History,  Trots

Socialist Worker : Champions of a Racist

In the early 1970s the Socialist Workers Party was known as International Socialists. The name of their paper was the same as it is today: Socialist Worker. Like today, vomit was then spewed from the pens of their journalists and ended up in print in their so-called “socialist” newspaper.

In the years 1974-1975, Socialist Worker ran a number of articles in favour of the Shrewsbury pickets and in particular in favour of Des Warren and Eric Tomlinson, leaders of these pickets. The relevant person I wish to focus upon is Eric “Ricky” Tomlinson who was jailed for two years for conspiring to intimidate building workers.  The Times reported (December 20, 1973), Tomlinson was found guilty of unlawful assembly, fighting and making an affray and sentenced to two years in prison. An appeal against the sentence was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in 1974. (The Times, October 30, 1974).

I have previously commented on this trial:

During the trial, Mr. Maurice Drake, QC  for the prosecution, explained that Tomlinson and Warren were leaders of the “flying pickets” and that they had engaged in acts that no responsible trade union member or leader would condone. Far from being peaceful, the flying pickets had “intimidated and terrified ordinary workers.” At the Kingswood building site in Shrewsbury, pickets had smashed windows and damaged machinery. Witnesses described the pickets as like “a bunch of Apache Indians – a frenzied mob.” At a different site in Shrewsbury, the pickets had stormed the site office chanting “kill, kill, kill.” (The Times, October 5, 1973).

An appeal court judge described in general terms the incidents for which the charges came about (The Times, December 20, 1974):

There was at each site a terrifying display by pickets of force and violence actually committed or threatened against buildings, plant and equipment; at some sites, if not at others, acts of personal violence and threats of violence to the person were committed and made. persons working on the sites and residents near by were put in fear.

Of course, this is not how readers of Socialist Worker would have read the news. They were led to believe (Socialist Worker, January 5, 1974) that the crime of the pickets was that they “hurt bosses’ profits.”  In a different article (Socialist Worker, January 5, 1974) the trial was denounced as a “frame-up” and a “Tory conspiracy.” The paper boldly declared: “ The Shrewsbury 24 were, and are, accused of organising violence against scabs. They denied it and any impartial person, reading their evidence, would accept their denials.”  Clearly, Socialist Worker must have felt that the jury in the original trial and the Court of Appeal judges were not impartial. For as this January 5, 1974 article stated: “The judges are, overwhelmingly Tories. Judge Mais, who handed out these vicious sentences, is a friend of (Labour appointed) Lord Mais, property company speculator and Lord Mayor of London. We expect no better from him and his kind.”  A year later, on January 4, 1975, in a front page article, Socialist Worker was demanding the immediate release of Warren and Tomlinson. On January 11, 1975, also on the front page, Socialist Worker wanted “one-day protest strikes and work stoppages where possible” in support of Warren and Tomlinson. On February 22, 1975, the newspaper was encouraging its supporters to attend a march from Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park  to Trafalgar Square where there would be a rally. It also published on the same day a small advertisement appealing for funds  to give to the families of the jailed pickets. And so it goes on: for their May Day 1975 issue, in a supplement, Socialist Worker printed a full page campaign slogan “Free the Two.” On August 2, 1975, after Tomlinson was released, the paper donated one and a half pages to an interview with him that had been conducted by Paul Foot.

One thing that was not mentioned anywhere in these articles in Socialist Worker over these two years, and there were a number of them, was the political views of Tomlinson. As he admitted himself, although he has subsequently changed his views and is also very charitable, Tomlinson was an active member of the National Front. He had not only marched with this racist party, he had even registered with them as a candidate in the elections. It is not even as if this was unknown at the time, because it was known. For example, the January 24, 1975 issue of Private Eye mentioned the National Front connection.

The truth is as follows: the Socialist Workers Party and its forerunner International Socialists could not care less about racism.  They will go out of their way to support racists if they believe these racists are fighting against “bosses.”  Genuine antiracists should have nothing to do with the SWP; they should denounce the party for supporting racists.

UPDATE

In the comments box below, whether Tomlinson was ever a racist despite his membership of the National Front and whether he was still a member of the National Front at the time of his actions has been questioned. Below I copy an extract from Des Warren’s book, The Key To My Cell. Warren, of course, was the other member of the Shrewsbury Two and himself a Communist. This is hardly some kind of right-wing source:

At the Scrubs for the first time I was in a cell with Ricky Tomlinson. I had never heard his name before the building workers’ strike. I met him first at an action committee meeting at the Bull and Stirrup in Chester. Before the meeting we got into an argument. I overheard what he was saying to a group of building workers and I gave a derogatory fascist salute. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I’m a socialist, but a national socialist. So what!’ He never tried to hide his views, and over these we were continuously in conflict. However, there was agreement on all the actions we took in jail, except in 1975 over the parole issue.

He had left the National Front but still put forward their racial views. Tomlinson saw a Jew behind every pillar. He used to say: ‘What we need is a strong man to sort this lot out.’ He was an admirer of Idi Amin and Enoch Powell. He admired Idi Amin because he cleared Asians out of his country…..

Several times he said to the screws when he was arguing against the conspiracy charge: ‘How could there have been any conspiracy when I’m National Front and Warren is a Communist?’

Source:

Des Warren, The Key To My Cell, (New Park Publications, 1982), pp.108-109.

What can be seen is the following: according to Warren,  when Tomlinson was involved in the strike action committee he  self identified as a “national socialist” i.e. a Nazi. While he was in prison, he espoused antisemitic conspiracy theories and admired those who kicked Asians out of their country. Moreover, whether or not he was still a member of the National Front, he still supported the party enough as to identify with it.

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