Appendix 1: Chronology of Key Events 1979-87
May 3 1979: Taking 46 seats in local elections, Labour becomes largest party on Liverpool City council. Although without a clear majority, they take control of the council committees.
May 3 1979: Tories win general election.
March 26 1980: Minority Labour council in Liverpool raises rates 50 percent.
May 1 1980: Labour loses six council seats. Liberal-Tory coalition takes control.
May 7 1981: County Council elections. Labour gains control of Merseyside County Council.
July 1981: Riots in Toxteth.
May 6 1982: Labour makes two net gains in city council elections, making the council Labour 42, Liberals 36, Tories 21. After the experience of 1980 Labour refuses to take the Chairs of committees.
August 1982: Croxteth Comprehensive occupies to prevent its closure.
April 27: One day city-wide strike against privatization.
May 5: Labour gains 12 seats on council to take control. New council: Labour 51, Liberals 30, Tories 18.
June 9: General election. Landslide for Tories nationally, but Labour wins five out of six seats in Liverpool, including the Tory marginal Broadgreen won by Terry Fields. For the first time this century there are no Tory MPs representing a Liverpool seat.
November 19: Demonstration called in support of the council by the Merseyside Labour and Trade Union Movement Campaign Committee attracts 25,000.
February 26: The “scabby seven” make their first public statements against the stand of Labour’s proposed budget.
February 28: 100,000 take action on Merseyside in support of the GCHQ workers.
March: Beginning of the miners’ strike.
March 29: Budget day. One day strike throughout the city. 50,000 march to the Town Hall to support the deficit budget proposal. No budget from any party gets a majority.
May 7: Local elections. Labour gains 7 seats. New council: Labour 58, Liberals 28, Tories 13.
July 9: A deal is reached with Patrick Jenkin. The council makes a 17 percent rate rise. The government makes concessions worth up to £60 million.
October 9: Sam Bond appointed as Principle Race Relations Adviser.
November 17: London Bridge Shop Stewards organization calls a one day strike against rate-capping and the abolition of the GLC. 100,000 take action and 30,000 demonstrate in London.
March 7: ILEA sets rate, breaking the “No-rate” front.
March 7: Democracy Day. 50,000 march in Liverpool in protest at rate-capping and government cuts.
March 30: The National Local Authority Workers Combine Committee (NLACC) founding meeting.
April 25: National school students strike. 250,000 take an under the leadership of YTURC and LPYS. In Liverpool 25,000 strike and 10,000 march through the city.
April 29: Heysel Stadium tragedy at the European Cup Final in Brussels between Liverpool and Juventus leaves 38 dead.
June 14: After complete collapse of the “no-rate” front, Liverpool seta a rate of 9 percent, which results in a deficit budget.
September 8: 49 councilors are surcharged £106,000 for their delay in setting a rate until June.
September 24: As the council’s cash crisis deepens, a narrow majority of the workforce reject an all-out strike.
September 25: Despite the rejection of all-out strike action, almost the entire workforce come out on a 24-hour strike in support of the council’s fight against the government.
October 1: Neil Kinnock makes infamous “Grotesque chaos” speech attacking the council at Labour Party Conference.
November 22: A budget is set with a £30 million loan.
November 27: The Labour Party NEC votes to set up an inquiry into the Liverpool District Labour Party (DLP).
December 9: First meeting of the NEC inquiry.
January 28: DLP officers go to the High Court to seek the right to reply to the NEC’s charges.
February 26: NEC meeting adopts the report of the majority of the inquiry team.
March 5: The High Court upholds the District Auditor’s action against the council.
March 25: Council sets a budget with a 5 percent rate rise.
March 26: Seven left-wing members of the NEC walk out of its meeting in protest at the flagrant breeches of natural justice, making the meeting inquorate.
May 8: Local elections. Labour win one seat and lose one. New council: Labour 54, Liberals 37, Conservative 7.
May 21-22: Tony Mulhearn expelled from the Labour Party at 1 am, followed by Ian Lowes and Tony Aitman.
June 12-13: Further NEC hearings. Derek Hatton, Richard Venton, Roger Bannister and Terry Harrison expelled.
