As most readers will know, the 24 Shrewsbury building workers falsely convicted in 1973-74 had their convictions quashed on March 23 this year after 47 years.
A big story - so big that even The Guardian carried over a page on it, which quoted Keir Starmer saluting this “huge victory” and TUC leader Frances O’Grady boasting that the fact they “never gave up” was “proved right” in the end. It’s a pity that the cleared men didn’t get that support at the time of the trial, when it mattered, as Des Warren - one of the six accused who was jailed - made clear in his 1982 book The key to my cell. He was let down by his own union, the TUC and the Labour Party leadership, though there was plenty of support in the working class.
The charges on which they were convicted would be largely irrelevant now, since, among other things, mass and flying pickets are now illegal with precious little pushback from union bureaucrats and one must assume, given the Blair government record, the overwhelming support of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
It was a big story too in the Morning Star, which had a front-page feature along with an editorial headlined “Justice at last for the Shrewsbury pickets - what can today’s left learn?” I’ve read it at least three times now and all I could find, apart from the nastiness of the government, the police and the mainstream media, was a rallying call: “We must unite to defeat another Tory government, 50 years on, that is bent on criminalising resistance.” Something for the left to “Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest”.
Des joined the Workers Revolutionary Party, which is how I came to meet him. I didn’t know him well, but well enough to say hello and chat for a while. He was a very nice bloke, though clearly in poor health following his mistreatment in prison - including the ‘liquid cosh’, as the drugs he was given were called. Even if he had been fit for work, he had also been blacklisted. Sadly, he died in 2004.
It was the main story too in The News Line, the paper still maintained by the Healyite remnant of the WRP. Headline? “Shrewsbury 24 victory! Convictions overturned.” Any jubilation over this news is unfortunately somewhat undermined by the accompanying picture: “Free the Shrewsbury Two,” say the banners. Fair enough, but prominently featured in the picture is Gerry Healy himself.
And what has the WRP learned? In an editorial on Friday March 26 we have this stirring message: “The lesson from the Shrewsbury conspiracy and all the cover-ups is that the capitalist state cannot be reformed in the interests of the working class. It must be smashed and replaced with a workers’ state and socialism. The urgent need today is to build the revolutionary party of the working class - the WRP - to lead this struggle for socialism to victory.” Not a lot then.
However, despite the empty words of union and Labour leaders, despite the empty lessons of some of the left, this was still good news. After a long and gruelling struggle, the surviving pickets with their families, along with the families of those who didn’t live to see the day, have at last received some smidgen of justice - and it’s taken a bloody long time.
Day of Action
A coalition of Labour left organisations on March 31 held a ‘National Day of Action to defend academic freedom and free speech’ in Bristol.
Bristol University is currently investigating professor David Miller, teacher of political sociology, for alleged anti-Semitism. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Tina Werkmann from the Labour Campaign for Free Speech. “Professor Miller is a highly regarded academic who has spoken out against Zionism. That is why he has come under fire. Professor David Miller’s job at Bristol University is at stake, because he dared to speak out on Zionism. This is an important test case - should he be sacked, this will result in even more attacks on academic freedom.”
Organisations in support of the March 31 action included Jewish Voice for Labour, Labour Campaign for Free Speech, Labour Left Alliance, Labour in Exile Network, Support David Miller Campaign, Labour Representation Committee, Labour International Left Alliance, Bristol and West Labour Left Alliance and a number of local left groups. They assembled outside the Wills Memorial Building of Bristol’s University to express “solidarity and support for professor Miller”.
Jewish Voice for Labour sent a message of support, which reads as follows: “The University of Bristol has come under huge pressure to sack one of its senior academics, professor David Miller. The attack has concentrated on his public statements, which reiterate forcefully his analysis of the role and influence of Israel and of Zionism, its supporting political ideology. The demand for David Miller’s sacking has been substantially based on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism - a widely criticised document that should have no role in university governance. Undoubtedly there are people who have been offended by what he has said. But in our view there is no supporting evidence to suggest that Miller’s views are motivated by anti-Semitism. And, of course, there is no right not to be offended. Indeed, the freedom of expression of staff, of students and of visiting speakers is expressly protected by law. For the university to “cancel” his job would be a truly extreme case of no-platforming. Jewish Voice for Labour calls on the University of Bristol to resist calls to sack David Miller.”
