Neil Gore’s play United We Stand is the latest production in The CLF Theatre’s politics season.
Gore’s latest play, which had a successful national tour last year, tells the story of the controversial “Shrewsbury 24”, when 24 building workers were accused, and three jailed, including Ricky Tomlinson and Des Warren, for violent picketing and intimidating workers in Shropshire in 1973.
Sharp and humorous, United We Stand tells the story behind the compelling dispute and dispels the myth, put about at the time, that the pickets were a criminally violent rather than ordinary working men seeking a better life for themselves and their fellow workers.
In the 1960s and ’70s the UK’s building companies were making millions re-building the country, but building workers faced the most dangerous working conditions and poorest wages of any trade.
In the summer of ’72, for 12 weeks, 300,000 building workers launched their industry’s first national all-out strike to end cash “lump” wages and seek better pay by using the controversial tactic of Flying Pickets.
The partial success of the strike, and the methods used, enraged the construction industry and government, and culminated in the arrest of 24 builders in North Wales who were charged with offences including conspiracy to intimidate and affray.
The “24” were prosecuted at Shrewsbury Crown Court in 1973 and three were jailed, including building workers Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson.
The production aims to bring the full story of the compelling dispute to life in a powerful and thought-provoking new play that combines Townsend Productions’ trademark cast of two playing multiple roles, grand theatrical style and wit.
It includes popular and political songs about the strike, arranged by renowned folk musician John Kirkpatrick and Ricky Tomlinson’s poems from his time in prison.
The events surrounding the strike are still making headlines to this day, and 42 years on, the high-profile Shrewsbury 24 Campaign, led by picket turned actor Ricky Tomlinson is still seeking to overturn the unjust prosecution of the 24 building workers.
Ricky Tomlinson said about the play: “I am delighted Townsend Productions are presenting a play about the 1972 building workers strike, and the plight of the Shrewsbury 24 building worker pickets.
“It is 41 years since I, together with Des Warren and John McKinsie Jones were charged with conspiracy and jailed.
“We were charged with conspiracy, but we believe the real conspiracy was between the government, the building contractors and the judiciary. They wanted the prison sentences to act as a deterrent, to prevent workers from taking strike action.
“Every worker should know what happened to us so as to ensure it does not happen again.”
United We Stand, directed by Louise Townsend, stars Neil Gore and William Fox.
The opening night performance, on November 2, will be followed by a discussion on the Shrewsbury 24 featuring Tomlinson; the newly elected deputy shadow leader Tom Watson MP; Len McCluskey (General Secretary of UNITE) and members of the Shrewsbury 24 campaign.
United We Stand runs at The CLF Theatre, Block A, Bussey Building, Peckham, from November 2-14.