- Created: Thursday, 29 August 2013 10:29
By Lorna Reid
A Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! pamphlet
On 8 February 1990 it was revealed that more than 145,000 people in Glasgow (over one third of all those liable to pay) had not paid a penny Poll Tax or had fallen so far behind with their payments that they had incurred summary warrants for default (Independent 8.2.90). Thousands more are already in arrears despite having tried to pay. There are now one million non-payers in Scotland. 700,000 Scottish people face legal action to recover unpaid Poll Tax. After the Poll Tax is introduced in England and Wales in April 1990 millions throughout Britain will be facing deeper poverty and harassment because of their inability to pay.
The Tories have spent the last 10 years fleecing the poor and lining their own pockets. The Poll Tax continues this process. Between 1979 and 1986 the incomes of the poorest 20 per cent of the population fell by six per cent in real terms. Today nearly one third are now living in poverty. Yet John Moore, when Social Security Secretary, brazenly denied the existence of poverty in Britain. In May 1989 he wondered aloud ‘ls it really possible that decades of phenomenal economic expansion have failed to improve the living standards of such a large proportion of our people?’ John Moore happens to live in an £850,000 house with a swimming pool in Wimbledon, south London. Nicholas Ridley, former Minister for the Environment responsible for the Poll Tax, earned £52,627 p.a. (parliamentary salary only). The Poll Tax on his Cotswold mansion will be half the national average. When told that it was unfair he retorted, ‘Why should a Duke pay more than a dustman?' Under the Poll Tax Thatcher will save £1,900 on her Dulwich mansion.
The Poll Tax means the poor will pay for the poor. Working class women and families, the lower paid, the unemployed, black people – the oppressed working class are Thatcher’s targets. They are also not the concern of Neil Kinnock and his Labour Party.
In Scotland, the Scottish TUC and Labour Party have refused to initiate any fightback and are collaborating with the collection of the Poll Tax. John Mulvey, leader of Labour-controlled Lothian Regional Council, confirmed in November 1989 that the Council would press ahead with warrant sales to recover unpaid Poll Tax and fines for refusal to register. The Kinnock-led Labour Party needs to win back its lost middle class voters. It has set out to convince them of its fitness to govern. ‘We must remain within the law’ is the excuse given by Labour to justify its collaboration with the Poll Tax. This attitude places the Labour Party in Thatcher's camp against the hundreds of thousands of working class families who will suffer under the Poll Tax. Therefore resistance has developed independently and often in the teeth of Labour opposition. In Scotland, Sheriff’s officers (the Scottish name for bailiffs) have been chased off council estates, council chambers have been occupied and meetings disrupted, posters and stickers adorn every window and shopfront in working class areas.
In working class communities across Scotland, England and Wales, a new unity and determination have emerged to resist Thatcher's greatest single attack on our rights and living standards.
Poll Tax— Paying to be Poor outlines the repressive nature of the Poll Tax and puts its implementation in the context of the last 10 years of Thatcherism. It argues that any new campaign against the Poll Tax cannot depend on the labour and trade union movement of Neil Kinnock and Norman Willis. Any successful resistance against the Poll Tax requires going beyond legal, constitutional and traditional methods of struggle. ‘
* All references in this pamphlet to Poll Tax levels in England and Wales are based on Department of the Environment/Welsh Office Poll Tax figures at time of writing. Actual Poll Tax levels will not be confirmed until late March 1990.
The Poll Tax
The Poll Tax replaces the rates system. The Tories politely call it ‘A community charge on property’. In fact it is a tax on people. Everyone over the age of 18 is required to pay. There will only be a few exceptions. This tax shifts the burden of local government finances on to the poor in inner city areas. It is a direct attack on the working class, especially working class families, low-paid workers, claimants and black people. Couples, assessed on their joint income, will each receive a bill which may have no direct relation to their individual income. Claimants will receive an 80 per cent rebate on the national average of £278 and not on the actual Poll Tax they have to pay. Pensioners not in receipt of benefit are required to pay the full amount. As well as imposing untold hardship, the Poll Tax will also disenfranchise sections of the poor. The Poll, Tax register will be compiled from the electoral register. The poor, in attempting to avoid payment, will not register to vote.
The suffering to be imposed on the majority of working class people is spelt out in The Case for a Poll Tax by Michael Forsyth, Tory MP:
‘As a flat rate on everyone, it would fall most heavily on those with low incomes. lf for example, it were only applied to wage earners, half the adult population would be exempted and the rate would have to double... To exempt people from liability to pay it through the Social Security system or via some scheme of rent rebates, would destroy accountability… And if the tax were only levied on those entitled to vote, the electoral register could be used to establish liability. Avoiding having to pay tax might be an efficient incentive for some to avoid registration.’
Robbing the poor to pay the rich
Under the Poll Tax a two-adult working class family in Edinburgh pays on average £500 more per year. However, Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Scotland, pays only £400 per year for his castle-like villa in an Edinburgh suburb.
Early Poll Tax estimates released in July 1989 indicated that a two-adult family in Tower Hamlets, London, could face an increase of £740 per year on their current rates bill. But in rich Westminster, London, a two-adult household could expect to save £47 per year. A two-adult household in Pendle, Lancashire could pay £234 more per year. In South Buckinghamshire, (stockbroker country) an equivalent household could look forward to saving £430 per year. Local Government Minister, John Gummer, admitted in 1989 that the estimated average Poll Tax would be £196.40 in Tory-led boroughs compared to £294.40 in Labour boroughs.
Black people will suffer severely because they are more likely to live in inner city areas, to have a larger than average family size and lower than average earnings. Thirty one per cent of white people live in Metropolitan areas compared with 80 per cent of Afro-Caribbean people, and 71-75 per cent of Asian people. The contrast is even more extreme for inner London. Four per cent of all white people live in inner London compared to 38 per cent of Afro-Caribbean people.
Six per cent of white people live in households with more than three adults compared to 17 per cent of Afro-Caribbean and 22 per cent of Asian people. (Low Pay Review, Autumn 1987).
The most recent figures from the Policy Studies Institute survey, Black and White Britain, revealed that in 1982 median earnings of white men were about £20 per week higher than for Afro-Caribbean men and £18 higher than for Asian men.
The unemployed will be hard hit too. A claimant in Camden, London, may have to find an extra £83 per year or £1.60 per week out of already reduced benefits. Claimants who are unable to pay their Poll Tax will have payments deducted directly from their benefits according to a Department of Social Security document leaked in August 1989. The DSS anticipates that local authorities will apply through the courts for Social Security offices to make deductions in 750,000 cases. It is estimated to cost the DSS £26 a year to carry out each claimant‘s deduction, a total of £15.6m, and require 600 extra staff and officials at an added cost of £12m.
Also in August 1989 the government announced that single prisoners, convicted and unconvicted, in jail for more than three months, are liable for the higher £500 standard charge, previously proposed for ‘second homes’, on their empty homes, and therefore will not be eligible for rebates. Released prisoners could face Poll Tax debts of up to £500, resulting in them losing their homes.
The Poll Tax will cause additional hardship to working class women. High levels of unemployment among women and lower pay for the majority of women who work outside the home mean that women tend to rely on benefits and rebates more than men. Unwaged women who are married or living with a male partner who is working full time are not entitled to Income Support. They will therefore have to pay the full Poll Tax which could lead to increased financial dependence on their partners. Most single-parent families are headed by women and live in inner city areas.
As a percentage of income the poor will pay almost four times as much as the rich. Families on £500 or more per week presently pay 1.8 per cent of their income in rates. Under the Poll Tax this will be almost halved to one per cent. Families on £75-100 per week (a third of all households) will face an increase from 3.7 per cent (rates) to 3.9 per cent (Poll Tax). Again, the differential will be more extreme for low-paid families in inner cities
Non-domestic (business) rates are set by local councils each year. Under the Poll Tax this will change and a new Unified Business Rate will be set by the government. When the new rate comes into force as part of the Poll Tax legislation in April 1990 up to 50,000 small businesses could go to the wall and as many as 200,000 jobs could be lost. The new rate comes into force in the run-up to the May local elections and many of the Tories‘ own supporters and back-bench MPs are outraged. Arch-reactionary Tory MP Rhodes Boyson, who has already attacked the Poll Tax, said: ‘Taken with the Poll Tax it is like a cyanide pill for the Party.’
The Tories have combined the new rate with a revaluation of rateable values which they put off in the early 1980s. The new rateable values reflect the huge increases in property prices. Thousands of small businesses will not be able to cope with the increases, despite the changes being phased in over five years. Many will still face 20 per cent increases in rates, plus inflation, every year for the next five years. Tory MPs and big businesses like Harrods, whose rates bill could soar from just under £1m to over £8m are kicking up a fuss but there has hardly been any mention about the effects of the new business rate on local authority jobs and services. Some authorities, especially in London, stand to lose large amounts of revenue with the consequent threat of yet more cuts.
