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Liverpool City Council Joint Shop Stewards Committee

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

Liverpool Joint Shop Stewards Committee -‘ An injury to one is an injury to all’


Of all that has been written about the so-called Liverpool City Council ‘Militant Years’ everyone appears to agree that the Liverpool Joint Shop Stewards Committee (JSSC) played a key role in mobilising tens of thousands of Liverpool local government workers behind the Labour Council’s fight against Thatcher’s Tory Government’s draconian council cuts.

However few have grasped the JSSC’s main motivation and role.

Militant Myth’ [2]

Typically ‘Militant’ supporters like Tony Mulhearn and Peter Taaffe, in ‘Liverpool The City That Dared To Fight’ exaggerate Militants role and perpetrate the myth that only they provided political leadership for those workers who were prepared to fight. In fact although ‘Militant’ supporter Ian Lowes was a JSSC Executive Committee member, he only became Chair in early 1985 when Bill Jones stood down for health reasons. Six months later Ian Lowes became the leading union advocate for the Labour Council’s ‘Redundancy Notices Plan’ which effectively split the JSSC after the Council issued redundancy notices to the entire 30,000 council workforce.

Unfortunately other well- known writers like Michael Crick in his book ‘Militant’ unwittingly perpetuate this myth by not understanding the role the JSSC played in backing the City Council’s campaign, and the reasons why the main sections of the JSSC ultimately withdrew their support.

Origin of the Liverpool Joint Shop Stewards and Staff Representatives Committee’ [3]

The Committee was set-up in 1979 in reaction to the election of the Tory Government and its agenda to cut local government. The main impetus came from the Housing Maintenance & Minor Works department which were amongst the strongest unionised, mainly in UCATT, the building workers trade union.

Notable chairpersons 1979- 1985 were Terry Molloy, UCATT, and Bill H. Jones,AUEW. Secretaries were John Blevin, GMWU, and Pete Cresswell, NALGO. Members of the expanded Executive Committee included W.H.Jones (TGWU), J.Blevin (GMWU), I.Lowes (GMWU), C.Connor (GMWU), F.Dowling (NUT), W.Jones, (UCATT), J. Woods (UCATT), G. Burgess, (NALGO), P. Savage, (NALGO.

The 1st No Redundancy Agreement’


The Liverpool Joint Shop Stewards Committee cut its teeth fighting the 1980 Liberal run City Council’s attempts to cut expenditure by 7.5% and disband the Housing Minor Works Department.

Teachers, building workers, and administrative staff were the most under threat with an estimated 2,000 job losses, 600 of them in Housing Minor Works.

From the beginning the JSSC demonstrated its trade union leadership and fighting qualities by organising a rally of over 2,000, and a one day stoppage &/demonstration on the day of City Council meeting on the 23 July 1980.

According to Mulhearn and Taaffe, 15,000 struck and 10,000 lobbied the City Council meeting.

NALGO, the main administrative workers union, immediately refused to co-operate with the issuing of redundancy notices, refused to cover for vacant posts, and banned overtime; there were industrial action skirmishes over sending out rent increase notices in the Housing Department; refusing to lay off apprentices in Kent Street Lighting Depot and Breckside Park Vehicle Maintenance Depot, where NALGO and the manual unions took joint action.

The break-through came when first UCATT, and then NALGO, made No Redundancy Agreements with (Sir) Trevor Jones, Liberal Leader of the Council.

The clincher for UCATT and NALGO accepting these agreements was the proviso that 'the Authority is willing to enter into negotiations with the other unions, if they so wish, to establish an agreement on similar lines’.

These ‘No Redundancy Agreements‘ were ratified every year for three years until the Labour Party took control of Liverpool City Council in May 1983.

Growing militancy. [5]

The years 1979 - 83, also saw in Liverpool ‘the biggest demonstration of its kind ever seen outside London’ (Weekend Echo, November 29/30, 1980) when the national Labour Party organised a 100,000 demonstration against Unemployment led by Michael Foot.

- 1981 was the year of the six months Liverpool NALGO Council Typists Strike, reflecting the growing militancy amongst women council workers.

- 1983 saw 20,000 council workers strike on the 27 April in response to the JSSC ‘s call for action against privatisation, days before local council elections on May 5th.

These were examples of a growing trade union militancy in the City, particularly amongst local government workers, from which the Labour Party greatly benefitted at the polls.

‘Our City Our Fight[6]

The fight to protect City Council jobs was the ‘ raison d’être’ of the Liverpool Joint Shop Stewards Committee and the reason it was able to mobilise ten of thousands of Liverpool local government workers behind the Labour Council’s confrontation with the Tory Government over its 1984/5 and 1985/86 Budgets.

In conjunction with the JSSC, Liverpool NALGO’s ‘Our City Our Fight’ campaign particularly resonated; Tony Mulhearn and Peter Taaffe in the ‘City That Dared To Fight’ give an example of 180 NALGO stewards being involved in one particular initiative. NALGO reported that over 4,000 members attended workplace meetings, and were involved in mass leafleting at shopping centres, football matches, factories and markets.

