Features taken from the
last issue of Militant, 31 January 1997:
A paper that left its mark
JUST OVER 32 years ago Militant made Its first appearance.
Sub-titled "For youth and Labour," it was a paper and
political movement destined to make its mark.
Now it's moving on, as from next week Militant, after a
successful and proud 32 years of uninterrupted publication,
becomes The Socialist.
The name and the look of the paper may be changing but the
policies and campaigns it pursued will be kept centre-stage.
From issue one of Militant, issues affecting young people and
industrial workers were the key areas that the then new paper
pledged to pledge was kept as also came into focus.
Militant took up new campaigns: violence against women;
international solidarity; defending the courageous stand of the
Militant Liverpool councillors from 1983-87; defending and
supporting the heroic miners' struggle of 1984-85 and leading 18
million people to victory over Thatcher's hated poll tax.
Militant was a byword for working-class resistance at that time.
The Socialist and the Socialist Party plans to achieve as much
and more for working-class people in the decades ahead. But this
week we look back at some of the main issues and highlights of
Militant's 32-year existence.
- the secret of our success
The Labour Party Young
Socialists : LPYS
FROM ISSUE one,
Militant has taken socialist ideas and campaigns to young
people. For much of the 60's, 70's and 80's, we were campaigning
to build the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS), Labour's
By Paul Ursell,
former LPYS national committee, ex-national secretary Youth
Trade Union Rights Campaign and YRC
In the 60s, with a lot fewer sellers, Militant's priority was
to "patiently explain' our ideas. But our hallmark was also
to show in practice we were the best campaigners, so Militant
transformed the LPYS, a small organisation that hardly
campaigned, into one that could influence a whole generation.
Militant first got a supporter on the LPYS national committee in
1968 and majority support at the 1970 LPYS conference. As our
first priority we launched our Charter for Young Workers.
Militant supporters got the LPYS campaigning on issues like
unemployment with rallies of 1,500 and 2,000 in 1971.
We ran international campaigns like the Spanish Young Socialists
Defence Campaign, which had a 2,000-strong-Smash Franco for a
Socialist Spain rally.
In the 1974 general election, we mobilised 400 LPYS members to
campaign in Tony Benn's marginal seat in Bristol.
The LPYS was the first to organise a national rally against
racism - 3,000 rallied in Bradford against racist attacks in
1974. In 1975 a similar number joined our demonstration:
"No to the Bosses' EEC, Yes to a Socialist Europe".
As unemployment spiralled upwards, we set up the Youth Campaign
against Unemployment (YCAU) in 1977 with 1,450 at its conference
and 1,500 on its lobby of parliament.
After Thatcher's election in 1979, we increasingly campaigned to
a mass audience. When we got a TV broadcast about 2,000 people
applied to join the LPYS.
In the 1981 inner-city riots we showed how to channel young
people's anger into a fight for a better society. 600 attended
our Brixton meeting.
Labour's leader, James
Callaghan, wrote to the Daily Mirror
calling for the LPYS's disaffiliation.
Our campaigns were increasingly suppressed.
Militant was determined that our ideas would get through. The
LPYS organised a number of campaigns (on Chile, South Africa,
further education). In 1981 we set up the Youth Trade Union
Rights Campaign (YTURC) which campaigned against Tory slave
When Norman Tebbit said Youth Training Schemes (YTS) would be
made compulsory with a wage of just £15 a week, YTURC's
campaign included a 4,000 lobby of parliament which ended with
the Tories backing down.
By 1983 our week-long summer camp attracted 500 young people;
our Black Youth conference 350 and our Young Workers' Assembly
The Labour Party halved the LPYS budget and banned Militant from
holding a rally at LPYS conference. But 55 of their own MPs (and
most of the political pop stars of the day) backed YTURC.
In the 1984-85 miners' strike, while Kinnock sat on the fence,
the LPYS raised £1 million for the miners. While the right wing
closed LPYS branches, we recruited hundreds of young miners,
setting up 20 new branches in pit villages.