The Uniform Business Rate, which has been set at 34.8p in the pound in England and 36.8p in Wales, will be collected centrally and then redistributed at the rate of £2.50 per person liable for the Poll Tax. Local needs or resources will not be taken into account. This means that Tower Hamlets in east London, for example, will lose £46m in income from businesses in the borough. This will be redistributed to pay for reductions in the business rate elsewhere. Yet some of the most extreme poverty and worst housing conditions in Britain exist in this borough. Apart from small businesses which will suffer, it will be ordinary working class people who will end up paying for the increase. Many of the big firms will put up their prices to cover the increased costs, adding a possible one per cent to shop prices.
Half-truths, lies and cons
The Government Information Service has a budget of £1.75m to promote the Poll Tax. Government information on the Poll Tax has so far produced only misleading half-truths and outright lies. The London Borough of Greenwich sought an injunction preventing the distribution of the government leaflet, The Community Charge (The So-called Poll Tax): How it will work for you, to 21 million households in England in May 1989 because the leaflet was so misleading that its publication amounted to a misuse of ministerial power and public funds. The High Court rejected the claim but conceded that the leaflet was misleading by omission.
When the Department of the Environment published its registration figures for England and Wales on 1 December 1989 the official figures for the proportion of people in each area who had registered for Poll Tax made interesting reading — Cambridge 116.5 per cent, Rotherham 106.5 per cent, Hounslow 110.7 per cent, Westminster 113.3 per cent. The City of London registered 145.8 per cent of its population! These figures were compiled from the 1981 Census. The changes in population numbers since then were ignored as councils rushed to ‘complete’ their registers by the 1 December deadline.
On 20 July 1989 Nicholas Ridley released government-estimated figures for the Poll Tax nationally. These figures, based on projected Standard Spending Assessments, suggested that the Poll Tax would be lower than previously expected. However, Ridley’s figures were fraudulent. To meet his estimated £242 Poll Tax per head in Nottingham in 1990/1991 Nottinghamshire County Council will have to impose £36m worth of cuts and sack 2,000 council workers.
Ridley’s figures were based on the total amount central government will give to English local authorities in 1990/1991 through revenue support grant, specific grants and rebates from the new national Uniform Business Rate which would amount to £23.1bn. The Standard Spending Assessments released by the Department of the Environment in January 1990 state that councils should only spend £32.8bn in 1990/1991 thus the total amount of money to be raised in England from the Poll Tax would be £9.7bn — an average of £278 per person. However, just to keep current levels of spending in line with inflation councils will need to spend £34.1bn — £1.3bn more than estimated. Council spending in 1990/1991 is more likely to be £2.2bn more than this, making the amount to be raised from the Poll Tax 35.6 per cent more than Ridley’s estimate,
In an attempt to cushion the initial effects of the Poll Tax in inner city areas where a high Poll Tax threatens to stir disaffection, the government announced a ‘safety net’ system which would transfer £625m to 79 councils by charging higher Poll Tax in other, low-spending areas. Conservative backbenchers complained that their constituencies with low-spending Conservative councils would ‘subsidise’ ‘high-spending’ Labour councils and thus lose them support. When he was Environment Secretary, Nicholas Ridley added £100m to the £625m pool of safety net money and cut 172 councils’ contributions to the pool. The reduced contributions were also offset by contributions from some Labour-controlled inner city councils. In order to reduce the safety net contribution in affluent Woking, Surrey by £17 per person, Haringey Council, London would have to pay £15 per person into the pool. Manchester, Salford, Knowsley and Newcastle will also have to contribute.
On 11 October 1989 David Hunt, Minister for Local Government, announced at the Conservative Party Conference that local authorities would only contribute to the safety net for the first year; then it would be paid for by the Treasury for three years, thus allaying Tories’ fears that they would be paying for people in high spending areas. As further recognition of how strongly people are opposed to the Poll Tax Hunt’s package includes a back-dated payment to Scottish local authorities to give them the same concessions as local authorities in England. However, this has been criticised by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities as a ‘half-baked, ill-conceived solution arrived at at the last moment to try to save the government from acute embarrassment.' It is estimated to cost £30m to administer the package in Scotland.
The second aspect of Hunt’s announcement was hailed as a Tory change of heart and portrayed as allaying fears of Poll Tax bills well in excess of present rates. Hunt said that a two-adult household would only be required to pay £3 a week more than their rates. . . and here‘s the rub – so long as their council keeps to ‘sensible spending’.
On 6 November 1989 Chris Patten, Ridley’s successor as Secretary of State for the Environment, announced that the government would spend an extra £1.3bn over the next four years to ease the impact of the Poll Tax, especially in inner cities. But again, Patten's announcement that extra grants would be made available from central government to local authorities to reduce Poll Tax levels was conditional on councils keeping to government spending assumptions.
366 councils out of 403 are spending above government-approved levels. Transitional relief will not be available to residents in areas run by these councils. It will also not be available to people living in property which does not have a separate rateable value, for example, halls of residence, long-stay hostels, short-stay lets or blocks of flats. When all this is taken into account the Hunt/Patten package adds up one big con.
Figures compiled by the Council of Local Education Authorities indicate that local authorities will have to cut their education spending by 8.5 per cent to remain close to government assessments of their Poll Tax levels. This is equivalent to the loss of 58,000 primary teaching jobs or the closure of 900 secondary schools. The figures needed in the coming year to maintain level funding of the education service. This is equivalent to an increase of £45 a head on the Poll Tax. In addition, government estimates are based on full Poll Tax registers whereas local authorities must realistically budget for at least five percent non-collection. This was backed up by a survey by the Institute of Revenues. Rating and Valuation which said in February 1990 that Poll Tax bills were likely to average £340 on the basis of current spending plans.
The government's majority was cut to 36 in Parliament on 18 January 1990 when Chris Patten set the average Poll Tax bill at £278 for 1990/1991 in line with government estimates of local authority spending for that period. Thirty one Tories voted against the government as a protest against the mechanism for assessing the spending needs of each authority. Patten assured the Tory rebels that any local authority which set its Poll Tax level too high to meet ‘overspending‘ would be ‘charge capped’ (similar to rate capping).
However, a survey carried out by the Association of District Councils expects the average Poll Tax of its members to be around £360. In its survey of 128 councils only four have set charges below government targets and 19 are expected to issue bills exceeding £400. Local government finance experts claim that the expense and bureaucracy involved will render widespread ‘charge capping’ impossible. Berkshire County Council is making an application to the High Court for a judicial review of the Department of the Environment's method of calculating, the Standard Spending Assessments. On 28 February 1990 18 of west Oxfordshire District Council's ruling Tory group resigned in protest at their Poll Tax which has been set at £412 — £124 above the national average. This renders the Council liable to be 'charge-capped’. The government's attempt to use the Poll Tax to 'expose’ ‘high-spending’ Labour-controlled local authorities is backfiring. A Tory MP at a lunch for Edward Heath on 21 February 1990 ‘joked': ‘I think the computer went wrong. We were supposed to have low charges in Tory boroughs and high ones in Labour boroughs, but look what we've got, It's a disaster.’
The Observer reported on 18 February 1990 that Chris Patten is to launch a fundamental review of the Poll Tax with the aim of drastically trimming bills for next year, Such a review will not be the result of Patten’s concern for working class families who have no means to meet their Poll Tax bills, It is the result of widespread fear within the Tory Party that high Poll Tax bills will prove to be politically damaging at the local elections in May and after.
The truth is that under the Poll Tax six million people will be better off but 30 million people will be much worse off. The Child Poverty Action Group published figures in September 1989 confirming that 63 per cent of households will be losers under the Poll Tax. For the poorest fifth of households the figure rises to 80 per cent. They stand to lose almost £5 per week whilst 71 per cent of the top 10 per cent of households will gain an average of £20 per week. The Poll Tax is racist, sexist and anti-working class.
Civil liberties under attack
The Community Charge Registration Officer (CCRO) has access to the electoral register and all local government records: Education Department, Housing Department and Housing Benefit records, housing lists, library records and school records. Regulations on the Poll Tax laid before Parliament give Poll Tax registration officers power to request in writing the 'name, address and any past or present place of residence any person and the dates he is known or thought to have resided at that place‘. The request may be made of ‘any precepting authorities.' i.e. levying councils, including local education authorities and information must be provided within 21 days.
Fears about a national identity card system are not unfounded as personal numbers have been issued in Scotland.
Each household requires a ‘responsible person‘ to provide information and guarantee payment from each person in the house. In multi-occupied dwellings such as hostels, halls of residence, etc, the warden or caretaker will be the ‘responsible person’. The ‘responsible person' will be fined for providing incorrect or no information. A £50 fine will follow a warning letter and fines of £200 will be levied for each subsequent ‘offence’. People who do not pay the tax will be liable to pay the arrears, 10 per cent interest and a fine of £50-200 or 33 per cent of arrears (whichever is largest) for a second ‘offence’.