July 9: Councilors go to the Court of Appeal to challenge the surcharge.
July 24: Cheryl Varley expelled.
July 31: Court of Appeal rejects the councilors’ case.
October 27: Felicity Dowling expelled.
January 26: Councilors appeal to the Law Lords.
March 12: Law Lords dismiss councilors’ appeal and imposes £242,000 costs on top of the original £106,000 surcharge. The councilors are dismissed from office. A Liberal-Tory junta takes control.
March 13: Sam Bond sacked.
May 7: Labour wins historic victory in local elections and the by-elections to replace the surcharged councilors, to regain control of the council. New council: Labour 51, Liberal 44, Conservative 4.
June 11: General election. A huge swing to Labour in Liverpool, which if repeated nationally would have meant a landslide Labour victory. Labour keeps all its five seats in Liverpool with massively increased majorities. Liberal David Alton only just hangs on in Mossley Hill.
Appendix 2: Liverpool City Council Election Results
|No local elections
|No local elections
Appendix 3: General Election Results in Liverpool 1974-87
In 1951 the Tories got over 207,000 votes (51%).
In the two elections since Thatcher came to power in 1979, the Tory vote in Liverpool more than halved, while Labour’s has risen by 13%, gaining over 17,000 votes. In the same period nationally the Tory vote has risen by 0.3%, while Labour’s has fallen by 12.8%. Labour’s 1987 result was the party’s best ever in Liverpool, surpassing even 1945.
Labour Votes 1983-87 – A Comparison
If the 10.7% swing to Labour achieved in Liverpool in 1987 had been repeated nationally, Labour would have won over 325 seats and formed the next government.
Appendix 4: Interview With Jimmy Deane
“In 1937 I met Eric Brewer and joined the Labour Party. I had already formulated ideas in my head about socialism and fighting for Marxism. I joined the Labour Party because at that time the Labour Party in Walton was more left than the ILP. At that time politics in Liverpool were very different. There was a Protestant party, led by Longbottom which had a large base of support amongst Protestant workers. Vauxhall was the base of the old right wing, and was largely a Catholic area. Bessie Braddock represented Exchange which was made up of really run-down areas, but for a time she played a progressive role and built up a support amongst ordinary workers.
“For many years we had a broad basis of support inside Walton. For example, John Hamilton and his father, John Hamilton Sr. supported us. There were other sympathizers, for example Hywel James, who was a member of the Co-op and a former sympathizer, George Bradshaw of the National Council of Labour Colleges. But a lot of comrades slipped through the fingers of the RCP, but not the youth – they stayed with us – people like Alan Giles, Brian Deane and so on.
“For a short time in the war, the Trotskyists set up an organization called the Militant Workers’ Federation. It conducted very effective work but was in no way as successful as the BLOC today, but we were obviously working under very different conditions, more difficult in some respects. In 1940 there was a large apprentices’ movement mainly based among apprentices in the AEU and the ETU. However, the movement was dissipated among the youth by the call-up. But for two years in this period the Trotskyists had big support among the young workers in Liverpool.”
Appendix 5: Interview With Tommy Birchall
Tommy joined the Independent Labour Party Guild of Youth in 1934, and became a supporter of Trotskyism around 1935, joining a group called the Marxist League. His father was a Stalinist and there were many rows in the household. “By 1937 less and less activity was being organized by the ILP. It was becoming a talking shop. The comrades in the Marxist League decided to join the Labour Party. There we came into contact with Jimmy Deane and his mother Gertie Deane and others, including Arthur Leadbetter. Here they were able to build great influence, including getting five comrades on the Trades Council and Labour Party, which in those days was a joint body, from Kirkdale. In Walton, there was a good grouping around Jimmy and Gertie Deane with representation on the Trades Council.
“The comrades developed a good base on the Trades Council Labour Party. By the 1938 May Day demo, we were strong enough to organize our own section on the march. We hired a horse and wagon and one comrade made a huge plywood tank and we marched with the slogan “Not a man, not a gun for imperialist war”. The comrades also carried banners and photos of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. It was about this time we became linked to the Workers’ International League (WIL). By now our group had grown to about 35-40 in number, of which Kirkdale made up 14-15, the rest being distributed between Granby, Walton and Fairfield. This was just about prior to the war taking place.
