Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Café Del Mar Memories - RIP José Padilla

The summer of 1995, off to Ibiza. We bought the cassette of Café Del Mar Volumen Dos and cracked it open at the airport to get in the mood, listening on one headphone each on a walkman. A balearic selection of mellow, down tempo tunes from José Padilla, long time resident DJ at said Café.


In Ibiza like everybody else we headed to 'the Caf' for a drink. The sun went down, but behind a cloud, so no glorious San Antonio sunset.  And they were just playing the Café Del Mar CD on rotation!  The Cafe experience was now pre-packaged and for sale and no doubt everybody was saying you should have been there the year before or the year before that.... Well  anyway by that point the tunes were well and truly lodged in our brains, and have never left. That particular night we moved along the sea front to Cafe Mambo which was much more lively, including Jeremy Healy walking around in a short gold skirt.

Fast forward a year and our daughter is born in a birthing pool in the front room, that same Café Del Mar cassette playing during labour. In fact at the moment of birth the compilation has reached 'Easter Song' by A Man Called Adam, a suitably uplifting spiritual moment with its repeated 'you're bringing me back to life' refrain. A few years down the line we see A Man Called Adam playing at an outdoor gig on the South Bank, we chat to singer Sally Rogers and she dedicates their Easter Song encore to our daughter who nevertheless declines invitation to join them on stage.

So farewell José Padilla, who died this week, thanks for helping to soundtrack these and so many other people's memories.


(all images from 1995 cassette artwork)

Monday, October 19, 2020

Poll Tax Archive (7): Brixton Prison demo, October 1990

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.




'At 3.30 in the afternoon a group of over 3,000 people marched to Brixton prison where 4 prisoners are still held from the 31st of March. As before it was well organised and stewarded by the TSDC. The march arrived at the prison only to find that the police wanted to hem everyone in behind crowd barriers. As the march stopped on Brixton Hill the crowd became very compacted behind the barriers. TSDC organisers asked the police to allow the march round the back of the prison, the officer in charge of the police seemed to make sure he was not around at this point. The police were asked to move the barriers further up the road so the crowd could move up and ease congestion, this was also refused. The police took the megaphone from the TSDC organisers who were very visible in their bright pink bibs. They did not, as they claim, give out megaphones - this is yet another POLICE LIE. 

The angry and frustrated crowd threw one or two beer cans but the police needed no excuse to charge into the crowd. Those who didn't move fast enough were truncheoned and arrested. A young mother asked a police woman to take her children over the crowd barrier to safety, the caring pig refused. The crowd was pushed down Brixton Hill and scores of riot police, who had been waiting down side streets preparing to take revenge for March 31 came out and further charged the crowd. Individuals trying to leave the crowd and avoid trouble were pushed back in. The crowd was driven back into Brixton to the dismay of those trying to do a peaceful day's shopping. Buses were stopped, the tube station was closed, so those wishing to leave were unable to. Groups were pushed into the market, the High Road and Coldharbour Lane. Market skips and a police motorbike were set on fire. 




People were pushed down to Camberwell and up towards Oval, many brutal arrests were made (about 120 in all), demonstrators continued to fight back against the police till about 7 p.m. The TSDC provided excellent legal back up. Solicitors were provided for all those arrested and witness statements made. The initial police charges were filmed by video camera, the TSDC are in a position to show how the police provoked the trouble and may well prosecute them. A picket was held at Southwark police station to support those arrested. On Sunday Oct 31st the TSDC held a press conference to let the media know the truth. On Monday pickets were held at courts and courts are still being picketed for those still held in custody. Bail conditions have been very strict e.g. wanting a £1,000 surety for someone charged with threatening behaviour' (Community Resistance Against the Poll Tax, November 1990)



The TSDC produced their own detailed account of the events based on legal observers on the day. This was published as 'Premilinary report on the policing of the anti-poll tax demonstration of October 20th'. 


The following extracts cover the flashpoint outside the prison on Brixton Hill (PSU=Police Support Unit, i.e. the riot squad).


