The Socialist 31 March 2021 |
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Socialist Liverpool City Council inspired me
Pauline Dunlop (left) with the Liverpool 47 councillors' banner, photo Militant (Click to enlarge)
Chris Robinson, Merseyside Socialist Party
I come from a Labour-voting family, and grew up on a Cheshire council estate in the 1960s' boom. The working class benefited from the many reforms of the 1945 Labour landslide.
Both my parents grew up in the 1930s and the war years. My mum recalled seeing the night sky lit up when the blitz hit Liverpool. She also remembered the bombed-out streets of Manchester where she was sent, as a fourteen-year old, to work in a chip shop to help her family make ends meet.
My dad knew about the 'means test' and bailiffs. His first job as a school-leaver: 'Emptying shit tins', long before proper sanitation was provided for workers' homes. Mum was told she would have passed the test and made it to grammar school, had those middle-class institutions not been closed off, as if they were fee-paying schools. She also told how her mother died in the 1950s still owing pre-war doctors' bills. Labour's 1945 election victory changed all that.
Unfortunately, Labour didn't go far enough and soon began to row back from those policies. This enabled the Tories to gradually chip away at the halfway house of liberal social reforms.
By the time I could vote, in 1974, naturally I voted Labour. But I couldn't understand why it was that even though I voted Labour, there was still so much unemployment and cuts. I didn't fully understand. I used to watch the Labour conferences, enjoyed the lively debates, and supported any workers on strike instinctively. But, in the end it felt like nothing changed, however I voted.
Towards the end of the 1970s, trade unionists correctly fought their own Labour government that was acting like Tories. Being unemployed, I chanced my luck and got work in Germany through much of the 1980s.
I always kept an interest in politics, going on the big anti-nuke demo in Bonn in 1982. The 1984-85 miners' strike was in all the German newspapers too. I returned to England to study in March 1985, just as the miners returned to work, beaten but unbowed.
In university, I was always suspicious of most student activists, usually middle-class kids with political acne, the 'Socialist Worker' pushed in my face, calling for revolution "like, tomorrow".
One thing caught my eye on TV and in the papers - the ongoing battles between Thatcher and Liverpool City Council. The council was hated by the media, Tories and the right of Labour. I thought: "If all those people hate them, they must be doing something right."
Back home, away from college, a friend told me he was a member of the Militant Tendency - now Socialist Party. He explained how it was a left faction in the Labour Party, among many other factions of left and right, adding that many of their members were involved in the Liverpool struggle. I was intrigued and went to a meeting and joined there and then.
I also bought a copy of 'Liverpool: A City That Dared to Fight' by Peter Taaffe and Tony Mulhearn. And that's when my political education really got started.
The book presented a blow-by-blow account of how the 47 Labour councillors not only put a manifesto together, but how they actually put it into action.
Many might think about putting a radical, socialist manifesto together, but aren't prepared to carry it out if elected. The Liverpool councillors, led by socialists, turned their manifesto into bricks and mortar - homes, jobs, better pay - and the capitalist media and politicians hated them for it.
The book covers a potted political history of Liverpool, how elections are won, and how to prioritise investment in the lives of working-class people.
It also tells how the capitalists, including the Labour right wing, put every obstacle and every slander in place, in order to dampen down the achievements of the socialist council in case the ideas spread across the country.
As one Liverpool member said to me at the time: "Where are they going to expel us to? The workplaces, the unions, the council estates". This was borne out when we formed the organisational backbone of the glorious anti-poll tax campaign just a couple of years later. It was a great time to reread 'Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight' then, and it's a great time to read it now.
It taught me what socialism is, after all: "An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory."
- Liverpool - A City that Dared to Fight by Peter Taaffe and Tony Mulhearn is available for £14.95 at Left Books