nevertheless, all those young activists who take up the struggle against collective injustice will honour people like them, and be inspired by the qualities of unyielding principle and self-sacrifice that they embodied.