“When war broke out, there was a political truce declared nationally between the major parties, but we still continued our work changing our emphasis to the industrial struggles. I was declared unfit for service because of rheumatic fever and went into Harland and Wolff. Jimmy Deane as an electrician was in a reserved occupation and went to Cammell Lairds. And Frank Forster, who had recently joined the WIL went into ARN Browns. Bob Shaw and George McCartney were sent up from London and both went into telecommunications. Alan Christianson was employed at Vesteys cold stores and docks and he was invaluable as a working-class militant. Regular lunch hour meetings were held at that time.
“In 1944 the RCP was launched, the leaders being Ted Grant, Jock Haston, Harold Atkinson, Roy Tearse and Millie Lee. Socialist Appeal was launched and at least 2000 copies were sold in Liverpool of every edition, with 15-20 comrades selling inside the factories, the docks and other workplaces. The comrades sold in pubs, outside the dock gates and so on. As a result of the activity during the war, I became Secretary of the Harland and Wolff shop stewards’ committee, representing 100 shop stewards and 5000 workers. Jimmy Deane became a shop convener at Cammell Lairds, Frank Forster became a shop steward at Browns. Alan Christianson had an important role in the docks in the cold storage works. The Communist Party controlled the port shop stewards’ committee at this time, with leaders such as Creighton and Marshall. But we were able to make big sales of the Socialist Appeal at the big meetings on the docks.
“The peak of the struggle on the docks was the 1945 dock strike. I organized meetings in Bootle, Bromborough and South End. In the end there were meetings with six speakers from the six major docks, where we explained the situation, bringing all the strands together. These meetings were held at 1pm and by 2pm there was a standstill at all the docks of Liverpool and Birkenhead.
“Once Liverpool was closed, the employers decided to divert the ships but the dock workers realized the need for quick action. Delegates were sent to major ports of Glasgow, Leith, London and so on to explain the situation. One of our leading comrades in the docks was Charlie Martinson. Charlie had been a member of the Communist Party and had gone to Spain with the International Brigade. He had observed the Barcelona uprising, but when be saw the Communist Party attacking the POUM, he went over to the POUM. On his return to Britain he joined out group. During the port dispute he went to London, Frank Ward went to Glasgow and other dockers to Leith, Hutt etc. By 8am the next morning, nothing was moving in any of the docks and the dispute had broadened out to demand a 25 shillings per day guaranteed wage, a guaranteed working week, holidays with pay and so on. After 5 weeks the strike had been won with all the claims met.
“After the war the political truce ended. I went back to Bootle and was active in Litherland Labour Party where I became chairman of the ward. I re-joined the printing trade working at John Gardeners and became Father of Chapel. Through Marxist discussion classes young apprentices were won to the ideas of Marxism. They later in turn played a part in winning Tony Mulhearn.”
Appendix 6: Statement of Richard Venton to the NEC
1. I joined the Labour Party in 1971, the day after I came to Liverpool from Ireland, in order to campaign for socialism as an answer to the poverty I witnessed as a child. I have devoted 15 years to the party, in order to change society, not to change my income, as unfortunately too many in the party have done.
2. I am a member of no political organization except for the Labour Party and the TGWU. I have held numerous positions of responsibility in ward and constituency Labour Parties, and in the Labour Party Young Socialists. I was elected to delegate to the North West Regional Labour Party Conference on numerous occasions, and national conference three times – from Garston CLP once, and Birkenhead CLP twice.
I have actively organized canvassing, leafleting, street meetings, factory gate meetings and public meetings in support of Labour candidates in council elections and every general election since February 1974. I have done this regardless of which strand of opinion within the Labour Party the individual candidates represented, because I am a loyal Labour Party activist who relies on democratic debate to convince members of my socialist beliefs, and I accept majority decisions. Indeed, I received written thanks from Frank Field MP in 1979 for playing a key role in his election victory despite my profound differences of opinion with him on many policy questions.