In 1985 Thatcher tried again to make YTS compulsory. in Glasgow
a school students' rally turned into a 10,000 strike. At LPYS
conference 200 school students set up an action committee to
call for a national school strike. Before the strike Kinnock
said students were being manipulated by 'dafties'. Some dafties
- a quarter of a million struck and 100,000 heard our speeches
all over Britain.
One month later YTURC got a letter announcing the Tories had
dropped compulsory YTS. We carried on by organising a school
students union and a 25,000 'Real Jobs for Youth' demo.
Our reputation led 85% of Labour's organisation to oppose
attacks on the LPYS but our paper Socialist Youth was closed and
LPYS conference cancelled at the end of 1987.
the Workers' case
INDUSTRIAL coverage has been second to none. We don't say that
boastfully. Unlike the capitalist press, we have had access to
thousands of correspondents in the workplace.
Socialist Party Industrial organiser
They allow us to put the workers' case every time strikes and
industrial struggles break out, providing Militant with
We are not neutral commentators but neither are the serious
papers like the Financial Times. For nine-tenths of the time the
bosses' press can appear to be objective until they feel that
the class interests they represent are at stake.
"It's a good
Militant has produced marvellous articles mainly written by
the workers at the sharp end of the class struggle. In the
1970s, a decade of massive struggle, a lorry driver commented.
"Well I've just read your report in Militant and there's
nothing more to say. That's the best report we've ever seen.
It's a good paper."
But we don't just publish without comment, we attempt to draw
the lessons of any struggle and suggest, in an a fraternal way,
the best way forward.
AGAIN IN the 1970s, a political debate in the labour movement
developed on the question of the need for a general strike to
fight the Tories' anti-union Industrial Relations Act.
The TUC had been forced to call a massive 300,000-strong
demonstration against the government.
Militant carried a series of articles on this demand where we
pointed out that an all-out general strike poses the question of
power. For this to happen would require a period of preparation
of the working class, therefore we put the demand for a 24-hour
general strike as part of that preparation.
This demand gained an echo not just then, but many times since
in other periods of heightened class struggle, such as the great
miners' strike of 1984-85.
During the political witch-hunt of Militant and its
supporters in the 1980s when the capitalist press assisted the
Tories and Labour's right-wing in attacking us, they had to
admire our paper's "gritty coverage of industrial
The paper covered all the big industrial stories of the 1970s.
From the miners' strikes of 1972 and 1974 through the car
workers' struggles in British Leyland to the building workers'
strikes and the imprisonment of the Shrewsbury Two. Our coverage
and intervention in the million-strong strikes by public sector
workers at the end of the Labour government in 1978-79 was a
turning point. Alan Fisher, then general secretary of NUPE, a
forerunner of the public-sector union UNISON, wrote an article
for the front page of Militant at this time.
We always tried to draw the lessons of those struggles in our
paper and to warn the working class of the dangers from the
capitalist state. We were the first to warn of how the ruling
class was preparing to confront the trade unions, with measures
such as the militarisation of the police after the miners
defeated the Tory government of Ted Heath.
Both labour and Tory governments have since used repressive laws
and the police against workers in struggle, including Jim
Callaghan's Labour government unsuccessfully trying to use the
Army to break the firefighters' strike in 1977.
A FEATURE of Militant's coverage was not just reporting but
detailed explanation of the issues behind the front-page news.
Workers in industry were given space to develop alternative
plans to the bosses.
British Leyland workers faced tens of thousands of redundancies.
Militant carried articles which showed how the management had
undermined Leyland's viability with under investment, built-in
obsolescence and mismanagement.
Instead of asking the labour government for a handout, we called
for it to be nationalised under workers' control and management.
Militant has also highlighted the lack of leadership by most of
the trade union leaders when it came to fighting back against
Thatcher's plans to smash the unions.
We said the new anti-union laws which were introduced in the
1980’s could have been defeated if the TUC had used the mighty
power of the organised workers in militant action.
Instead, the union leaders, who in truth secretly agreed with
much of the legislation as a means of curbing their own rank and
file, bowed the knee to Thatcher. A new period is now opening
up. Our new paper will reflect the growing struggles and above
all speak in the language of workers. Their anger and
determination not to be driven down by the bosses will always
find space in the pages of our new paper.