'16.40: These officers cordon off Elm Park at junction with Brixton Hill, dividing off protestors on Elm Park from main body of demonstration. Police line continues to form up cordon along east side of Brixton Hill in direction of Endymion Road along fixed railings (point B). (VT2 2.40) 16.42: The PSUs deployed in front of the churchyard push forward into the crowd, attacking demonstrators with violent and indiscriminate use of batons. There is much shouting and confusion, and a total of four cans are thrown at the surging police. After 20-30 seconds, the police resume their positions in front of the churchyard, and the crowd becomes calm again. (VT1 23.40) At the same time, 20-30 officers enter the churchyard, clearing demonstrators and making one arrest for apparently no reason (HCDA). 
16.44: The officer in charge of the PSUs deployed at point B signals repeatedly to police on the other side of the picket, and CI Joy runs South to the end of Jebb Avenue along the clear lane of Brixton Hill. (VT1 25.13) 

16.45: At front of demonstration, Superintendent Giblin from Stoke Newington (name given to LLV HP) leans over the barrier and grabs a smallish man, aged about 40 and wearing a cap, and violently pushes him into the crowd. (HCDA) Megaphone taken from organiser SW, who was using it to explain the situation to crowd and get them to join in good-natured chanting. No warning given. Crowd respond angrily. One or two placard sticks thrown in high arc. (AS) 16.46: Chief Superintendent talking to two vanloads of police who then head towards George W pub. (AC) Police begin to pull demonstrators off railings outside George IV pub forecourt. No prior warnings given. Inspector then ordered everyone off George IV forecourt, not allowing them to finish their drinks or to ask why they had to move. Police then spend next few minutes picking up glasses and smashing them on the floor. (HCDA, witness RP) Unidentified police officer overheard saying "This is it." (ES) 

16.47: A police snatch squad enters the crowd opposite Jebb Avenue. 2 or 3 people arrested and pulled violently over barrier. (WL) Police lined up against churchyard railings push forwards across Brixton Hill Road to join police cordon in the middle, separating head of demonstration from main body. After initial pushing and the throwing of two empty cans and a placard stick, crowd becomes calm again. (VT1 28.20) Police in PSU carriers on Endymion Road are seen to have put on riot gear. (HCDA) 16.50: LLV asked MM 38 where people expected to go. Reply: "Until we contain this, no-one's going anywhere." LLV asked "Contain what?" No reply. (PF) Riot police emerge from vans in Endymion Road (VT2 20.51). 



'it started peacefully enough with a carnival protest through the streets of South London' - some classic early 1990s demo dance moves in BBC news report 





Wednesday, June 24, 2020

No dancing - the 1918/19 influenza epidemic

The flu epidemic of 1918-19 killed millions of people around the world, including over 200,000 in the UK. As with the Covid-19 pandemic there were social distancing measures, though these seem to have mostly been implemented at a local level. These examples of dances being cancelled on health grounds come from Ashbourne in Derbyshire and Falkirk in Scotland.

A letter from Newcastle in November 1918 argues that 'It is inconceivable that when people are dying right and left of this dangerous disease that these village dances, generally given in small rooms, should be allowed'

Derbyshire Advertiser, 28 February 1919

Falkirk Herald, 2 November  1918

Newcastle Journal, 25 November 1918



Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Poll Tax Archive (6): Barnet and Edgware Hospital Workers against the Poll Tax

Here is an example of some workplace organising against the poll tax in the NHS.

'Edgware Nurses Against Poll Tax' - I believe this was taken at a picket of Willesden Magistrates Court, November 1990

At this time I was working in the AIDS Education Unit of Barnet Health Authority. We provided HIV testing, counselling, health promotion and advice from our base at Colindale Hospital. This included providing training to staff across the health authority including the two main general hospitals run by it at the time – Barnet General Hospital and Edgware General Hospital.

Most of us working in the Unit had some history of activism and our roaming roles  meant that we were in touch with lots of different groups of health workers across the area. So it was natural that in 1990 some of us would try and pull together a health workers anti-poll tax group which we called Barnet Hospital Workers Against the Poll Tax (as we were covering all the hospitals in the Barnet Health Authority group). The following year we also established  a hospital workers against the Gulf war group but that’s another story.

Student nurses were particularly aggrieved about the poll tax. Like other low paid  NHS workers  the tax was going to hit them hard in their pockets but unlike other students they were not eligible for any kind of rebate (most students only had to pay 20% of the poll tax).


Many of the students lived together in hospital accommodation. After talking to a few student nurses we arranged to hold a meeting at the Edgware Hospital nurses home- in the communal TV room. We just put up a poster and put the word around. There was a great response at the meeting with more than 30 signing up there and then up to oppose the poll tax. I still have the signing in sheet for that meeting, interesting looking down it now- a high proportion of Irish people, the majority women and, in terms of union membership, almost all members of the Royal College of Nursing with a handful of COHSE members and one NUPE member. 


