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Militant


pipnasty

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A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to spend an hour or so speaking with Peter Taafe and Tony Mulhearn about Liverpool’s Labour council between 1983 and 1987. And very enlightening it was too. Len McClusky was also present and it was equally as interesting to talk about the similarities to the present situation.

 

Anybody who lived through and remembers that period will testify to the personal devastation caused. I was only in my teens then but remember the news that the likes of British Leyland, Birds Eyes, Lucas Aerospace, Courtaulds, Black Box, Tate and Lyle, Meccano had closed as well as further redundancies at both the docks and Cammell Laird, like it was yesterday. My family was directly affected by the redundancies, so you grow up with that in mind.

 

The news a couple of years ago that the Tories were planning a ‘managed decline’ of Liverpool during this period only adds to the notion that Liverpool, and not Detroit, was the worlds first post-industrial city. Neither Kinnock’s Labour party or the Liberals were going to step in to save Liverpool either.

 

And this lead us to Militant. It could be argues that they were the first group of people to take a stand and say ‘enough is enough!’, and that the decline was arrested by this stand. Or, it has often been argued that it was Militant itself that broke Liverpool and, whilst not factually accurate, is still a fairly common viewpoint.

 

So, what say you? What are your memories and views of Militant? And of Heseltine, for that matter?

 

Could something like Militant happen again?

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Compare and contrast with Stringer in mcr kissing ridley's a*** and setting a budget whilst massive capital projects like Ringway airport slipped through. They abandoned their residents but got the shiny baubles. Liverpool built houses and got the sh*t kicked out of it.

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So I've been toying with an answer to this and it's Friday so I've hopefully got the wherewithal to find one.

 

The problem is the question "Could something like Militant happen again" implies that it was in someway unique and I'm unsure as to the way in which it was.

 

On one level it coincided with the politicisation of the city over a number of years, over a million had been raised on the streets of Liverpool during the miners at a time of massive unemployment. Against this backdrop you, superficially, had a minority presence on the council running it through the legitimate use of caucus and being able to mobilise lots to the district labour party which was ultimately suspended. I think this does a disservice to the excellent councillors and MP's that Liverpool had that weren't Militant. The policies by and large weren't controversial till the decision to set and stand by an illegal rate. In this it can be said that the Militant may have been more politically motivated to take the Thatcher government on but what's lost from that discussion is that the policy they took the stand against was designed to massively reduce the levels of services councils could provide.

 

There were 3 primary sources of council revenue, rents, rates, and the Rate Support Grant which was centrally funded. What Thatcher's government introduced was a rate cap, It limited how much the council could raise rates, in addition to this it froze the rate support grant meaning councils had no choice but to raise rents to make up any shortfall. This posed several problems for the Labour councils, in Liverpool the Labour Party had gotten elected on a rent freeze after the earlier Liberal council had raised them. Council properties are in predominantly working class areas which were the basis of Labours support and were the primary source of affordable housing, rents are means tested, they are therefore a really s*** way to raise money and especially so in a period of high unemployment when you are going to be rebating a lot of any rise.*

 

It was an immoral and cynical attack on both the working class and the ability of councils to protect them. There existed a right to buy, by putting rents up and giving up to 70% discount for long term council tenants it's was also going to contribute to the best properties being removed from the council stock. It was designed to devastate council services reducing their funding and their ability to invest in any kind of regeneration. Against this a number of councils Stringer in Manchester, Blunkett in Sheffield and Ted Knight and Linda Bellos in Lambeth decided against setting an illegal rate. Those that maintained their position stood to be personally liable for massive amounts and so I think the credit needs to go to all 49 rather than the dozen or so Militant. They absolutely wanted to take the fight all the way and by using hard left and broad left caucuses they could be argued to have manipulated the Labour group, and they did get massive numbers to the District Labour Party but you have also to credit the commitment of all involved.

 

On a different level the problem I have with the question is that people engaging in struggle goes on everywhere and while I think those councillors deserve massive credit for what they did I think there are numerous examples of people being as staunch in fighting for that they believe. In this respect it's not unique, there were specifics of the actual fight that may not be replicated, the Labour Party seems a much less accommodating place for Marxists though admittedly I don't know what rump of entrists exist since the split that occurred between the Grant and Taaffe factions. And it may not be that it's a council that takes on a fight though I don't see why not but there'll still be fights.

 

*As an aside it makes a mockery of Kinnock's speech at the Labour Party conference, any failure to take a stand would have resulted in lots of actual redundancies the national party's failure to understand and support the fight their councils were engaged in on behalf of the only people in the country still supportive of the party was f***ing awful.

 

And I apologise I've spent a lot more time than I expected not answering the question.

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Sorry the point I wanted to stress is that the entire labour council with the exception of the riverside mafia believed in the services they fought for, they were obviously subject to and the result of the politicisation of the city but they were in a lot of ways ordinary men and women active in the Labour party and wanting to do something for the people they represented. Every councillor I canvassed for and they weren't all Militant, lived in the constituency and in most cases the actual ward. They wanted houses building, they wanted facilities they wanted the sports centres and were prepared to gamble a ton personally to defend them.

