Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 30 September 2015

Lessons from the past: Liverpool City Council 1983-87

When a Labour council fought the Tories

From 1983 to 1987 Liverpool City Council was led by supporters of Militant (predecessor of the Socialist), who at the time were members of the Labour Party. When faced with cuts from central government, they refused to pass them on. Instead, with the slogan "better to break the law than break the poor" they made huge advances for working class people in Liverpool. At the same time they led a mass campaign which successfully demanded funding back from Thatcher's government.

Here we republish an edited version of an interview carried out last year with Tony Mulhearn, one of the councillors and leaders of the movement.

Now, no Labour council has acted in such a way. The Labour Party structures that Tony describes as vital in holding the councillors to account have been destroyed.
The interview gives an idea of what is possible when socialists are elected and also of the need for Jeremy Corbyn to re-democratise the Labour Party to give those who support his anti-cuts stand a say in the politics of the party's elected representatives.

When the council was elected big cuts were being made to council budgets by the Tory government. How did you avoid making them?

Between 1979 and 1983 the Tories had slashed 120 million from Liverpool City Council's budget. In addition to that the outgoing local Tory-Liberal administration had left unallocated cuts of 10 million and was making 2,000 redundancies.

We had the choice of either saying there's nothing we can do and implementing the cuts or to fight back. We chose not to implement the cuts and instead to set a 'needs budget', and we launched a fighting campaign.

So, we were in the position that councillors are in today, but we took an entirely different stance.

Militant supporters were not actually a majority on the council - how did your ideas get carried through?

In those days the local party determined policy. Militant and its predecessors had conducted a campaign over decades inside Liverpool Labour Party for the adoption of socialist policies. And that's what the District Labour Party (DLP) did, it adopted socialist policies.

And in those days when the party had determined the policy, the councillors had to carry it out. So the DLP concretised what was contained in Clause IV of the Labour Party constitution (its socialist commitment) in relation to housing, jobs and services - all of which the council then implemented.

What were the biggest achievements of the council?

We built 5,000 houses and flats - gardens back and front in many cases. We demolished some of the worst housing in Western Europe. We then cancelled all monetary cuts and redundancies planned by the outgoing council. We built six new nursery schools. We expanded council services.

We had apprenticeships for council jobs. At one stage we had something like 16,000 workers engaged in council projects. So in effect we translated socialism into the language of jobs, the language of houses, the language of nursery schools.

How did the councillors link up with trade unions and working class people in the city?

The DLP was a fine, democratic organisation. It was made up of trade unions, women's committees, the Young Socialists, party branches and constituency parties, the Co-ops - all had delegates to the DLP. And that was the spring board we used to reach out to wider sections of the working class.

On that basis we were able to mobilise tens of thousands at the demonstrations. And on three occasions 30,000 council workers took strike action to defend the policies of the council.

So this notion peddled by the right wing in the Labour Party, like former Labour leader Neil Kinnock and supported by the capitalist press, that it was some kind of tiny group which had captured control of the council, was nonsense. We couldn't have achieved what we did without mass support from the labour movement and wider working class communities.

How did the right wing respond to your success?

They generated a campaign of hysteria in the capitalist press.

Thatcher's minister Norman Tebbit used his position in Parliament to demand of Kinnock - 'what was Labour going to do about the Liverpool extremists?' Bowing to this pressure Kinnock launched a savage attack on Liverpool at the 1985 Labour Party conference.

Shortly after, Labour's right wing suspended the DLP, this was preceded by the unelected District Auditor's decision to fine and remove the 47 fighting Labour councillors from office.

Kinnock then proceeded to conduct the most horrendous witch-hunt against not only Militant supporters but also any lefts who supported building houses and creating jobs.

Nonetheless the socialist legacy of that movement continues in Liverpool to this day.

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

In The Socialist 30 September 2015:

Socialist Party news and analysis

TUSC: Central in the battle for a working class anti-austerity voice

Socialism is back!

Free school meals cut as poor children go hungry

Pollution cheat Volkswagen kills thousands for profit

Gouging boss demands price hike for life-saving drug

Gravy-train Labour MP claims expenses to rent house next door

Tower block residents defend homes

Them & Us

Socialist Party features

How can we bring down the Tories?

Lessons from the past: Liverpool City Council 1983-87

Give us the resources to defeat the Tories

Subscribe to a paper by workers, for workers

International socialist news and analysis

EU ministers squabble while refugees drown

Hungary's xenophobic right-wing government

USA: Socialists breaking 'political stagnation'

Kazakhstan: workers solidarity action

Workplace news and analysis

Junior doctors fight government attacks

Nominate Roger Bannister for Unison general secretary

Hypocritical attacks on tube control room strike

Review: Kill the Bill

Workplace news in brief

Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Anger and protest against fire service cuts in Leicestershire

Come to Socialism 2015


Home   |   The Socialist 30 September 2015   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook

Related links:


triangleCorbyn didn't collaborate with Stalinism - but with Trotskyists against it

triangleThe Socialist Party is being evicted - we need you!

triangleNHS: use the 3 February protests as a launch pad for a mass movement

triangleBirmingham Central Socialist Party: From Militant to the Socialist Party

triangleObituary: Maureen Mulhearn 1945-2018


triangleStrike continues: set dates for next national action

triangleNorth West Socialist Party regional conference

triangleNational lecturers' pension strike continues

triangle200 years of Marxism meeting


triangleLeicester: Blairites block Labour Party democracy

triangleCampaigners continue to demand Chorley A&E is fully reopened

Labour Party:

triangle15 years since the invasion of Iraq: what we said


triangleSwansea Labour council votes for cuts


triangleWorkplace news in brief

Trade unions:

triangleLeaked pay deal: fight for a genuine pay rise


triangleLivingstone's smear of Militant

Council workers:

triangleLocal government pay: fight for the 5% claim, fully funded


triangleFerrybridge workers protest against 'race to bottom'

Tony Mulhearn:

triangleFilm - Dennis Skinner: Nature of the Beast

Historic events

Historic events



15 years since the invasion of Iraq: what we said



Czechoslovakia 1968: 'Prague Spring' challenges Stalinism


Vietnam war

Vietnam War: 50 years since the Tet Offensive



110 years ago: massacre at Santa Maria school in Chile - commemorate 21 December 1907


Russian revolution

Russia, October 1917: When workers took power


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

triangleMore Historic events articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0191 421 6230

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551



Alphabetical listing

March 2018

February 2018

January 2018