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Ricky Tomlinson on the “Shrewsbury 24 Campaign”

SERTUC Council - Saturday 19 October 2013
The first council meeting of the Southern and Eastern region of the TUC after the summer season of annual conferences was dominated by the need for the movement to challenge the coalition government’s continuing strategy of austerity which is punishing all sectors of our workforce. This mood was reflected in unanimous support of an emergency motion calling for all sectors to back a 24 hour strike of postal workers whose service, the Royal Mail, had just been privatised, and full backing for co-ordinated strike action on the 31 October of the three unions whose members work in Higher education. Paula Roe, NASUWT, gave an update on the day of action, Alex Kenny clarified the NUT position, and Nigel Stanley, TUC Campaigns and communication, updated the meeting onthe Lobbying Bill.

However the highlight of the meeting was an extraordinarily emotional and rousing presentation by Ricky Tomlinson on the “Shrewsbury 24 Campaign”. Although the strike and subsequent victimisation of the building workers took place 40 years ago in 1972 a campaign and petition has been set up calling for the release of all the trial documents which led to the strikers being imprisoned on trumped up charges of ‘Affray and Unlawful Assembly’. Three of the pickets who defended their rights in 1972 to strike were imprisoned - Des Warren 3 years, Ricky Tomlinson 2 years, and John McKinsie Jones 9 months - are now campaigning to clear their names and demanding access to (police) statements given in evidence. However, the Shrewsbury 24’s demands have been obstructed, and all documents withheld. After an online ‘parliamentary e-petition’ to obtain the documents was obstructed the campaign is now running a traditional petition as well as challenging the infringement of the Freedom of Information act. It seems that nothing has changed when it comes to ordinary people exercising their democratic rights. The campaign provides another opportunity to challenge that section of our society who continue to deny us our rights. Sign the petition. Support the Shrewsbury 24.

The “Battle of Cable Street” Commemorated 2013

Sunday the 4th of October 1936 went down in history as a day when good people gathered together and made a stand against Sir Oswald Mosley’s “Black Shirts” and the rise of fascism - the event became known as “The Battle of Cable Street”. Every year this day is remembered by successive generations who know that fascism has a habit of raising its ugly head and that direct action has to be taken against the likes of Mosley, the NF, BNP, and more recently the EDL, to ensure “they will not pass”. To mark the resistance and to show that seventy seven years later there is still no place for fascism local Trade Unionists and members of the Co-operative movement laid red roses and ribbons by the renowned “Battle of Cable Street Mural” on St George’s Town Hall (Stepney). This year’s commemoration was all the more poignant - a month earlier on 7 September 2013, the EDL had rallied their “storm troopers” to march from Tower Hill to Aldgate East echoing Mosley’s 1936 gathering of his “Black Shirt” thugs. And once again the people of the east end of London stopped the EDL’s fascistic beliefs permeating through our society.

See also:
http://party.london.coop/towerhamlets/2012/10/battleofcablestreet-remembered/
http://mayday.workingclassheroes.org.uk/collection/16

EDL march blocked at Aldgate - Tower Hamlets

Although community organisations, local politicians and the Mayor of Tower Hamlets had called for the march to be banned the EDL did gather for their static demonstration in Aldgate High Street, as planned. After which they made their way back over Tower Bridge and dispersed the ugly face of fascism around Jamaica Street, Southwark.

Tower Hamlets Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, who was part of the United East End and United Against Fascism counter-demonstration in the borough, said: “I am pleased that our plans to prevent the EDL from spreading disruption and racism into our borough were successful.” He went on to say, “In fact today was a chance for our diverse communities to come together and strongly reject the messages of hate that the EDL represent. The council, its partners and the local community have remained united in the face of a divisive and disruptive group and our message that our borough is ‘no place for hate’ has never been stronger.

Strong objections to the EDL were voiced by all the speakers in the UAF rally held in Altab Ali Park, together with visual messages on hundreds of placards and banners. However, there was very little trouble on the streets. This was in part due to the well organised anti-fascist groups who co-ordinated the rally and the ‘lock down’ tactics of the police between Tower Hill and Aldgate. However, a couple of hundred of arrests were made but these were mainly of active members of the Anti Fascist Network (AFN) many of whom had been “kettled” around the Tower Hill and Royal Mint Street area prior to the heavily escorted return march of the EDL.

(Also see TH Unison newsletter “Tower Power” 2013 - issue no: 313)

In respect of Thomas Rainsborough - Leveller

Wapping, an area of East London located beside the River Thames has a rich history. It’s renowned for its ships, docks, and warehouses which stored goods imported from around the world. It was an area where huge wealth rubbed shoulders with dreadful poverty. It has a reputation for baudy tough living in its many riverside inns that were saturated with transitory lifestyles of sailors, riverboat men, dock workers, wheeler dealers and prostitutes. Yet there is a surprising elegance to be found alongside the foreshore of cobbled streets and grand houses that were graced by the powerful, famous and infamous including Thomas Rainsborough a prominent officer  in Cromwell’s model army during the English civil war.

