Monday, June 13, 2011

Burning Poll Tax Bills, Brixton 1990

Here's a slice of South London radical history, courtesy of some old photos I came across recently. They are from an event in June 1990, when people were encouraged to come down to burn their poll tax bills outside Brixton library. Inevitably effigies of Thatcher were prominent.

The event was called by the three main Lambeth anti-poll tax groups: Lambeth Against the Poll Tax (associated with SWP and various Labour leftists), Lambeth Anti Poll Tax Unions (associated with Militant, now the Socialist Party) and Community Resistance Against the Poll Tax (more direct action/anarchist oriented). At one level it was absurd that there were three separate groups, but there were political differences - notably the fact that the first two spent a lot of energy calling on Labour councillors not to implement the poll tax, whereas the latter thought that a waste of time. But all called for people to refuse to pay their poll tax, and were able to work together to the extent of calling for actions like this one.




At a very local level there were also groups which cut across these divisions. I was in a group called Tulse Hill Estate Against the Poll Tax which included various kinds of radicals (Red Action -including a member of Blaggers ITA, SWP, anarchists etc.). And on that day we marched down from the estate, stopping off by the George Canning (now Hootananny), before going on to Brixton Oval (now known as Windrush Square).


There to burn a Conservative Party flag...

... as well as Poll Tax bills:






That poll tax leaflet in full (click to enlarge). The key issue with the poll tax - officially known as the Community Charge - was that by making everybody pay the same amount to their local Council, regardless of income or house size, it was effectively shifting more of the burden of local taxes from the wealthier to the poorer.


The campaign against the poll tax was ultimately successful. The goverment was forced to withdraw it and replace it with the Council Tax - not massively better perhaps, but at least reinstating some element of people living in more expensive properties paying more. And soon afterwards the increasingly unpopular Thatcher was forced out in a palace coup by Tory MPs.


This Brixton event was just one small protest in a couple of years of determined opposition all round Britain . If you are looking for a lesson I guess it would be that it wasn't just a one off mass demonstration/riot (Trafalgar Square, 31 March 1990) that defeated the poll tax but sustained organising in workplaces and local communities over a long period.


(anyone got any other South London poll tax recollections or reflections? Must admit I don't know much about what happened in Lewisham or Greenwich)

6 comments:

Pat Gordon-Smith said...

I remember that day! After the gathering at the town hall, which you can see in the top picture, everyone turned and walked down Brixton Road, through the traffic. It was a happy, positive, almost celebratory event. No trouble, or even any sense that there would be trouble ... until the walkers were directed down Stockwell Road, round the back of the Academy - and straight into a wall of riot police. Immediately, all hell let loose - I had no idea that people could actually just pull up paving stones with their bare hands.

My boyfriend (now husband) and I legged it away from the trouble and towards home back up Brixton Road, which had now been closed to traffic by the police. Unbelievable how quickly they'd done that. And then, while we were walking as quickly as possible up the road, we heard this deafening - terrifying - sound behind us and, looking back, saw a line of police on horses who were stamping their hooves on the ground to make as much noise as possible. Oh yes, we felt threatened. That was a heavy day - and an exhilarating one, too. And Maggie didn't get her way.

Transpontine said...

Hi Pat, I think the protest you are referring too was not actually the one shown in these pictures but another one that took place outside the Town Hall in March 1990 when the Council was setting the poll tax. It was larger and rowdier than this poll tax form burning action, and as you say ended up in riotous scenes by Stockwell Park Estate with a police car overturned among other things.

elsa said...

I was at both events. The pictures show an event which took place on a Saturday morning...i've also got fotos of it and was a speaker for Community Resistance...on that morning. The other one Pat described was early March, on a Wednesday night - i think - when the council was meeting to set the poll tax rate for Lambeth. Some mad guy appeared among the crowd and suddenly took over by shouting...'lets all march down to downing street' and everyone followed him down Brixton Road, blindly. Then he'd change his mind and start shouting to go somewhere else and again, everyone would follow...Because i'd never seen him before and found his behaviour erratic and wierdly dangerous i didn't follow the crown and stood back to watch. He directed the people back and forth and finally led them into the market where they were beaten up. I'll never forget that night...and have always been convinced this guy was an actual cop without a uniform trained to direct excited mobs into the mouths of the wolves. This was in fact what happened in Barcelona a month ago, where cops without uniforms were amongst the crowd to stir the crowd and get the violence going...

Transpontine said...

Thanks Elsa, yes I remember on that March demo wandering around the back streets of the market, Electric Avenue etc. I ended up going to the pub (The Railway) and missing the later conflict on Stockwell Road.

Anonymous said...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/101416241@N06/12382711215/

This is photo I took of the Brixton rioting, with the police car actually being turned over. I got this published on the front page of the later editions of the next day's Daily Express!

Transpontine said...

Good photo Adrian, interesting times!