Thursday, October 29, 2009

MEETING - Housman's Bookshop : 50 years young

A speaker from the bookshop has been invited.

Wednesday 11 November at 8 p.m.
at The Postman's Office, the North London Community House.
Its address is 22 Moorefield Road, London N17. The venue is just around the corner from Bruce Grove British Rail Station, where Bruce Grove meets the High Road in Tottenham.

We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of Housman's, at 5 Caledonian Road, N1. The bookshop has its origins in the pacifist movement and takes its name from Laurence Housman, a long-serving officer of the War Resisters International, an organisation which grew from a small committee in 1921 to a body with over 90 groups in 43 countries, plus other networks. The anti-war movement comprises several strands - mainline pacificism, anarchism, socialists, a section of the labour movement, various religious groups - but a crisis developed in the mid 30s over how to deal with the menace of Nazism. Many broke with the pacifist movement believing that a defensive war against invasion and mass executions was justified, including president Fenner Brockway.

On the other hand, the movement for peace - reacting to atrocities in Spain and war in Abyssinia, etc. - grew proportionally. A large mass movement, the Peace Pledge Union, was set up and played a significant role over the next 70 years. Subsequently, the PPU published its new journal Peace News and in 1945 opened its bookshop in Shaftesbury Avenue. This later moved to Finsbury Park. An unexpected donation gave organiser Harry Mister a chance to suggest the purchase of a House/shop for both organisations and 5 Caledonian Road, Peace House, was opened in 1959.

These were dramatic years for those resisting the post war scene. Opposition to nuclear weapons gained ground rapidly both in the conventional CND and more militant Committee of 100. Subsequently the building was used by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, numerous defence bodies in political trials over Official Secrets and suchlike; the Gay Liberation Front, McLibel Two, London Greenpeace, and many others
too numerous to mention. More recently No Sweat, and the Campaign Against Climate Change are based here, and PN and WRI continue still. It has been central to many dissenting groups .

The bookshop itself has survived while virtually all others, both commercial and political, have closed. As a centre of radical publishing/selling for miscellaneous small-run and minority publications, the shop has an unrivalled stock and reputation. It carries a large number of newspapers, magazines, journals, posters, quarterlies and miscellaneous small goods. No bookshop can carry enough books to satisfy everyone but there exists a wide choice of publication ranging from children's books, items from most of the left and progressive movements, to specialist subjects like music, the environment, and London. The main sections are of course on the peace movement and various socialist and libertarian themes. Customers can expect a rapid service for their orders. A new venture, On Line Books, hopes to establish a base in this growing field of new technology. Every year the Peace Diary, with a world peace directory, appears and sells successfully in this country and overseas.

Geoffrey Ostergaard, Resisting the National State:  the pacifist and anarchist traditions. [1982, 34 pp.]
Devi Prasad, War is a Crime Against Humanity:  the story of the War Resisters International [2005, 560 pp].
Peace News,  annually: Diary, with World Peace Directory.

Memories of the Wapping print dispute - some Haringey support experiences [1986-7]

[A document prepared for Wapping Commemoration Meeting]

A year-long London printworkers strike/lockout occurred soon after the miners' strike of 1984-5. In Haringey, like in most parts of London, there had been a very active Miners Support Committee. That Committee had involved a wide range of local groups and activists, mostly working together pretty well. There were some internal tensions as the Committee was largely under the control of the Haringey Trades Union Council (at the time controlled by members of Communist Party of Great Britain). Many members of the Tottenham Claimants Union (TCU) and users of the Unemployed Workers Centre (628 High Rd, N17) were also very active in the Miners Support Committee. The TCU members were themselves in dispute with the Communist Party as they believed that the unemployed users, not the HTUC/CP officials, should have control over the Unemployed Workers Centre.

When the printworkers' dispute started, a Haringey Printworkers Support Committee was set up under the auspices of the Trades Union Council. Some TCU members got involved with that Committee, but others gradually made their own direct links with Wapping strikers and pickets, and offered their direct support. Below we summarise from a libertarian perspective some of the Haringey support for the Wapping strikers/pickets, based on two different accounts of action:

The Haringey Support Committee

[Alan Woodward writes]

I had just moved back into the borough from the Midlands that Easter and therefore was not familiar with the local background. I went to the fortnightly meetings of the Haringey Printworkers Support Committee and acted with them. The HPSC organised several activities and gave out many leaflets calling on people to support the boycott of the Murdoch newspapers at WH Smiths, and such like. Also they:

* produced regular bulletins. Number 5 for example included references to the links with the local ClearVu strikers; announced 50,000 leaflets to be produced; gave details about distribution and flyposting; acknowledged local support; and confirmed committee meetings.

* organised public meetings including the big one at Hornsey Town Hall on 9 June 1986 - “The Truth behind Barbed Wire” - where there were several speakers including Carol Hall, deputy Mother of the Chapel [shop steward] of the Times Clerical chapel, Alf Parrish, a full time official from the National Graphical Association, Vic Cooke from the AEUW Co-ordinating Committee, Martha Osamor, a councillor with links to the Broadwater Farm estate community and Alf Salisbury, a local CPGB member. Tony Benn was billed to speak but did not.

* had a well organised leafleting rota for 8 places in the borough, which took place at the weekend. Support for this was sought with rota support leaflets.

* made regular trips to Wapping every Saturday night, including hiring a coach for the more important ones like 14 June.This left at 8.30pm and returned at 3am!

* Collection sheets were printed and circulated and returned to Paul Lefley, HTUC Secretary, or Peter Lambert. I have no record of monies raised by these.

* Did frequent flyposting tours using the “rolled up“ method.

Police violence was not just exercised at the well guarded picket at Fortress Wapping.They would sometimes raid nearby pubs and select out anyone who looked like a supporting picketer. These could be roughed up and/or then arrested on trumped up assault charges. They were, and probably still are, a feature of their actions. In retaliation, groups of us would wander round the back street hoping to find a police car or two. Once spotted these would be pelted with stones and small bricks until they made a hasty exit.

The Saturday night expeditions were not that successful as a whole as the police had perfected their techniques from the miners strike, but examples of their violence still found their way to the courts.

Saturday January 1987: this was a big demonstration / mass picket. Very large numbers turned up, including football supporters from West Ham, Millwall, Chelsea and Charlton. There was heavy stoning of police lines and severe restriction on their activity. I was there, very active, but on the following Monday was whisked into hospital for an operation for the removal of a cancer, then 10 months of chemotherapy, so had to drop out. The strike continued.

Other Haringey solidarity & the PICKET bulletins

[Dave Morris writes]

In the mid-1980s Tottenham Claimants Union was a very active and independent organisation of the unwaged and unemployed, meeting on a daily basis in the Haringey Unemployed Workers Centre. We were involved in a wide range of social, welfare and political activities including supporting workers' struggles. Following heavy involvement in miners’ support work many of us were keen to support the Wapping workers in what was clearly going to become a highly significant, protracted and militant battle involving daily picketing of sometimes thousands of strikers.