Thatcher - The Poll Tax
against the poll tax is the story of the greatest civil
disobedience movement Britain has ever seen. Millions of people,
upwards of 18 million, did not pay.
Mike Waddington, Socialist Party National Secretary
Thousands besieged courts and ran rings around magistrates
and council officials. The biggest demo in London for 100 years
- followed by a police-inspired riot - literally shook the
establishment. The whole of Britain was roused to its feet
against the Tories and Thatcher, the political representative of
arrogant capitalism was brought down.
The real story of this movement has yet to be written. You will
not find it in the papers or the academic histories as
commentators are generally bewildered by what took place.
Literally thousands of what became know as anti-poll tax unions
were organised throughout Britain; first in Scotland, then
rapidly covering the rest of the country. These eventually came
together to form the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation -
affectionately known to all combatants as The Fed.
All Britain Anti-Poll Tax
Militant took the initiative in organising many of these
bodies which rapidly took on hundreds, even thousands, of
members. Many of our comrades were jailed for taking a
principled stand; Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow, Terry Fields the
Liverpool MP and many others.
Militant supporters Stave Nally became the National Secretary of
the Fed and Maureen Reynolds from Manchester its Treasurer.
Behind the scenes thousands more were absolutely vital to the
running of this successful movement.
It was Militant who advanced the ideas of non-payment,
non-collection and non-implementation. We were able to build up
the confidence of the movement that we could all stand together
and that we could win!
ANTI-POLL TAX unions (APTUS) were open meetings where all
issues were discussed and tactics worked out. how to resist the
bailiffs (poindings and warrant sales in Scotland, bailiffs in
England and Wales), what to do when you had to appear in court.
APTUs also put on many propaganda stunts. Anti-poll tax graffiti
in ten-foot letters mysteriously appeared at Hampden Park; 'gas
fitters' demanded entrance to a sheriffs' office in Edinburgh
only to leave the door open for a passing invasion of Fed
One of our comrades was arrested just before going into BBC TV
centre to sit in the audience of TV presenter Wogan, fearful
that some stunt was about to be pulled on prime time TV!
TORY HOME Secretary Kenneth Baker, singled out Militant for
attack, but it didn't puncture the movement. Millions of; people
who knew and worked with us had an experience entirely the
opposite of Baker's claims.
In court, we developed great skills - one comrade in South
London still holds the record of forcing the rejection of
proceedings against around 7,000 people! Some areas today still
advise welfare rights workers, even probation officers, on the
procedures and methods for keeping people out of jail. We are
still on the Citizens Advice Bureaux' central list of who to
contact in an emergency!
Scotland led the way with mobilisations to support non-payment.
We found ourselves mainly up against Labour councils, partly
because they ran most councils, but also because the poll tax
became a defining moment in the evolution of the Labour Party to
Labour advocated not only total co-operation with this Tory law
but that Labour councils had to be the firmest implementers.
Many APTUs found that Labour councils were the most ruthless
when it came to persecuting the poor. Labour Party members who
sat on the magistrates' bench were generally more likely to send
non-payers to prison.
Sickeningly, Kinnock started singing "We shall overcome' -
the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement in the US - at Labour
conferences whilst those who were actually doing the overcoming
were persecuted and jailed by those doing the singing!
Many hundreds were eventually imprisoned, but defences were
mounted, many so successful that imprisonments came to a halt
until the Tories changed the law. But the movement was never
There were many courageous women and men who were the
organisers and inspirers of this movement. Our job was to help
work out what to do next, to develop the campaign, to maintain
mass involvement. It was a supreme test but we were not found
March of Militant
"IT WOULD be
absolutely implausible for us in a libertarian party to embark
upon some great purging process on the basis of simple
allegations against people, or the fact that they've sold
newspapers, or the fact that they have a particular form of
expressing themselves or set of beliefs - that would be
So said Neil Kinnock shortly after his election as Labour
leader in 1983, the same conference that also expelled the five
members of Militant's Editorial board, after a two-year battle.
