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)

No comments: