, on 31st March 1990 people took to the streets of London and fought back against Margaret Thatchers' hated and controversial ideological driven 'Community Charge', which was first introduced in Scotland in 1989, and the following year the flat rate tax was then introduced in England and Wales in 1990, leading to a massive backlash, and widely condemned at the time by social campaigners as it meant the rich now paid the same rate of tax as the poor. The main objections were the fact that the same amount was paid by everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, and that liability was determined by being on the electoral roll. Thus it was dubbed the 'Poll Tax'. Thatcher was famously stubborn, and refused to reconsider.
She should have, because ,the introduction of the poll tax was widely unpopular from the outset, and increased when tax rates set by many local councils turned out to be much higher than initially predicted resulting in Thatcher's increased unpopularity. Local groups opposed to the tax , known as Anti-Poll Tax Unions sprung up across Britain, encouraging non payment, organising protests, and resisting bailiffs. But I remember the Labour Party at the time shamefully announcing at their 1988 conference that they would not support those who refused to pay.
However despite of this failure a number of groups were created by activists on the left to support the non-payment of the tax and assist those who experienced legal troubles as a result of non-payment. The most important of these groups was the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation (ABAPTF), organised by Militant, which used the local trade unions to help build a campaign of non-payment. The Socialist Workers Party, the other major far left organisation in Britain at the time, had a much more ambivalent attitude towards non-payment and the ABAPTF, which allowed Militant to become the dominant group campaigning against the Poll Tax. Outside of the Trotskyist far left, several anarchist groups also supported non-payment, especially the Anarchist Communist Federation who produced a pamphlet called Beating the Poll Tax (ACF 1990). People were encouraged not to stump up the money under the slogan "Can Pay, Won't Pay."
On this day, over 250,000 people sweeped into London, for many people it was not a case of wanting to demonstrate, it was a case of having too. There was no choice, this cruel tax would have seriously impacted on peoples lives.Most people on the day of this demonstration, arrived unaligned - ordinary people, families, pensioners, the unemployed, students, black and white, all united as one to fight against this immoral tax.
The overriding opinion of the time,is that what started as a peaceful protest, with an almost carnival feel to it against an illegal tax was quickly turned into a bloody battle by uniformed thugs acting under Thatcher's orders, with aided and abetted by agent provocateurs.Police shut an over-full Trafalgar Square at 2.30pm and blocked off either end of Whitehall, leading to a mass sit-in near the entrance to Downing Street. After requests to move along were ignored, they began to arrest demonstrators.
At 4pm, the use of charged mounted police aggravated the situation, leading to many peaceful bystanders with heads streaming with blood. A very frightening experience. as mounted police began to push marchers out to the corners of the square, skirmishes began. Police vans were struck and officers were pelted with building materials, while a fire broke out at the adjacent South African embassy.
Later, police pushed demonstrators out of Trafalgar Square, sending some towards Soho and away from their transport near the river. Some marchers, angered by police tactics, overturned and set cars alight, and smashed a number of shop windows.some looting began, and small groups began skirmishing with police, such was the anger and rage unleashed. I for one will never condemn the anger unleashed on this day in 1990, it is the inevitable result of what happens when you push people to far..
By the end of the day, 339 people were arrested (mainly for public order offences) and 86 people were injured. Out of 2,198 police officers on duty, 374 of them had been injured, with 58 requiring hospital treatment. Materially, there were around 250 reports of property damage as well, the cost of which was later estimated at £400,000.
To this day many people lay the responsibility of the violence that happened on this day, firmly on the shoulders of Thatcher and her government. Despite the demonisation of the protesters in the mass media, people still refused to pay, the campaign flourished, culminating in millions of people's non payment, bailiffs were resisted, courts unable to cope because of opposition and active resistance as more and more people said "can't pay, won't pay"
It would see the Poll Tax becoming uncollectable and unviable and eventually being destroyed, the tax was abolished in 1993 some £2bn in arrears.Thatcher’s popularity was at an all time low, the poll ratings of the Tories were dire and sections of the Tory Party – representing the interests of the ruling class – decided she had to go along with her “flagship” policy. It was Thatcher’s refusal to back down over the poll tax that ultimately brought her downfall..
Thatcher resigned in November 1990 and her successor John Major announced its replacement by the more progressive council tax, which at least took some account into peoples ability to pay, which is still in operation to this day. In her own memoirs she cited the abandonment of the poll tax as “one of the greatest victories for these people [the working class – especially anti-poll tax campaigners] ever conceded by a Conservative government.”
Many years later, the same simmering resentment towards the Conservative Government still exists. It seems that the tories have still not learnt from their past mistakes,with the introduction of , universal credit and other horrors. The resistance to the Poll Tax is a reminder to all people who say it is impossible to fight back and that with clear. purpose and united mobilisation, it is possible to defeat the forces of reaction
Poll Tax Riot 1990
Thatcher Poll Tax Riots 1990