obituary - des warren


Des Warren, a stalwart fighter for British building workers, and a man who suffered for his principles, died at the end of April. He was better known as one of the Shrewsbury Two, the other one being Ricky Tomlinson, who later found fame in acting.

They were prominent organisers of the national building workers' strike in 1972 and continued the fight against the invidious 'lump' system, whereby employers forced building workers to become self- employed with the consequent de-regulation of the industry, non-recognition of building unions and worsening of pay and conditions.

Warren, then 35, was a good organiser of flying pickets, which effectively widened the dispute over the whole country, with tens of thousands joining the strike. The Tory government, having suffered defeats by the miners and being forced to release the Pentonville 5 dockers, was determined to beat the building workers in collusion with Building Trades Employers.

To do this they prosecuted both Warren and Tomlinson on trumped-up charges under the Conspiracy Act. Warren was sentenced to 3 years, Tomlinson for 2 . At the end of his trial Warren said "The conspiracy was between the government, the employers and the police." Both men endured appalling, squalid conditions in 14 different jails! They went 'on the blanket', refusing to wear prison uniform and to do prison work. Warren in particular was singled out, with many months of solitary confinement and reductions in family visits.

Des Warren never really recovered his physical health, laying the blame on the 'liquid cosh', the tranquillising drugs administered to him in prison. He wrote a book about his experiences in prison called 'The Key To My Cell'. Warren retained his wicked sense of humour to the end and it was fitting that last year the Merseyside conference of the National Construction Safety Campaign celebrated his contribution to trade unionism with the Robert Tressell Award. He is sadly missed.