The Thatcher government proposes to give council officials new powers, currently only used by magistrates’ courts, to enforce payment of the Poll Tax. Poll Tax officers in England and Wales will be able to send in bailiffs to seize goods, order employers to deduct outstanding Poll Tax and fines from wage packets, start bankruptcy proceedings and apply for deductions to be made from Income Support payments. They will be able to obtain an all-purpose ‘liability order’ from the courts to get information from defaulters about their earnings. Failure to provide information can incur fines of up to £400.
130 people in the Central Region of Scotland, including Labour MP Dennis Canavan and Councillor Michael Connarty, leader of Central Region District Council, had their bank accounts arrested by Sheriff's officers for not paying the £50 fine for non-registration. An additional £16.01 fee was also deducted. Pensioners, single parents and claimants were included in those who had their money stolen in this way.
The Poll Tax is a major assault on our civil liberties. The questionnaire from which the register is compiled has been severely criticised by civil liberties organisations. By September 1989 the questions on only 37 of the 403 Poll Tax registration forms used in England and Wales satisfied the protection of privacy laws. In 304 cases local authorities sought information which was excessive or unfairly obtained.
The Data Protection Registrar ruled that Poll Tax registration forms issued by Conservative-controlled Trafford Council, Greater Manchester, had breached the Data Protection Act.
The registration form asked questions on the nature of relationships between people in households, breaching two principles of the Data Protection Act — that personal data held on computer must be obtained lawfully and fairly and it must only be used for the purpose for which it was collected. Trafford Council was instructed to rewrite its registration forms and was barred from storing on computer or using to implement the Poll Tax any information obtained from the offending forms.
But Trafford is not the only council seeking personal details from householders. Many councils, desperate to register everyone eligible for the Poll Tax, are encouraging people to spy on friends and family members. Examples include:
- People in Chelmsford, Epsom and Ewell asked to report all changes and movements of everyone in their households at all times in the future.
- In East Yorkshire, Epsom, Ewell and Winchester residents told to list home and daytime telephone numbers.
- In Solihull, like Trafford, people asked to explain their relationship to other people in their home.
- People in Richmond asked where residents have been living for the previous year.
- People in Hounslow, London asked to describe how much furniture is in their home!
None of these requests has any legal basis and they amount to a gross invasion of our privacy. Twenty-two Poll Tax officers were questioned about their failure to register under the Data Protection Act even though they are processing personal data. Officers who have no acceptable reason for failing to register may face prosecution and a possible fine.
But worse is to come. New ‘Change of Circumstance’ forms which ask people to report on all movements of people in their household have already been issued in Wigan and in Bexley, south London. The forms tell people to say where they have moved and when, who has moved in since, when they moved in, where they have moved from and when other people move into and leave the property.
A computer file will be opened on every adult liable to pay the Poll Tax. There has been no assurance that we will be able to see these files to correct inaccuracies.
Poll Tax = rich pickings
Thursday 15 November 1988. The Birmingham National Exhibition Centre. The scene of a revealing event. A two-day fair organised by the Labour-dominated Association of Metropolitan Authorities. Entitled ‘Community Charge 1990‘ and opened by smiling hostesses with sashes, the event brought together hundreds of local government finance officers and businesses to discuss how to share out the estimated £300m profits which will arise from the Poll Tax. Fifty company stall holders were present, representing producers of direct mailing systems, letter-sorting machinery, computer programmes, payment books and stationery. There were recruitment agencies, banks, bailiffs, computer companies and printers, all gathered like vultures. WJ Gault and Company, bailiffs, advertised themselves as having a ‘priceless fund of knowledge in the field of distress’. Their Midlands area manager (hear him rub his hands) said, ‘We will have a lot more work. When we were collecting rate arrears we just went for the head of the household. Now we‘re going to have to recover money from the mother and grown-up children too. We'll be taking on more staff.‘ Special partnerships have been formed uniting computer companies with bailiffs, giving themselves titles such as ‘Community Charge Services‘. The big fish were present too. Honeywell Bull's senior consultant responsible for local government marketing sternly warned that ‘There will be panic next year. Some authorities are running very close to their timescale.’ Bringing a new meaning to the phrase ‘Labour means business‘, three solid Labour councils, Wakefield, Sandwell and Sheffield, chartered coaches for their representatives to attend the fair. Chair of the AMA, Sir Jack Layden, should have the last word: ‘Councils are keen to see what the private sector has to offer.’
He could have put it more clearly in the words of the Daily Telegraph: ‘Poll Tax: lf you can‘t beat it, join it.‘
The cost of implementing the Poll Tax is enormous. The Price Waterhouse study in 1988 showed that it will cost £435m to collect the Poll Tax compared to an annual bill of £200m for the current rates system in England and Wales. A further £357m is needed to initiate the scheme in England and Wales. In Scotland £25m has been spent on employing the necessary 2,000 extra staff. Running costs will be around £25m in the first year of registration £3Om will need to be spent on extra buildings, computers and software.
The jewel in Thatcher’s Crown
The Poll Tax has been described as the jewel in the crown of Thatcherism. It is clearly a central plank in an overall economic, political and ideological assault on the poor and oppressed and those sections of local government which still retain a commitment to providing adequate local services.
Thatcherism represents the ruling class solution to the most severe crisis of capitalism since the 1930s. Thatcher has ensured that the poor will bear the brunt of the crisis. The Poll Tax will make the poor pay for the poor. With two fingers raised to the working class, as much money as possible is to be transferred to the rich and privileged whilst introducing the maximum amount of repressive machinery in order to contain the inevitable protest and resistance.
The Poll Tax is being used by Thatcher in her crusade against ‘municipal socialism‘. It will remove the last vestiges of progressive activity from Labour-controlled councils. Any previous room for manoeuvre held by these councils is to go whilst political power is centralised in a repressive Tory government and local councils reduced to the status of rent collectors.
The following laws and changes have all been implemented within the last three years:
- Welfare Benefits: Income Support and the Social Fund replace Supplementary Benefit. One-off payments abolished, loans introduced. Funeral and maternity grants abolished, replaced by funeral and maternity payments under the Regulatory Social Fund. Housing Benefit Supplement scrapped. Free school meals are reduced. Child Benefit frozen. Ceilings introduced for board and lodging payments and time limits imposed on bed and breakfast accommodation for unemployed under-26 year olds. Charges introduced for eye and dental tests. £613m was saved in 1988. Fraud inspectors increased by 20 per cent to 3,000. Sixteen million people now live on or below the poverty line by any reasonable definition.
- Housing: Housing benefit cut by £450m and local government expenditure capped. Landlords given power to buy council homes Powers of eviction increased. In 1979 89,000 homes were built. 23,000 were built in 1987. There were 103,000 homeless households in 1987 —twice as many as in 1979. There is a ban on the building of new housing. Councils are obliged to tender out work to private contractors and consequently dismantle Direct Labour Sections.
- Employment: The pre-entry closed shop will be abolished by October 1990. Employment Training Programme has been introduced which compels participants to work for just £10 above Unemployment Benefit level. The Wages Act of 1987 removed half a million young workers from the protection of Wages Councils. A ban has been imposed on secondary picketing and the courts have been given powers in seize union funds. Secret ballots must be called before strikes are made official. Trade unionists at GCHQ have been sacked. Young people who refuse places on Youth Training Schemes will lose their benefits. Over the last three years the accident rate on YTS increased from 59 in 10,000 to 136.2 in 10,000—four deaths occurred between July and September 1988. Unemployment grew from 5.3 per cent of the workforce in 1979 to 11 per cent in 1988 before falling to 8.1 per cent in February 1990, still above 1979 levels. In 1987 20 per cent of all employees were part-time women workers compared with 13 per cent in 1971. The Tories’ most recent plans include the introduction of Training Enterprise Councils, two-thirds will be made up of business men who will appoint the other third. TECs will replace the Department of Employment and absorb its budget of £3bn.
- Education: A business-orientated National Core Curriculum has been introduced. Provision has been made for schools in rich and middle class areas to opt out of local education authorities. The dismantling of inner city education authorities such as the Inner London Education Authority is in process.
- Local Government: Rate capping to punish the ‘reckless spenders' is in force. Section 1 of the new Local Government and Housing Act bans in a precedent-setting way the political activities of many white collar workers. It follows hard on the heels of Section 28 of the Local Government Act (1988) ‘forbidding the promotion of homosexuality’.
- National Health Service: Plans for opting out and self-governing of hospitals are proposed thus paving the way to run down services in poor areas. GPs are to be given fixed budgets which will lead to cost cutting and service reductions as they shop around. Divisive pay grades for nursing workers have been introduced.
- Privatisation: It's get rich quick but only for those who have the capital in the first place. £66Om will go to City firms for underwriting the sales of nationalised industries. Basic civic amenities such as water, power and roads will be turned into privileges for those who ‘have’ and a loss of service for those who ‘have not’.