Some of us were also involved with a local libertarian activist collective, Haringey Community Action. Members of HCA and TCU wanted to make direct contact with strikers, but early visits to picket lines had not been promising as the Union officials in the dispute (who were mainly Communist Party members) seemed to be discouraging any independent or 'unofficial' support networks. At one large demonstration I witnessed a Union Official during a speech try to denounce a group of unsatisfied hecklers as 'probably agent provocateurs in the pay of the CIA'.

However, at a meeting in Central London I met printworker Arnie Mintz who, with another NGA general trade printer, was trying to encourage pickets to do their own news bulletins independently of the Union officials. He was looking for active encouragement and support as he hadn't done anything like it before. He eventually launched the weekly PICKET bulletins, written entirely by and for those picketing, financed by public donations. There were 43 issues produced right up to the end of the dispute, up to 5,000 copies each edition, mainly 2 sides A4, densely-packed no-frills militant daily participants' reports of the many demonstrations, pickets, flying pickets and any other direct actions. The message was 'it's up to us to speak for ourselves, spread the dispute, and to take any action necessary to win'. This struck a chord with all those in the dispute. The entire series of bulletins can be read at:

They were fantastically popular with those on strike and on the picket lines. As a result of the contacts we'd made, and our offer of unconditional support, our small group from Haringey got invited to join the picketing (which we did at least 2 or 3 times a week), and often helped hand out the PICKET bulletins to pickets. They were grabbed out of our hands and passed amongst all present. We also joined in some of the middle-of-the-night mass flying pickets around London, Brighton, Midlands etc which aimed and often succeeded in closing down Murdoch distribution depots by any effective means to hand.

I was told by those producing PICKET that the Communist Party union officials were pissed off that the pickets had their own independent and outspoken paper, but that they couldn't suppress it as it was fully backed by the 'rank and file' union membership. Fairly early on the editors asked us in the Tottenham Claimants Union if they could use our address (c/o the Unemployed Workers Centre) as the contact address for PICKET. We agreed. However after a number of further editions, Communist Party officials on the Trades Council launched an incoherent and ludicrous attack on PICKET and on the Claimants Union! This led to a protracted local dispute, ending up with the Claimants Union setting up our own Unwaged Centre in 72 West Green Road N15, and the eventual closure of the Unemployed Workers Centre. PICKET's publication address was switched to that of Housmans Bookshop at 5 Caledonian Road, N1. Our small group from Tottenham continued to attend Wapping picket lines and demonstrations until the end of the dispute.

In the 1970s (when I was a union activist in the Post Office), and up to the early 1980s, I had been involved in an independent libertarian workers' solidarity group, the London Workers Group. We had encouraged and supported workers to take direct control of their disputes themselves, take militant action, do their own leaflets and papers etc. 4 or 5 of our 40 or so members were printworkers themselves. This bulletin was everything we had for years been arguing for in strikes etc, and could have helped inspire other similar initiatives in other future disputes.

However the miners and Wapping printworkers were finally defeated after heroic and inspiring struggles. This led to increasing attacks by employers on everyone's wages and conditions, and increasing demoralisation throughout the labour movement. But we can still learn a great deal from the experiences of those who took part in past struggles, their determination and fighting spirit, and the tactics and methods of self-expression and self-organisation.

Written by AW & DM of the Radical History Network of NE London

Further reading:
1. To Break a Union - the Messenger, the State and the NGA [Mark Dickinson, 1984, 209pp] details the important Warrington print strike prior to Wapping.
2. Printers Playtime - a collection of articlesand accounts, mainly from London Workers Group supporters, and from ‘Workers Playtime’ bulletins [1988?, 32pp].
3. Paper Boys - first hand account of picketing at Wapping [1986?,24pp?].
4. Two academic articles from ‘Historical Studies in Industrial Relations’ [University of Keele]: The 1986/7 News International Dispute: was the workers defeat inevitable? [Peter Bain, HSIR 5, 1998, 13pp]; Leadership and Mobilization - SOGAT in the 1986-7 NewsInternational Dispute [Mike Richardson, HSIR 15, 2003, 20pp]
5. SUN - Spoof edition -

The London Workers Group [1977-1985] - a relic of an exciting past, or an inspiring example for the future?

The London Workers Group was founded in 1977. It was founded by a Guardian typist active in the NATSOPA Union chapel, a train driver from ASLEF, and an Islington postal worker. The three had met at a Libertarian Industrial Network conference in London - the LIN was a very loose national network of about 35 individuals active in various industries, but not organised geographically.

A much needed organisation

The LWG was a new kind of solidarity organisation - a very active libertarian workers collective, open to all workers (employed or unwaged) in London, engaged in providing solidarity to individuals in their own workplaces, supporting various disputes and discussing a wide range of issues. The politics was radical, libertarian and anti-capitalist, embracing a range of alternatives including workers councils, anarcho-syndicalism and anarchist communism. Meetings were open to all 'workers' in the widest sense, and non-sectarian. The group was pro-worker and supportive of any workplace disputes, but critical of wage-labour and trades unions. The meetings were very lively, positive and generally focused on real life - rather than abstract ideology - and practical action. At the high point, weekly meetings were averaging 20 people attending (mostly employed workers). The group also produced widely-distributed and substantial down-to-earth news/discussion bulletins, distributed for free - over a period of 7 or 8 years.

The LWG initially met every fortnight in 'Rising Free' (an anarchist bookshop in Islington), and then weekly in various pubs chosen to be near traditional employment hubs (The Earl Russell behind Kings X Station, and then The Metropolitan in Farringdon). There were regular publicised discussion meetings averaging monthly on all kinds of issues. For example, in one 6 month period in 1980 alone there were 4 public meetings on 'Industrial Trainees', 'The Steel Industry', 'Demonstrations', and 'Creating Autonomous Workers Groups'.

Spreading ideas

The flyers for these meetings were often humorous, thoughtful and/or an incitement to action and served as a way of spreading the group's ideas to potential supporters. Real influence in specific industries was limited accept in a few cases such as support for a long strike of Garners Steakhouses workers (a couple of whom were associated with the LWG) and their efforts to set up an Catering Rank & File group, in the print industry (as a number of the group were printworkers), and in the later years a postal workers group. There was much leafleting of trade union events and wider demonstrations, and sometimes organised heckling, calling for workers not to follow leaders but instead to take over their workplaces and make social revolution.

The LWG bulletins ran to 14 editions, mostly produced on a gestetner duplicator in Islington and Haringey - sometimes running to 500 copies. There were articles about the print industry and its union issues (especially about chapel-level organisation and about the looming impact of new technology); similar detailed pieces about post office and rail issues; about the theory and practice of workers councils, syndicalism and trades unionism; the nature of 'work'; news from a range of disputes that LWG activists were involved in or knew about; about the unemployed/unwaged groups movement etc.