The “discovery” of Thomas Rainsborough’s grave in St John’s Church Yard, located on the corner of Scandrett Street and Wapping High Street Wapping,  provided an opportunity to mark a moment of England’s forgotten history - a revolution arising from popular demand for democratic parliamentary rule particularly that advocated by the “Levellers”. Thomas Rainsborough was a driving force in the Cromwell’s new ‘model army’ and Leader of the ‘Levellers’ - a faction which developed through growing dissent within the ‘army’ that was committed to the abolition of corruption in parliamentary and judicial processes andwho were committed supporters of religious toleration. Following Rainsborough’s death, caused by a bungled kidnap attempt in a siege at Pontefract Castle, Thomas Rainsborough was buried at St John’s on 14 November 1648.

On the 12 May 2013, Musketeers from the “Rainsborough Regiment of the Sealed Knot” re-enacted a ‘salute’ (or two) by firing a volley of musket shots. This took place after speeches given by local Councillor Rania Khan (Cabinet Lead member - Culture), John Rees (Academic historian/author), Brian Nicholson (Trade Unionist / local historian) and Tony Benn (Politician) and the unveiling of a plaque which stated the achievements of Thomas Rainsborough.

Thomas Rainsborough was buried in this churchyard on the 14th November 1648 after a funderal procession organised by the Leveller movement. Rainsbourough was a spokesman for the Levellers and a colonel in the New Model Army. He was killed by a Royalist raiding party during the siege of Pontefract. On the day of the funeral a Leveller leaflet recorded the inscription on Rainsboutough's tomb. It proclaimed Rainsborough had made "Kings, Lords, Commonsm Judges shake, Cities and Committees quake". He was, it said, '...just valieant and true'. It ended with the words that here Rainsborough 'bids the noble Levellers adieu'.

A year  following Rainsborough’s death unrest continued to grow in Cromwell’s model army. This came to a head when Cromwell wanted to take his ‘ecclesiastical  fight’ (jihad) to Catholic Ireland. Mutiny struck in 1649.... 

.... On 24 April 1649, around 30 troopers in Colonel Whalley's regiment, refused orders to leave the City of London for a rendezvous at Mile End Green. The mutineers seized the regimental colours, took over the Bull Inn at Bishopsgate and refused to obey their officers' orders, including those of Colonel Whalley himself. It was not until Fairfax and Cromwell arrived on the scene the following day that they finally backed down. Fifteen soldiers were arrested and court-martialled, of whom five were to be cashiered after riding the wooden horse and six were sentenced to death. In a gesture of reconciliation, Cromwell pleaded for mercy and all were pardoned except for Robert Lockier, a former Agitator within the regiment,

who was believed to be the ringleader of the mutiny. Lockier was executed by firing squad in front of St Paul's Cathedral on 27 April 1649. Like the funeral of Colonel Rainsborough the previous year, Lockier's funeral occasioned a massive Leveller-led demonstration in London, with thousands of mourners wearing ribbons of sea-green — the Levellers' colours — and bunches of rosemary for remembrance in their hats.

The Levellers who emerged from the English Civil War were eventually crushed by the violent  reactions emanating from Cromwell’s growing paranoia which sadly divided and ultimately destroyed the permanence of our one and only English revolution. However, not all was lost! Although the re-established king, Charles II, ordered Cromwell’s body to be cruelly disinterred and decapitated (1661) - 8 years after his death 1653 - our Parliamentary Democracy had been solidly established and the divine rights of Kings finally rubbed out. The fragility of our democracy should always be remembered. Events commemorating the brave people such as the Levellers and Thomas Rainsborough is part of the continuing fight against pervasive cultural amnesia which would destroy our hard won democratic rights.

The spirit of the ‘English revolution’ can still be experienced through joining organisations such as the “Tower Hamlets Trayned Bandes”.

The aftermath

After the execution of King Charles in January 1649, unrest in the Army centred around the Council of State's plans for an invasion of Ireland and over the continuing reluctance of Parliament to settle arrears of pay. To the unpaid soldiers, the situation under the Independents in Parliament seemed much the same as it had been under the Presbyterians in 1647. Civilian and military Levellers were also demanding elections for a more representative Parliament.

In April 1649, lots were drawn to select regiments for service in Ireland. The soldiers were told that they would not be compelled to go, but any who chose to remain in England would be dismissed from the Army. Three hundred infantrymen of Colonel Hewson's regiment threw down their weapons and declared that they would not go to Ireland unless the Leveller demands were granted. They were promptly cashiered without arrears of pay. Discontent at their treatment spread rapidly through the Army.

On 24 April 1649, around 30 troopers in Colonel Whalley's regiment, refused orders to leave the City of London for a rendezvous at Mile End Green. The mutineers seized the regimental colours, took over the Bull Inn at Bishopsgate and refused to obey their officers' orders, including those of Colonel Whalley himself. It was not until Fairfax and Cromwell arrived on the scene the following day that they finally backed down. Fifteen soldiers were arrested and court-martialled, of whom five were to be cashiered after riding the wooden horse and six were sentenced to death.

In a gesture of reconciliation, Cromwell pleaded for mercy and all were pardoned except for Robert Lockier, a former Agitator within the regiment, who was believed to be the ringleader of the mutiny. Lockier was executed by firing squad in front of St Paul's Cathedral on 27 April 1649. Like the funeral of Colonel Rainsborough the previous year, Lockier's funeral occasioned a massive Leveller-led demonstration in London, with thousands of mourners wearing ribbons of sea-green — the Levellers' colours — and bunches of rosemary for remembrance in their hats.