- Income Tax: The starting point for Inheritance Tax has been raised. One half of the 1988 budget handout of £8.1bn was given to the richest 10 per cent. In this budget someone earning £70,000 per annum received an extra £150 per week whilst someone on £8,000 per annum received only £3 extra per week. The 1988 budget resulted in 43 per cent of Social Security claimants being worse off. Unmarried couples with children lost one additional personal allowance whereas before each could claim. Mortgage interest relief is now restricted to the property and not the buyer, thus reducing the possibilities of joint purchase of homes. Since 1979 there have been tax cuts of £2Obn. The top one per cent have gained 24 per cent of this bonanza whilst the bottom 50 per cent of society have gained 17 per cent. Between 1979 and 1985 the share of total household income of the poorest 20 per cent fell from 6.1 per cent to 5.6 per cent.
- Law and order: Expenditure has increased by 67 per cent in real terms between 1978/9 and 1989/90. The average increase in state expenditure in real terms was 14 per cent. There are 26 new prisons budgeted for at a cost of £755m. Electronic tagging of offenders has been introduced. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act increased police powers and the Public Order Act restricted rights of protest. Powers to take mouth swabs (genetic fingerprinting) have been given to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The accused's right to silence has been removed in the Six Counties of Ireland and will be removed in England and Wales. The right to challenge juries has been abolished in England and Wales. CS gas and plastic bullets are stocked by all major police forces. The new Official Secrets Act will make it a crime to leak information about the activities of the Secret Services and there will be no ‘in the public interest’ defence for those caught. The new Act gives the Secret Services wider powers to carry out illegal activities such as telephone tapping, burglary etc. The Football Spectators Bill was an attempt to pave the way for a national identity card system. The extended and permanent Prevention of Terrorism Act criminalises supporters of liberation movements.
Thatcher's Britain is a divided nation. Over half (52 per cent) of all personal marketable wealth is owned by the richest 10 per cent of the population. The poorest 20 per cent owns just 5.9 per cent. Between 1979 and 1989 the richest one per cent have seen their income rise by 346 per cent as a result of tax cuts and high interest rates. The reduction in taxes for the top one per cent totals £26.2bn. At the end of 1989 unemployment in the north of England at 8.9 per cent was more than double that of the south east at 3.7 per cent. In 1987 11 per 1,000 households in London were considered officially homeless compared to the lowest figure of four per 1,000 households in East Anglia. The mortality rate for the young and middle-aged in the most deprived areas of London is double the rate in the least deprived areas.
Truly they are planning for our poverty. Under the by-lines ‘greed is healthy' and ‘people's capitalism‘, Thatcher is letting capitalism and capitalists rip. There is no way on to this gravy train if you are poor and oppressed. ‘Care in the community’ is care by the com-munity as hospitals and day centres close. For community read women. There being ‘no such thing as society: only individuals and their families‘ (Thatcher) means no right to expect the alleviation of poverty or the provision of services from central and local government.
The recent period has seen a concerted assault on the conditions and rights of whole sections of the population. A move is underway to increase the reserve army of labour and to discipline those Thatcher considers deviant. Those affected are the poor, working class women, the lower paid, black people, council tenants, unmarried couples, people who live collectively, those driven to steal (bankers excluded), trade unionists, progressive central and local government workers, supporters of liberation movements, political protesters, lesbians and gay men, travelling people… in short YOU.
The Poll Tax is the centrepiece of this attack. Defeating it is therefore in the interests of everyone committed to resisting attacks on the working class, defending the welfare state and defending civil liberties and democratic rights.
Fighting the Poll Tax
Throughout Scotland working class communities have made clear their opposition to the Poll Tax. Local anti-Poll Tax groups sprang up and a determined and imaginative campaign against registration began at the end of 1987. Tenants arranged to be out of their houses when registration officers called, and held mass meetings in the street while officers knocked fruitlessly on one door after another. Appointed street stewards alerted the community to approaching officers, using megaphones. Registration officers were chased out of many estates, eventually only able to work accompanied by the police. Tenants returned registration forms collectively. MPs and councillors opposed to the Poll Tax joined local people in the burning of registration forms. Local meetings attracted up to 200 people. Glasgow's Pollokshield anti-Poll Tax Union held a 200-strong local residents’ demonstration, the first ever political demonstration in the area.
Sheriff's officers who attempted to enter houses in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow to assess household effects (to poind) with a view to selling them to pay off the fines for failure to register have been blocked by anti-Poll Tax protesters. Rallies were held outside the homes of Len and Yvonne Thomson in Aberdeen and Janette McGinn in Rutherglen, Glasgow, and the Sheriffs officers had to leave empty-handed. The first warrant sale in Scotland was to recover a fine from Carole Hosey, a single parent, for failing to register for the Poll Tax. It was scheduled for 27 November 1989 but was called off after the Lothian Anti-Poll Tax Federation threatened to physically prevent the warrant sale by mobilising hundreds of people to be present at the time of the attempted sale.
A 'virus' appeared on the computer system used by Lothian Regional Council to store.the Poll Tax register. Every 10 minutes a name disappeared from the register.
The Poll Tax registration officer in Strathclyde reported that there are 1,997 ‘Donald Ducks‘ resident in his region!
In Scotland Poll Tax registration officers have had to amend their registers more than one million times to keep them up to date. Lothian Regional Council said in February 1990 that it will have to double its number of registration workers at a cost of over £500,000 simply in order to cope. Registration officials in Central Region anticipate that the response to their second annual canvass will be even lower than in 1988. Their concern is well-founded. Local councils have suspended enforcing £250 fines for failure to register because of a backlog of fine hearings in the courts.
By May 1989 it was confirmed that one million people had failed to pay their Poll Tax. Five months later official figures for non-payment in Scotland revealed that in the Lothian and Grampian Regions 160,000 people had not paid a single penny Poll Tax since payment started on 1 April 1989. Another 66,000 in Lothian were two months behind in their payments. By January 1990 £25m unpaid Poll Tax was owed to Lothian Regional Council and £60m was owed to Strathclyde. Scottish local authorities have issued 700,000 summary warrants to recover unpaid Poll Tax. As a result of the determined resistance of the Scottish working class, Lothian NALGO have voted to support pickets of any attempted warrant sales and to take action if any of their members have their wages arrested.
The offices of Sheriff's officers have been occupied in Edinburgh and Glasgow by anti-Poll Tax activists demanding an end to the use of warrant sales. Protesters occupied the council chamber of Lothian Regional Council on 23 January 1990 as the ruling Labour group set an increased Poll Tax for 1990/1991.
Anti-Poll Tax demonstrators in Dalkeith prevented Sheriff's officers from carrying out poindings of the possessions of non-payers. Demonstrators in cars blocked the Sheriff's officers’ car in a car park. A substance was sprayed on their windscreen and their tyres let down. The Sheriff's officers were unable to carry out any poindings as a result of the opposition they met.
ln England early return figures showed that the registration process was being held up by a campaign of non-registration. In Lambeth, London, only 27,000 completed forms were returned within 21 days out of a total of 110,000 which were delivered. Local councils in London reported that they had received less than 50 per cent of completed registration forms by their deadline dates. The main Poll Tax registration of?ce in lslington, London, was badly damaged by a fire in June 1989. Figures for inner cities throughout England showed that the average return rate was less than 60 per cent by the deadline date.
The target for completing the Poll Tax register in England and Wales was postponed from October 1989 to December 1989 as a result of the difficulties experienced by local councils in compiling a complete register of all those liable to pay the Poll Tax.
The government is now trying to use DSS staff as Poll Tax snoopers. Form NHB 10 (CC) to register claimants for the Poll Tax has been distributed to some DSS offices. In a welcome development CPSA members at several London offices took strike action in October 1989 to defend colleagues who had been threatened with disciplinary action for refusing to co-operate with the form.
Working class communities across Scotland, England and Wales have mounted a campaign of civil disobedience against the Poll Tax. A new unity is being built amongst those who simply cannot afford to pay. A new determination has emerged to resist Thatcher’s single greatest attack on the rights and living standards of the working class. The fight against the Poll Tax has the potential to become the most widespread challenge to Thatcher's rule in the last 1O years. However, the chief obstacle to developing this challenge into a fighting movement has been the role of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, the British Labour Party.
Labour Party implements the Poll Tax
Labour-controlled councils throughout Scotland are implementing the Poll Tax. They have employed the staff, installed the machinery, fined people for failure to register and ordered warrant sales against non-payers to recover unpaid Poll Tax. Strathclyde Regional Council has employed 900 people to administer the tax. Lothian Region Council spent £2.85m on computers to file information on registration, On 29 July 1988 Lothian Regional Council used the front page of the Edinburgh Evening News to announce their intention to fine the 25,000 people who had failed to register. Strathclyde Regional Council arranged for Poll Tax registration forms to be delivered by hand to ensure that receipt could not be denied.
