- take the Liverpool road
The Socialist 30 March 2001
IN THE mid-1980s, Liverpool's
Labour city council, led by Militant (now the Socialist
Party), forced a public debate on the £270 million
slashed from their budget by the Tories between 1979 and 1983.
A determined campaign by the
council, with active mass support from the population and
important sections of the unions, forced Margaret Thatcher to
back down temporarily.
The council secured 10,000 jobs,
built homes and increased public services. Eventually the Labour
Party right-wing succeeded in betraying their members in
Liverpool and the councillors were undemocratically removed by
the Tories. But the 5,400 homes built by the Militant-led
council still stand today.
Socialist Party members and
councillors are campaigning for local councils today to take the
Liverpool road. Rather than doing the government's dirty work
for them, local councils should set needs budgets in
consultation with council workers, local residents and community
groups and challenge the government to give the resources
Cuddly Ken was Red Ken
present-day popularity comes partly from the perception of his
battles against Thatcher’s Tories as Greater London Council (GLC)
leader from 1981 to 1986.
By Roger Shrives, (The
Socialist 30 March 2001)
In October 1981 the GLC
introduced Fare’s Fair, a radical policy to cut London’s
transport fares, subsidising them through the rates.
Tory Bromley council took the GLC
to court over Fare’s Fair and the Law Lords abolished the
scheme as ‘illegal’ in December 1981. Fares were forced up
until Livingstone negotiated a new compromise a year later,
which only partly restored some of the GLC’s reforms.
Socialist Party members (then
Militant supporters) argued at the time that Livingstone and
other GLC leaders needed to develop a strategy to mobilise mass
opposition to the Tories.
Militant supporters wrote a
section of the 1981 GLC manifesto which pointed out that Tory
governments don’t listen to pleas, only to pressure.
It said that if the GLC faced
government opposition it must "appeal to the labour and
trade union movement to support its stand. Mass opposition to
Tory policies led by a Labour GLC could become a focal point of
a national campaign involving other Labour councils, against the
On Fare’s Fair Livingstone
unfortunately didn’t mobilise the opposition of the unions who
faced job losses but relied on using PR agencies, publicity and
lobbying campaigns. Nonetheless, many Londoners still remember
this period affectionately.
The policies of Livingstone and
other left leaders (with the exception of Liverpool and Lambeth)
led to serious failings in the next big battle.
From 1983 Thatcher wanted to
abolish the metropolitan county councils, especially the GLC,
and crush the independence of all local authorities by ‘capping’
rates (the pre-poll tax local property tax).
This policy cut central
government support for local councils. It tried to make
ratepayers, especially the middle class, rebel against ‘high-spending’
LIVERPOOL COUNCIL, where
Militant supporters had a sizeable influence, fought Thatcher’s
plans boldly. It led a mass movement of the unions and local
residents, including huge demonstrations.
They fought to set a deficit
budget, a policy of maintaining jobs and services, not by
pushing up rates but by demanding that the government fund their
deficit. This was very popular and mobilised support for the
council on the basis of specific proposals such as a massive
If other Labour councils had
followed such a programme and linked it to mass action,
including strikes, this could have spearheaded a real fightback
by local Labour councils.
The GLC and other soft-left led
councils had a policy of refusing to set a rate. This made it
harder to co-ordinate different councils’ opposition as every
council would have a different date of bankruptcy.
They also favoured a fall-back of
massive rate rises, which put much of the cost back onto
ordinary working-class people.
However, if the councils had
stood together, Thatcher’s talk of surcharging and bankrupting
rebel councillors would have been idle threats.
offered merely symbolic opposition including sending Valentine’s
cards of protests to Tory ministers. Even when the Tories
stripped the GLC of powers such as education (the Inner London
Education Authority [ILEA] was Britain’s biggest) and then
abolished it, there was no attempt to build a genuine mass
struggle against it.
In March 1985, the GLC and ILEA
led the left councils’ retreat. Livingstone fixed a rate which
included cuts, blaming other London boroughs for leaving them
isolated, which was nonsense as one London borough, Hackney, had
refused to set a rate only the week before.
In fact the GLC leaders were
anxious to avoid battle with the government, fearing legal
action from the Tories, including a five-year ban on holding
public office. The next year, 1986, the Tories abolished the GLC
Liverpool and Lambeth were still
fighting. The GLC’s defection delighted the Tories and cost
the councils which kept up resistance - and their workers -
dearly. By the end of 1985, even Liverpool had had to make a
tactical retreat and local councils were subsequently reduced to
mere appendages of central government.
Livingstone, even in his
left-wing days, never saw the need to build a movement amongst
the working class. Workers are still paying for that
Liverpool: The City that Dared
to Fight by Peter Taaffe and Tony Mulhearn - available from
Socialist Books, £6.95, 020 8988 8789.
Rise of Militant, by Peter Taaffe,
published in 1995, is the first real account of
Militant, its ideas, organisation and the role of prominent
public figures associated with it.
previous books have been written about Militant. But
this is the only one which gives an authentic account of how
Militant played such a prominent role in Liverpool in the
1980's and the successful battle to defeat the Poll Tax.
from Socialist Books
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