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.]

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