You are looking at 1 - 10 of 10 items for
- Author: Brian Marren x
- Refine by access: All content x
The last quarter of the twentieth-century brought forth enormous change to the lives of working-class Britons. This transformation came mainly in the form of widespread industrial closure and the impoverishment associated with permanent unemployment. No British city bore closer witness to this phenomenon than Liverpool. The despair of joblessness and economic deprivation blighted Merseyside to a significantly greater extent than any other major British conurbation. Liverpool had frequently been prone to industrial unrest since 1945, but it was the dawn of Thatcher and the rise of neoliberal economics which made this city a nucleus of resistance against the encroaching tide of monetarism and sweeping de-industrialisation. This critique explores six case studies which illustrate how elements of a highly mobilized and politicized working-class fought against the rapid rise in forced redundancies and increasing industrial closures. Some of their responses included strikes, factory occupations, organising and politicizing the unemployed, effecting radical left-wing municipal politics, and sadly, even surrendering to violent civil unrest. This critique concludes that in the range, intensity and use of innovative tactics deployed during these conflicts, Liverpool stood out from every other British city. Liverpool was distinctive mainly because of its own unique history which involved a long, tortured, familiarity with poverty and mass unemployment.
This chapter sets the stage of contemporary post-war British history and how that experience played out in Liverpool. It charts the rise of neoliberalism as a challenge to the post-war consensus as well as tracing the roots of deindustrialisation and the fragmentation of Britain’s once vital working class.
This chapter analyses the distinctive nature of Liverpool’s economy. Extensive empirical evidence is provided in this chapter which displays the various rates of unemployment, underemployment and deprivation on Merseyside during the post-war era, with special attention paid to the late 1970s onward. This evidence clearly demonstrates that unemployment in Liverpool for most of the twentieth century was consistently higher than any other major urban centre in Britain. However, it was in the last two decades of that century, that jobless rates on Merseyside doubled national averages and went far beyond the levels experienced in Britain’s more traditional industrial heartlands.
Chapter 3 highlights the first of six case studies, each of which is covered individually in the following six chapters. These pages explore how an organised and determined local working-class came together and acted in combination in order to mount campaigns of resistance to mounting global economic pressures and stern government mandates. This chapter begins with a summation of the first major industrial closure to affect Liverpool in large numbers. The demise of the large Standard-Triumph motor-car assembly plant in Speke sets the scene for all that follows. It is proffered that in many ways this incident illuminated the difficulties workers elsewhere in Britain encountered when confronted with plant closures. In particular, generational divisions and individual self-interest often determined whether workers would choose to accept or resist industrial closure. The Standard-Triumph factory closure provides a case study of the conflict between the enticement of redundancy payments against solidarity and organised resistance. This particular factory closure is depicted as the principle sign-post signalling the bleak future in store for Liverpool and its working-class inhabitants. It also served as the training ground for a core group of trade unionists who used this experience as a springboard for future labour activism and political campaigning.
Chapter 4 demonstrates that the activists who were involved in the defeated Standard-Triumph strike of 1977-78 (highlighted in the preceding chapter) were instrumental in initiating a popular campaign of resistance against Thatcher’s cuts and neo-liberal economic policies in the years to come. Their initial concern was advocating the rights of the unemployed. Many of the former employees at Standard-Triumph who originally voted to resist closure went on to become founding members and leading lights of this newfound unemployed workers’ movement. The achievements of this group included their successful lobbying of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) in granting them the unprecedented right to retain their old union branch at Standard-Triumph after that factory’s closure. They also succeeded in persuading the union leadership to permit the extension of the remit of their union branch from organising car workers to that of largely representing the unemployed on Merseyside. The leaders of this movement reinvigorated a political class consciousness amongst the jobless working-class of Liverpool through such initiatives as the establishment of a centralised community centre catering to the specific needs of the unemployed. The Unemployed Centre in Hardman Street, as it was colloquially known, became the headquarters of the political Left on Merseyside. It served as a meeting place for trade unionists and revolutionaries alike. These worker/activists funded their activism through a mutual aid society they devised known as the ‘One Fund for All’. Equally important to the various political campaigns undertaken by this group was their increasingly savvy use of the media. This drew much needed public attention to the plight of Liverpool’s unemployed. Many of this group’s efforts were also helpful in uniting the various factions of the Left which moulded Merseyside into a unique base for popular radicalism.
Chapter 5 illuminates the plight of the poor, the youth and members of racial minorities, many of whom were also jobless but not necessarily trade unionists or political activists. In particular, this chapter analyses the meaning and causes of why large numbers of the unrepresented turned to violence and civil unrest in Liverpool’s inner city neighbourhood of Toxteth in the summer of 1981. It is argued that rioting was seen by some of the unorganised and unrepresented as the only means available to some for expressing a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. Unlike the trade unionists, there were no organised groups in place that could serve the special needs and act as advocates for this element of the unemployed. This chapter argues that while racial divisions and poor police relations played some part in the urban unrest exploding in the streets of Toxteth in the summer of 1981, the evidence will clearly demonstrate that the inordinately high rates of unemployment, economic deprivation and lack of opportunity amongst all of Liverpool’s working-class youth – both black and white – was the main fires stoking these riots.
The experience of unprecedented large-scale urban unrest in Toxteth, the lingering economic deterioration of the city and surrounding region, the excessive rate of joblessness, and most importantly the mandate from the Thatcher government for local authorities to make drastic budgetary cuts, helps explain the public support at this time for the emergence of the radical far-left in local Liverpool politics. Chapter 6 examines in detail how Liverpool voters came to support the revolutionary left through electing a Trotskyist faction in the local Labour Party, known as the Militant Tendency, as the new majority in the Liverpool City Council. This chapter examines the reasons why Liverpool’s working-class flirted with political radicalism and shunned its traditional partners in mainstream Labour Party politics.
As the 1980s progressed, Liverpool’s workers exhibited a greater willingness to take direct action against the ever increasing numbers of forced redundancies and factory closures plaguing Merseyside. Frustrations came to a head when workers at Cammell Laird Shipyards fought to save their jobs by means of a workplace occupation in the summer of 1984. This conflict at Cammell Laird symbolised the willingness of some workers to defy the law and their own trade union bosses in order to defend their livelihoods. But it is also demonstrated the obstacles to constructing solidarity against countervailing divisions rooted in generational conflict and workplace sectionalism.
The culmination of a Liverpool working-class culture of resistance was manifested in the long drawn-out Liverpool Dockers’ Strike of 1995-1998. The strike was in many ways centred exclusively on worker solidarity, and this chapter engages with that concept. This conflict reflected the wider changes in the balance of power between labour and capital that had occurred in Britain over the previous two decades. Yet the Liverpool dockers’ ability to sustain such a lengthy dispute, despite many adversities, is indicative that a strong local labour culture still existed on Merseyside, and that these dock workers were able to draw sustenance and inspiration from that long history. Perhaps this last act of solidarity and defiance by an iconic section of Liverpool’s working-class was a testament to a passing way of life and the decline of tightly knit dockland communities.