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In memory of Des Warren 

James Fearon

21 June 2012 

While many on the left wait interminably for the trade union bureaucracy to behave ‘spontaneously’ and take decisive action against the effects of the capitalist collapse it is worth bearing in mind how extremely reactionary the leadership of the labour movement actually can be. Without having to delve into either history or theory, relatively contemporary experiences provide many examples of their calibre. 

It is worthwhile to recall that their refusal to support, in action, the miners in 1984 resulted in a historic defeat and without going back too far before that, during the golden days of a “real Labour” party, their inaction, and indeed complicity, led to the defeat of the building workers strike of 1972. It was during the latter that the employers and the bureaucracy alike came to the conclusion that Des Warren and his comrades, the Shrewsbury pickets, represented a common threat. 

Jailed along with Ricky Tomlinson, though for a year longer, the ‘liquid cosh’, Largactil, was used on comrade Des. This was to try to quell his demands for political status and his refusal to wear prison uniform, both he and Tomlinson wore blankets and Des embarked on numerous hunger strikes. The brutal application of drugs to suppress his fighting spirit caused the onset of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. 

Des had already been a member of the Communist Party, something that his experience during the building workers strike and subsequent imprisonment caused him to review urgently. He had been betrayed by the leadership of the CP, and by their allegiance to the TU bureaucracy and by 1980 he had declared himself a Trotskyist. Towards the end of the miners strike following the strikers march to London, organised by the WRP, at a rally at the Alexandra Pavilion, Des spoke and without mentioning his personal sacrifice didn’t fail to inspire with words that drew out the lessons learned from the battle of Orgreave and more importantly drew anti imperialist lessons, comparing the experience of State repression in the mining communities to that of Irish nationalist working class communities. His words were electrifying and his speech was followed by almost the entire audience, on its feet. Des’ leadership once again, this time on a more public occasion, had provided a memorable and inspiring moment that captured the spirit and generosity of class solidarity. 

Although Des Warren’s personal struggle is over his words and the lessons of his life live on and his words still leap out from the page. Although published originally in 1976 these words have a particular pertinence today and serve as a reminder of the tradition, and depth, of bureaucratic treachery that poses as working class ‘leadership’: 

“I feel bitterness, anger and loathing when I think of some of our trade union ‘leaders’ bemoaning the nation’s ills and how the workers must endure a cut in their living standards in order to save the country from disaster—even my kids would recognise that as a load of crap. Their phoney dealing with the government (which is holding me prisoner) is to batten down the working class and force them to accept capitalist answers to capitalism’s problems. Leaders? As far as I can see the only time some of them take a lead is when they go to the front of the queue when honours are dished out.” (The Key To My Cell, New Park (1982) p190) 

“Capitalism’s answers to capitalism’s problems” can as easily be applied to the “better fairer way” agenda pursued today by our present ‘leadership’. Des’ words have weight in their own right but also due to the fact that long after his death, and the publication of his book there are some that seek to discredit him by portraying it as being ghost written by the WRP. This has been forcefully rebuked by Chris Corrigan, who typed the words dictated by Des, an arrangement necessitated by the effects of the Largactyl, and whose repudiation of the claim follows below. 

Comrade Des Warren 1937 - 2004.  Always remembered.

Anyone who wants further details of the posthumous slanders against Des can contact the site to be put in touch with journalist Chris Corrigan, to whom the book The Key To My Cell was dictated.
The book is available at


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