The same loyalty to Labour is lacking in many of those who seek my expulsion; the same Frank Field, for instance, threatened to stand against Labour unless his GMC selected him as a candidate in 1985!
3. I fully accept Labour’s constitutional commitment to socialism, embodied in Clause IV, part 4, on every membership card I have held in 15 years. Unfortunately, I believe this is the real reason some people on the NEC would favor my expulsion; they want to abandon socialist policies, so they want to first purge socialists from Labour’s ranks.
No other reason is given in the charges against me, as I wish to demonstrate.
4. I make no denial of having “participated in meetings and rallies organized by Militant“. There is nothing unusual about Labour Party members speaking at such meetings: Tom Sawyer has spoken at a Militant rally, and yet now calls for the expulsion of others for doing so, because, to use his own words, “you cannot hope to defeat Militant in Liverpool by debate and argument”. Numerous miners, printers, Addenbrookes Hospital workers have spoken at Militant meetings. The logic of the charges leveled against me is a wholesale purge of these comrades, which I fear is the intention of some on the right of the party.
5. I regard speaking at Militant public meetings as an honor, not a crime. I have helped to recruit hundreds of youth and trade unionists to Labour over the years at such events – people who were duly accepted into the party because they agree with its “program, principles and policies”.
6. Neil Kinnock, our party leader, has shared a public platform with Professor Eric Hobsbawm, “theoretician” of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Yet nobody has suggested that these are grounds for expulsion of Neil on the basis that the CPGB is a “political organization with its own program, principles and policies for distinctive separate propaganda and being ineligible for affiliation to the (Labour) party”.
One of the many differences between Militant supporters and the Communist Party is that the former have NEVER stood against Labour candidates of ANY wing of the Party, whereas the CP lost Labour one seat to the Liberals in a marginal ward in Liverpool in the recent council elections.
7. The Militant public meetings you refer to were mainly in support of elected Labour councilors in the struggle against the Tories. It is unfortunate that instead of implementing the 1984 Labour Party Conference policy by organizing public rallies in support of these councilors, the NEC are spending valuable time in conducting attacks against Labour councilors, undermining Labour’s position amongst voters.
I want to emphasize that when the Wirral Globe article speaks of finding out more about “their organization”, that is purely the comment of the editor, not the comment of myself or any other Militant supporter; nor was it the content of the meeting. Incidentally, the Wallasey meeting was March 5, 1986, not 1985 as you say, which means you took “evidence” after the NEC inquiry had been officially finished!
8. I readily admit that I participated in the National 21st Birthday rally at the Albert Hall, as did 5000 other labor movement activists. Do you propose to expel all 5000? I also know several political opponents of the Militant paper who attended from Merseyside, including political allies of Sean Hughes, right-wing Labour MP for Knowsley South! Do you propose to expel Jack Collins of Kent NUM who spoke at the rally, or any other miners who attended?
9. As a supporter of the general ideas put forward in the Militant paper, I certainly welcomed the rally, and see absolutely nothing contrary either to Labour’s socialist traditions or Labour’s official conference policies in the leaflet advertising the rally. On the contrary, it praises efforts to organize YTS trainees (conference policy) and supports the courageous Liverpool Labour councilors (conference policy).
10. You assert that “it is a matter of record and beyond dispute” that I am editor of Mersey Militant. Your assertion is false, and you completely fail to substantiate it. I can only assume it is one of the pieces of hearsay and gossip provided by opponents of mine during the inquiry – “unspecified hearsay” as the High Court called it.
I am not the editor of Mersey Militant nor is there any “record” of my being so.
11. Your only “proof” is a series of articles I wrote for Mersey Militant. If writing articles is proof of a person being the editor which published them, then Neil Kinnock is editor of the CP’s Marxism Today, Roy Hattersley is editor of the capitalist Guardian, and Joe Ashton MP is editor of a smutty rag called the Star!
12. I would challenge the NEC to document anything in the articles I have written in Mersey Militant which is contrary to Labour Party policy, or which is detrimental to the party’s position amongst readers.
