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On the 8th of May 2012 Leeds North West Socialist hosted a public meeting to launch the new Leeds North West Socialist Party branch at the Pack Horse Pub, Hyde Park. Leeds North West branch was formed from the branches of Aireborough/Horsforth and Hyde Park/ Headingley and merged to create a unity between the various student campaigns in Leeds and to strengthen organisational perspectives in the wake of a hugely successful election campaign in three of the wards in this branch area.

Mikey Divers – Leeds North West Socialist Party

The meeting focused broadly on the austerity measures imposed by the EU, and more specifically on the 1980’s poll tax in Great Britain and the current household tax in the Republic of Ireland.

Guest speaker Alistair Tice gave a lead off on the poll tax and the current austerity in Ireland. The topic firstly evaluated the election results and general feelings throughout Europe at the current time. Hollande’s victory in France (whilst perceived by the media to be far more socialistic than is the case) has been highlighted by people across Europe as a blow to EU austerity, most notably Hollande’s 75% tax rate on the super rich. Despite this, however, Hollande still seeks to balance France’s GDP deficit by making cuts, and only slightly slower ones than proposed by Nikolas Sarkozy.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have seen the further turmoil in Greece this week, as Samaras has failed to present the EU with a functional coalition government; the Greek political spectrum is blown open, with large portions of the vote going to the ultra-left and sectarian KKE, and to the extreme right Golden Dawn. The most notable progress has been made by Syriza (a socialist anti-austerity coalition) who now have the second largest vote in the country. Greece’s situation, however, is still heavily imbalanced – if Syriza do not form a coalition government with one of the pro bailout parties within the next few days (Pasok/ New Democracy) then Greece may have to hold another round of elections in a few weeks time.

The lead off then moved to its primary focus- Alistair spoke of the mass opposition by the working class to the Thatcherite poll tax imposed in 1987, a tax which was flat in cost regardless of a household’s wealth or income (the Militant slogan at the time being “Why should a dustman pay the same as a duke?”) When the tax first began, the labour party and trade unions in Britain opposed it but took little or no direct action in the method of refusal to collect the tax or to urge non-payment. It was the working class people of the country, who organised themselves. Anti-tax paying unions were set up, which eventually formed into the nation-wide anti-poll tax federation. It is also most likely the case that without the work of the Militant, who proposed non-implementation and non-payment, the poll tax may not have been defeated. By the time Major became Prime Minister, the tax was deemed “irretrievable”. Through non-payment, and the united power of the working class, the poll tax was brought to its knees.

We now see history repeating itself in Ireland with the austerity driven household charge. The charge is a flat tax of 100 Euros per year, per household in Ireland. This tax, however, could well be increased to include water payment and other household charges, to a devastating 1000 Euros per year. Clare Daly and Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD’s as part of the ULA in Ireland, alongside the campaign against household and water taxes, have urged the people of Ireland not to register for tax payment. Thus far, even the most favourable government figures show that only half of the people of Ireland have paid the charge (the real figure likely to be nearer the 30% mark). The anti-tax movement in Ireland is a clear indicator that now, as with the Poll tax in the 1980’s, with the help of anti-austerity groups, mass non-payment movements and a unified working class, austerity can be defeated.