Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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.

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