We followed this up with other meetings offering advice- I think we also did one at Thames House, the nurses home at Barnet Hospital. Further on down the line some  of the student nurses were taken to court by Barnet Council for non-payment of the poll tax. We organised pickets of the magistrates courts at Barnet and Willesden with transport to get there.

It was a relatively modest effort, but ultimately the poll tax was finished off not just by one big demo/riot but also by lots of smallish local groups organising and sharing information that gave confidence to millions that they could get away with not paying the poll tax.

'Unfair poll tax for student nurses' - picket of Barnet magistrates, December 1990

Nurses were in court in Barnet at same time as Labour MP Mildred Gordon who was also being chased by Barnet Council for non-payment (Edgware Times, 20 December 1990)

Willesden Magistrates Court, November 1990







I am going to be giving a talk on the 'Poll Tax Rebellion - 30 years on' as part of the Datacide #18 magazine launch event on Friday 21 February 2020 at Ridley Road Social Club, 89 Ridley Road. London E8 2NH (with followed by music courtesy of  Praxis and Hekate - details here)

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Datacide #18 Launch Event

 

This Friday 21 February sees the London launch event for Datacide magazine, issue number 18. The event at Ridley Road Social Club E8 starts at 7 pm with some talks including one from me on the anti-poll tax movement (see poll tax posts here for a flavour of this). Afterwards Praxis and Hekate present DJ and live sets. £5 entry.  Full line up -

Talks:

Datacide Introduction by Christoph Fringeli
Flint Michigan: Electronic Disturbance Zone
Neil Transpontine: The Poll Tax Rebellion – 30 Years On.

Music:

Psychic Defence
Vera Spektor
Dan Hekate
Luke Hekate
FZV.

Noise, Industrial, IDM.


The new issue of Datacide, the magazine for noise and politics is out now and includes my article on Trump and occultism. Full contents:

Editorial

Christoph Fringeli: Revolution and Counterrevolution in Germany 1919

Ross Wolfe: Marxism Contra Justice – A Critique of Egalitarian Ideology
Joke Lanz: Ghosts & Handbags – A short Travel Report from the Japanese Underworld
Matthew Hyland: Masterless Mouths

Three poems by Howard Slater
fiction by Dan Hekate
News roundup by Nemeton
book reviews:


Frankenstein, or the 8-Bit Prometheus – Micro-literature, hyper-mashup, Sonic Belligeranza records 17th anniversary by Riccardo Balli
Dale Street: Lions Led by Jackals – Stalinism in the International Brigade, by Christoph Fringeli
Activities since last issue
Lives and Times of Bloor Schleppy
graphics and illustrations by dybbuk, lesekill, Darkam, Sansculotte
The physical zine is a fine thing - you can order it here or come along on Friday and buy one!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Poll Tax Archive (5): Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign

In the aftermath of the London poll tax demonstration and riot on 31 March 1990, the Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign to ‘Unconditionally defend all those arrested on March 31st’ was launched at a meeting held at London's Conway Hall. 

Through court monitoring, support from sympathetic lawyers, and gathering its own evidence, the TSDC was able to provide effective legal advice and information which led to many people being acquitted or having their charges and sentences reduced. The following appeal for witnesses (original an A4 leaflet) was part of this process of developing a detailed chronology of events with which to challenge police accounts.


'Appeal for witnesses

On 31st March 1990, the anti Poll Tax march to Trafalgar Square was subject to brutal attacks by the Metropolitan Police. These attacks continued into the evening, and many members of the public not involved in the demonstration were also assaulted.

However, the police have made no effort to discipline the officers responsible. Instead they have mounted a campaign against those demonstrators and other members of the public who defended themselves, or were merely unlucky enough to have been captured by the police at the time.

The Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign has been set up to defend over 500 people arrested as regards these events and to expose what really happened that day. The campaign is independent of all political organisations and is run by and accountable to those arrested.

We are issuing an appeal to all those present to step forward with their account of the events of the day. We have been drawing up a chronology of events and even if you are unable to give an account of specific cases of police brutality, what you saw may be important to establishing the chain of events. However, if some particular event struck you and you are prepared to be a witness in court this would be particularly important.

We see that it is essential that mass resistance continues when individuals are victimised, fined and imprisoned. We face a hostile media and a malicious police force involved in a cover-up. Failure to properly defend those arrested weakens our ability to take to the streets when we need to. Please support this campaign. We desperately need donations and support if we are to prevent a police cover-up and persecution of the Anti-Poll Tax movement.

