Everyone knows that in the 1970s the unions ran the country. For example, every television clip of the decade, probably by law, has to include a bit that goes “it was a time when the unions wouldn’t even let the dead be buried”, so there must be millions who think that’s what unions did. They went into the manager’s office and said “give us a rise or we’ll chuck another corpse on your desk”, and some newspapers probably claim the dead bodies became so confused that they woke up, threatening major disruption on behalf of the National Union of Zombies, Undead and Allied Flesh-Eating Trades (NUZUAFET) until Margaret Thatcher destroyed them all with a shovel.
So it’s peculiar that the Government has decided to keep documents about the 1972 building workers’ strike secret for another 10 years. The strike was for increased pay, and 24 of the strikers were charged under the Conspiracy Act, with two of them jailed as a matter of “national security”. Presumably, their demands were for a 10 per cent rise, double-time for Sundays, and the handing over of state power to Colonel Gaddafi, with all plastering to be under the control of an alliance of Angolan guerrillas.
One piece of evidence that has emerged to back the Government’s case was a 1973 letter from the Attorney-General, who supported the jail sentences because the strikers had used “intimidation, consisting of threatening words”. What sort of threatening words can breach national security, I wonder? Maybe they were shouting “ Give us a pay rise”, which by coincidence was the Ministry of Defence password for finding the precise location of our nuclear submarines.
But it was bad luck for the Government that one of the jailed strikers was Ricky Tomlinson, who then became one of our best-loved actors. So the case has continued to attract attention ever since. It seems there was a conspiracy between the construction companies, the police and the Conservative government, who wanted the strikers jailed to break the unions so they concocted the charges between them. The papers which could settle this issue were due to be released this week, but the current Government has now said they can’t be seen until 2021 “due to national security”.
If this was a strange argument at the time, it’s even more baffling 40 years later. Maybe these papers contain building workers’ prose so potent we’ll all surrender power to bricklayers and agree to become their hod-carrying slaves. Perhaps Tomlinson has been secretly working for the North Koreans, and his lines in The Royle Family were coded signals to Kim Jong-Il revealing the whereabouts of every unit of the SAS. “Denise love, put the kettle on will yer” almost cost us an entire regiment.
Campaigners demand that the papers be released, but you can see the Government’s point. Because if al-Qa’ida were to become aware of the details of a 40-year-old building workers’ dispute, there’s no telling what havoc they might create.