Dr Kevin Bean, fellow of the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool and a member of the steering committee of the Labour Campaign for Free Speech, says: “The right to free speech and the right to protest are coming under increasingly brutal attack. The government is already threatening to defund universities who do not adopt the IHRA misdefinition of anti-Semitism, which even its author, Kenneth Stern, has described as having been abused to ‘chill free speech’. Together with the proposed policing bill, which would make it illegal to cause ‘serious annoyance’, we are witnessing a very serious, coordinated attack against our basic human and democratic rights.”
David Miller is also supported by rapper Low Key, comedian Alexei Sayle, former Labour MP Chris Williamson and Middle Eastern expert professor Moshé Machover. Hundreds of academics and Jewish supporters have signed two open letters in support of Miller, which are available on the website here: supportmiller.org
Film director Ken Loach has said: “Universities depend on the freedom within the law to challenge all ideologies and political movements. Professor Miller is renowned and respected for his rigorous analysis and considered judgements. His voice is important. All are free to challenge his opinions, but none should advocate their suppression. Everyone who cherishes free speech should stand with David Miller.”
Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters says: “The Israeli lobby and its supporters in certain factions of Keir Starmer’s ‘Blairite’ apology for a Labour Party use of false accusations of anti-Semitism as its only defence of Israel’s illegal, racist, apartheid policies. That would be laughable, were it not so insidious and effective. David Miller, like many other good men and women, who Keir Starmer has purged from the Labour Party, are the life blood of a real labour movement that believes in human rights, a party that must be free from censorship and foreign influence. Support David Miller and the rest of the good and true - the Labour movement depends on it.”
Labour Campaign for Free Speech
I was disgusted to learn of an article you published, entitled ‘Defend David Miller’, in which it is stated: “[Professor Miller’s] alignment with pro-Shia groups ... points only to a sectional and religiously sectarian form of politics and runs counter to the radical, secular traditions of the workers’ movement” (March 18).
What exactly do you mean by “pro-Shia”? And why does working with an organisation largely (but not solely) composed of Shia Muslims automatically point towards “a sectional and religiously sectarian form of politics”? As a Shia Muslim, I would be very interested to know what precisely you meant by this.
This comment also indicates a larger ignorance about professor Miller’s longstanding work with other Muslim organisations, such as Cage and Mend (predominantly Sunni groups) and the Muslim Council of Britain, which represents a broad spectrum of belief amongst Muslims in Britain.
I shall be raising this matter publicly on every platform I have available, should this fail to be promptly explained and corrected.
Brought into sharp focus by Anne McShane and Victor Grossman was how useful are the words Schadenfreude and Kuddelmuddel, with no ready equivalent available in English lingo (Letters, March 25).
Thanks to a childhood spent amongst refugees from Nazism (my father being one), for me the similarly expressive German word ersatz pops to mind. It’s best translated as ‘imitation’, especially in the sense of cheap, phony, fabricated - a lousy replacement for the genuine article. Surely it’s a word that’s ideal when applied to the politics of 21st-century late-stage capitalism - most pointedly that of our Tories and their current leader, Boris Johnson (all of which having been analysed so very helpfully by comrade Eddie Ford - ‘Pax Americana Britannica’, March 25).
In much the same vein, how interesting it is that characteristics of our global elites permeate modern-day society as a whole to become its Zeitgeist; as might well be said, creating a Kuddelmuddel of notional democracy - our ‘clusterfuck’ of fabricated lifestyles. Certainly that is so in the sense of capitalism’s appalling (to the point of criminality) imitation of what both could and should be possible for humankind.
Yet again drawing upon my continental heritage, I arrive at this: am I suffering from the horrid, but also excusable, effects of Weltschmerz (world-weariness)? Or is it actually in a blend of Kuddelmuddel and clusterfuck that such all-pervasive Americanisation exists? In any case, there we have it, (for better or for worse; the rough taken with the smooth): certainly there for any USA-arse kissing/Brexiteer Britishers to live with!