Links with other organisations

The LWG tried to forge links with the few other similar groups around the UK. At the end of the 1970s, at the LWG's initiative, a couple of conferences were held with the long-established Syndicalist Workers Federation (mostly based in the north of England) and others, which led to some sharing of information and joint campaigns and ultimately the creation of a loose, federal 'Direct Action Movement'. However, the second conference decided this should become formalised as a new anarcho-syndicalist individual membership organisation rather than an alliance of independent, libertarian local workers' groups. This effectively excluded the LWG, which was an open collective rather than a membership group, and which was supportive of a range of ideas including workers councils rather than just anarcho-syndicalism. The DAM eventually became today's Solidarity Federation or 'SolFed'.

There were later contacts with 'Left Communist' groups (such as the 'International Communist Current'), but they were usually small, ideological sects only interested in endless polemical 'debates' rather than real workers solidarity. In the end the LWG had to ban such groups from their meetings as they were using them as recruiting grounds.

Towards the end the group became more ideological in content, and started also producing a glossy analytical magazine 'Workers Playtime' (produced cheap or free by printers active in the group) and a range of polemical leaflets for demonstrations and events.

The end, and the future.

The LWG gradually faded away during the mid-80s, some of the active members continuing to produce Workers Playtime, with special editions on the miners strike and then on the printing industry. Some went on to help form the national anarchist organisation Class War.

During 1986-7, former LWG activists from within and without the print industry were actively involved in support for the Wapping pickets. This included practical support for the independent printworkers 'Picket' news bulletin, written by and for the printworkers in dispute. 5,000 copies were distributed weekly to strikers throughout the year-long dispute - it was enthusiastically backed by all those involved in the dispute but hated by Union Officials and the Communist Party as it was outside their control. This strikers' bulletin was everything that the LWG had been arguing for for years and could have helped inspire other similar initiatives in other disputes. However, ironically, the LWG had already folded.

Despite the inspirational miners and printers battles, their defeats led to gradual demoralisation and ebb in workplace resistance. But the need for such resistance is stronger than ever….

- Dave Morris, 2006

London Greenpeace - a history of ideas, protests and campaigning [1971-2005]

ORIGINS - The London Greenpeace group has existed since 1971 as an independent group of activists. The group came together following the publication in Peace News in 1971 of a 'Green Peace' broadsheet - a compilation of ideas about how individuals could take practical action in their own lives to preserve the ecosystem. A number of Greenpeace groups grew up around the world, and in 1977 the Vancouver one established a centralised Greenpeace International, inviting London Greenpeace to help set up Greenpeace UK as a branch. But the London group refused, deciding to keep its autonomy and radical character.

HOW WE WORK - The original London Greenpeace has deliberately stayed as a small group of activists, without leaders, with decisions taken by initiative and consensus of all those involved. We encourage people everywhere to organise themselves to take practical action, and to network with others in order build up strong and lasting movements to effect real change. The people - not 'members' - who come to the weekly open meetings oppose the exploitation (in all its forms) of people, animals and the environment. Many opposition movements are growing in strength and continually learning from each other - including environmental movements, labour struggles, anti-car/roads campaigns, the women's movement, struggles for peace, for animal liberation, and anarchist-libertarian movements. We encourage people to think and act independently, without leaders, to try to understand the causes of oppression.

RECLAIMING OUR WORLD - Multinationals and governments dominate our lives and our planet, resulting everywhere in the exploitation and oppression of people, animals and the environment. And on top of this we are expected to put up with their propaganda! We call on people to get together, talk about these important issues and to fight back. We need to create a new society by taking direct control of our lives, workplaces, streets, neighbourhoods and land - a society based on co-operation and sharing between people, and harmony between people and the rest of nature. This means social revolution. Together ordinary people can reclaim our world, currently based on the greed and power of a minority, and create an anarchist society based on strong and free communities, the sharing of precious resources and respect for all life. The changes begin in our own lives and communities, now.

PEOPLE, ANIMALS, AND NATURE - NOT MONEY Organise Now For A Better World.
Join the struggle for human and animal liberation, health, ecology, and real life.

1921: War Resisters International (WRI) founded.

1936: Peace News (PN) founded. Anarchist revolution in Spain.

1960s: In the early '60s, large UK movement against nuclear weapons. Late '60s saw the growth of movements to defend the environment, for women's liberation, for internationalism, youth culture, street protests, wildcat strikes and general 'do-it-yourself' anarchistic/cooperative ideas.


1971: The influential Greenpeace broadsheet 'You And Your Environment' is published in Peace News. The group is founded by an individual involved in WRI & PN.

1970-74: The main work of the group is in trying to stop French atmospheric nuclear bomb tests at Mururoa Atoll (in the Pacific). Also campaigns to stop British, American, Russian, Chinese and also Indian bomb tests.

1972: Friends of the Earth (FOE) founded.

1973: In protest at the continued French atmospheric bomb tests, the group holds a London to Paris Walk. The walkers are stopped at the French border and attacked by the CRS (French Riot police). Walkers eventually get into France and demonstrate in Paris, including having a chain-in at Notre Dame

1974: The group co-founds the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). The group holds a number of marches in London against French bomb tests, then a rally at Trafalgar Square.

Ronnie Lee, who was involved in the group and the Hunt Saboteurs Association, is arrested for causing some 52,000 pounds worth of damage to vivisection laboratories and for immobilising boats that were about to be used to murder seals. Ronnie received 15 months in jail for these activities. On his 2nd imprisonment he was found in possession of 100 white mice that had been released from vivisection laboratories. Ronnie later founded the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).

1974 onwards: The group starts its anti-nuclear power work.

1975: The trial of the "British Withdrawal from Northern Ireland Campaign 14" makes legal history at the Central Criminal Court - The Old Bailey. 14 people (including activists in the London Greenpeace group) are put on trial for "conspiracy to break the Incitement To Disaffection Act 1934" - ie. for handing out copies of the leaflet "Some Information for Discontented British Soldiers". After a ten-week trial, they are found Not Guilty.

1976: Works on the link between nuclear power and weapons and co-founds the Nuclear Information Network.

The Black Report, 1984
1977: At the start of the Windscale nuclear power (public) enquiry, the group holds a 'Mutants March' (in defiance of temporary bans on all Central London marches) to 'celebrate' the outcome of the enquiry. The group first highlights the activities of James Fisher & Sons, whose boats carry nuclear waste around the world. As Australia starts to export Uranium Yellowcake, the group alerts other groups in Europe and anti-nuclear activists in Liverpool where the boat carrying this yellowcake will be going into the port. The group holds pickets about the shipments at Australia house and at Tilbury Docks, while trying to persuade dockers to boycott boats carrying these loads.

The group affiliates to the National Peace Council. The Vancouver Greenpeace Foundation establishes its branch in Britain - Greenpeace Ltd - London Greenpeace decides not to join.

1978: The group becomes an associate of the War Resisters International.