The articles oppose big rent and rate rises; expose the corruption of big business and the Tories; advocate nationalization of the banking system; condemn the blatant patronage of the honors list; expose how witch-hunts lose votes for Labour (with facts and figures to prove this); and call on Labour’s leadership to turn words into deeds in defense of the working class. What is anti-Labour about any of that?
13. The difference between the articles I have had published by Mersey Militant and those which Roy Hattersley gets published in the Guardian are firstly political, and secondly financial. He is reputed to earn about £80,000 a year, largely from his journalism: I can assure you that my income keeps me firmly in the lifestyle of the working class!
It seems it is alright for millionaire press baron Robert Maxwell to remain a party member whilst he scuttles around Glasgow in a limousine handing out redundancy notices to print workers, but to write socialist articles for a socialist paper is an expellable offence!
14. The letter I wrote to the Wirral Globe states some simple facts, including the fact that the policies advocated in Militant have increased Labour’s vote in elections. It argues for policies that have been agreed by party and trade-union conferences, such as a 35-hour week, national minimum wage and workers’ control of industry. There is nothing “distinctive and separate” from party policy in this – unless we accept that party policy is to be determined by a caucus of party leaders against the decision of conference.
15. I am a “spokesperson for Militant” in the sense that I support the general policies in that paper, and I am prepared to speak out and say what I believe in. I could just as easily be called a “spokesperson for socialism” or “spokesperson for Clause IV, part 4 of Labour’s constitution”. Marxist ideas have been part of Labour’s tradition since the founding of the party, as chairman Harold Laski wrote in his foreword to the 1948 centenary edition of Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, published by the Labour Party. There is no political or constitutional basis for expelling Marxists who publicize their views.
16. Jim Mortimer, then General Secretary of the Labour Party said in January 1983 that: “The NEC’s action should not preclude Labour Party members from reading, selling, purchasing, publishing or writing for newspapers, including Militant.” Michael Foot said in 1982: “You cannot suppress ideas by organization.”
I would appeal to the NEC to heed both these points, made by avowed opponents ofMilitant. I would appeal to you to drop your charges against a socialist who will continue to build the Labour Party as the organized voice of workers and youth, and to concentrate all your energies on expelling the Tory/Alliance class enemies from office, in pursuit of socialism.
May 13, 1986
Appendix 7: Letter of Liverpool City Council Labour Group to the NEC
May 14, 1986
We the undersigned group of the Liverpool Labour group have been instructed by the Labour group at its meeting of May 13, 1986 to make the following representation to you in relation to the proposed expulsion of members of this Group from the party.
In particular, we are instructed to refer to allegations against Tony Mulhearn and Felicity Dowling that they have been guilty of “arrogating to the DLP the improper function of dictating group strategy and action to the Labour group on the Liverpool City Council”.
We do not propose to argue point by point the particulars of the charges which you have put to our comrades regarding relations between the DLP and the Labour group but rather state in general terms the Labour group’s understanding of that relationship which has already been expressed in a resolution.
The Group’s understanding of their relationship with the DLP is that the DLP was the main policy-making body so far as the Group was concerned. The DLP’s function was not to involve itself or interfere with the day to day management of the city council and so far as this group is concerned it has not done so. There is clearly a very gray area in seeking to distinguish between policy on the one hand and strategy on the other hand. Under the party’s constitution, the DLP is clearly stated to be the policy-making body of the party whilst the group is charged with the responsibility for day to day management.
The Group recognizes the value of the widest possible discussion and consultation with delegates from all bodies affected by decisions of the council. Furthermore, in instances where the policies determined by the DLP’s policy conferences require clarification or amendment, the group have always felt it to be appropriate to refer suck issues back to the policy making body, i.e. the DLP.
We would also point out that many of the individual instances of which you complain were referred to the DLP at the behest of the Labour group and not by the party officers.
We would also make the point that there are a number of members of this group who are also members of the Liverpool DLP’s Executive Committee, apart from Tony Mulhearn and Felicity Dowling. Even if, therefore, there is any substance in any of your allegations regarding the relationship between the DLP and the group, those other comrades are equally guilty with Councilors Mulhearn and Dowling and your prosecution of those two is clearly prejudicial and unfounded.
