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Issue 14 - July 1973
Smile Please

On 15th June some 20 local trade unionists, members of South Shields Trades Union Council, demonstrated outside South Shields police station and court. They were expressing their support for 24 building workers in Shrewsbury who were in court that day on charges of conspiracy arising from picket action during their last official strike.

The trade unionists in South Shields were concerned at the increasing use of the police and the courts to intimidate workers, and were encouraged to demonstrate by the fact that the South Shields police had recently leaned on local workers when they evicted women strikers from the offices of the Dept of Health & Social Security, where they had been refused a legal application for benefits.

The demonstration was well-received by the watching crowd - to the extent that a local reporter who received instructions from his editor to obtain adverse public comment was unable to find any member of the public to oblige.

During the demonstration, press reporters drew attention to the fact that an official police photographer, Constable Bill Maughan, was taking pictures of demonstrators, TV and press men, and members of the public watching the action.

A delegation of Trades Union Council members, led by their president Malcolm Campbell, asked to see Chief Superintendent J Punshon for an explanation of this police action. The request for an interview and an explanation was refused but after an initial attempt to disown the photographer, Punshon admitted that the demonstration was "orderly and lawful".

A further written demand by the Trades Union Council to the Durham Constabulary for an explanation of to what use the photographs would be put was refused. A request for the handing over of the photographs was rejected. A letter from South Shields MP Arthur Blenkinsop, also demanding an explanation as to why the photographs were taken, finally forced Durham's Chief Constable, A G Puckering, to comment on the matter. He said there was no question of police records or photographs being maintained against people who participate in lawful demonstrations, but that on this occasion photographs were taken for a police file because "the nature of the demonstration" (already described by the police as orderly and lawful) and the fact that it had taken place on the footpath immediately outside the police station were worthy of police interest.

As a result (unless you believe the photos will end up in a book entitled 'Keppel Street Police Station and its Social Environment') pictures of local trade unionists and members of the public taking part in an "orderly and lawful" action are now in police files for undisclosed purposes.

The whole point of the demo - against police pressure and intimidation - could hardly have been better illustrated.

Some two years ago, students attending a court case of their colleagues in Durham were similarly photographed. At that time the Chairman of the Durham Police Authority, Andy Cunningham, remarked: "It is quite possible that the police may have to resort to what may not be constitutional or legal practice in their attempts to stamp out crime... They might sometimes have to break the law." It now begins to look as if this was not just an isolated example of eccentricity by the Godfather of our local establishment Mafia, but that there is a concerted plot by the State to use the police to intimidate strikers, students, tenants and so-called militants.

- The Industrial Relations Act has made traditional trade union activity unlawful.
- The Wage Freeze Bill has made collective bargaining illegal.
- The Rent Act has made resistance to rent increases a breach of the law.
- Orderly and lawful demonstrations now invite police intervention.
- The Tory leaflet 'In Defence of Peace' and statements by Army chiefs Brigs Calvert and Kitson show that the armed forces are being prepared to join in this intimidation when they are needed.

The Government has raised the stakes so that an industrial dispute has become a matter for the courts, a rent strike a challenge to the State, a peaceful demonstration a matter for police action. By dragging the courts and the police into the political arena, this government has pitch-forked workers, students and tenants into the cockpit of conspiratorial revolutionary politics. When next you find yourself involved in "orderly and lawful" conduct make sure you smile ... you might as well look your best on the police secret files!