Historical tradition and community mobilisation: narratives of Red Clydeside in memories of the anti-poll tax movement in Scotland, 1988–1990

Ewan Gibbs

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Contemporary scholarship has shifted focus from a ‘labour history’ focused on industrial movements to a more comprehensive ‘working-class history’, encompassing the broader social parameters of protest with community and industrial struggles unified in material interest and consciousness. This article locates the poll tax non-payment campaign of 1988–1990 on Clydeside, a major expression of working-class mobilisation which contributed to the demise of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, within this international historiography. The analysis is based on oral history interviews with twelve activists who represented all the major political trends from the non-payment campaign. The anti-poll tax movement was embedded in traditions of community mobilisation shaped by a moral economy of housing and amenities, which had roots in the First World War era ‘Red Clydeside’ struggles, and developed through the post-Second World War predominance of public sector housing. The analysis demonstrates how activists constructed narratives of their own resistance in the anti-poll tax movement within a powerful cultural circuit, where the collective memory of past mobilisations and the consciousness associated with the moral economy of housing and amenities informed contemporary perspectives and political activity. The campaign was not politically monocultural. Differences between political groups involved in the non-payment campaign are analysed showing that the need of composure (of memories) led to contrasting interpretations of Red Clydeside. These were influenced by geographical distinctions between traditional working-class areas with strong tenants’ organisations and the peripheral estates where such organisation was weaker. The impact of deindustrialisation and the welfare policies of the Thatcher government created a popular resentment in these areas. This strengthened moral economy opposition to the poll tax, whilst the traditions of community mobilisation provided effective means of harnessing this through non-payment and direct action against sheriff officers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-462
JournalLabor History
Issue number4
Early online date27 May 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 May 2016
Externally publishedYes


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