The group co-founds the Stop Urenco Alliance. Urenco is the joint British/Dutch/German/Uranium enrichment company whose enrichment plant is at Capenhurst in Cheshire. In June, the Alliance holds its first demonstration at Capenhurst - a number of demonstrations and blockades were also to take place during 1978 & 1979. The group co-founds the Torness Alliance London Region which later becomes the London Region Anti Nuclear Alliance. The group is very active in the Torness Alliance. Torness was the only 'green-field' nuclear site in Britain at the time. The site, 30 miles to the East of Edinburgh, was earmarked for the building of an AGR (nuclear reactor) by the South of Scotland Electricity Board. Activists from the group (and others) occupied the site for six months, rebuilding 'Half Moon Cottage' on the site. In October, these activists were evicted but within 48 hours some 400 people arrived to take direct action on the site, obstructing, sitting in front of and within both JCB's and bulldozers. This camp was possibly the first UK such protest camp (in the '80s to be set up outside military bases, and in the '90s on planned motorway routes, airport extensions, outside vivisection labs etc).

1979: The group takes part in the Torness festival in May, which some 10,000 attend, while 3,000 people make their way over the perimeter fence and occupy the site - the machinery compound is seized and sabotaged. The largest anti-nuclear power direct action to date.

In June the group takes part in the first dockside direct action to stop nuclear waste being loaded up to be dumped at sea. The action at Sharpness Docks involves occupying four cranes and holds up the loading of the 'Gem' waste ship for some hours. The group establishes SAINT, which is one of the first attempts to monitor nuclear waste transport moving through London. This was later developed into a major campaign to stop this transport through London, including a march along the route.

Group supports indigenous Sami people under threat in Northern Scandinavia. Participates in anti-fascist campaigns.

The 1980s

1980: The group occupies the HQ of McAlpines, who are responsible for the Torness construction work.

1982: Campaigns against both sides in the Falklands War. About 10 people involved at this time.

1983-4: Initiates "Stop 'The City' - Protest And Carnival Against War, Oppression and Exploitation" - four separate day-long street blockades of the financial district ('The City') of London. One blockade [29.3.84] involved 3000 people and succeeded in causing a 100m pound shortfall on the day according to the London Times. 1000 arrests over 18 months. Group affiliates to the Federation of London Anarchist Groups.

1984-5: Supports "Stop 'The City' " type events in other towns. Supports the historic year-long miners' strike, raising money for women from a mining village.

1985: Launches highly popular campaign against McDonald's 'and all it stands for', with annual Fayres and Days Of Action.

Unilever, the world's largest food and consumer goods company, also becomes a focus for action in protest against Unilever's world-wide exploitation of humans and animals - and also to express solidarity with the 27 people who had been imprisoned for trying to expose this multinational's torture and murder of animals in their research laboratories in Bedfordshire. Supports a wide range of animal liberation campaigning.

Oct 16th, 'United Nations World Food Day' selected as the first annual world-wide day of action against McDonald's. About 20 regular activists in the group around this time.

1986: "What's Wrong With McDonald's?" 6-sided Factsheet produced.

Supports the Murdoch printworkers lock-out dispute in Wapping.

Helps launch campaign of defiance against new Public Order Act, brought in to attack the right to protest.

The group participates in protests to defend London's green spaces from development.

Organises 100-strong all-day picket of Unilever HQ.

Starting around this time and continuing into the late '80s, a regular programme of public meetings is organised around highly diverse issues (indigenous peoples, the police, industrial disputes, agriculture, sexuality, anarchism, multinationals, Ireland...). The group systematically develops stronger international contacts.

1987-8: Joins in actions in solidarity with aboriginal people's struggles for land rights - including protests inside petrol stations against BP mining operations.

Launches campaign against all State Borders in collaboration with Polish anarchists. About 30 activists involved in the group at this time.

1989-91: Campaigns against the IMF/World Bank. McDonald's agents begin an 18 month infiltration of the group.

1990 till 2000

1990: The successful Annual Fayre is transformed into a yearly general 'London Greenpeace Fayre' - up to 2,000 attend. McDonald's takes legal action (for 'libel') against activists involved with the group over the [out-of-print] 6-sided Factsheet, aiming to suppress grass roots protests and general criticism.

1991: McLibel Support Campaign takes off. As the huge scale of the battle (or war) with the McDonald's Corporation becomes apparent the group gradually concentrates more and more exclusively on McLibel.

1992: The group help initiate the London-wide 'Reclaim The Streets' Network.

1994: McLibel Trial starts - the campaign grows from strength to strength. London Greenpeace "What's Wrong With McDonald's?" flyers become (by the end of the trial) possibly the most widely distributed and famous protest leaflets in history (translated into 26 languages and handed out in over 40 countries - 3 million distributed in the UK alone during the 7 years of the case).

1995: First annual day of action in solidarity with McDonald's workers - October 12th pickets at 15 company stores.

1996: Huge and comprehensive 'McSpotlight' website launched on the Internet - soon becomes a legendary global resource for researchers and campaigners. McLibel trial becomes the longest trial in English history.

1997: 'McLibel' book published. A three hour TV 'reconstruction' of the trial is broadcast. McLibel verdict given in June - over 450,000 London Greenpeace flyers are given out in the following week (outside over 500 of McDonald's 750 UK stores, and around the world) to celebrate the campaign's 'McVictory'. (Media dubbs trial 'the worst corporate PR disaster in history'). Within a month McDonald's abandons all legal efforts to halt the distribution of the leaflets. A Global Week Of Action against McDonald's is held in October.

By November, London Greenpeace moves 'beyond McLibel', looking for fresh energy and initiatives. A group leaflet "What's Wrong With Shell?" is widely circulated.

Participate in international 'No Shop Day'.

Group help launch and coordinate an anti-censorship defiance campaign following the jailing (for 3 years each) of 3 editors of 'Green Anarchist' for 'incitement' (ie. for reporting news of environmental and animal rights direct actions - known as the 'Gandalf' case). Case eventually collapses.

1998: Launch new educational campaign and leaflet, "What's Wrong With The Body Shop? - a criticism of 'green' consumerism".

Do an international mailout with a range of new leaflets, and also call for another McLibel Day of Action on the anniversary of the trial verdict - this time focusing on local protests and showings of the independent ‘McLibel’ documentary which had been suppressed by the TV networks.

We hold a well attended ‘re-union’ of former and current collective members, showing the 1984 Stop ‘The City’ video. There is discussion about calling a new Stop ‘The City’ - coincidentally people in Reclaim The Streets have a similar idea at this time. A joint meeting launches a process leading to a international day of action against capitalism to be held in financial centres on June 18th 1999 (known as ‘J18’).

1999: A 23-day McLibel Appeal results in more damaging publicity against McDonald’s.

‘J18’ a huge success around the world. 10,000 in London hold a ‘Carnival Against Capitalism’ all over ‘the City’ for the whole day. The momentum develops and grows into a global anti-capitalist movement.

London Greenpeace Choir formed for impromptu sing-songs (Eg. Cows With Guns’ goes down a storm when the choir sings at the Earth First! activist camp). The group organises a ‘Free The World’ bike ride, distributing a range of new leaflets.

After 2000

2000: Meetings go monthly, then cease. McLibel defendants launch case in Europe against the British Government and its unfair and oppressive libel laws.