Finally, we are instructed to refer to a previous decision of the Group, a copy of which we have already sent to you, and a further copy of which is annexed, to the effect that this group will not recognize any expulsion from the party. Any expellees will still retain whatever office on the city council that they now hold and will remain members of the Labour group.
John Hamilton, Leader
Derek Hatton, Deputy Leader
Tony Hood, Secretary
Jim Parry, Chief Whip
Appendix 8: Liverpool NUT’s Legal Action (November 1985)
In October 1985 the Liverpool branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), together with the Headmasters’ association, went to the high court to have the council’s redundancy notices declared illegal (see Chapter 16). On behalf of Jim Ferguson, Liverpool’s NUT secretary, a learned QC denounced the Council’s action as “unreasonable, irrational, and illegal”. The Council’s policy was completely distorted in court, and the QC appointed council officials, not the councilors, dismally failed to put the council’s real case. The three judges predictably ruled that the issuing of redundancy notices was “invalid” as “it stemmed from the city’s setting of an illegal rate”. (Financial Times, October 18, 1985) The presiding judge was Lord Justice Watkins, notorious for his punitive rulings against the NUM during the miners’ strike, including the sequestration of the NUM’s fund. Another was Lord Justice Wolf, who had recently ruled that Hackney Council’s delay in setting a rate was illegal. Later Wolf again ruled against the Liverpool councilors: sitting in the Court of Appeal, despite the fact that he had already declared their July 1985 budget illegal, he rejected their appeal against the District Auditor.
At the NUT’s annual conference in April 1986 the Executive attempted to justify the legal action against Liverpool’s “strategy for combating government restrictions”. (NUT Executive: 1986 Annual Report, p71) Delegates supporting Militant moved the following amendment, which received a sympathetic hearing and was supported by about a quarter of the delegates:
It is now recognized that it was a serious mistake for the Committee and Executive to have approved the legal action of the Liverpool Division of the NUT against the Liverpool City Council in November 1985. Whereas legal action was not pursued against Avon and Haringey, which made serious cuts in education, Liverpool NUT’s action was taken rapidly to the High Court before any real attempt to reach agreement with the Liverpool authority, a labor council under exceptional pressure to make cuts by central government, had been exhausted. It is clear that the NUT’s action in this case was based on a serious misunderstanding of Liverpool council’s strategy, which was first to delay making a rate until June 14 and then temporarily to adopt a deficit budget to gain more time for the campaign for extra resources from central government to make up the £29 million gap (£117 million in gap after penalties) in order to avoid cuts in jobs, services and education. Liverpool Labour council’s stand against cuts was especially worthy of NUT’s support because of the improvements made by the council in education provision. The council carried out a long overdue reorganization of secondary education, establishing 17 community schools to give every child a decent education. Despite the Department of Education’s claim that they were 80 teachers over quote, the council refused to cut teachers and actually improved teacher-pupil rations. Among other improvements, the council spent £5 million on school refurbishment, and opened 6 new nursery classes.
The NUT’s legal action was based on a misunderstanding, in particular, of the mass redundancy notices, issued at the end of September, which the council clearly had no intention of implementing, but which were necessary as a legal expedient and political tactic which by reducing the council’s commitments on paper avoided immediate technical insolvency of the authority. It is now clear that the officers of Liverpool NUT failed to explain the real significance of this move to the members, and it is noteworthy that they put no alternative proposals to the Joint Shop Stewards Committee. Later, when it became clear to the Labour Group that, unlike the previous year, it would not be possible to force the government to give Liverpool extra resources, the council retreated to its fall-back policy, under consideration since August, of raising loans from the private sector on the basis of deferred purchase schemes and a small element of capitalization, which ensured that no redundancies would be necessary. The alternative of implementing the Stonefrost Report would, on the other hand, have meant redundancies, including teachers, as well as an unacceptable combination of rate and rent increases.
Lord Justice Watkin’s ruling at the end of the case, that the teachers’ redundancy notices were null and void, had no practical effect because of the way the council’s strategy had developed. However, the adverse judgment had an extremely damaging effect on the council’s campaign, and the consequences of the judgment, had they been pursued as encouraged by the judge to a quashing of the rate, would have been catastrophic for education in Liverpool. 300 to 400 teachers would have lost their jobs, and schools would have had to be closed.
