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Friday, 25 March 2011

How we can learn from the anti poll tax movement to defeat the cuts of today

SO as we sit here on the eve of the biggest trade union demonstration in 8 years i hear a lot of people cynically saying protests never get you anywhere. I think alot of this comes back to the big protest with a million on in 2003 against the war in Iraq where Tony blair completely ignored the protests and carried on ralroading us into a illegal war without a care in the world.

Well i can understand peoples dubious feelings to protests as i hold them myself too. I think they do a lot of good things they highlight the issues and get people talking and you can spread the word further and wider. But as the famous anti poll tax movement showed it wasnt the protests and the so called riots on the streets that caused maggie Tatcher to back down and ultimatly to leave office it was the millions of non payments across the country.

The campaign against Thatcher's hated poll tax is an example of how a mass movement can defeat a government. The 18 million people who defied the law and refused to pay the tax, organised through the Anti-Poll Tax Federation, forced the Tories to scrap it and ended Margaret Thatcher's career as prime minister.

The campaign is also an example of the role that can be played by socialists in putting forward a strategy and tactics to win.

The poll tax was a standard charge on rich and poor alike and was levied on each individual over the age of 18, including the unemployed, students and those with no personal income at all, who had been exempt from the poll tax's precursors, the rates. In fact a rich person living in a rural area could end up paying far less that a poor family in a city.

Led by Militant, forerunner of the Socialist Party, mass non-payment was built by community based anti-poll tax unions in cities, towns and villages across the country. These were linked up nationally into the Anti-Poll Tax Federation.

Militant predicted the anger the tax would cause, and saw the huge potential to build a mass movement. The trade union leaders and the Labour Party leadership opposed the tax verbally, but did nothing to fight it, actively opposing the non-payment campaign. Labour councils ultimately went the whole way and sent bailiffs into working-class people's homes to impound their property and jailed people for not being able to pay.

The tax was introduced in Scotland a year earlier than in England and Wales; perhaps because the Tories had so little support there that they felt free to experiment! But it ignited the anger of Scottish workers, and the method of mass non-payment was tested out.

Militant supporters had to argue against those who said mass non-payment wouldn't work, or would only get working class people in debt. Some advocated non-payment only for a few prominent individuals who 'could afford it'.

On the contrary, only a mass movement would work. In fact millions would not be able to afford it and we planned to unite the 'can't payers' with the 'won't payers'. That way an organised campaign could defend people.

Mass demonstrations developed around the rate-setting council meetings. On 31 March 1990, the day before the poll tax was introduced in England and Wales, massive demonstrations were held simultaneously in London and Glasgow involving a quarter of a million people. When the London demonstration reached Trafalgar Square, police actions provoked a big battle which became known as the 'poll tax riots'.

Some claim it was these big demos which beat the poll tax. They were important, but it was organised mass non-payment which was the real reason for its demise. We kept the confidence of the movement up by discussing and answering every question, in meetings and in millions of leaflets.

We clogged up the courts by mobilising non-payers to attend their hearings and assisted people by asking questions in court. Court rooms were unable to cope.

We mobilised to stop the bailiffs from seizing property. We organised to stop poll tax jailings - the ultimate sanction.

Hundreds were sent to jail, including many Militant supporters. Terry Fields, a Liverpool MP and Militant member, was sent down for standing in solidarity with his constituents. However, the number of jailings, compared to the millions who refused to pay, was far fewer than would have been if there was no organised campaign.

The government announced in March 1991 that they would be scrapping the tax by 1993. We continued to support people and campaigned for the writing off of the debts. Many were actually secretly dropped by councils at a later date.

This movement showed that working class people can win battles. It also showed the critical role that a party with the right ideas can play in the struggle.

So when we are marching tommorrow please dont see this as the end and a nice sunny walk out in London as this cannot i repeat cannot be the end of the movement tommorrow. We must keep building and gaining support in the communities back home. The TUC i imagine will see this as a good job well done if the march pass's off peacefully and they gain credit for it. But ultimatly it was the NSSN back in September who had to almost force the TUC into any sort of action. They were not going to do anything believe it or not. So lets look forward to tommorrow but also to the coming weeks, months and years as we look to escalate the battle being pushed onto us in the shape of a class war. The need for a one day general strike in the public services is critical to bring the public sector to a halt for one day initally then escalate that as the cuts begin to hit. Unions too need to take a leading role now after 26th march they need to join together in co-ordinated strike action to defend jobs and conditions as best they can.

As for labour being on the march with Ed miliband apparently speaking on the day i personally find it a little rich of them wanting to be involved in the anti cuts movement as they themselves are not actually against cuts we must remember. We must highlight their hypocrisy in this that they cannot be allowed to hi-jack the movement for their own political gain. Not at all as we saw on the stop the war coalition march in 2003 speaking platforms were given to Lib Dems who later went on to raise their stock by becoming known as anti war MP's which gained them credebility when you look now they are happy to send in our military to Libya. Such hypocrisy is not welcome in the anti cuts movement. We are against all cuts be that from the tories, lib dems or labour.

So if you have had enough of the hypocrisy of labour and their leadership like i have why not come and have a listen to what the NSSN and its excelent aray of speakers has to say tommorrow in Hyde Park at speakers corner. The details can be found below. feel free to invite as many of your friends and family along to this stage as we look to put the case from ordinary working people to you all.

The TUC-organised demonstration against cuts on the 26th March looks set to be the biggest display of anger and and opposition to the cuts since this shambles of a coalition government came to power last year. National Shop Stewards Network supporters up and down the country were involved in the campaign to get the TUC to call the demonstration and have been helping to build for the big day, which is now finally here.

On the demonstration tomorrow, the National Shop Stewards Network will have tens of thousands of postcards and stickers to distribute, alongside thousands of placards. If you would like to help give this out, find our stall near Temple tube station to collect material.

At the end of the march, we will be hosting an NSSN Stage at Speakers Corner from 2:30pm. Marchers will go in waves past the main TUC Stage, and this is a chance for the hundreds of thousands in attendance to hear other speakers from the trade union and anti-cuts movement after they have visited the TUC Stage at Hyde Park Corner. Tell your friends and workmates, details of some of the speakers can be found below.










Lastly we'd like all of you who are attending the march tommorrow to have a excellent day and keep safe on the march we'd love to hear your comments on how you found it after if you have the time. If not then tahnks for reading as always

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