2001: At a special meeting in January 2001 we decide to suspend activities till further notice, with the option to revive the group in the future. A statement is agreed.

2002 - 2005: Hold annual LGP meetings.... 6 - 12 attend.

2005: McLibel case in Europe ends with a legal victory and massive publicity. An extended and improved McLibel documentary is shown on BBC, and released as a DVD (with information about the ideas and history of London Greenpeace). The DVD is publicly launched at a McLibel Victory event in April on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the McDonald's Corporation, and celebrating 20 years of the global campaign against the company. Over 100 people attend, and agree to call a general Freedom To Protest conference.

In October, 230 people from 80 local and national organisations attend the first ever Freedom To Protest Conference and pledge to continue to support each other, campaign and protest in the face of ever repressive laws against dissent.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

UK Anti-Poll Tax Movement 1988-1991

The Government had decided to implement a new tax on April 1st 1990 to replace local government taxation systems. They described as their most important, 'flagship' legislation. It was to be a 'poll tax' on each person rather than on households (as before).

It was immediately seen as a tax on the poor (who lived in more crowded conditions than the rich, obviously) and an extention of government powers over the population due to the need for registration of every individual. It had been introduced into Scotland the previous year to uproar, with massive defiance and popular independent local campaigns in every neighbourhood encouraging non-cooperation and non-payment. They were mostly up against Labour Party administrations (which dominated local government, including almost all working class communities). A majority were not paying.

Inspired by hatred of the government, of the tax, and by the inspirational grass-roots movement in Scotland, a mass movement grew up in every community in England in the build up to the implementation date, April 1st. As each local government authority set the poll tax level they hoped to collect from the local population there were huge and angry protest mobilisations at Town Halls all over the country.

A countrywide demonstration was planned for Central London on March 31st. I was heavily involved in the coordination of anti-poll tax groups in London and countrywide - my group - Tottenham Against the Poll Tax - was the secretarial group of the London Federation of Anti-Poll Tax Groups and I was the delegate Secretary of that Federation up till the autumn of 1989. I continued to be heavily invoved in countrywide communication and coordination activities.

On March 31st 1990 over 250,000 people participated in the demo, calling for mass non-payment and resistance to the tax. It was a carnival atmosphere. As the demonstration passed Thatcher's headquarters (Downing St) there was a confrontation with police, and it soon turned into a battle with mounted police and riot units. Eventually, Trafalgar Sq nearby became a battleground as thousands of people fought police for control of the square. As the police became more desperate and brutal the battle spread to nearby streets and throughout the main commercial streets in the West End. It went on for hours.

The media and politicians went hysterical, trying to deflect public anger (at the tax and at the repressive policing) against the 'irresponsible' anti-poll tax movement and the 'extremists' who fought the police. It was thought that the battle had been planned by the State to discredit the radical nature of the struggle (mass non-payment and street protests) and split the movement.

Up to 500 were arrested during and after the demo, and many charged with heavy charges. There were raids on dozens of activists homes over the next few weeks in a policing operation that was called 'Operation Carnaby'.

Defendants and supporters (including myself) set up the Trafalgar Square Defendants' Campaign which supported all those arrested and helped them fight their case, as well as campaigning for the whole anti-poll tax movement to back those arrested. And to demonstrate again in Trafalgar Sq in defiance of police calls to ban certain types of demos in Central London. All this we successfully did.

The stakes were very high. The repression was countered. The movement stayed united and defiant. Public support increased after the demo. By the following year 18 million were refusing to pay the tax. Thatcher resigned, largely as a result of the damage to her credibility and strategy over the poll tax fiasco. And a few days before an anniversary demo at Trafalgar Sq the next March, PM John Major announced that the tax was uncollectable and would be scrapped.

Dave Morris
North London

How residents defeated the Poll Tax in Haringey, and countrywide.. (1988-1993)

An unfair and hated tax

In the late 1980s the Government had decided to implement a new tax to replace local government taxation systems. It was immediately seen as a tax on the poor, and an extension of government powers over the population. The government named it the 'Community Charge', but protestors dubbed it 'the Poll Tax', drawing parallels with the legendary Poll Tax mass uprisings in 1381 which successfully defeated the idea for 600 years!

Mass opposition

It was first introduced into Scotland in 1988, causing uproar, massive defiance, and popular independent local campaigns in every neighbourhood encouraging non-cooperation and non-payment. A majority refused to pay.

Inspired by hatred of the government after the long industrial battles with miners and printworkers in the mid-1980s, and inspired by Scotland, a mass movement grew up in every community in England in the build up to the registration procedure (1989) and the implementation date of April 1st 1990.

Organised resistance throughout Haringey

Haringey was one of the first areas in England to launch a strong campaign. In 1988 independent and radical activists called for mass non-payment and defiance of the tax. 30 residents attended the first planning meeting at the Unwaged Centre in Tottenham and very quickly the campaign spread like wildfire. Many local anti-poll tax groups met weekly or fortnightly, co-ordinated through delegate meetings of Haringey Anti-Poll Tax Union.

The next 4 years saw possibly the most vibrant, sustained and uncompromising mass popular movement in Haringey's, and the UK's, history. This is some of what happened:

· simultaneous weekly street stalls all around the borough
· regular mass door-to-door leafleting calling for total non-cooperation with registration, payment, court notices and eventually bailiffs.. over half a million leaflets and window posters distributed in Haringey alone (including all 90,000 homes getting a leaflet/poster on the eve of the implementation of the tax).
· a network of over a dozen smaller neighbourhood groups and up to 500 street reps
· regular public meetings, including one with 1,000 people in Hornsey Town Hall
· many local pickets, protests, burning of forms, 2 or 3 marches and a mass rally of 1000 people blockading the Civic Centre and the road outside on the night the Council set the tax rate - the highest in Britain!
· organised and systematic back up support for people facing threats, fines, bailiffs and even imprisonment
· trade union opposition to the tax, in some cases refusing to implement aspects of the process
· constant efforts to link up effectively with other campaigns around London and the whole country. Haringey groups played a key role in developing London and national initiatives, communication and solidarity.

As a result, 50,000 Haringey adults refused to register at all, and eventually 97,000 refused to pay despite the whole range of threats and intimidation from the Council and the Courts.

Co-ordination and protest across the country

In early 1989 Tottenham Against the Poll Tax was the main group behind a London-wide meeting which led to the setting up of the London Federation of Anti-Poll Tax Groups - TAPT was elected as the secretarial group. Later that year HAPTU initiated and co-ordinated a national conference in London attended by 70 APTs and Federations, who continued to work closely together to ensure communication & co-ordination across the country.

On March 31st 1990, the day before the tax was to be implemented, over 200 Haringey residents met up at Turnpike Lane tube to travel together to join over 250,000 people marching through Central London calling for mass non-payment and resistance to the tax. It was a carnival atmosphere. As the demonstration passed Thatcher's headquarters (Downing St) there was a confrontation with police, and it soon turned into a battle with mounted police and riot units. Eventually, Trafalgar Sq became a battleground as thousands of people fought police for control of the square and the area around it. The anti-poll tax movement gained world-wide coverage.