Pat Lally, leader of Labour-controlled Glasgow District Council, made it clear that the Labour Party would encourage the use of informers and snoopers in the community in order to make sure all the payments come in. Lally stated, ‘People may have to be paid to inform on neighbours trying to dodge the new community charge… If the government penalises councils for not collecting enough money then such a scheme, although morally repugnant, would be seriously considered'.
Glasgow District Council reissued application forms for Housing Benefit asking for each applicant's Poll Tax registration number. Those who have not registered will be denied their Housing Benefit. Sheriff's officers working for Labour-controlled Central Regional Council arrested the bank accounts of 130 people who had not paid the £50 fine for non-registration. They included an unemployed mother of five and Dennis Canavan, Labour MP for Falkirk East. All were warned they could face an additional fine of £200 for continued failure to register. Shortly before the bank accounts were arrested, the council issued 206 letters containing warrant threats. Sheriff’s officers have also been sent to assess household goods in homes in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow with a view to selling them off to recover unpaid fines for failure to register. Only the resistance of local anti-Poll Tax unions turned the officers back empty-handed.
By the end of December 1989 Strathclyde Regional Council had issued 250,000 summary warrants to recover unpaid Poll Tax; Lothian Regional Council had issued 76,000 - one person in eight has received a summary warrant notice; 33,000 have been issued in Tayside Region; 20,000 in Highland Region and 16,000 in Grampian. By the end of January 1990 the number of summary warrants issued in Scotland was 700,000.
Sheriff's officers are empowered to arrest wages and bank accounts and ultimately to carry out warrant sales of people's household goods and personal belongings.
However, the ability of Scottish local authorities to recover unpaid Poll Tax by these means has been attacked by the Society of Messengers at Arms and Sheriff's Officers and the Committee of Scottish Clearing Bankers. Kenneth Simpson, spokesperson for the Society of Messengers at Arms and Sheriff's Officers, said sending out letters to thousands of individuals was not a problem. Having physically to carry out poindings, however, was another matter. John Sutherland, secretary of the Committee of Scottish Clearing Bankers, which includes the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Clydesdale Bank and TSB Scotland, has warned that Scotland's clearing banks could not cope with a huge increase in arrestment orders against bank accounts. The banks estimate that if arrestment orders are eventually issued against 100,000 people their costs will exceed £20m.
Opposition to the methods employed by Labour-controlled Regional Council to recover unpaid Poll Tax is being voiced not only by local communities but also by the institutions expected to enforce payment of the Poll Tax. Yet the Labour Party continues to refuse to support the mass non-payment campaign and insists on carrying out its 'legal obligation' to recover unpaid Poll Tax. In addition, Strathclyde Regional Council announced in January 1990 that the Poll Tax for 1990/1991 will be 12 per cent more than it was for 1989/1990. The Poll Tax per head in Lothian Region will rise from £392 to £438 - an increase of 11.7 per cent. More people than ever will not be able to pay.
Demonstrating their keenness to run the system more efficiently than the Tories, the Labour Party announced on 1 February their alternative to the Poll Tax - a levy based on the capital value of property with safeguard for low-income families living in highly-priced houses or flats. Labour intends to introduce discounts for the installation of central heating, double glazing and other ‘socially useful improvements'. Their alternative tax has been attacked by all parliamentary parties as the domestic rates through the back door.
‘Stop It’ . . . but pay it
All of this is done in the name of ‘Stop It’, the Labour Party's campaign against the Poll Tax. People in Glasgow who received letters from Strathclyde Regional Council warning them of impending fines for failure to register received an accompanying letter expressing Labour's opposition to the Poll Tax. Hypocrisy is hardly the word for this.
The ‘Stop It’ strategy consisted of urging councils to take their time imposing the tax and telling people to lobby the House of Lords. It argued that only completely lawful methods of resisting the Poll Tax will succeed. However, Strathclyde Regional Council not only refused to defy the law, but also voted, by 30 votes to 19, against employing all legal means of opposing the tax. In England and Wales, councils began advertising for Poll Tax officers even before Poll Tax legislation had become law. Margaret Hodge, Labour leader of lslington Council, London, had the nerve to boast about the 'victory' of ‘forcing’ the government to introduce the tax in one go rather than phase it in. This, said Hodge, ‘removes an unnecessary administrative burden’. Such is the character of official Labour ‘opposition’. Labour controlled Haringey Council, London, issued fine notices in December to 4,700 people who had failed to register for the Poll Tax.
‘Stop It’ also, of course, consisted of attacking those who advocate non-payment.
The Scottish Labour Party Recall Conference held in Glasgow in September 1988 voted overwhelmingly against a campaign of non-payment against the Poll Tax. Donald Dewar, Shadow Scottish Secretary, argued that the campaign against the Poll Tax must be lawful — a view echoed at the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool. There Dewar said that a party aspiring to government would sacrifice credibility if it practised selective amnesia towards the law of the land.
Earlier in the year Dewar laughed on Scottish Television when it was suggested that Labour might organise for non-payment. He described the first Committee of 100 involving Labour MPs and councillors which is pledged to leading a campaign of non-payment, launched in Glasgow on 21 November 1988, as ‘individuals who were acting as such‘.
At the Local Government Conference held in Edinburgh in February 1988 Neil Kinnock said that he refused to lead a campaign of non-payment. He described such a campaign as a ‘counsel of despair, fruitless’. Kinnock has argued that a non-payment campaign would play into the hands of the Tories by diverting attention from the real issue: ‘social justice‘.
The Scottish Executive of the Labour Party said in August 1988: ‘Labour will not lead a campaign of non-payment of the tax, nor will Labour be prepared to encourage people indiscriminately into supporting other such campaigns.' The Executive's statement goes on to provide a conscience clause for individual non-payers and suggests debt counselling for those hardest hit by the tax. Indeed they excuse their anxiety for staying within the law by arguing that concern for the poor and the fines burden which non-payment would further place on them is their main reason for rejecting non-payment.
Three Labour councillors on Labour-controlled Lothian Regional Council, Anne Avelett, Tony Kinder and Keith Simpson, have come under fire from Pentlands Constituency Labour Party for seeking support from the Region's Labour Party branches for a lobby by the Lothian Anti-Poll Tax Federation to demand that the council abandon the warrant sales procedure. Regional Party vice-chairman, Councillor Donald Anderson, supported the motion of censure and attacked the three for breaching party policy: ‘The debate on tactics regarding the Poll Tax is over... there is not even a remote possibility of the Labour Party altering its position . . . We must remain within the law.‘
Meeting the challenge - putting Kinnock first
The truth is that the Labour Party has no concern for the millions of working class people who cannot afford to pay the Poll Tax or the fines for non-payment levied by Labour councils. Their concern is to win the next election. To do so their strategy is to win back the votes of semi-detached Britain -the middle class and better-off sections of the working class. To this end Kinnock is sabotaging all serious resistance to Thatcher. He has ruthlessly dealt with opposition within the Labour Party - expulsion of Militant supporters, betrayal of left Labour councils in the anti-ratecapping campaign, the attack on black sections and isolation of Labour MPs who revolt against Kinnock's abject support for Britain‘s war in Ireland. Kinnock and Norman Willis of the TUC have systematically sabotaged every serious fight within the trade union movement - the most significant being the year-long miners' strike in 1984/85. Kinnock has condemned each and every inner city rising against police violence and racism.
In order not to antagonise semi-detached Britain, Kinnock has either refused to exploit opportunities to attack Thatcher - such as Westlands or nuclear weapons - or openly sided with Thatcher as in the Zircon affair.
Kinnock dare not side with the very forces which could mount a serious challenge to Thatcher, for fear of alienating semi-detached Britain and a horror of unleashing revolutionary forces which would go beyond any of Labour's plans to manage capitalism more humanely. His message is clear – Labour's electoral interests come before the needs of the poorest who cannot afford to pay the Poll Tax. Leading sections of the trade union movement have followed in the footsteps of Kinnock.
The Scottish TUC‘s idea of opposing the Poll Tax was to call a week of action including an 11-minute industrial stoppage on 14 September 1988. lt was not until 18 November 1989 that the STUC held its first demonstration against the Poll Tax. At this demonstration, Campbell Christie, General Secretary, revealed that the STUC had called on the national TUC to hold a mass demonstration on 1 April, the day the Poll Tax comes into force in England and Wales. The STUC, like the Labour Party leadership, in the guise of the 'Stop It’ campaign, has been actively opposing non-payment. It has only now begun to call for some action as a result of the determination of the working class in Scotland to resist the Poll Tax. The TUC nationally has refused to hold a mass demonstration on 1 April 1990, and the Labour Party’s national executive has refused to back the STUC's call. The working class cannot look to the official labour and trade union movement for any effective support in the fight against the Poll Tax.