Of course that is exactly what the Labour Party embarked on, but
it took the best part of a decade before Militant was fully
David and Goliath
This was the David and Goliath story of politics in the
1980s. The whole apparatus of the Labour Party was mobilised to
try and stamp out Militant. Our organisation ferociously fought
back, repeatedly slowing the right wing down and frequently
throwing them back.
Many of our supporters had to defend themselves courageously
against organised and hysterical attempts to intimidate them
into abandoning their beliefs.
Stymied at every turn, Labour's right adopted new methods, and
were only successful ultimately by suspending parties,
preventing hundreds of people joining, dismantling the entire
national youth and national women's organisations and stifling
political debate in the party itself. But that was the point
after all. Blair's party is the final fruit of this process.
When moves against us were first proposed in 1981, Peter
Taaffe, then our editor, replied: "Militant has come under
ferocious attack from the capitalist press and their shadows
within the labour movement, right-wing leaders like Denis Healey
and James Callaghan. They are calling for the expulsion of
Militant supporters from the Labour Party. This is seen as the
first step towards a purge of the left and reversal of all the
recent gains on party democracy and radical policies."
The end of the Callaghan government, the first government to
carry through Thatcherite economic policies, moved the Labour
Party over to the left. Changes were made that gave more power
to the membership.
As a result of this, Militant supporters were chosen as council
candidates and prospective parliamentary candidates.
Labour Party officials
This filled the capitalist establishment with horror. Efforts
were then made to use the Militant issue to attack the socialist
left in general.
Labour Party officials went through copies of the Militant every
week, keeping files on individuals who were mentioned. What were
referred to as staff consultations of Labour Party employees
would discuss handling Militant – one infamously reported in
1988 that there had been "a wide-ranging discussion …
focussing on reducing the affect of Militant."
Militant fought back by mobilising opposition and quite
skilfully throwing confusion into the right wing's ranks by the
use of legal action which stopped the Labour Party National
Executive Committee on a number of occasions.
When the Five Editorial Board members were expelled in 1983
more than 3.000 attended our meetings over the next 14 days.
When the Liverpool councillors were threatened with expulsion in
1985, our public meetings attracted over 50,000 people.
After a successful rally at Wembley in 1982, Labour Weekly
wrote: "The size of Saturday's conference 'Fight the Tories
Not the Socialists' organised by supporters of Militant, is a
warning to those people hoping for easy expulsions of a few
prominent Militants from the Labour Party".
And so it proved. Only 41 supporters were expelled up to 1985.
New Militants were replacing the expelled at a faster rate!
This coincided with the battles around Liverpool city council,
which propelled Militant again into headlines but this time for
building houses and creating jobs!
Labour spent over £100,000 inquiring into Militant and devising
a new system. The requirements of ,natural justice', won as a
result of our legal action, slowed the procedure down even more;
in the first three years of the new streamlined Party court, the
National Constitutional Committee, only 13 supporters were
This brought another change of tack. More than 180 applications
to join the party in Pollok in Glasgow were stopped. Parties
with Militant candidates in Liverpool, Bermondsey and Bradford
More and more powers were concentrated in the hands of the NEC
and its officers. Some were expelled on the basis of wearing a
sticker, selling a paper, advocating non-payment of the poll tax
and even in one case of attending a jumble sale!
By 1992 the socialist MPs Dave Nellist and Terry Fields were
expelled, with their commitment to be workers’ MPs on worker's
wages particularly highlighted as a party crime!
By then most of our campaigning work was outside the Labour
Party; we were blocked off from official activity. Our choice
then was to either stop campaigning for our ideas and accept the
dominance of the right wing or to re-group and keep fighting.
We chose to fight.
in the front-line
MILITANT'S coverage of women's struggle since the 1970s shows
the emergence of a new fighting force through Issues which have
at root the need for a new society.
Margaret Crear and
Militant urged on the Equal Pay strikers at Ford when a
couple of hundred women threatened to close the whole firm.
We backed the Leeds clothing workers when tens of thousands took
to the streets calling out sweatshops as they went along.
Women have stood up to bullying bosses and demanded the right to
organise from Grunwicks to Timex and smaller sweatshop disputes,
often ignored by the capitalist press, such as Kay Wool where
they closed down the factory rather than accept poverty pay and
dangerous working conditions.