On the 19th November 1983, the Merseyside Labour and Trade Union Movement Committee attracted 25,000 to march in Liverpool in support of the Labour Council’s ‘no cuts in jobs and services’ stance , plans to abolish the GLC & Metropolitan County Councils, and rate capping. The MTUCC included the JSSC, Liverpool City Council and Merseyside County Council.

On TUC Democracy Day 29th March 1984, also Liverpool Council budget day, 50,000 marched to the Town Hall and put massive pressure on the Tory Government to make concessions, which they eventually did, leading to the council meeting on July 11th 1984 agreeing a legal budget with a rate increase of 17%.

The following year the JSSC continued it‘s campaign and on the 30 January 1985, called a mass lobby of Liverpool City Council, demanding that the budget for 1985/86 should guarantee ‘No Cuts in Jobs and Services’

TUC Democracy Week 4-8th March, 1985, also saw a estimated 50,000 march through Liverpool on the 7th March, Council Budget Day, in protest at government cuts and rate penalties.

On 30th March 1985, the founding meeting of the National Local Authority Workers Co-ordinating Committee (NLACC) took place in Liverpool. Ian Lowes, was the organising secretary, and the meeting was attended by 250 stewards representing 40 local authorities. Alan Walker, Liverpool NALGO Vice-Chair, was one of three JSSC representatives nominated to the national committee.

On June 14th 1985, Liverpool City Council set a 9 per cent rate rise and a deficit budget.

On 8th September 49 Labour councillors are surcharged over the delay in setting the rate.

The[7] Split[8]

On 6th September 1985, Labour council leaders announced they would be issuing redundancy notices to all the workforce and called a City Council meeting for the 16th September.

On 7th September, the Liverpool Joint Shop Stewards Committee met; unanimously rejected the ‘redundancy plan ‘ and workers blockaded the Council meeting on the 16th and stopped the meeting taking place.

However, astonishingly some of the manual union stewards under the influence of ‘Militant ‘ supporters like Ian Lowes, did an about turn in a subsequent meeting with Council leaders Derek Hatton and Tony Byrne and agreed to support the issuing of redundancy notices, (see ‘Inside Left’ by Derek Hatton).

This led to a walkout of NALGO, NUPE and the teachers unions.

The JSSC then met and proposed an all- out strike from 25 September 1985.

Liverpool Branch NALGO's ‘Campaign News 85' dated 19 September 1985 reported under the headline - ‘No Redundancies So Executive Backs Strike Call’ - The Branch Executive Council voted by an overwhelming majority to support the call for action on 25th September, following the receipt of a categorical assurance that under no circumstances would the City Council issue redundancy notices.’

Tony Mulhearn and Peter Taaffe, ‘Liverpool the City that Dared to Fight’ describes how one section of the workforce after another held mass meetings to discuss the JSSC recommendation. They record that while the all out strike action proposal was defeated, the total vote of all workers was 7,284 For, with 8,152 Against; even if these figures are correct the total Council workforce at this time was approximately 30,000.

While NALGO stewards had voted in the JSSC to oppose the Council’s Redundancy Plan, they convened a mass meeting of its 5,000 plus Liverpool members who in a secret ballot voted 3,891 against ‘All-Out Strike Action’ with 1,445 voting for.

‘Militant’ Hubris.

According to ‘the City that Dared to Fight’ upwards of 50,000 marched in Liverpool on Wednesday, 25 September 1985 despite the majority of local council workers voting against all-out strike action. However, this is not a credible figure. At the height of the Council’s campaign by far the biggest demonstrations were TUC Democracy Days 29 March 1984 and 7 March 1985 when an estimated 50,000 marched on both occasions in Liverpool. Both took weeks of planning and had the official backing of the national trade unions. To suggest that a similar number marched in support of the Council with a day’s notice is at best a gross exaggeration and borderline self glorification.

Redundancy Notices Issued.

However, on Friday, 27th September 1985, the Council started issuing Redundancy Notices to its entire 30,000 workforce.

By Monday, 30th September, 3000 NALGO members spontaneously walked out on strike and marched through Liverpool against the issuing of redundancy notices, while teachers picketed buildings they thought were being used to issue the notices.

Consequently the Council had to use taxis to deliver the Notices and on October 1, Neil Kinnock made his famous ‘Grotesque chaos’ speech attacking the Council at Labour Party Conference.

While local government workers marched in their thousands to support the Council’s pledge to protect jobs and services they usually did so under the leadership of the JSSC but also with the official backing of their national union.

However, when in September 1985 the Council turned on the workforce and issued them with redundancy notices it broke its ‘No Job Cuts’ pledge, split the JSSC; lost the support of the vast majority of the workforce and national trade unions, and was forced to retreat.

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