The need to set up the Trafalgar Square Defendants’ Campaign was caused by the determination of the Militant Tendency, who ran the All-Britain Federation Against the Poll Tax, to retain control of the Poll Tax struggle by any means including a willingness to work with the police.
On 31 March 1900, a massive 200,000 strong demonstration in London against the hated Poll Tax was violently attacked by the Metropolitan Police. 341 people were arrested on March 31st. Another 150 were arrested as a result of Operation Carnaby. Most were charged under the Public Order Act. No legal preparation had been carried out by the All-Britain Federation. As a result, people who had never been arrested before, some facing charges of Riot (Section 1) or Violent Disorder (Section 2) with possible prison sentences of up to ten years, had to face the police with no idea of their rights.
Spokespersons for the Federation and Militant members Steve Nally and Tommy Sheridan both denounced those involved in the riot and threatened to hold an internal enquiry and expel from the movement any person or organisation which was responsible, many in the movement felt betrayed:
“We are going to hold our own internal inquiry which will go public and if necessary name names” Steve Nally, ITN, April 1st.
“Our federation is going to be conducting an internal inquiry to try and root out the trouble-makers” Tommy Sheridan, LWT news, April 1st.
Groups and federations from across Britain condemned the statements.
Clearly the Federation could not be relied upon to mount a defence campaign for those that had been arrested. A new organisation was established.
The Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign was committed to:
- unconditionally defend all those arrested on March 31st
- be controlled by and be accountable to the defendents
- be totally independent of any other organsiation
- seek support from the whole Anti-Poll Tax movement and all other sympathetic organisations
- seek to co-ordinate the legal defense of all those arrested
- Seek to build a coherent picture of events of 31/3/90 from the point of view of those arrested
- Publicize the points of view of defendants
- Raise money for a bust fund, controlled by the defendants to cover their legal and welfare costs
- Ensure that at all future Anti-Poll Tax events there will be proper legal cover and support for anyone arrested
This will include an office and workers to visit places of detention and look after prisoners’ welfare.
TSDC newsletter, May 1990
The All-Britain Federation attacked the new organisation but its attempt to set up a defence fund and campaign was ignored by defendants.
On 9 February 1991 the TSDC held a national solidarity conference. Despite it being a day of horrendous snowy weather that brought the London transport system to an almost complete halt, around 800 made it to Conway Hall. People walked MILES to attend. It was a truly great day. I was on the organising committee and it was one of the best events I have ever attended.
The agenda for the day did change due to the fact that many speakers from outside London could not make it on the day but it is still a useful guide to events and ideas at the time.