The Equal Pay fight has not gone away. It is likely to merge
with the battle to end low pay in the next few years, especially
in the public sector.
Meeting other women and earning your own pay gives you the
confidence to fight against the discrimination through which
capitalism expresses its contempt for women. The issue of sexual
harassment exploded in a dispute at the Lady at Lord John shop
in Liverpool during the general election campaign of 1983.
Audrey White, a Militant supporter who was the manageress,
protested at abuse by the area manager and was sacked. We found
ourselves picketing the shop and winning a famous victory as she
The whole event was made into a film by Lezli-An Barrett called
Business as Usual.
Another Militant supporter took up the case of a women harassed
and degraded by her boss, took him to a tribunal and won a
record settlement. The reports in the paper encouraged others to
take up the fight.
WE CAMPAIGNED for better childcare facilities from Brights
Nursery in Rochdale in 1978 - a successful battle to save a
nursery when the textile mill it served closed - to Bootie in
1995, where after the tragic death of James Bulger, we argued
successfully for a creche in the shopping centre where he was
Many of these campaigns were led by Militant women who persuaded
the Women's Sections (LWO) of the Labour Party to support them.
From the early 1970s until the early 1990s we contributed to
building an active, fighting, democratic women's organisation.
The work we did led to Militant women being elected onto
regional committees in many areas and onto the national
committee. In the North-West the first post-war demo of the LWO
took place in support of the miners and the women from the
mining community. We organised a demonstration against low pay.
In 1989, in a debate at Women's conference, we moved a
resolution calling for a minimum wage of £2.80p an hour (the
decency threshold then). Militant reported how Diana Jeuda, then
an USDAW official, spoke for the leadership and called on our
sisterly solidarity saying such a high level would cause
'problems for women employers'. One delegate retorted, "So
what? They've been causing problems for me all my life'. A
sentiment the next government might well become familiar with!
The Women’s Section of the Labour Party stood by Liverpool
city council in its battle with the government and the Labour
In the end the right wing and some trade union officials
strangled the Women’s Section, closing down many of the most
active Women's Sections and Councils. It was just one of the
steps taken to make the Labour Party safe for big business.
Militant has constantly fought to defend the 1967 Abortion Act
especially against the Alton Bill - part of the struggle of
women to control their own lives we have to take up again today.
THE HUNGER strike by Sara Thornton concentrated the outrage many
women felt about domestic violence and the discrimination
against women by the legal system. We contributed to setting up
the Campaign Against Domestic Violence (CADV) now
one of the biggest broad-based campaigns in Britain. Only
Militant promoted its activities and programme regularly over
the last six and a half years.
In 1992 we reported the lobby of Parliament for the release of
Kiranjit Ahiuwahlia who had been jailed for life after killing
her violent husband. We celebrated her release in October 1992
with an exclusive interview - read by many of the 2,000 women
who demonstrated that weekend against violence.
In November last year, 600 demonstrated outside eight women's
prisons demanding justice. Militant conveyed the determination
and enthusiasm and also revealed the terrible conditions many
women face in prison, with some handcuffed in labour and six
committing suicide in Cornton Vale prison over just 15 months.
We campaigned for Mumta Chopra, Prakesh and Prem and other women
facing deportation under immigration legislation for leaving
violent partners; just as in the 1970s we successfully fought
for Anwar Dittar to be reunited with her three children after a
Labour Home Secretary, Merlyn Rees, excluded them from the
In 1993 we opposed the Child Support Act giving practical advice
to single parents on how to cope with the effects of the Act. We
fought to unite Child Support Agency workers and single parents
in the fight for a flexible child maintenance policy.
Militant has given women a voice and a presence. But it has also
actively helped organise women and proposed strategies for
changing our lives.
In the last few years we have fought the ideological attack of
the Tories, often echoed by New Labour, who blame women,
especially single parents, for all the ills of society.
Capitalist society is at root a society of exploitation,
coercion and violence, which distorts relationships and deprives
people of the possibility of leading a happy and productive
life. As we launch the new paper, these ideas will be even more
important as working-class women take their place at the
forefront of the battle for a new socialist society.
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.
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