Holding back the fight—the British left
The response of the majority of the British left has been to counterpose community resistance to trade union and Labour Party action. The objective consequences of the activities of the main left organisations opposing the Poll Tax have been to pull the campaign back into the dead arms of the old movement.
Supporters of Militant in Scotland have built anti-Poll Tax unions amongst working class communities and now lead the Lothian and Strathclyde anti-Poll Tax Federations which are campaigning for non-payment. They were responsible for a 15,000-strong demonstration through Glasgow on March 1989. However, they remain tied to the Labour Party. In their pamphlet How to ?ght the Poll Tax they argue:
'The most effective way that ordinary people can voice their opposition to the cowardly and subservient policies of the Labour leadership is not by turning their back on the Labour movement, or by standing on the sidelines, but by actually joining the Labour Party and participating in the struggle to transform the Party into a fighting socialist organisation which defends the interests of ordinary working class people with the same iron determination with which Thatcher represents the rich and powerful.’
Firmly committed to upholding the myth that the Labour Party was, is and will be the party of the working class, Militant is equally committed to practising the anti-democratic methods which are the hallmark of the Labour Party.
For Militant, control of the anti-Poll Tax fightback is a crucial component of their own ?ght for credibility within the Labour Party. To retain control, they are actively excluding local activists who fall outside their political control. The Muirhouse Community Resistance Against the Poll Tax was refused affiliation to the Lothian Anti-Poll Tax Federation on the spurious grounds that an anti-Poll Tax union already existed in their area. In London, Militant supporters are building a second federation counterposed to the one that already exists which is not under their control. Eager to win the approval of their big brothers in the Labour Party they are determined that they will restrict the involvement of those they do not politically agree with. Militant seeks to recruit people to the very party which is collaborating with the Tories in imposing the tax and is currently conducting another witch-hunt against supporters of Militant. Kinnock is clear on how to treat anti-Poll Tax activists within the Labour Party. If they cannot be silenced they will be suspended or expelled.
The Socialist Workers Party
The Socialist Workers Party shares Militant’s obsession with the official Labour movement: ‘Only industrial action can defeat the Poll Tax’. The most extreme example of this position was argued by the SWP at the National Action Conference against the Poll Tax in Newcastle in November 1988: ‘ln a city like Newcastle the 250 employees in the Finance Department are more powerful than the 250,000 people who have to pay the Poll Tax.‘ For the SWP anyone outside the trade union movement is neither reliable nor part of the working class. At the 1988 Socialist Conference, Chris Harman, leading member of the SWP, displayed his contempt for the poorest working class when he argued that it is not possible to build a community-based campaign because,
‘On council estates are drug peddlers, junkies and people claiming houses under false names. These people will complete the registration forms to avoid attention from the council.’
To argue that only industrial action can defeat the Poll Tax at a time when there is no pressure on the trade union movement to take any action on anything is tantamount to doing nothing and, further, demobilises the action within the communities which already exists. Community resistance involves trade unionists and, if developed, can create a movement which allows rank and file trade unionists to take the fight into the trade union movement with the real pressure of the community behind them. The action taken by CPSA members in October 1989 to oppose DSS collaboration with the Poll Tax is an example of the kind of action that it is possible for trade unionists to take. The successful development of this is only possible when trade unionists draw confidence from resistance being built in the communities. Effective trade union action will only arise as the result of active and organised resistance within the communities.
These left organisations have attempted to cast the community in the role of supporter for, as yet, non-existent trade union and Labour Party action. The result has been to limit the work required to develop emerging community resistance into a powerful, organised challenge to the government. ln this, the needs and interests of the poorest sections of the working class have again been sacrificed on the altar of the official labour and trade union movement.
Go out to the people—lessons from the past
We have shown that the Labour Party, Labour-led local government, the trade union movement and those who are tied to it have refused to initiate opposition to the Poll Tax.
Successful resistance to the Poll Tax can be achieved only through a complete break with the old traditions of the labour and trade union movement. The creation of an organised movement from below, which puts the interests of the oppressed at its centre, prepared to defy the law and make alliances between the unemployed and the employed, community and workplace is a necessity. This new movement cannot be restricted to either workplace organisations or community resistance alone. A unity of both is the key. The British trade union movement has never since the Chartists moved in the interests of the whole working class and is dominated by a pro-capitalist leadership. Only a powerful movement from below will effect the kind of shift that is necessary to stop the Poll Tax. Those with most to lose must be in the front line of forging this grassroots unity. The unemployed, the lower paid, the poor, working class women, rank and file trade unionists have the potential to force the labour and trade union movement to stir.
The revolutionary tradition has numerous successful examples of this strategy. We will give three cases where ‘Go out to the people’, turning to ordinary working class people for support, building from the bottom up, became a reality. .
A revolutionary socialist influence led by John MacLean had existed for some years. Rent rises were announced throughout the city. This announcement led to the formation of the Women's Housing Association led by a working class housewife, Mrs Barbour. The WHA organised committees in each tenement, electing two women per close. Street meetings, back court meetings, drums, hells and trumpets - every method was used to bring the women out and organise them for the struggle. Notices were printed by the thousand and put up in windows. In street after street scarcely a window was without one: We are not paying increased rent. By May 15,000 tenants had refused to pay. Would-be rent collectors were smeared with flour and refuse then kicked out. ‘Mrs Barbour had a team of women who were wonderful. They could smell a Sheriff's officer a mile away. At their summons women left their cooking, washing, or whatever they were doing. Before they got anywhere near their destination the officer and his men would be met by an army of furious women who drove them back in a hurried scramble for safety.‘
Unable to collect rent from the community the landlords applied to the small debts court to sue workers over the heads of the women. Eighteen munitions workers were summoned to appear in court on 18 November to have their wages impounded.
'Will we let them get away with this?’ was the new war cry resounding in every street. ‘Never!‘ thundered the reply from the women. All day long in the streets, in the halls, in the houses, at workplace gates meetings were held. From early morning the women were marching to the court in the centre of Glasgow. The women were joined by the workers who left their workplaces deserted. Along the way the marchers stopped to collect John MacLean from the school where he was teaching. Traffic was completely stopped out- side the Sheriff's Court as thousands of angry men and women packed the surrounding streets. A general strike was called for 22 November.
Inside the court, Willie Gallacher describes the Sheriff and his officers as ‘white with apprehension’. ln a panic, the Sheriff telephoned Lloyd George, then Minister for Munitions, ‘They are threatening to pull down Glasgow. What am I going to do?‘ He was instructed to drop the case immediately! Within weeks the government rushed through the Rent Registration Act which reduced rents to pre-war level. (All quotes from Willie Gallacher Revolt on the Clyde)
lnternment without trial was introduced in August 1971 as an attempt to defeat the Irish nationalist movement. A rent and rates strike was declared in protest. 40,000 families participated. Placards appeared in windows in working class nationalist areas — Rent Spent. Gas and electricity bills, car tax, ground rent, TV licences and court fines were added. By October it was costing the government about £500,000. The rent and rates strike continued for over two years. The Bloody Sunday (January 1972) assault by British paratroopers which killed 14 unarmed demonstrators was a useless attempt to crush the spirits which had been raised by the strike. One of its achievements was to force middle class nationalist councillors to withdraw from their positions on public bodies, thus making clear the repressive and irreformable nature of the loyalist state. It necessitated the collaborationist SDLP to pass legislation for deductions from benefit with a punitive 25p a week collection charge; this thus further exposed the SDLP.
Under the leadership of the Republican Movement the 1971 rent and rates strike was a successful development in the nationalist struggle of the people of no property. The backbone of the Irish Republican struggle is the working class nationalist communities in the Six Counties. The fact at the British government has decided against the introduction of the Poll Tax in the Six Counties of Ireland shows that it is not prepared to meet this kind of determined resistance.
Miners’ Strike 1984-1985
The miners’ strike began in February 1984 and ended in March 1985. It began as an industrial dispute and became one of the twentieth century's fiercest political struggles against the state. The struggle of the miners had all the characteristics we discussed above. Firstly, it was led from below by less-privileged miners who were prepared to go beyond legal, constitutional and traditional methods of trade union struggles. Court injunctions were ignored, mass secondary picketing took place and the police were defied with barricades and petrol bombs. The striking miners identified with and attempted to reach out to the Irish people, black South Africa and the black communities of Britain.
Secondly, the backbone of the strike was women in the mining communities. Women's groups and Women Against Pit Closures involved thousands of women in picketing, support group work and political activity. 10,000 women marched in Barnsley on 12 May 1984. By 11 August in London the numbers had doubled to 20,000.
Thirdly, the miners and miners’ wives went out to the people. Miners’ Support Groups were established in every town and city. Children in schools, the poor and unemployed, shop and factory workers were all drawn in to support the struggle. One miner told a black Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! comrade: ‘We've got to get together—you, the miners and the lrish to stop this country in its tracks’.
