Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 31 March 2000

Militant's Proud Role in defeating the poll tax

THE MASS non-payment campaign against the poll tax inspired millions to get organised and take action in their local areas. But it was Militant supporters (now Socialist Party members) who played the key role in arguing for and carrying through the strategy and tactics which eventually proved victorious. MARK WAINWRIGHT looks back at our role.

MILITANT SUPPORTERS identified what the poll tax was going to become. Having been first implemented in Scotland, it was only our candidates in the 1987 general election who even mentioned the poll tax coming to England and Wales - Labour said nothing!

Extensive discussion took place amongst Militant supporters about how to galvanise action across the UK. In April 1988, after Peter Taaffe spoke at a Scottish meeting of our supporters, the tactic of mass non-payment was agreed.

Other groups argued for 'non-registration' but this carried higher penalties and the real issue was people not being able to pay. The Socialist Workers Party initially argued that only industrial action by council unions could win and that mass non-payment was a non-starter.

We produced lots of explanatory material that built up the confidence of people not to pay when the entire political establishment, with the exception of about ten MPs, were saying you had to pay.

We also campaigned for councils not to collect it and for industrial action if any one was threatened with having their benefits attached or threatened with jail. However, over time it was mass non-payment that was taken up.

Arguing for 'mass' action was vital because many people in the Scottish National Party and some Labour parties, argued for a few token non-payers - a 'Can pay, won't pay' campaign.

We countered with 'the slogan Can't pay; won't pay' and it was this that brought the mass campaign together.

I remember sitting in a Militant meeting in Glasgow where the poster was to be designed. We looked at a few layouts and decided on the phrase that said it all - 'Pay NO Poll Tax'. It became the slogan of millions and was reproduced in every town and city in Britain.

Groups of Militant supporters hit the estates. Often five or six anti-poll tax unions (APTUs) could be set up in one local area.

Scotland was moving first and Militant supporters organised solidarity from England and Wales - the first big demo in Glasgow included a packed 700-strong 'Red Train' from London.

In England and Wales Militant supporters adopted the same methods - local public meetings out of which APTUs were formed. Meetings were absolutely packed and it was not uncommon for more than 100 people to turn up.

We recognised the need to build a structure which could co-ordinate local APTUs and campaigns nationally and so set up the All Britain Anti Poll Tax Federation (the Fed).

The movement elected a majority of Militant supporters to the Fed National Committee but we also involved as many other organised groupings as possible. In fact, we stood candidates down in three areas (where we had a majority) precisely to bring other people onto the national body - all to strengthen the movement.

The APTUs also took to the courts where around 20 million people were summoned. Militant supporters pioneered the legal tactics and brought entire courts to a standstill - some clerks would negotiate with us; lawyers volunteered to take up appeals.

When people faced jail - around 15 Militant supporters were jailed including Terry Fields, MP for Broadgreen - but with lawyers like Richard Wise, they could often be legally sprung in hours.

It was a massive burst of energy by millions of people. It was their victory. But Militant's guiding role was vital. It concentrated the hard pounding the government took, forcing their retreat and Thatcher's resignation.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 31 March 2000:

Nationalise Rover

End the jobs slaughter

National Asset, so nationalise it!

The Battle that brought down Thatcher

Militant's Proud Role in defeating the poll tax


Home   |   The Socialist 31 March 2000   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:

Poll tax:

triangleSouth London tower block residents plan safety campaign

triangleHow Blairism sank its claws into the Labour Party

triangleLambeth Socialist Party: Marking the anti-poll tax campaign

triangleSocialist Party Congress 2017 reports


triangleNasty party out the Tories

triangleThem & Us

triangleProblem gambling soars by 33%


triangleReadmit the socialists - for a federal Labour Party

triangleLewisham 1977: When socialists and workers defeated the far-right National Front

Historic events

Historic events


Che Guevara

Che Guevara 50 years on - revolutionary socialist and fighter



Mutinies and strikes: when Bolshevism threatened British bosses



Lewisham 1977: When socialists and workers defeated the far-right National Front



Marx's Capital at 150: an unequalled analysis and critique of capitalism


Russian revolution

Russia 1917: how art helped make the revolution


Russian revolution

July Days 1917: battles with counterrevolution



Lessons from the Russian revolution for LGBT+ struggle today



Liverpool's 1983-87 socialist council



The Pentrich uprising: revolution and counter-revolution in 19th century Britain


Russian revolution

June 1917: when workers in Britain first tried to form soviets


May Day

The real origins of May Day


Labour Party

How Blairism sank its claws into the Labour Party


Russian revolution

April 1917: how the Bolsheviks reorientated



1987 Zeebrugge disaster


Russian revolution

Lessons of Russia 1917 for women's struggle today

triangleMore Historic events articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle13 Oct The end of the Tories?

triangle11 Oct Nasty party out the Tories

triangle11 Oct CWU fights court attempt to stop national strike

triangle11 Oct The fight against racial discrimination is tied to fighting against...

triangle11 Oct Catalonia: Workers can finish what Puigdemont won't

triangle6 Oct Boeing bust-up threatens thousands of skilled jobs

triangle4 Oct The nasty party turns on itself... but the Tories must be driven out

More ...

triangle17 Oct London: TUC lobby & rally; and London march

triangle18 Oct Warrington & St Helens Socialist Party: 1917-2017; the October Russian Revolution

triangle18 Oct Hackney Socialist Party: 100 years ago - the Bolshevik-led revolution

triangle18 Oct Tower Hamlets Socialist Party: Capitalism in Crisis - is Corbyn the answer?

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017





















Platform setting: = No platform choice