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Cheers Vic

 

As a bit of background, I work in local government and am an active Unite rep. I should have clarified the question really. I believe that the cuts that local government face today are every bit as savage as those experienced in the 80's, although I think that the cuts from that era were more shocking, if that makes sense. When I spoke with McCluskey a few weeks ago, we talked about the Liverpool Labour Party (and you are right, this wasn't just a few firebrand Trots) and the lessons that could be learned from that particular experience. It was hard for us to imagine a local council standing up to government in the way that Liverpool did although we agreed that it was not impossible. We talked a lot about Falkirk too. So, the question was specifically about local government rather than any struggle and that should have been made clearer.

 

You are right about grassroots. There were regular marches of around 50,000 or so if I can remember right. What should never be forgotten is that this was the Labour Party at war with the Labour Party and the way that the party turned on Liverpool was an absolute disgrace. Am I right in thinking that Kinnock threatened Liverpool with troop deployment if they didn't back down?

 

I work at Manchester City Council and what is going on there is a disgrace. Told they had to make cuts of £65 million last year and they ended up going beyond that and agreeing cuts of around £85 million - and this is one of the richest councils in the country and a Labour council to boot. Shameful stuff.

 

I met Hatton a few years ago and he was an absolute bellend.

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Cheers Phil, it's unlike me to struggle with a question I've failed to understand.

 

Then yeah I think so but in some ways it a harder question for me to answer because I don't understand the extent that services can be cut now and how direct those cuts are. I'm away 10 years now pretty much but I suspect a lot of the services councils would have provided will have been downgraded gradually with private partnerships and deregulations. If they are as stark now as then and I've reason to think you're right then it should be more savage now. I wonder that it isn't and whether the lack of fight is somehow a consequence of what happened. Ultimately it was only the Liverpool councillors that were debarred and surcharged. Lambeth bailed last and unsurprisingly Stringer and Blunkett went earlier. I don't know anything about Falkirk so I'll look that up but I also wonder whether anti government protest seems better suited to organisations that aren't subject to the same types of legal instruments that councils are. There's no defending Manchester council's decision but it does seem at times that there's a definite and strategic lack of mobilisation from the traditional labour and trade union movement.

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Cheers Phil, it's unlike me to struggle with a question I've failed to understand.

 

Then yeah I think so but in some ways it a harder question for me to answer because I don't understand the extent that services can be cut now and how direct those cuts are. I'm away 10 years now pretty much but I suspect a lot of the services councils would have provided will have been downgraded gradually with private partnerships and deregulations. If they are as stark now as then and I've reason to think you're right then it should be more savage now. I wonder that it isn't and whether the lack of fight is somehow a consequence of what happened. Ultimately it was only the Liverpool councillors that were debarred and surcharged. Lambeth bailed last and unsurprisingly Stringer and Blunkett went earlier. I don't know anything about Falkirk so I'll look that up but I also wonder whether anti government protest seems better suited to organisations that aren't subject to the same types of legal instruments that councils are. There's no defending Manchester council's decision but it does seem at times that there's a definite and strategic lack of mobilisation from the traditional labour and trade union movement.

 

Unite are in the process of re-mobilising at MCC due to the fact that almost half of our members have lost their jobs over the past 3 years. Previously, Unison ruled the roost but generally adopted the employers position out of a fear that worse may come. It's a cowardly position to take and one that has caused far more harm than they would ever admit to. We've started to cause a bit of a stink and are made to fight for every single inch. You almost have to grievance to get an email responded to. But we are gaining members and becoming more strategic in our work - so who knows? And as I said, the employer has started to get more aggressive with us meaning we are now beginning to hit them.

 

I think people have begun to get used to the types of cuts we have seen in recent years and the council is down to around 6000 staff as opposed to something like 30,000 a decade or so ago. We are expecting more cuts year after year. Liverpool, as a city, refused to accept the cuts for the reasons you explained in your first reply. There is a big difference between Manchester and Liverpool (there is a big difference between Liverpool and most places to be fair!)

 

And as a final point before I retire for the evening, it's always worth pointing out that, as we know now, the Tories were preparing to basically abandon Liverpool during that period. Labour in Liverpool were involved in a crucial struggle for the very future of the city. Yet some continue to turn their back on that struggle. It's nothing short of astonishing.

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I sincerely wish you all the best, there remains power in the unions if the union knows how. One of the things that remains most memorable from that time was the politicisation of unions. This was part of the response to massive job cuts but there was definitely a move to the left in significant unions. Firemen, postal workers, telecoms among maybe the less obvious.

 

I wonder about it being specific to Liverpool, and I can only judge that at that time Liverpool was as left wing a city generally as I'm aware of. I'm not saying it was unique in that or that it had always been so. There were definite pockets where this was less true Vauxhall for weird reasons I'll swerve but there were a couple of thousand turn up on a Saturday in defence of the Moat House workers. It was also a fight that had mistakes, Hatton is/was indeed a bellend, but the motives of the people involved were essentially as sound as I've encountered. The discussion is often around the rightness and wrongness of the secondary arguments, was it right to engage in battle with the government or how that battle was fought as opposed to the primary argument concerning those services that battle was for.

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