20 years ago today, on March 31st 1990, I was part of this huge crowd of hundreds of thousands people protesting against Maggie Thatchers Poll Tax. This became known as the ‘Battle of Trafalgar Square’, after police attacks on the protest provoked the largest act of civil unrest in London for a century. This great protest was the culmination of a country wide uprising, where in every town and city in the land, angry crowds of thousands of people marched on their Town Halls. Everywhere, people ripped up and burned their poll tax forms, and millions refused to pay this unjust and anti-working class tax, defying the law in one of the largest acts of mass civil disobedience in that century. All this lead to a crisis in the government, and Thatchers hated regime fell within months, taking her hated poll tax with it. This was a great example of people power. Its what we need again today to stop our rulers making the working class pay for the crisis of capitalism and its bankrupt financial system. Soon we will be faced with massive cuts in jobs, pay, conditions and public services. We need to remember how to fight back!
Here is a film in four parts which outlines the events of that historic day.
To mark this anniversary, Adrian Johnson, Birmingham’s Poet Laureate, will be in Trafalfar Square, London, where he will perform live performance of his new poem ‘Still no Poll Tax here’ – at 11.30am at the foot of Nelson’s column.
Adrian says that the poem was written as a tribute to the protesters who brought about ithe abolition of the Poll Tax. He added: “Twenty years ago, the wall fell in Berlin, Chinese students stood up in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square, Mandela walked free and the Stone Roses rocked the dance floors in the UK. But it’s easy to forget that history was also being made closer to home … I was hugely inspired by the action taken by normal, everyday people across the UK to resist the Poll Tax which encouraged others to do the same”.
Still, no poll tax, eh?
by Adrian Johnson – Birmingham poet laureate, 2010
Watt Tyler lost his head for it
a prime minister lost her job for it
thousands went to court against it
Trafalgar Square heaved with life and love and protest to stop it
civil courts got right shirty, filled with anger, ideas and spirit
for what’s right and fair and will power – to just not pay it
bailiff’s got over time, short shrift and rarely could collect it
MP’s sniffed the air and mumbled – far too late – ‘Now we’ve done it.”
Leaflets, banners and street protest said what they could do with it
friendships made and courage raised, together we could fix it,
stuff it, beat it, sod it
that flagship idea that spawned a mutinous flotilla
got scuttled by anger and laughter – stood together
mother, son and daughter
they knew what was right, wanted something better
Twenty years later, you’d hardly believe it
those passionate millions that stood against it
wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t’ave’ad paid it
the tax that came in just one size for the duke in his mansion
and dustman in his terrace
that shook us into action and life – and though overlooked by history
we can remember…
now and then, our story
remember ,the laughter, friendship and life
standing up for something better
and still, no poll tax, here.
c. Adrian Johnson