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Friday, April 12, 2013
Why we hate Thatcher
April 11, 2013
Thatcher was our enemy, she led the forces ranged against working people in the eighties. We engaged her in battle, believing we could win. We lost and were bereft, bereaved and massively damaged. Thatcher hated us as socialists, hated the miners, the trade unions, the Irish. She hated Liverpool. She was a strategist and propagandist for her class globally. Internationally, she befriended Pinochet and greeted Afghan Mujaheddin leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as a “freedom fighter”. He trafficked in opium and threw acid in the face of women who refused to wear the veil (http://www.us-uk-interventions.org/Afghanistan_fullchron.html).
She was of course a great ally of Ronald Reagan. She went to war with Argentina causing the deaths of thousands for the mineral wealth beneath the South Atlantic and to secure an election victory.
She hated the ANC, labelling Mandela as a “terrorist”. Her reactionary politics extended to victimising Gays, and attempting to control teachers, implementing a reactionary national curriculum. Even mentioning homosexuality in school risked prosecution under Clause 28.
Our struggle in Liverpool too was internationalist. South African exiles worked with us day and night in our campaigns, Chileans, comrades from Pakistan were there too and comrades from around the globe gave us support and solidarity.
What is the history of our enmity with Thatcher? Liverpool was one of her chosen battlegrounds; she was determined to break the organised working class. The trade unions were one battleground, another was the democratically elected Local Authorities, mainly Labour controlled. Labour was in flux. At the end of the Thatcher era, Labour had gone entirely over to the neo-liberal project, but at the outset labour still had working class roots.
We had a history of struggle. Women workers in the Ford factory in Liverpool fought alongside those from Dagenham in the struggle for equal pay. From women in the tobacco, sugar and biscuit factories to the seafarers, shipbuilding, bus drivers and Dockers, being organised at work was as natural as breakfast. Liverpool builders took their trade unionism wherever they went – and they travelled far and wide.
Liverpool has centuries old Black and Chinese Communities. In 1981, parts of Liverpool rioted not once but twice. Unemployment and racist policing spurred the riots. An appallingly racist Police Chief, a friend of Thatcher, used ‘Stop and Search’ relentlessly. The police publicly characterised the black youth as ‘the offspring of African sailors and prostitutes’. They used teargas and drove mini buses at speed against pedestrians as crowd control – David Moore, a disabled man, was killed outside his house by a police van.After the riots Thatcher had full reports on the terrible poverty but instead of intervening she planned “managed decline”.
In the late 70s and early 80s, factory after factory closed despite bitter struggles, creating mass unemployment and deep, grinding poverty with 30-50% unemployment in some areas. Poverty of the kind where people wore shoes with holes in the soles through to their socks, and mothers often went without food to feed their children. Yet in the sixties and early seventies things had been Ok, getting better for most families in Liverpool. This poverty was new, well represented in Boys from the Black Stuff; (the author of this though was won over to Thatcherism.)
The Labour Party had deep and radical routes in Liverpool, and had had marxist currents since its inception, but the city was not ‘safe’ electorally for the party, as other major cities were. The time Labour in Liverpool spent in opposition allowed us to build a radical program well researched and ready to implement. There were organised working class socialists in every area of the city. Some of the youth from the riots moved over into left wing politics. The Militant played a leading role and there were other left wing socialists in the fight. The MPs for the city were working class fighters.
The City Council was previously run by Liberals. They implemented savage cuts years before Thatcher, so spending on services in Liverpool was already at dangerously low levels before she arrived.
The Local Authority manual workers had built a reputation for struggle in the Winter of Discontent (1979). The manual workers were staunch allies and comrades of the councillors; the white collar workers less so.
Labour first won control of the city in April 1983. In March 1984 before the next local elections a huge demonstration took place. There was no legal budget and the possibility of the Government sending in commissioners was very real. The results were an endorsement of our campaigns. We won elections with large turnouts and good results. These results came from detailed canvassing and campaigning. “In a citywide survey, voters were asked what action they thought could be taken to oppose a Tory government takeover: 62 per cent of Labour voters supported demonstrations; 68 per cent occupation by redundant workers; 59 per cent a strike by council workers; 48 per cent a rent and rates strike; 56 per cent supported a refusal by council workers to cooperate with commissioners; and an incredible 55 per cent in favour of a city wide general strike. Moreover, 28 per cent of Liberal voters favoured occupation of council premises by redundant council workers. Even 8 per cent of Tories favoured similar measures – Liverpool was like a tinderbox: one false move from the government and it would explode” (City that dared to Fight. Mulhearn and Taafe)
We came into office in 1983 on a programme to create 1000 jobs, to build 1000 houses, and refuse to implement government cuts. “No Cuts in Jobs or Services!” Somehow, the majority of Councillors stood firm. In the first battle with the government after the ‘84 elections they blinked first and we got enough money to balance our books with no cuts. We created the jobs, we built the houses, (many more than 1000) demolished the slums, reorganised the schools, built new Nurseries and a large urban park and we led a huge campaign; quite a lot in a short time.
http://www.liverpool.gov.uk/leisure-parks-and-events/parks-and-greenspaces/everton-park/ (Building council/social housing has an excellent effect on an area in economic downturn. It creates jobs but it also pulls money into the economy; a young couple moving into a decent home somehow gets the money for a carpet; (either granny buys it from her paltry savings or someone sells some thing or….).We reckoned it was a multiplier of 10 for every pound spent on the building. It was propaganda in bricks and mortar.
