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The Rise of Militant

- Preface to the book by Peter Taaffe.

- Editorial from the first Issue of the Militant.

- Militant and MI5: Monitoring the left 

The Poll Tax

- Militant's Proud Role in defeating the poll tax

-The Battle that brought down Thatcher

Liverpool City Council

- Councils - take the Liverpool road

- Livingstone and Liverpool: When Cuddly Ken was Red Ken

- Liverpool 47 website

Militant 1964 - 1997

- Youth -- the secret of our success

- Putting the Workers' case

- Toppling Thatcher - The Poll Tax

- The March of Militant

- Women in the front-line

Marxism: "Here comes the slump... Karl Marx ...would no doubt have felt vindicated"  Time Magazine, 8 January 2001

Militant 1964 - 1997 The Rise of Militant

1964 -- 1997


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.

 

Youth - 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 youth section.

 

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.

Franco 

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.

Thatcher

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 labour schemes.

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 2,300.

Militant Banned 

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.

 

Putting the Workers' case

MILITANT'S 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.

Bill Mullins, Socialist Party Industrial organiser

They allow us to put the workers' case every time strikes and industrial struggles break out, providing Militant with unrivalled coverage.

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 paper."

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.

General Strike

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.

Witch-hunt

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 disputes'.

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.

Leyland

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.

 

 

Toppling Thatcher - The Poll Tax

THE Battle 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 Federation

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!

Graffiti

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 members.

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!

Baker’s lies

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 the right.

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 broken.

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 wanting.

 

The 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 ridiculous."

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 expelled.

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!

£100,000

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 expelled!

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 were suspended.

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.

 

 

 

Women in the front-line

RE-READING 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 Christine Thomas

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 was reinstated.

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.

Nurseries

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 abducted.

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 leaders.

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.

CADV

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 country.

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.

 

 


The 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.

Five 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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