Axe the Tax: From Regional Anti-Poll Tax Newsletters

Today I continue my scan through some of the material at The Sparrows’ Nest Library’s archive of Poll Tax resistance ephemera.

The first issue of the newsletter of the Sherwood and District Anti-Poll Tax Campaign noted “We have already produced lots of stickers and badges and are also responsible for the ‘No Poll Tax Here’ posters which are going up everywhere.”

Though I have yet to see this mentioned explicitly in any of the anti-Poll Tax material, the “No Poll Tax Here” signs, which were designed to be hung in people’s street-facing windows, were echoes of similar signs that were used during the Reform Act tax strike of 1832. One problem with a tax strike is that it is relatively invisible. It is difficult to tell if your neighbors are on strike with you or if you’re out on a limb by yourself. Stickers and badges and signs and other such distinguishing marks can help overcome this invisibility.

That newsletter also mentions frequent door-to-door “membership drive” outreach, an information stall outside the local co-op, and a variety of public meetings. The second issue also recommended this monkeywrenching:

The latest news with the banks is that they are over-worked with applications, so apply for your direct debit [automatic payment of the poll tax], but put Margaret Thatcher’s address, and let’s put a spanner in the works.

Another article reported that government enforcement efforts were being successfully snagged:

Many Scottish councils are now abandoning the use of bailiffs raids against those fined for non-payment, because they have proved so violently unpopular, and — in the face of large scale community mobilisations against them — completely ineffective.

Their plans to turn, instead, to ‘arrestments’ direct from people’s bank accounts have also run into trouble. [In]  — the head of Scotland’s clearing banks announced that they “would be unable to cope with thousands of requests to trace the bank account details of thousands of non-payers.” Even if councils insisted on the costly and time-consuming process, he couldn’t guarantee they would be able to find even 5–6% of the names.

Faced with a seeming dead-end in either direction, and an ever growing back-log of court action, Scottish councils are rapidly running out of options. Eric Milligan, head of Lothian region Labour council’s finance department, spoke for many councils when, in , he admitted: “Such is the scale of the non-payment movement in our region, that we may have to write-off large sums of outstanding poll tax.”

Elsewhere, dole office workers in London have been on strike in protest at management plans to get them to pass claimants details from DSS files straight to poll tax officials. They’ve been joined by other groups of dole office workers who plan to refuse to process “arrestments” of unpaid poll tax from non-payers who are signing on. And in Edinburgh, a group of local government workers are among the latest to announce plans to mount walk-outs if any employee in their department is penalised for non-payment.

Fight Back! was the newsletter of the St. Ann’s Anti Poll Tax Union. One issue included this note:

S.A.A.P.T.U. supports the non-violent “Robin Hood” invation of the Council office meeting when the Poll Tax was set at £390 by Labour councilors. Three people form Hyson Green and Sherwood A.P.T. groups face charges of assault for throwing “custard pies” at councillors.