The Court ruled that the issuing of redundancy notices was unlawful as it was the illegal consequence of setting a deficit, which was held to be illegal. The local authority’s obligations under the 1944 Education Act was not a major issue in the case. Liverpool council did not accept that a deficit budget was illegal, but because of the speed of the NUT’s action had no time to prepare its case on the complicated issues involved. The Court held that “All that was required was a relatively small reduction in the budget in the region of £26 million. Such a reduction would lead to a great increase which, taken with the spending reduction itself, should bring the council’s finances into balance.” The logic of this ruling (which is being appealed by the council) is that the council should have accepted drastic cuts from the start. Rather than fighting to improve education provision in Liverpool, which it succeeded in doing, it should have sacked teachers and closed schools.
Fortunately, after several weeks, the NUT dropped its action, started at the end of the original case, to quash the rate.
It must further be recognized, however, that the NUT’s misguided action had severe adverse effects on a Labour council which has demonstrated its exceptional determination to fight cuts. The NUT’s action put additional pressure on the council at the height of the budget crisis, and far from helping to resolve it, hindered the council’s intense efforts to find an alternative way of protecting jobs and services. Moreover, the NUT’s action gave Lord Justice Watkins the opportunity of ruling that a deficit budget is illegal. This is a key issue in the Liverpool (and Lambeth) councilors’ appeal against the District Auditor’s surcharge and disqualification. Not only did the council not have time to prepare a full case on this issue, but the Labour councilors could not be represented in that action as councilors. It is therefore particularly regrettable that, arising from the NUT’s action, Lord Justice Watkin’s judgment seriously prejudiced the appeal against the District Auditor of councilors who have put their own jobs, personal property, and livelihood on the line in the battle to defend council jobs and services.
Appendix 9: Should Marxists Take Legal Action?
When faced with expulsion proceedings in 1982, Militant’s Editorial Board decided to challenge the NEC’s unconstitutional and undemocratic move in the courts. The question was inevitably raised: Should Marxists resort to capitalist courts? This was answered in an editorial written by Lynn Walsh, published in Militant on November 12, 1982, the essence of which is reprinted here (shortened for reasons of space). The position was amply vindicated by events. Without the Editorial Board’s legal action, the five would have been summarily expelled following the 1982 Conference, which approved the Register. Instead, the right wing were forced to allow lengthy hearings, which gave Militant the opportunity of putting its case to the labor movement. Similarly with the leading members of the Liverpool District labor Party. The outcome, as far as the right were concerned, was predetermined. But legal action forced the NEC to grant the Liverpool leaders proper hearings, which again provided an opportunity to explain their case for the benefit of Labour’s ranks.
Is it justified for socialists to go to the capitalist courts?
That is the question which has been raised in relation to Militant’s recent statement that we are seriously considering legal action against the NEC if they attempt to go through with expulsions.Marxists, without having illusions as to the nature of the courts, have never ruled out the use of the law as one form of action. The great teachers of Marxism, Marx himself, Lenin and Trotsky, were all prepared, under certain conditions, to go to the courts.
Marx, in 1860, attempted to take legal action against a certain Herr Vogt, who worked as a paid spy and provocateur within the workers’ movement for the French dictator, Louis Napoleon. Vogt tried to discredit Marx and his followers by publishing scurrilous allegations in the German press. Legal action, wrote Marx, was “decisive for the historical vindication of the party and the future position in Germany.”
In 1936, at the time of the notorious Moscow frame-up trials, Trotsky, then exiled in Mexico, faced a similar situation. One of the right-wing papers of the multi-millionaire Hearst group published, without permission, one of Trotsky’s articles. This enabled the Stalinists unscrupulously to accuse Trotsky of “collaborating with Hearst against the Soviet Union.” Trotsky explained why he was initiating legal action: “I believe that according to American laws I have the right to sue Hearst for infringing upon my rights as an author and for the great political and moral harm he has caused me with this infringement.”
Labour’s right wing are in no position to complain about legal action being taken. They have never hesitated to go to the courts, or use the threat of legal action. Invariably, it has been to prevent the authority and prerogatives of right-wing trade union leaders or officials from being challenged by their rank and file.
Recently, on the other hand, a number of rank and file trade unionists have felt compelled to resort to legal action because all democratic procedures within their unions have been blocked off. The left in the Boilermakers’ Society, for instance, has twice challenged recent election results in the courts on the grounds of alleged serious irregularities in the balloting.
The London Central branch of the electricians’ union is also currently making a legal challenge to the amalgamation of London branches by the EETPU leadership against the wished of many rank and file members.
The function of the judges and the courts in capitalist society is to protect private property and defend the power and privileges of the ruling class. This general truth is elementary for Marxists. But it would be too crude simply to conclude that, therefore, socialists should never go to capitalist courts.
To make juridical institutions effective, to give them authority among the majority of people when the working class enjoys democratic rights, the capitalist class has to put the power of the courts within a general framework of law, legal rights, consistent procedure, and so on.
For the legal machinery to play its role, especially when there is enormous pressure from a labor movement which has fought to establish democratic and legal rights, the courts generally have to appear to uphold impartial justice, administer the law firmly, and to give all sections of society the opportunity to go to the civil courts to settle disputes or put right grievances.
Because of this, it is possible, under some circumstances, for workers and socialists to take some issues to court with the chance of a favorable outcome. If there is a strong case in law, or if an arbitrary or oppressive action against certain individuals blatantly contravenes the common law conceptions of “natural justice”, it can be possible, within limits, to get a favorable verdict…
Legal action is a legitimate means of trying to avert undemocratic, unconstitutional measures, of trying to halt summary expulsions and the imposition of a new system of right-wing thought control…
In 1977-8 Newham North East Labour Party was infiltrated by agents of the capitalist class. They were trying to reverse moves by the constituency party to de-select their MP, Reg Prentice, who later defected to the Tories. Lewis and McCormick, who turned out to be financed by the ultra-right “National Association for Freedom”, disrupted the party and tried to use legal action to reverse the democratic Labour Party decisions.
Members of Newham NE fought Lewis and McCormick politically, but, quite correctly, they also fought back – successfully – through the courts.
In the Newham case, even the “class-ridden, bourgeois” courts were forced to recognize the justice of the constituency party’s case and condemn the totally alien, undemocratic intervention of Lewis and McCormick. Who would argue that the left should have opposed going to the courts as one part of a campaign to get rid of Prentice and establish the party’s right to re-select its MP?
Militant’s case, however, is even more significant. It is no longer outsiders trying to disrupt the Party. The right-wing majority on the NEC itself, under the pressure of the capitalist class and its news media, is attempting to trample on the democratic rights of Party members. In this situation, it would be completely wrong to rule out the possibility of going to the courts.
In the long run, of course, it is not the courts who will resolve these issues. We have no illusions in the role of the law in present class society. In the long run it is the rank and file of the labor movement who will decide the issues. We are already confident of their verdict.
For the time being however, the right still controls the NEC and the Party apparatus. They have already shown that they will be ruthless. They are prepared to use every undemocratic maneuver and dirty trick in the book. Why should be, then, rule out any legitimate means to struggle to stop them trampling on the democratic rights of Labour’s rank and file?
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The last word can be left to Lenin. In 1913 he was asked by Maxim Gorky whether he was in favor of legal action against a certain Pyatnitsky, the dishonest director of a Petersburg publishing firm. His reply (Collected Works, Vol. 35, p85) was unequivocal:”As regards Pyatnitsky, I am for prosecution. There is no need to stand on ceremony. Sentimentalism would be unforgivable. Socialists are not at all against the use of the state court. We are for making use of legality. Marx and Bebel made use of the state court even against their socialist opponents. One must know how to do it, but it must be done.
“Pyatnitsky must be prosecuted and no nonsense. If you hear reproaches against you for this – spit in the mugs of those who make them. It is the hypocrites who will reproach you. To give way to Pyatnitsky, to let him off for fear of going to court, would be unforgivable.”