Up to 500 activists from all over the UK (including Haringey) were arrested during and after the demo, and many faced heavy charges. Politicians and the media attacked the anti-poll tax movement. The police called for a ban on such demos. However, HAPTU and other independent groups helped set up the defendant-run Trafalgar Square Defendants' Campaign which supported all those arrested and helped them fight their cases, as well as campaigning for the anti-poll tax movement to back those arrested. Initial meetings were held in the Tottenham Unwaged Centre. It was a very strong and significant campaign, including a solidarity march of 3,500 people to Brixton prison to support poll tax prisoners there and around the country.

18 million refuse to pay, and Thatcher resigns

The stakes were very high. Gradually the whole movement backed the campaign, and their call to demonstrate again in Trafalgar Sq. This uncompromising and principled stance echoed the continuing public defiance of the tax. The movement stayed united and defiant, and public support increased.

By the following year 18 million were refusing to pay the tax. Thatcher resigned, largely as a result of the damage to her credibility and strategy over the poll tax fiasco. The new Prime Minister John Major eventually announced that the tax was uncollectable and would be scrapped - to be replaced by the current Council Tax.

However, the movement needed to continue in order to defend those facing threats and repressive measures for the next few years. This we did in Haringey. The main Haringey groups decided to develop into general Solidarity Groups, continuing poll tax work as part of a commitment to support a wide range of independent radical struggles and local initiatives. The groups eventually merged into Haringey Solidarity Group, which has continued to be active ever since.

The aftermath

This historic victory showed that:

- the right to public services shouldn’t depend on systematic robbery of working class people of their income
- any oppressive law or measure can be defied and defeated by mass non-cooperation
- grass roots self-organisation with public support can be inspirational and an unstoppable force for change
- the right to protest can be defended
- radical ideas and ways of working do not need to be marginal, but can be mainstream and a real alternative to electoral politics

There is also the power of collective folk-memory, even across 6 centuries, that an unjust measure can be beaten. That demonstrates the importance of celebrating our radical history.

This summary has mainly been drawn from the pamphlet 'The Poll Tax Rebellion In Haringey' which was written and published collectively by members of Haringey Solidarity Group in 1999

20 years of organised anarchist, and related, activity in Haringey, North London [1980-2000]

I’ve been active in various local libertarian, class struggle and community groups and campaigns in Haringey, North London for about 20 years. This is my personal recollection and summary... it is just one view.

250,000 people live in Haringey, North London - the generally middle-class western side (Crouch End, Hornsey, Muswell Hill) and the generally working-class eastern side (Tottenham), with a very mixed centre (Wood Green) dominated by the commercial High Rd and its ‘Shopping City’. In the predominately working-class areas there’s a very high percentage of people from minority ethnic groups, mainly african and carribean, and greek, turkish and kurdish.

100 years ago Tottenham’s population mushroomed as new rail lines were built and industry expanded. Most factories (except maybe clothing) have closed down and employment is now mainly service and shop work, with the Council being the largest employer.

I haven’t heard about local anarchist activity before the 70s, although there was: the so-called ‘Tottenham Anarchist Outrage’ in 1911 when apparently 2 russian anarchists killed a copper chasing them after a robbery; Albert Meltzer, the founder of Black Flag grew up in Tottenham (where he went to the same synagogue as my dad); and there was an anarchist bookshop, Libertaria Books, in the area in the early 70s.

In the late 70s and early 80s local anti-nuclear power campaigners were very active, and there was a strong Haringey Women’s Centre. The local labour movement was also strong, but dominated by the Communist Party. When I moved to Tottenham I was initially active in the Haringey and Islington Claimants Union - a libertarian group who’d been highly involved with claimants struggles since the late 1960s. A few of us set up the Tottenham Claimants Union (TCU) in 1983, at first meeting in someone’s home, then in a newly-set up council-funded Unemployed Workers Centre dominated by the Communist Party.

The TCU flourished, concentrating on empowering claimants to fight for their needs, exposing fraud squads, and making good links with local labour movement activists, the pensioners’ action group and short-life housing co-ops. Women at the centre set up Haringey Unwaged Women’s Group. Our high point was calling a 200-strong occupation of the Civic Centre to demand emergency payments during a DSS strike. We were also very active in the Federation of Claimants Unions and helped organise a few of their annual camps.

Some Haringey activists got heavily involved in the Stop ‘The City’ mass protests/carnivals in 1983-4. We decided to form the Haringey Community Action (HCA) anarchist collective, to support and encourage autonomous, radical local campaigns and groups - it also set up a pro-squatting group Homes For All. Some of us started an anarchist paper, The Free Tottenham Times.

During the 1983-4 miners’ strike both HCA and TCU got involved in support, with TCU members putting strikers up in their homes. In 1985, TCU’s active support for the Wapping printworkers was the last straw for the local Communist Party who decided to try to suppress our ideas, example and influence, producing a hilarious local scandal sheet attacking us. All to no avail - the CP itself collapsed soon after following the overthrow/demise of the Soviet and eastern european Communist regimes. The Socialist Workers Party are now by far the most dominant Left party in Haringey.

In 1985, following some years of black people’s self-organisation and anger at injustice, there was the local Broadwater Farm anti-police uprising - the resulting defence campaign has since inspired a number of other local campaigns against police brutality and racism. There were also battles that year between police and anti-fascists when anti-fascists attacked a National Front meeting in Tottenham.

HCA ground to a halt in the late 80s, but libertarian activists in the west and central parts of the borough were involved in renewed anti-nuclear campaigning and strike support. TCU and the Unwaged Women’s Group decided we’d had enough of the way the Unemployed Workers Centre was run, and set up our own Unwaged Centre (which we kept open daily for over 5 years).

Then came the poll tax - a huge turning point. Through our contacts with Claimants Unions in Scotland (where the tax was first brought in) we in TCU thought it could be beaten. In 1988 Tottenham Against the Poll Tax (TAPT) was set up - one of the first such groups in England - and soon after, libertarian activists elsewhere in the borough were the key to the setting up of Hornsey & Wood Green APT, followed by Green Lanes APT. These three groups were the basis of a Haringey-wide mass non-payment campaign (HAPTU) involving the distribution of hundreds of thousands of leaflets, 500 street reps and up to 20 independent neighbourhood groups. As a strong and active organisation we helped set up London-wide and national anti-poll tax networks and federations, including the Trafalgar Square Defendants’ Campaign after the poll tax riot.
As the campaign drew to a close in the early 90s, all 3 main groups decided to build on what was achieved and to transform themselves into local general solidarity organisations. After a year or two, the three groups merged into Haringey Solidarity Group which continues today.

