Seven months after the huge London anti-poll tax demonstration/riot of March 31st 1990, another demo was planned in the capital on 20th October 1990. While not on the same scale, it did end in clashes with police in Brixton and 120 arrests.
The organisation of the October demo was a fractious affair. The national leadership of the All Britain Anti Poll Tax Federation was firmly in the hands of 'Militant' (today known as the Socialist Party) and they were distrusted by many in the movement for their denouncing of rioters after March 31st. They were not keen at all to organise another national demo in 1990, and instead half heartedly agreed for a London mobilisation ending with a rally to greet a contingent of 75 poll tax protestors who had walked to London from Glasgow, Liverpool and South Wales as part of the 'People's March Against the Poll Tax'.
Meanwhile the Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign, set up to support those arrested in relation to March 31st, wanted to put the plight of poll tax prisoners and defendants at the forefront of the October demonstration - something which they felt was being neglected by the London demo organisers as well as the national federation. So, as advertised on the TSDC leaflet below, there were several interlinked events on the day. A TSDC picket of Horseferry Road magistrates court (scene of many poll tax trials) was followed by a march of around 1500 people to Kennington Park, the assembly point for the London Federation demonstration. The March 31st demo had also assembled in Kennington, but headed from there into Whitehall and Trafalgar Square. On October 20th the march avoided central London entirely and instead headed further out to Brockwell Park in Brixton.
|'Stop the Trafalgar Square Show Trials'|
|TSDC Leaflet for October 20th 1990 demo (front and rear - original A5)|
The crowd on the combined march to Brockwell Park and the rally there was variously estimated at between 10 and 25,000. After speeches by Tony Benn and others, a few thousand people assembled to march the short distance to Brixton Prison, where several poll tax prisoners were being held. This was not a spontaneous splinter march, but had been planned from the start - and the police were ready.
For me personally it was a strange time. I lived on Tulse Hill Estate, located between Brockwell Park and Brixton Prison, so this was all happening in my local area. I went along to the Park and joined the demonstration as it made it's way up Brixton Hill towards the prison. Its route was blocked by a line of police close to the jail, and at this point I headed off. My grandmother had just died and I was travelling that night to the Hebrides for the funeral. As I made my way back to the Estate I saw that the side streets were full of police vans whose occupants were getting out and putting on their riot gear. I picked up my suit for the funeral and headed down to Brixton to get the train only to find the station closed and the streets blocked by police vans and crowds. By this point the police outnumbered the protestors.
What had happened in the interim was that the police had baton charged the crowd by the prison and driven people back down the hill into central Brixton. In the clashes a police bike was set on fire and some market stalls on Electric Avenue had been turned over as barricades. A few petrol bombs were also thrown, something very unusual on political demonstrations in England (though sometimes seen in full on inner city uprisings) and possibly not unrelated to the presence of some experienced radical street fighters from France, Italy and elsewhere.
The 120 arrests meant plenty more work for the TSDC, and quite a few people were injured by police seemingly out for revenge for what had happened back in March.
|'Poll tax mob bomb police', Sunday Mirror, 21 October 1990|
The following short account comes from the November 1990 newsletter of the Brixton based Community Resistance Against the Poll Tax, which I was involved with for a while alongside several other poll tax groups at work and in my area.
Poll Tax Archive (1): Hospital workers say: 'we're not paying': North Middlesex Hospital anti-poll tax leaflet, 1990
Poll Tax Archive (2): St Valentines Day 1991 - Massacre the poll tax (in Lambeth)