Trafalgar Square defendants campaign
The national defence campaign for all those arrested as a result of the 200,000 strong anti-poll-tax demonstration on March 31 

c/o Haldane Society of Lawyers, 205 Panther House, 38 Mount Pleasant, London WC1X OAP'








I am going to be giving a talk on the 'Poll Tax Rebellion - 30 years on' as part of the Datacide #18 magazine launch event on Friday 21 February 2020 at Ridley Road Social Club, 89 Ridley Road. London E8 2NH (with followed by music courtesy of  Praxis and Hekate - details here)

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Poll Tax Archive (4): Prisoners Support Conference, Birmingham 1991

This flyer is for a poll-tax prisoners national solidarity conference held in Birmingham in October 1991, with the stated aims being: to launch a national poll-tax prisoners support network; to fight for an amnesty for all poll-tax prisoners and non-payers; and to win the support of the labour movement for poll-tax prisoners.

The conference was called by Birmingham Prisoners Support Group and supported by the Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign, North West anti-poll tax forum, Avon Defence Campaign, and Nottingham Defence Fund. These were all groups involved in supporting poll tax prisoners, I was involved with TSDC Prisoners Support Group which met at Brixton Law Centre.

By this point more than 100 people had been jailed for up to 4 years following the poll tax riots in London and other demonstrations (for instance eight people were jailed as a result of a poll tax demo in Colchester, Essex in March 1990). In addition another 70 people has been sent to prison for not paying the poll tax – theoretically any of the many millions of non-payers could have suffered a similar fate, though in practice the poll tax was on its last legs. Following the departure of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, incoming Tory leader John Major had accounced the scrapping of the poll tax in March 1991, though it was not until April 1993 that the new Council Tax was brought in to replace it.

One difficulty was that with its aim more or less achieved, the organised poll tax movement lost momentum and began to go into decline. But people were still being dragged through the courts and prisoners still needed support. The Labour Party and even the Militant-dominated All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation had been unsupportive to say the least, the latter initially denouncing people arrested in the March 1990 'Battle of Trafalgar Square'. Hence the emphasis in this leaflet on achieving an amnesty for poll tax protestors and non-payers and building support in the labour movement (though some of us thought that the latter was a hopeless task as least as far as the Labour Party and trade union leaderships were concerned).



'Every single victory again achieved by working people in this country has been fought for. Often the law has been used to intimidate, divide and criminalise our struggle. The authorities are trying to smash the anti-poll tax movement, attacking our demonstrations and jailing non-payers.

Following the mass protests last year in Trafalgar Square, Brixton and elsewhere, hundreds were sent to prison – many for terms as long as for four years. A high price to pay for defending themselves and our movement against police attacks. The Prisoners Support Group of the Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign, and other solidarity groups up and down the country have stood by these brave men and women [...]

We can defeat this intimidation by supporting those of us who have been jailed or or who face jail by building a mass national campaign  for an amnesty for all anti poll-tax debts and for prisoners – non-payers and protesters are like. As the number of poll tax prisoners grows, prisoner support groups (PSGs) are being set up all over the country, and local anti-poll tax groups are taking up the work of supporting those in jail. The Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign has called a national demonstration to demand an amnesty.

At this conference, we aim to launch a national network of PSGs and to build the fight for an amnesty. We need to share our experience of supporting prisoners and make sure that such support work is at the top of the anti-poll tax  and labour movement’s agenda'.







I am going to be giving a talk on the 'Poll Tax Rebellion - 30 years on' as part of the Datacide #18 magazine launch event on Friday 21 February 2020 at Ridley Road Social Club, 89 Ridley Road. London E8 2NH (with followed by music courtesy of  Praxis and Hekate - details here)

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Poll Tax Archive (3): Community Resistance Against the Poll Tax

'Pay no poll tax' posters like this one graced many a window during the anti-poll tax movement.  This particular one was produced in March 1990 by Community Resistance Against the Poll Tax,  a group based in the South London borough of Lambeth. The address given on the poster is 121 Railton Road SE24 - home of the 121 anarchist centre and, as discussed here previously, the Dead by Dawn parties. 






There were many political tendencies within the movement, with debates and disagreements about the way forward. In Lambeth there were actually three borough wide groups - Lambeth Against the Poll Tax (Labour left and Socialist Workers Party); Lambeth Anti Poll Tax Union (dominated by 'Militant', now the Socialist Party) and Community Resistance Against the Poll Tax (which included  anarchists and assorted non-party activists).  The key political difference was the first two (LAPT and LAPTU) placed a great emphasis on lobbying the local Labour council not to implement the poll tax, which Community Resistance dismissed as naive. At the time this leaflet came out the Council had in fact just agreed to set the poll tax amount for Lambeth despite a riotous demonstration outside the Town Hall. 




Here's the text from back of the leaflet:

Fight the poll tax

The demonstrations at town halls in March have shown just how much anger there is against the poll tax. It’s obvious that, no matter what anyone says, mass non-payment is becoming a reality. The reason is simple – millions simply can’t afford to pay, millions more don’t want to.

But we can’t defeat this horrible new tax without organisation. All over the place you meet people who are saying “I’m not paying, I don’t care what they threaten me with“. This is great, but in a few months time any of these people could have been worn down by the massive campaign of lies that there will be in the media about how many people are paying, by well-publicised threats of court action by councils, by council snoopers hunting for those who haven’t registered, by the feeling that perhaps they will be among the unlucky few that the council has got the resources to chase up. No doubt there will be no shortage of ‘advice’ available from central and local government about how to tighten our belts to pay our poll tax and how to claim the pathetic rebates that are on offer. Any of us could become “waiverers” if we remain isolated.

We can’t expect “friends in high places” such as councillors or MPs to fight the tax for us. It’s up to us. Labour Party leaders call it “Maggie‘s tax“ but the real position on it was recently summed up by the shadow environment secretary, Bryan Gould, who said “we say pay the bill. However difficult and unpleasant and objectionable it may be..". The experience of Scotland, where the tax has been introduced a year earlier, has shown that Labour councils are just as enthusiastic about sending in the bailiffs against non-payers as their Tory friends are. But in Scotland people have resisted, there has still not been a single successful “warrant sale“ of  non-payers possessions. This is because the bailiffs have been physically resisted by large crowds.

Community Resistance against the Poll Tax is a group of people who live in the Brixton/Clapham/Stockwell/Vauxhall area. We are trying to break down isolation and support anybody who refuses to pay. We intend to resist the councils, the bailiffs and the media liars. We don’t want people to be martyrs who suffer for their principles. If we are organised it will be the implementers of the tax who will be sick with worry, not us. Lots of things could happen in the next year or so. They could get rid of Thatcher , they could call a general election… anything to make people think “we don’t have to fight now, things will be OK“. But we can’t feel safe until this evil tax has been made completely unworkable and the government and councils give up trying to implement it. 

We want to:

1. encourage as many people as possible not to pay. We will do this by means of public meetings, street stalls and the distribution of leaflets and newsletters to keep everyone informed. We have already been doing this kind of thing for well over a year. We need as much information as possible about what the councils are up to. If you know anything interesting… Get in touch!

2. encourage the formation of other local anti-poll tax groups. If you know someone who is thinking of setting up a group in another area put them in touch with us. We can help with organising public meetings, getting stuff printed etc

3. organise well-publicised acts of mass defiance against the tax, such as burning payment books

4. Exercise disruptive pressure against offices involved in implementation of the tax by means of demonstrations, pickets and occupations. We would also like to put similar pressure on employers who deduct payments from the wages of employees refusing to pay the tax, as the courts can require them to do.

5. Make links with workers who are in a position to directly disrupt implementation, either through open strike action or just through being “difficult". If you work locally in the workplacess involved in poll-tax implementation (e.g. DSS, council, company supplying services to the council…) and you think there is some potential for resistance or you think you can feed us useful information, come along to one of our meetings. You will be very welcome.

6. Do anything else we can think off to frustrate the tax.

We hold meetings on alternate Wednesdays at Clapham Baths, Clapham Manor Street at 7:30 pm. The next few meetings are on the following dates: 4th April, 18th April, 2nd May, 16 May. We also sometimes have a public meetings at other venues in the area – look out for flyposting.