Fourthly, the strike was led in a revolutionary manner by Arthur Scargill, the President of the National Union of Mineworkers. He consistently defended the militant actions of the miners, was himself arrested and defied the law. A week before the strike ended Scargill made the essential points:
‘The strike has brought a new dimension to British politics with hundreds of thousands of people involved in support groups not only in this country, but all over the world…we have already achieved a magnificent victory by showing that working class people are not prepared to lie down under this Thatcher government. Stand firm. Lift your hearts and eyes to a new horizon…'(Quoted in Miners’ strike 1984-1985: People versus State, David Reed and Olivia Adamson.)
The miners were defeated by a ruthless government aided by a paramilitary police force and the leadership of the labour and trade union movement which turned its back on the miners. On the one hand 11,000 miners were arrested, over 200 imprisoned and two killed on the picket lines, during a national police operation which involved 1.5 million deployments costing £500,000 per day. Road blocks and curfews were enforced and at one stage the whole county of Nottinghamshire was sealed off. On the other hand the Labour Party, led by Kinnock, withheld support from the miners. Kinnock refused to share a platform with a striking South Wales miner and said he abhorred all violence. Norman Willis of the TUC also condemned miners’ resistance and earlier Len Murray declared one-day strikes unconstitutional. On 21 August, six months after the struggle began, the TUC General Council held its first discussion of the strike. Nevertheless, the miners’ strike was an example of uncompromising working class struggle against capitalism and the state.
The lessons of the struggles we have discussed are clear and can be summed up simply. Any successful campaign against the Poll Tax cannot rely on the official labour and trade union movement. Opposition to the Poll Tax has shown that potential exists for organising the dispossessed into an effective challenge to the Thatcher government. To realise this potential the movement must put to the fore the interests of those who cannot pay and centrally involve those hitherto disregarded — the poor, the lower paid, working class women, black people and the unemployed, in short the oppressed working class.
The movement against the Poll Tax has begun. Working class communities throughout Scotland, England and Wales have united in their resistance. The movement will face real challenges when the Poll Tax hits hard at the poorest sections of the working class: when they are forced to defend themselves against the seizure of their wages and benefits, bailiffs and sales of their property. Socialists must join this movement and assist in taking it forward to final victory - the abolition of the Poll Tax.
The Peasants’ Revolt 1381
The first flat rate Poll Tax, introduced by John of Gaunt, was imposed in England by the Commons in 1381. The Lords argued then that people would only be able to afford the new rate of three groats per head if ‘the strong were constrained to help the weak’. Each village was left to charge the rich more and the poor less. In villages where no one was rich the poor had to pay more. The result was widespread evasion. The records show the population ‘fell’ from 1,355,201 in 1377 to 864,481 four years later, a drop of 36 per cent. Some villages appeared to consist of just men or just husbands and wives. Female dependants, their sisters and cousins and aunts, had vanished.
On 16 March 1381 the government announced it had ample evidence of collectors acting with ‘shameless negligence and corruption’ and set up 16 legal commissions to track down evaders. In Suffolk, where the population had mysteriously fallen from 59,000 to 45,000, they found 13,000 evaders.
It was the work of the commissions, intruding, prying and winkling out evaders, that incited 5,000 villagers of Fobbing, Corringham and Stanford-le-Hope to march on Brentwood, Essex, on 30 May armed with sticks and rusty swords. From there the revolt spread like wildfire through Essex and Kent to London where the peasants converged on the evening of 12 June. 50,000 Kentish men camped at Blackheath and 60,000 Essex men at Mile End, demanding to see the King.
Richard ll came by boat early in the morning of Thursday 13 June but when he saw 50,000 waiting for him at Greenwich he refused to come ashore and tried to converse with them from the royal barge, 20 yards out in the Thames. He could not be heard so the rebels put their demands on a petition and rowed it out to him. They wanted the heads of all the people involved in the Poll Tax: John of Gaunt, the Chancellor Simon Sudbury, the Treasurer Robert Hales, the chief advisor on the Poll Tax, John Legge, and 11 officials.
The King rejected this and went back to the Tower. The rebels continued on their way to London, arriving at London Bridge in mid-morning and found the drawbridge had been lowered for them by a sympathetic alderman. They walked straight through the City to Smithfield where they set up their headquarters. In the afternoon, joined by the Essex men and led by Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and John Ball, they marched west to the Strand and burned down John of Gaunt's Savoy Palace.
On their way back they burned down the Temple, not just because lawyers collected the tax but because the buildings belonged to the Knights of St John, the ‘black crusaders‘ whose Prior, Robert Hales, was Treasurer of the Exchequer, the man chiefly responsible for collecting the Poll Tax.
A Londoner, Thomas Farringdon, leader of the Essex rebels, then took Wat Tyler and a party to the Order's headquarters at the Priory of St John at Clerkenwell. Church, hospital and mansion were sacked and burned and seven Flemings were dragged out of the church and killed. The priory was burning for seven days — the rebels refused to let anyone douse the flames. The following day Hales’ house at Highgate was burnt to the ground by Jack Straw.
Overnight Farringdon drew up a list of ‘traitors’ and at dawn the King sent a knight to the rebels camped around the Tower to arrange a parley. At 7am he rode to Mile End where he faced Wat Tyler and 60,000 of his supporters. He agreed to all their demands. But after the King left, Thomas Farringdon led a small party into the Tower and picked out the four government officials most concerned with the Poll Tax: Sudbury, the Chancellor who was also Archbishop of Canterbury, Hales, John Legge, the man who first suggested the Poll Tax and William Appleton, John of Gaunt's advisor. At 11am they beheaded them on Tower Green. Newgate prison was opened up to release Poll Tax debtors.
Two days later, following a day of killings by the rebels, the King went to mass at Westminster Abbey and then to Smithfield where he confronted Wat Tyler and the rebels. Tyler was fatally wounded by the Mayor of London, William Walworth. The King saved himself from certain death by appearing to put himself at the head of the rebels and leading them away from the City to Clerkenwell Fields where he agreed to even more of their demands. Meanwhile, Walworth returned to the City, gathered a force of 6,000 men and emerged in time to rescue Richard from the crowd of 30,000.
Jack Straw, John Ball and Wat Tyler were executed and Farringdon spent a year in jail. Richard reneged on nearly all his promises, but did approve Parliament's amnesty for all but a few of the rebels, and the Poll Tax was not to emerge again for another 600 years.
All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Conference
2,000 delegates attended the All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Conference held in Manchester on 25 November 1989 to launch the All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation to mobilise for mass non-payment, non-implementation and non-collection. This should have been the basis of a dynamic movement against the Poll Tax. In reality it achieved nothing. At the end of the one-day conference a national committee was elected and a statement of aims adopted, neither of which guarantees to build the type of movement necessary to defeat the Poll Tax.
To understand why this was so we need only examine the two dominant political trends present at the conference. Inevitably, with the Labour Party fundamentally opposed to any fight against the Poll Tax, it falls upon those on the left of the Labour Party to lead the fight. This has produced two social-democratic strategies for building the fight. .
The Militant Tendency, from within the Labour Party, has correctly recognised that the strength of such a campaign can only arise from within the communities, amongst the people who can't pay. However, their purpose is to build a social force with which to conduct their own political fight within the Labour Party. Precisely because of their unbreakable ties to the Labour Party they cannot build the independent working class movement outside the Labour Party necessary to defeat the Poll Tax. In effect, the establishment of a national federation is their latest attempt to gain complete control of the fight against the Poll Tax in order to strengthen their own position within the Labour Party.
The second trend believes that only workers‘ action, by which they mean traditional trade union action, can defeat the Poll Tax and that the role of the community is quite secondary. This trend is represented by the Socialist Workers Party and an array of other smaller Trotskyist organisations.
Precisely because the trade unions have refused to mount a challenge to the Poll Tax and have joined Kinnock in denouncing non-payment the position of these organisations comes over as abstract and irrelevant. Unlike Militant they are unable to mobilise any serious working class forces and their positions do no more than express their own prejudices. The most abstract example of this was the motion from Crookesmoor Anti-Poll Tax Campaign, represented by supporters of Workers Power, who called for mass strike action including a general strike to defeat the Poll Tax, in a period when the trade union movement is doing hardly anything to oppose the Poll Tax.
The Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Organiser, coming down to earth, but essentially holding to the same position, argued against this because a general strike is an organic development which must be worked for and that as yet the Federation does not have the authority to call one.
Militant are able to dominate the existing anti-Poll Tax Federation because they can claim to speak for the one million non-payers in Scotland as a result of their systematic work in the Scottish communities, whereas the majority of the British left has played no role at all and at times has contemptuously dismissed as irrelevant those who can’t pay as secondary to their mythical fighting trade union movement.
There were, however, some independent forces who recognised the vital link between community organisations and trade union action. CPSA DSS inner London Branch members who took strike action in October against government attempts to use DSS staff as snoopers, placed their action in the context of the success of resistance built in Scotland. ‘I bring fraternal greetings from my union branch and salute the one million non-payers in Scotland. They are an inspiration where l work,’ said a worker from the Oval Office, south London.
