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)

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