We are not paying

[as stated here, Community Resistance held meetings in Clapham; they also held regular cafe nights at the community cafe in Bonnington Square, Vauxhall. Original leaflet A4 printed on white paper]

More on the poll tax:

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)

Trafalgar Square Poll Tax Riot Memories

'Mobs riot in the West End': Poll Tax Riot press coverage

I am going to be giving a talk on the 'Poll Tax Rebellion - 30 years on' as part of the Datacide #18 magazine launch event on Friday 21 February 2020 at Ridley Road Social Club, 89 Ridley Road. London E8 2NH (with followed by music courtesy of  Praxis and Hekate - details here)

Friday, February 14, 2020

Poll Tax Archive (2): St Valentines Day 1991 - Massacre the poll tax (in Lambeth)

Next up in the Poll Tax Archive,  a leaflet from early 1991 giving advice to people being taken to court by Lambeth Council for non-payment. By this time millions of  people were behind in their payments or had not paid at all since the poll tax was introduced in April 1990 (in England & Wales, a year earlier in Scotland). People were being taken to court in their thousands for non-payment and the strategy of the anti poll tax movement was to try and delay the process by making court cases last as long as possible.


This St Valentine’s Day – massacre the poll tax!

Lambeth Council are taking poll-tax non-payers to court on this day. When Southwark did the same 1000+ people turned up and court cases were abandoned. Let’s do it again!



February 14th, from 9:30 am Camberwell magistrates court





Stop the courts, stop the poll tax

As well as waiting to see what arrives in the post on February 14th, many of us will have something else to worry about on that day. For by way of a Valentine’s Day present, your caring Lambeth Council has chosen this date to begin dragging poll tax non-payers through the courts. If you are one of the unlucky ones to have been included in the first batch of summonses there is one vital rule: don’t panic – you are not alone!

Lambeth are keeping pretty quiet about how many people have actually paid their poll tax round here. However City Limits magazine recently (January 24) suggested that only 13% of locals have paid up. Nationally up to 14,000,000 still haven’t paid, while in Scotland non-payment rates are rising in the second year of the poll tax there.

If you have been summonsed it is important that you go to court and contest the liability order (the order that the court makes saying you are liable to pay the full amount of the poll tax). When you turn up at court there will probably be council officials trying to persuade you to pay up instead of going through with the court case. Ignore them or waste their time by asking them lots of questions and then still refusing to pay. When you are called to go into court demand a personal hearing – this is your right. You should also ask permission to have somebody with you to give you legal advice and help (your poll tax group should be able to supply one of these “McKenzie’s friends”).

Going into court is an intimidating experience for anybody, but remember this is not a criminal matter. It is just the same as if you get taken to court for other debts (e.g. rent, credit card bills). In court you will not be in the dock as the accused instead you are entitled to ask questions of the council official in court. You could ask such questions as:

– can you prove that I am on the poll tax register? (If your name or address has been spelt wrongly you could ask about that)
– can you prove that I have been billed? Who posted it? When?
– Can you prove I have received a reminder? Etc.
– can you explain why my rebate application has not been dealt with?
- what is a liability order?

It is highly likely that the court will ignore your objections – the rules are made by the rich, just like the poll tax. But we want to make it as difficult as possible for them. If nobody turns up, the court will just rubber stamp liability orders and process thousands of us in one day. If we turn up and demand that our cases be heard individually, cases will have to be adjourned and it will take ages for them to get through. If enough of us turn up we might be able to stop the courts altogether.

In January Southwark Council summonsed 5000 non-payers to appear at Camberwell magistrates on one day. Nearly all these cases had to be adjourned after over 1000 turned up in court. Police were called after these defaulters refused to budge from the court building and fire alarms were set off.

Remember the council can’t start the next stage of collecting the poll tax until it has got a liability order against you. Once a liability order has been made out against you the court will write to you asking for details of where you work, how much do you earn, etc. After you have filled it in the council decide what to do next. They might try and get your employer to deduct it gradually from your wages, or the social to deduct it from your dole (they cannot deduct it in one lump sum). Whatever they threaten can be resisted however. At North Middlesex Hospital for instance, staff in the wages department have decided to refuse to deduct the poll tax from nurses' wages. And all over the country bailiffs have been sent home empty-handed after being confronted with pickets.

As a last resort, having tried everything else, the council can try and get you put in prison (this has only happened in one or two cases so far). If you’re not prepared to go to prison, you can always back down at the last minute. In fact at any stage if you feel too threatened you can pay up (if you can afford to) – there is no point of no return. The aim of the anti poll tax movement is to make collecting the tax as difficult as possible – not to create martyrs.

Even if you haven’t been summonsed yet, you still turn up on the 14th and show your support for those who have. You will be able to see what’s involved and be better prepared when your time comes.

Lambeth Anarchist Group c/o 121 Railton Road SE24 (071 274 6655)

Lambeth against the poll tax hotline 0716715318

(I remember giving this leaflet out at Brixton tube station. Can't recall source of the film noir image - anybody recognise the actor/film?)

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