Inevitably, during the conference the long-standing and important issue of the right of affiliation for political organisations was raised. Cannonbury Against the Poll Tax sought to extend affiliation rights to Labour Parties and Montpelier APT argued for affiliation rights for all political organisations which agree with the aims of the Federation. A delegate from Tooting Anti-Poll Tax Union and member of the Revolutionary Communist Group argued, ‘If organisations are denied the right to participate in the fight against the Poll Tax they will simply enter through the back door in the guise of anti-Poll Tax groups. It is undemocratic to exclude political organisations from participating in the fight in their own right.’
Militant's ability to retain control of the Federation through its base in the communities allowed its supporters to take a sectarian stance in opposing the affiliation of political organisations.
Their concern to utilise the fight against the Poll Tax for their own fight in the Labour Party forces them to oppose any steps to build a movement independent of the Labour Party. It was for this reason they opposed the motion from the Black Lesbian and Gay Group which moved that the Federation mobilise the most oppressed in our society: black people, women, lesbians and gay men and the unemployed and make it clear that racist, sexist and homophobic activity will not be tolerated.
Militant refuses to confront the racist and sexist prejudices of the organised labour movement. To do so it would expose the deep divisions within the working class. A movement against the Poll Tax can only develop if it puts to the fore the interests of the oppressed working class, in particular working class women and black people. Otherwise, it will be unable to mobilise these forces and will remain tied to the backward traditions of the official labour and trade union movement. For this reason the Federation can go nowhere.
Bureaucratic manipulations will not do away with these central political issues. An independent working class movement is the key to defeating the Poll Tax. The All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation threatens to hold back this development.
Can't Pay! Won’t Pay!
Billing and collection
Poll Tax bills will arrive in late March/early April. You will be offered the opportunity to pay your Poll Tax by direct debit or by standing order. Do not take up this offer. Payment by direct debit or standing order makes it easy for the government. If you do not indicate a preferred method of payment you will be sent a Poll Tax payment book divided into 10 equal monthly instalments to pay the full year’s Poll Tax minus any rebate entitlement if a rebate has been claimed. The bill will state when the first instalment is due to be paid.
If a Poll Tax instalment is unpaid on the due date a reminder note will be sent. There is no specified period between the date the instalment falls due and the issue of the reminder note. This is because the situation in Scotland has shown that any attempts to complete the billing and reminder process within the laid down period of three months proved impossible. A reminder will instruct you to pay an unpaid Poll Tax instalment within seven days. lf the instalment is not paid within this time you will lose the right to pay in instalments and the full year’s Poll Tax will fall due within a further seven days.
At any time after you have missed instalments and a full year’s Poll Tax has become due, the council can issue you with a summons to appear before a magistrates court. At this stage non-payment is a civil not a criminal offence, (much the same as having arrears for fuel or water rates). The police will not be involved and you will not get a criminal record. ln court the council will have to prove that it has followed all its billing procedures correctly and you will have an opportunity to make a defence. If the court decides in the council's favour it will issue you with a liability order demanding payment of the full year's Poll Tax plus an amount towards legal costs agreed locally between the council and the court.
After the issue of a liability order the council has powers to demand information from you about your income, your place of work, where you get any other income from and possibly about where you keep most of your possessions. Failure to respond to such demands for information is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of £100 for failure to supply and a fine of £400 for giving false information. If the council's attempt to recover unpaid Poll Tax comes this far then the council and not the courts will have a choice about which methods it wishes to use to recover a Poll Tax debt. All its options are shown below. It can only pursue them one at a time.
Deductions from Income Support
Once a liability order has been issued the council can issue an order to the local Social Security office to deduct Poll Tax arrears from your Income Support. No other benefits such as Unemployment Benefit, sickness, invalidity benefits or retirement pensions can be touched at this stage. The maximum that can be deducted from Income Support each week is five per cent of the weekly Income Support allowance for a single person aged over 25 and five per cent of the highest Income Support allowance for a couple, for example £1.75 per week for a single person and £2.72 for a couple. If a person's Income Support has been reduced by direct payment deductions (for example, for fuel debts or Social Fund loans) or benefit has been part suspended then a deduction cannot be made.
Attachment of earnings
After a liability order is issued the council can attempt to recover a Poll Tax debt by issuing an attachment or earnings order to an employer ordering them to deduct set amounts from a worker's weekly or monthly earnings to pay a Poll Tax debt. The maximum amounts that can be deducted from net weekly or monthly pay are shown on the tables at the end. A fee of £1 per deduction may be added to these amounts to cover costs.
After a liability order is issued one option is for the council to use its own private bailiffs to value personal possessions, then sell them at an auction to pay the Poll Tax debt plus costs. Bailiffs will not be able to take all possessions — vital household goods cannot be taken, this includes bedding, cooking equipment and utensils, children's toys, learning and study materials. The most common possessions considered for auction are video, TV and stereo equipment. Mass non-payment will make this method of debt recovery unworkable on a large scale.
This is the penalty about which the most scaremongering has been carried out. Unlike in Scotland, the jail penalty for Poll Tax non-payment still exists but only as a frightener and an absolute last resort. The law clearly states that imprisonment for Poll Tax non-payment can only be recommended when all other attempts at recovering a Poll Tax debt have failed. For example if a person's income is too low to carry out a benefit deduction the council may decide to use bailiffs. If they enter that person's home to find too few or no possessions to sell to pay the debt then the council can recommend that a warrant be taken out committing that person to jail. The person will then have to appear in court and the court will consider whether non-payment was due to wilful refusal or culpable neglect. If so found that person can be jailed for a maximum of three months.
Difficulties in Implementing penalties
A mass non-payment movement will make every option virtually impossible for local councils. The government estimates that Income Support deductions will have to be used to recover unpaid Poll Tax in 600,000 cases and that in 20 per cent of cases deductions will not be possible due to reduced benefit. One deduction costs £26 a year to administer. Added to this will be costs for taking someone to court for ridiculously small amounts of money. The people expected to administer such claims will be low-paid civil service workers such as members of unions like the CPSA who have already taken strike action due to poor staffing and overwork. Their refusal to process deductions could close this avenue of Poll Tax recovery.
ln the case of attachment of earnings orders problems may arise if it is considered grounds for dismissal under a contract of employment, especially in poorly-unionised workplaces. However, Poll Tax non-payment is not industrial misconduct and should not be grounds for dismissal. Community and trade union support for anyone victimised as a result of this is vital.
In Scotland anti-Poll Tax campaigners have organised successful physical blockades where councils have tried to use Sheriff's officers to force their way into homes and seize possessions in order to try to recover unpaid registration fines. These have been followed by angry lobbies of town halls calling for the banning of this method of recovery.
If councils throughout Britain succeed in crossing all the hurdles of implementing the Poll Tax and our campaign is unsuccessful, then Poll Tax strikers will have a price to pay. In most cases that price will be the full year's Poll Tax plus a locally agreed amount towards court costs. In Scotland this adds up to around £15 if unemployed and £50-£60 if working depending on the amount of your Poll Tax. This could be deducted from benefit at less than £2 and £3 a week for a single person or deducted from net pay at fixed levels shown at the end. Therefore an unsuccessful Poll Tax strike in most cases will cost an extra £60 for someone working on top of the Poll Tax you would have to pay anyway if there was no campaign. Millions of people will be prepared to take this calculated gamble in a campaign which if successful will defeat the Poll Tax. The Poll Tax affects everybody. It also gives everybody a chance to organise and defeat it. PAY NO POLL TAX!
(Information from Coventry Anti-Poll Tax Federation)
Deductions to be made under Attachment of Earnings Order
Deductions from weekly earnings
( 1 )
Not exceeding £35
Exceeding £35 but not exceeding £55
Exceeding £55 but not exceeding £65
Exceeding £65 but not exceeding £75
Exceeding £75 but not exceeding £80
Exceeding £80 but not exceeding £85
Exceeding £85 but not exceeding £90
Exceeding £90 but not exceeding £95
Exceeding £95 but not exceeding £100
Exceeding £100 but not exceeding £110
Exceeding £110 but not exceeding £120
Exceeding £120 but not exceeding £130
Exceeding £130 but not exceeding £140
Exceeding £140 but not exceeding £150
Exceeding £150 but not exceeding £160
Exceeding £160 but not exceeding £170
Exceeding £170 but not exceeding £180
Exceeding £180 but not exceeding £190
Exceeding. £190 but not exceeding £200
Exceeding £200 but not exceeding £220
Exceeding £220 but not exceeding £240
Exceeding £240 but not exceeding £260
Exceeding £260 but not exceeding £280
Exceeding £280 but not exceeding £300
£68 in respect of the first £300 plus 50 per cent of the remainder.