Lesson of the Shrewsbury Appeal victory and Mittings inquiry – capitalist state must be smashed

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ON WEDNESDAY the leaders of 12 of the largest and most prominent trade unions issued a letter demanding immediate action to ensure transparency in the Mittings public inquiry into the use by the state of undercover police spies.

The entire Mittings inquiry was set up as a result of the public outcry over the revelations back in 2009 about the illegal activities of undercover police spies given fake identities of dead children and used to infiltrate protest movements, left-wing political parties and trade unions.

Such was the outrage that in 2014 the then Tory Home Secretary Theresa May was forced to announce a public inquiry into the scandal.

Over six years later, the Mittings inquiry is following the path of a long drawn out affair designed not to uncover the truth behind the illegal activities of the state spies but to cover up and drag it out in the hope it will lose all relevance.

It was promised that thousands of confidential documents, that the police believed would never be revealed, would be published.

It turned out however that in 2020 a huge number of documents relating to undercover operations relating to the infiltration of political groups since the 1990s had been destroyed.

Mittings has ruled that more than a third of police spies can keep their real and assumed names secret, making it impossible to identify or question them.

What is clear is that this inquiry is dedicated to keeping the role of the state cloaked in secrecy.

The letter from the trade union leaders immediately followed the decision by the Court of Appeal to overturn the conviction of the Shrewsbury Pickets after a nearly 50-year-long campaign.

Speaking after the decision, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: ‘The pickets were victims of the state whose agencies, including the police, the judiciary and the intelligence services, conspired to make an example of ordinary trade unionists simply campaigning for better pay and safer working conditions for all building workers.’

Ever since the capitalist state secured the jailing of a number of Shrewsbury building workers after the first national building workers strike in 1972, the state has done everything to cover up its involvement in framing them on trumped-up charges.

In 2015, the Tory home office minister Mike Penning refused point-blank to release secret papers that detailed the involvement of the Tory government, the police and security services in setting up the Shrewsbury pickets.

Penning said the files could not be released on the grounds of ‘national security’ despite MPs voting for their release.

The Appeal Court ruled the Shrewsbury convictions unsafe because original witness statements had been destroyed by the police and this had been withheld from the defence at the time of their conviction.

Files destroyed or kept secret on the grounds of national security, while the names of spies were withheld, are a massive cover-up by the state not just because they are historically political dynamite, but because they are as much about the future as the past.

Last year, the Tories with the support of Labour, passed the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill giving the police and security services the legal right to commit any crime free from the threat of prosecution.

The latest Bill (the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill) gives the Tories and the police powers to outlaw any protest or demonstration that threatens the security of the state or the economy.

The Shrewsbury building workers were fitted up by the state in 1972 as the Tory government introduced new laws to make striking and picketing illegal.

Today, the Tories are amassing new laws that go even further as they prepare to launch an all-out war on workers and the unions in order to impose the crisis of bankrupt British capitalism on the working class.

The lesson from the Shrewsbury conspiracy and all the cover-ups is that the capitalist state cannot be reformed in the interests of the working class. It must be smashed and replaced with a workers’ state and socialism.

The urgent need today is to build the revolutionary party of the working class, the WRP, to lead this struggle for socialism to victory.