What Jeremy Corbyn’s well-heeled opponents in the media, and within his Parliamentary Labour Party, most dislike about him is Corbyn’s popularly received commitment to both democracy and socialism.
It is exactly such a determined commitment to promoting the principles of democracy and socialism by members of the Socialist Party (formerly known as the Militant) that so infuriates media pundits and New Labour remnants.
Dedicated members of the Militant played a central role in providing the organisational backbone to the poll tax campaign of mass resistance, which successfully brought millions onto the streets and contributed toward the demise of Thatcher. But don’t count upon the mainstream media to highlight the role of revolutionary socialists in facilitating this momentous fight-back.
The dedication of thousands of Militant members in contributing towards improving the living conditions of the working-class politics is proven without a doubt – something which cannot be said for the undemocratic bureaucrats who dominate the commanding heights of the Labour Party.
For many people, on either the left or the right of the political spectrum, the interpretation of the political activities of Militant members of the Labour Party in the city of Liverpool during the 1980s provides a litmus test for their ideological proclivities.
The Daily Mail today (August 11) rehashed the typical unfavourable story about the “Militant-dominated Liverpool Council in the mid 1980s.” In an unusually succinct statement on this tale they write:
“In a rebellion against the Thatcher government in 1985, the council set an illegal ‘deficit budget’ committing the council to overspending by £30million – saying the excess was money ‘stolen’ by government cuts.”
For a little more flesh on the bone of this defining moment in working-class history we can look to the recent summary produced by the Guardian (August 10); although of course we will need to look elsewhere for details about what actually happened in Liverpool. Either way as the Guardian explains:
“The faction’s biggest electoral success was in Liverpool, where the local party and city council were run by members of Militant who went on to set an illegal deficit budget in 1985, in defiance of party policy. The slogan of the local council was ‘Better to break the law than break the poor.’
“With spending higher than income, the council was advised that it would be unable to pay staff wages by November that year, and Militant members decided to issue redundancy notices to every council worker, as a threat to the national government to increase the budget.”
The Guardian highlights the political significance of this moment, adding how “Neil Kinnock’s purging of Militant, which culminated in a strongly worded conference speech in 1985 in which he berated the Militant deputy leader of Liverpool council, Derek Hatton, is regarded by many in Labour as a key moment in restoring the party’s electability, though it was another 12 years before it won a general election.”
This obsession about electability has much to do with the fervently held belief — shared by the mainstream media and the majority of the right-leaning members of the Parliamentary Labour Party — that make them repeat ad infinitum that Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist politics are simply unelectable. What they really mean is that Corbyn’s socialist ideas present an existential threat to the corporate-dominated status quo.
So what did happen in the socialist-led Liverpool council do between 1983 and 1987 that so ails the Labour establishment and media commentators alike? Former Liverpool councillor and the then District Labour Party president Tony Mulhearn explains how:
“In the two years before the 49 Labour councillors (reduced to 47 by the death of Bill Lafferty and Peter Lloyd) were elected in May 1983, not a single house for rent had been built by the Liberal/Tory alliance which controlled the council. Council rents were the highest in the UK outside London. 5,000 council jobs had vanished. Youth unemployment in some areas of the city was in excess of 50%. The defeated Liberal/Tory alliance had left behind a financial gap of £10 million of unallocated cuts, and £30 million had been slashed from Liverpool’s budget by Tory minister Michael Heseltine. This was the nightmare inherited by the newly elected council in which Militant (predecessor of the Socialist) supporters played a prominent role.”
Instead of passing on further Tory cuts to the people of Liverpool, the 47 councillors (of which a minority were Militant supporters) adopted the slogan “better to break the law than to break the poor.” They then “launched a programme of action that included building houses, creating jobs, expanding services and freezing rents.” This was backed up by a mass campaign of resistance, involving huge anti-austerity protests, which were supported by “public and private sector trade unions, community organisations, youth organisations, party constituencies and party branches”.
The completely misleading and subsequently well-worn Kinnock-narrative about taxis scuttling around delivering redundancy notices to council workers is the story of Liverpool that is so beloved by both mainstream media pundits and New Labour acolytes. Hence the recent Guardian article makes sure to repeat the famous part of the speech that Kinnock gave at the 1985 Labour party conference, where he “condemned the ‘grotesque chaos of a Labour council hiring taxis to scuttle round the city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers’.”
But as Tony Mulhearn and Peter Taaffe recount in their book Liverpool – The City That Dared To Fight.
“While the Liverpool councillors were in power, from 1983-7, no one was made redundant. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of Neil Kinnock in the autumn of 1987, when he pushed for 40 real redundancies among staff at the Labour Party’s Walworth headquarters.”
But let’s remember what a Labour council that dared to fight actually achieved during the 1980s: so other than embarrassing the growing ranks of the careerist, distinctly unprincipled elected representatives of the Labour Party, Liverpool councillors managed to…
- Lead an immensely popular and well-backed battle in 1984 which forced Thatcher’s government into a retreat worth up to £60 million. On the council’s budget day in March 1984 (when a one-day strike took place) 30,000 local authority workers joined a 50,000 strong march in support of the council’s deficit budget.
- 6,400 jobs were created in the private sector because of the house-building programme, on top of thousands of local authority jobs created and saved. Other results included six new nurseries, and five colleges.
- Build over 5,000 council houses.
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