HSG has been involved in a wide range of issues, campaigns and initiatives - including support for community struggles, anti-police brutality groups (in particular the Delroy Lindo campaign), strikes (including support for a bitter local strike by turkish factory workers), unwaged claimants issues (including Job Seekers Allowance and housing benefits), and opposing privatisation or anti-social regeneration and development projects. All the while we have run a small office, done monthly info/minutes mailouts to about 140 local people, held discussions and produced a number of leaflets and for many years a free local door-to-door newssheet. HSG has always tried to encourage other people around London to form community-based local solidarity organisations, taking an active part in helping organise national networks and events, doing an annual mailout to other groups - and helping produce The Agitator directory of anti-authoritarian groups countrywide (now up on our website). Numbers have fluctuated, with up to 20-30 people regularly attending meetings a few years back. There’s currently about 8-15 people actively involved. I myself have recently got stuck in again after being slightly side-tracked for about 6 years by the McLibel case. I helped produce a new set of HSG stickers, and I have argued at great length for activists to set up neighbourhood based residents’ groups throughout the borough, such as the one going so well on my estate.

The group’s politics has been flexible and there is often debate and sometimes controversy - but in general we have promoted libertarian/anarchist ideas, activities and collective forms of decision-making, and grass roots working-class solidarity and struggles. Apart from some turkish comrades, there have been very few black and ethnic minority people in the group. Men are always well in the majority at meetings, and women in the group have set up their own HSG Women’s Group. There are few parents involved. These are major challenges to us if we want to involve more people, have real influence, and overcome marginalisation.

Other recent dilemmas have included: agonising over the excellent 1998 Reclaim The Streets mass party which took over Tottenham High Rd but with unfortunately no prior involvement with local activists or residents; how community and class issues intermix; whether to set up our own local workers network, ...and continually asking why aren’t we achieving so much more when there’s so much fucking potential out there?! Many of these questions affect any and every anarchist group. If we are going to become a popular mass anti-authoritarian movement then we need to see similar locally-based solidarity groups everywhere, sharing ideas and experiences and thereby developing successful strategies for long term community resistance and real alternatives. I want to see an independent residents’ group in every street, a solidarity group in every workplace, and an anti-authoritarian/anti-capitalist organisation in every borough and town.

Dave Morris

Note: This was written in 2001 - as of December 2006 Haringey Solidarity Group has continued to meet monthly, to produce regular newsletters, to support residents associations, to support 'single issue' campaigns (eg HSG has been instrumental in the launch of the ongoing 'Haringey Against ID Cards' ) and support workplace disputes. HSG is currently helping develop a nationwide 'Community Action' network of grass roots anti-authoritarian activists, and helping people throughout London to set up groups similar to HSG in all London boroughs.

Contact: HSG, PO Box 2474, N8 We have produced pamphlets on the local anti-poll tax campaign, and on a local support campaign for a strike. Stickers and various leaflets are available.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

History at the Anarchist Bookfair Saturday 24 October

Radical History Network of North East London will have a stall at the bookfair. Please come and meet us if you are interested in what we do.

There are several meetings on history taking place at the book fair of which, perhaps,the most important will be various different local radical history groups coming together and discussing their activities. (pic above shows the cartoon used on Radical History Network's cover for the pamphlet on the NHS published in 2008)


Celebrating and learning from radical history, linking in to our present and future experience. Is history irrelevant? IS studying the past just avoiding the present? Or can struggles, movements and personalities from 'history' inspire us and offer lessons, ideas and links that persist through time. A chance for people involved in anarchist or radical history projects, and anyone else interested, to swap and share their ideas, experiences and motives of using the past to reinvigorate and inform the present and transform the future.

Gustav Landauer, Erich Muhsam and the German Revolution of 1918-1919 - Room EB4 17.00 till 18.00
Gustav Landauer (1870-1919) and Erich Mühsam (1878-1934) arguably remain Germany's most influential anarchists. Both were key figures in the Bavarian Council Republic of 1919, the most ambitious attempt by left-wing radicals to create an egalitarian and socialist society on the ashes of the German Empire. English language material, in particular primary texts by Landauer, Mühsam, and fellow radicals of the era, are scarce. PM Press has now announced a series of publications providing sources that have long remained unavailable. An extensive Gustav Landauer reader will be published in March 2010. An Erich Mühsam reader and a reader on radical currents during the German Revolution will follow in subsequent years. Gabriel Kuhn will give an introduction to Gustav Landauer and Erich Mühsam, discuss German anarchism, and outline the PM Press projects.

Morris Beckman on the fight against fascism after the Second World War - Skeel Lecture Theatre 12.00 - 12.00
Talk about the 43 Group who physically force the fascists of the streets in the 1940s, with a film showing about the group. And also a discussion on the fight against the menace of fascism today.

Peter the Painter and the Siege of Sidney Street - Lecture Room 1 16.00 - 17.00

Who were Peter the Painter and the Latvian socilaists who were involved in the siege

Philosophy and Revolution - organised by Hobgoblin - Room EB2 14.00 till 15.00
Throughout modern history, philosophy has stimulated and influenced revolutionary movements, while revolutions – their achievements, limitations and failures – have posed new problems for philosophy. Our age has been shaped by revolutions that have remained limited or even transformed into opposite. Can dialectical philosophy help us advance towards real human liberation? Join us for a discussion of these issues.

For the full programme at the bookfair go to the Anarchist Bookfair Website

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Janine Booth speaks on her book Guilty and Proud of it: The Labour rebel councillors of Poplar, East London, 1921

Wednesday 21 October at 8 pm
Meetings for the autumn will be at a new venue; the North London Community House, 22 Moorefield Road, N17. [The old Post Office building] This is just around the corner from Bruce Grove British Rail Station, where Bruce Grove meets the High Road in Tottenham.]

In the aftermath of the First World War, 30 Labour councillors went to prison rather than accepting inequitable taxes. With unemployment rising in 1921 in East London, Poplar Borough Council could not help provide relief drawing only on the limited wealth of one poor London borough.

Poplar councillors, including future Labour leader George Lansbury, demanded that rates from richer areas should help. Rich Kensington had a hugely greater rateable value and far fewer jobless people: it could afford to pay more. So Poplar refused to pay over rates to the London County Council, and thus began the Poplar Revolt.

Drawing on archive research and on newspaper reports, this book tells the story of the support mobilised by Poplar Council. The story begins when newly-enfranchised working-class voters elected Labour to run the Council in 1919. For the next two years, it improved life for Poplar residents,coming into ever-increasing conflict with the central authorities and the local government funding system. The crisis came in 1921, when Poplar Council refused to levy a portion of its rates.

Poplar's fight took its Councillors to prison in September 1921. After six weeks, the courts released them from prison and the government changed the law to redistribute funding from richer to poorer boroughs: they had won! Over the following years, they continued to battle, but lost momentum. The book ends with a survey of outcomes and considers how this story has meaning today.

We end with a quote:  "In the 1920s, Poplar's Councillors and Guardians chose to fight. Had they chosen differently, we would not even remember them."

The speaker is an active member of the RMT [Rail Maritime & Transport Union]. The book is 216 pp, [ISBN 978 0 85036 694 5] , and is published by Merlin Press, price £12-95.

[See following post for Alan Woodward's review of the book.]

Claimants and unemployed issues and struggles in the 1970s and 1980s (especially in Tottenham in the 1980s) - what can we learn from them?