In the second year it looked as though the other labour councillors in other parts of Britain would join us in the struggle but under pressure from the press, the government, and above all, from the right wing of the Labour party, one by one they crumbled and made the cuts, leaving only Liverpool and Lambeth to fight alone
In the course of our campaign we held huge demonstrations and built our socialism deep in the communities. At one point Thatcher came to Liverpool and was personally affronted to be met with actual negotiations, rather than to be treated as royalty. “They have no respect for my office” she complained
We failed to win a critical vote for all out strike from the local Authority workers in September 1985. The Tories took courage from this and moved against us.
By defeating the political struggle in Liverpool she also defeated the trade union struggles of Local Authority employees. The employees in the big utilities, gas, electric, water, telecommunications followed.
In her time in office, Thatcher attacked the building workers, print workers, Local Authority workers, miners and the local authorities
The Government and the employers in the late seventies launched an attack on building workers’ trade unions. Many Liverpool building workers are to this day affected by blacklist:
In 1983 the print workers were also under attack from Thatcher and her big business allies. Eddie Shah deliberately opened a non union print works in Winnick Quay in Warrington. The unions, mainly from Liverpool picketed it, but physical the battle that ensued with the police was unprecedented on a picket line. The police were used like soldiers against us. They drove mini buses full speed at us and beat the hell out of those they could. This use of the police against trade unionists became a trade mark of Thatcher. Murdoch claimed that it was Thatcher’s promise to provide police support that was the decider in choosing his battle with the printers. New York had not promised such Government ordered policing. Murdoch gained supremacy in the print media in the UK and eventually to the monstrosity that is Fox news
“Margaret Thatcher was an inspiration in the fight against the print unions” Murdoch
Thatcher re configured British capitalism; she privatised most of industry and de facto broke the unions. She left the NHS to rot. Queues were endemic; my som waited two years to get on a waiting list.The hospital cleaning was privatised so MRS disease became rampant
She gave priority to the finance sector which ballooned in her time. She presided over the de industrialisation of Britain. Labour, like fools, bought her theories and so presided over the huge banking crisis that is still rocking the economy.
Drugs She brought the drugs into our city. It was critical to the success of our enemies that they could convince the world Liverpool was full of thieves and thugs. When we came into office drugs were not a huge problem but they hit the city like a sledge hammer. Drug dealers had links to the Tories especially through one Michael Howard and the local drug lords went directly to the Mujahadin in Afghanistan for their heroin. They had to fight the older gangsters who wanted none of it. The street price of heroin dropped to 25% of its 1981 price by 1984. The police were deep in the drugs trade. It wrecked communities, damaged families, established thugs in charge of areas of the city. Many of us believe it was an actual decision Thatcher to bring drugs into the city.
Miners strike in 1984-5
There were mines north of Liverpool in St Helens and just into Wales at Point of Ayr. They gave their all in fighting for the union, staying on strike for a year. Politically we worked closely with the miners nationally. Locally, women who could ill afford it, would drop off tins of beans and other basics at our Saturday collections as they shopped for their own families and this would be driven down to the miners’ welfare. Thousands of pounds were collected in Bucket collections on a Saturday.
Again the police acted like soldiers fighting the pickets. We marched back to work with the miners at the end of the strike but the industry has been obliterated and with it the rich culture of the organised workers.
Thatcher needed the right wing of the labour party to defeat us. We had the press and media ranged against us but just when we could have faced the Tories down the Labour Party launched its attack on us. That though is another story
47 Councillors were eventually surcharged and removed from office. We were replaced by a second team also committed to no cuts but this was short lived; the new right wing labour party established control.
Our supporters in the city raised our huge “surcharge” in collections. Thatcher was denied the sight of our heads on pikes around the city.
The deepest wound though was Hillsborough. Liverpool FC went to play in Sheffield. 96 died that day, by police incompetence and cruelty. The crush was caused by the police, they refused to call the emergency services, and people died who could have been saved. One of my pupils, at 15 a big lad, was held by his feet above the crush to pull people from the disaster; his was not the only heroism. Then in a cruel conspiracy, Thatcher’s friend’s in the police and the press slandered our dead. The police concocted the story with Downing Street. Murdoch used his rag “The Sun” to claim our people were drunk and to blame, that they urinated on the dead and stole from corpses. The truth that our own people had given their all to save each other was known in the city but across the globe our dead were slandered. Thatcher’s personal slave Ingham was implicated. It has taken 26 years of long hard struggle to get the truth published
So we hate Thatcher because she:
• pioneered the new neo liberal economics of greed and de-industrialisation, she wrecked our hospitals, damaged our schools.
• because she used the press and media as a finely tuned tool against us,
• because she made the police fight workers like they were soldiers,
• because she wrecked our communities, destroyed our industries
• because she hated our friends around the world
• She tried to make it a crime to support gay kids in school.
• She colluded in the defamation of our dead.
“ Ding Dong, the witch is dead, the wicked witch, the witch is dead” (as the song says) but we have serious unfinished business with her political heirs.
*Felicity Dowling is a socialist from Liverpool England and a former Liverpool Councillor involved in the struggle against Thatcher in the 80's