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 -


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


Psychic Defence
Vera Spektor
Dan Hekate
Luke Hekate

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:


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?)

The leaflet mentions the crowd at Camberwell Magistrates Court summonsed for non-payment by Southwark Council on 14 January 1991. Here's a report of this from Socialist Organiser (23 January 1991) by a member of Nunhead Anti Poll Tax Union:

More on the poll tax:

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Poll Tax Archive (1): North Middlesex Hospital Anti-Poll Tax News 1990

It is now 30 years since the high point of the movement against the poll tax. The 'community charge', as it was officially called, was introduced in Scotland in April 1989 and in England and Wales in April 1990 (it was never introduced in Northern Ireland). This was a movement that saw protests and groups being formed in all parts of Britain, mass refusal to pay and the biggest riot in central London for at least 100 years. It ultimately led to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister and the scrapping of her flagship policy. 

What was all the fuss about? Was it just about a minor detail of local government finance? The poll tax was designed to replace the rates system as a way of funding local councils. Under the rates system local taxes were based on property values so that the owner of an expensive house would pay more than somebody living in a small flat. The basic premise of the poll tax was that almost everybody would pay the same flat rate. On the whole this meant that the less well off would pay more than they had before and the wealthy pay less- Robin Hood in reverse as it was sometimes described (robbing the poor to give to the rich). Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to post some archive material from that time - or to put it in less grandiose terms to scan some of those many leaflets and cuttings that have been sitting in a cupboard for a quarter of a century. 

The first one is a leaflet I helped put together when I was working at the North Middlesex Hospital in north London (at that time part of Haringey Health Authority). It is an illustration of how the movement against the poll tax emerged in numerous workplaces and local neighbourhoods in this p period. 

'No Poll Tax - Hospital workers say we're not paying!'
[image of nurses in front of banner saying 'we shall pay nothing' - I think the photo may have been of a protest by nurses from London's Charing Cross Hospital]

North Middlesex anti poll tax news - June/July 1990:
Health workers organise

As low-paid group of workers, hospital workers are being hit particularly hard by the poll tax. For many of us our poll tax bills amount to a month’s take-home pay or even more. That is why hospital workers all around the country have been getting together to fight the tax.

For instance at Charing Cross Hospital student nurses successfully persuaded Riverside health authority not to deduct the poll tax direct from their pay after occupying its finance office. They have also staged a massive bill burning and picketed the Department of the environment. Anti-poll tax groups have been set up in hospitals in London, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and many other places. Over 100 residents of the Florence Nightingale nurses home at the Edinburgh Royal infirmary have formed ‘Flo’ Home against the poll tax’ and are still refusing to pay despite being served with warrants.

Of course it isn’t just our living standards that will suffer. As the ‘community charge’ pushes councils to make cuts, health care in the community is bound to suffer especially as responsibility for community care is soon to be put into the hands of local government.

At the North Middlesex hospital student nurses and many others are committed to joining the millions of non-payers. If we organise at work and in the community we can defeat the poll-tax!

(The leaflet includes an advert for a protest on Friday 6th 1990 to lobby the Minister for the poll tax and local MP for Enfield & Southgate, Michael Portillo. The protest was organised by Enfield Against the Poll Tax and was set to take place at 814 Green Lanes, Winchmore Hill N21. Original leaflet A4 photocopied on red paper).

More on the Poll Tax:

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)