In 2006, the government is continuing its ever-increasing attacks against the hard-won benefits of all kinds of claimants (pensions, invalidity benefits, unemployment benefits etc), and stepping up its pressure on claimants to take any job at any price in order to drive down wages. What can we learn from the widespread struggles by unwaged people in the not-so-distant past, and what can be done today to stand up for everyone's right to a decent income?

The 1920s-30s

There had been a big movement of the unemployed in the 1930s, focusing on demanding work or basic payments. There were marches, lobbying, stunts and sometimes direct action protests - like storming into expensive hotels demanding food. There was a Tottenham branch of the National Unemployed Workers Movement which had a meeting room on Tottenham High Rd by High Cross. A couple of local factories were occupied by protestors to demand jobs and prevent overtime working.

The 1960s - a new wave

In the late 1960s and early 1970s a new unwaged and unemployed movement sprung up throughout the UK demanding the right to adequate benefits for all adults. People formed local Claimants Unions, and the CUs formed the very active Federation of Claimants Unions - at one point there were over 100 active local CUs. This movement was one of the new wave of radical,self-organised and often overlapping movements and struggles which came out of the ‘60s, including struggles for women’s liberation, black liberation, wildcat strikers and ‘rank and file’ industrial organisation, gay liberation, grass roots community action including independent radical newspapers and bookshops, squatting and international solidarity. These
movements tended to be characterized by collective working, solidarity, class-consciousness and anti-sexism, a tendency to direct action and radical protest whilst promoting a culture of ‘we demand our rights’.

The Federation

From about 1970 to 1990 the Federation of CUs held annual conferences and also camps, rotated each year around the UK. It had an influential and popular programme of ‘claimants helping each other to claim what we can from the welfare state, especially the Social Security office’, whilst demanding ‘a basic income for all’, and coupled with a longer term explicit libertarian / socialist / anarchist vision of ‘power to the people’. It was a ‘right to live’ movement rather than ‘right to work’ movement. It was building a well-respected and to some extent an effective claimants’ movement of grass roots day-to-day mutual aid, and of militant ideas and
protest aiming to defend and improve the lives of millions of people in previously marginalised sections of society. However, its local impact around the UK was patchy, very much depending on whether local CUs could get established…


In 1981 I got involved in Haringey & Islington CU which met at the Crouch Hill Recreation Centre. This was one of the longest established CUs, active since 1970. Around 1982 Tottenham Claimants Union was formed (or indeed re-formed as there had briefly been a TCU 10 years earlier based in Broad Lane) - meeting in a house in Radley Rd, N17 and mostly helping each other with our claims and housing etc. When we heard the Trades Council was setting up a Council-funded Unemployed Workers Centre we started meeting there in what was little more than the broom cupboard. For about 5 years we met there, soon to be on almost a daily basis.

The Centre

Part of a national network of TUC centres in the 1980s, it was very much intended to be part of the TUC/Council approach to ‘the unemployed’ as individuals needing advice by professionals, plus recruiting people into campaigns run by trade unions and left-wing parties against unemployment or for benefits. It was initially run by the Trades Council (effectively the Communist Party). However, the unwaged regular users soon expected a great deal more, and began using the place as a public base to reach out to local claimants, to support each other, to demand our own collective voice in the borough, and to develop our own independent ideas and activities. We
gradually built up a very high level of mutual aid, friendship and solidarity.

The following are some of the activities and achievements:

- supporting each other and other claimants with claims at the DSS. And also over other basic needs like housing - for a couple of years there were Homes For All meetings supporting short-life use or squatting of empty homes
- campaigning against DSS claimant harassment squads - this definitely had an effect
- campaigning fairly successfully for free or 'concessionary' services and facilities for all unwaged
- organising social events (including a 4-day free food kitchen at xmas)and helping organise the annual FCU camping holidays (15 of us from Haringey went one year)....
- supporting independent unwaged groups using the Centre (eg Unwaged Women’s Group, creative writing group, a poetry group, drama group), and also a local pensioners’ action group - occupying the Civic Centre to demand emergency payments when the DSS was closed for 2 weeks by industrial action - 200 claimants took part but were
ejected by police
- joining DSS and Jobcentre workers on their picket lines (there were regular disputes there), and at one time joining Coombes Croft library workers successful occupation to prevent closure
- supporting the miners strike (1984/5) including attending Haringey Support Group meetings at the centre, putting up visiting strikers in our homes, visiting mining villages and going on demonstrations
- supporting Wapping printworkers in their 1986/7 dispute, including going on pickets and supporting strikers producing their own ‘Picket’ bulletin.

Communist Party

We began to insist the Centre be run by the unwaged/unemployed. The Trades Council / Communist Party were dead against this and pulled out all the stops to ensure it didn’t happen. When the TCU agreed to let Wapping printworkers use the TCU address as a contact for their independent ‘Picket’ bulletin, the Communist Party (which dominated the official Union machinery trying to keep control of the very militant Wapping dispute) lost the plot and launched a local campaign against the TCU trying to prevent local trades unionists and pensioner activists working with us.

Our own base

Eventually we decided to set up our own Haringey Unwaged Centre in a shop front at 72 West Green Rd. The Unemployed Workers Centre became an advice centre where people had to have an appointment to go in - it eventually closed a year later. [In fact the local Communist Party branch seemed to collapse around this time or just later]. Although we had no funding we managed to run our own ‘drop-in’ centre, open daily (and sometimes evenings) for about 4 years, holding a range of events and activities
similar to before, but maybe less strong. For 7 or 8 years TCU had also played an active role in linking up with unwaged organisations around London and the country. But times were changing, and government efforts to suppress ‘rights culture’ and opposition movements were beginning to have an effect throughout society - ‘unemployment’ and claimants’ issues were being depoliticised.

Poll Tax

From 1988-1991 the Unwaged Centre was instrumental in helping to build the largest community-based civil disobedience movement in Haringey’s history - the anti-poll tax movement. [For more info, see the HSG local history pamphlet on the subject]. Tottenham Against the Poll Tax was based at the Centre which was the hub for distribution of tens of thousands of leaflets, and all manner of continuous activities and protests for 2-3 years - and eventually victorious!

The end, or moving on?

In 1991 the 3 main anti-poll tax groups agreed to set up local Solidarity Groups (which eventually became Haringey Solidarity Group). The Centre became less and less used, and we eventually donated it to the mainly turkish International Transport & General Workers Union activists for their own use. During the 1990s, the government adopted increasingly oppressive 'right to work' measures and propaganda, and the claimants’ movement largely lost its way and dwindled - although a ‘Groundswell’ activist network was set up in the late-1990s to oppose job seekers allowance rules and incapacity benefit cuts.

In 2006 in the UK there are still some claimants' groups, an active pensioners' movement, disability campaigns, and various other campaigns around related issues. Should efforts be made to build on the successes of the past? Or are there better ways these days for unwaged people to stand up for their interests? Can the tactics used in the past be employed today in other movements?

Dave Morris