Almost 500 people attended an exhibition and tumultuous public meeting at the Adelphi hotel in Liverpool on Saturday 27 April to mark the 30th anniversary of the socialist Labour council.
That council confronted Thatcher’s Tory government and defied its cuts and austerity. The meeting marvellously recreated the mood and fighting spirit of the 1980s in Liverpool.
Platform at rally to mark 30 years since election of Liverpool’s socialist council, 27 April 2013, photo Harry Smith
Loud applause and enthusiasm greeted every platform speaker and contribution from the floor.
This was not a meeting for nostalgia, but brought out the lessons of the Liverpool struggle for the battles needed today, raising important points about how they can be fought.
The number attending was impressive given the fact that it clashed with a North West teachers’ conference as well as a Unite Community branch meeting.
To warm applause, Felicity Dowling, one of the 49 Labour councillors elected in May 1983 (now the ’47’) listed the names of the councillors who had passed away, and also giants of the Labour movement former MPs Eric Heffer, Eddie Loyden and Terry Fields.
She was scathing about those who now make common cause with Labour’s right wing, accepting the ’inevitability’ of cuts and austerity.
Trade union speakers
National DWP president Fran Heathcote from the PCS union - that had locally hosted the rally along with Unite - said that the tremendous stand made by the 47 needs to be replicated today in order to inspire a new generation of young activists.
She also declared that the PCS would continue to give leadership in the fight back against austerity.
Liverpool 47, 30th anniversary rally, photo by Audrey O’Caoimh
Len McCluskey, General Secretary of the union Unite and a key supporter of the Militant-led 1983 to 1987 council, made a powerful speech.
He said that when his support was requested for the 47 commemoration project he had no hesitation in backing it and speaking at this event because he was proud of what the 47 had achieved.
He called for current Labour councillors to emulate the 47 and declared, to claps and cheers, that the government would be powerless if every Labour council refused to carry out cuts.
Left to right: Len McCluskie,Tony Benn, Paul Astbury, Tony Mulhearn and Dave Walsh, Liverpool 47 rally, 27.4.13, photo Harry Smith
Role of the Militant
Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe, co-author of the book Liverpool - a City that Dared to Fight, then contrasted the Labour Party of the 1980s with New Labour, saying it was now a hollow shell incapable of representing the interests of working class people.
He declared to loud applause that Militant’s (now the Socialist Party) strategy of ’Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’ defeated both the Poll Tax and Margaret Thatcher.
He called for a massive campaign against the bedroom tax which he stressed can be beaten.
Peter told the meeting that the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) can play a key role in building an alliance of all forces that are willing to fight for a socialist alternative, with the trade union movement being the bedrock of a future alternative mass party of the working class.
He also emphasised that the mass campaign in Liverpool was key in compelling Thatcher’s minister Patrick Jenkin to release funding worth £60 million to the city.
Tony Mulhearn, Liverpool Labour Party president in 1980-85, detailed the catastrophic situation that the 47 inherited.
Sixty-five per cent of the Merseyside economy had collapsed. He declared to applause that it was a slander when Neil Kinnock stated that the crisis had been ’of the 47’s own making’.
He described the present minister for local government, Eric Pickles, as the most repulsive symbol of austerity, ’squatting like a bloated toad without compassion or empathy for the needy, declaring that if social provision doesn’t make a quick buck, close it down’.
Referring to Liverpool Labour mayor Joe Anderson, he added that the only thing more repulsive was when Pickles called on Anderson to jump, Anderson responded by asking ’how high?’. This was greeted with laughter and cheers.
Applauding Tony Benn; Rally marking 30 years since election of Liverpool’s socialist council, photo Harry Smith
Former Labour MP and cabinet minister Tony Benn was welcomed on to the stage by Peter Taaffe, where he received a standing ovation.
Tony said he had been inspired by the courage of the 47 and had always been reinvigorated after addressing so many mass meetings in Liverpool. The support given by the people of Liverpool never failed to impress him.
The contributions from the floor continued the theme of the platform speakers.
Southampton Labour councillor Keith Morrell received a huge ovation when chair Paul Astbury (one of the 47) introduced him as a brave councillor who had been suspended from the Southampton Labour Party for voting against cuts.
Keith declared that New Labour’s implementation of cuts should be opposed by all councillors.
Transport union RMT Executive member Daren Ireland declared his support for the 47 and emphasised the commitment of the RMT to support TUSC as the alternative coalition for all workers who are now effectively disenfranchised.
Mark Hoskinson, secretary of Liverpool Trades Union Council, said that the book A City that Dared to Fight, by Peter Taaffe and Tony Mulhearn, showed the way forward for today. ’We have to dare to fight’ he stressed.
Juliet Edgar from the Bootle bedroom tax campaign, called on the trade unions to back all the campaigns against austerity.
Jerry Tyrrell, a TUSC supporter, condemned the Labour-supporting Fabian Society for suggesting that pensioners should pay their ’fair share of austerity’.
This meeting marked a big step forward for the Labour movement in Liverpool and augurs well for the development of successful campaigning today.
There was also a great exhibition of posters, photos, etc, giving facts and figures about the Liverpool struggle and those who participated in it.
Union conferences are being urged to display this exhibition; details can be obtained from Dave Walsh on +44 796 951 1796.
Liverpool: A city that dared to fight, by Peter Taaffe and Tony Mulhearn
£15 plus packaging
Available from Socialist Books, PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD
+44 20 8988 8789