Monday, 14 April 2014



I am a Liverpool supporter and was the regional organiser of the Merseyside socialists 1980-1992.

As Liverpool fights for our dreams by winning their first league title in 24 years, thoughts of the Hillsborough 96 overshadow events.

The families of the 96 Liverpool football fans crushed to death at Hillsborough 25 years ago are reliving their indescribable pain and loss, at the opening days of the Coroner's Inquests, ordered by the High Court after it quashed the original, rigged verdicts of 'accidental death'.

April 15th 1989 witnessed the worst ever British sports disaster; the same day saw the launch of a monstrous campaign of pernicious lies from police chiefs, press and politicians, who tried to frame and blame the 96 who died.

Truth at last!

When the Hillsborough Independent Panel's Report was published in 2012 (my article from 2012 is HERE), their names were cleared, in a victory for the superhuman tenacity, courage and heroism of the victims' families and other fans who fought for justice for 25 long, cruel years.

"JFT96" was inscribed on thousands of banners and tens of thousands of people's hearts, as they fought to expose the truth of what happened. A new wave of bitter rage followed the 2012 Report's revelation that 41 of the 96 (some medical experts reckon 58) could still be alive today if they'd received prompt medical attention - denied them by the incompetence of police chiefs, which meant only 2 out of the 48 ambulances that arrived on the scene actually reached the pitch, deterred by police lies that the fans were rioting.
Millions were shaken to the core in their assumptions about the police, press and ruling powers by the horrific evidence in the 450,000-page Report. It proved police chiefs organised a blatant, corrupt coverup, crudely doctoring documents and witness statements - with successive Tory and Labour governments aiding their smearing of the dead in order to camouflage their own responsibilities for this man-made slaughter.

The Report's naked exposé of corruption in ‘high’ places forced the Crown Prosecution Office and Independent Police Complaints Commission to initiate an unprecedented scale of inquiry into police officers and the football authorities, potentially leading to charges of gross misconduct and even manslaughter.

Whilst pressing for prosecutions of those responsible, we should not lose sight of the wider, deeper implications of this appalling episode.
It reveals a system that is steeped in class hatred for working class people, with the establishment, all the various arms of the state, implicated – a brutal reminder of just how low these people are prepared to stoop to retain their power and privileges.

Police Savagery

Some of us had lived through the savage class brutality of the Tories during the miners’ strike four years before Hillsborough – with Thatcher’s use of South Yorkshire and other police forces as well-fed, well-paid, beefed-up government militias that treated working class people as scum, rampaging like uniformed thugs in the pit villages.
But even veteran socialists were gob-smacked at the crude corruption of senior police - including the subsequently knighted Sir Norman Bettison and the South Yorkshire Police solicitor - who altered 116 junior police officers' statements to erase all criticism of police actions.
Tragedy waiting to happen

This was literally a tragedy waiting to happen, through blatant failure of football club owners to invest their profits in crowd safety measures, and police chiefs' refusal to learn from their own incompetent past performance.

They had plenty of warning: the very same FA Cup semi-final, between the same Liverpool and Notts Forest, was held at the very same Hillsborough the previous season, 1988. Overcrowding, lack of ground safety measures and incompetent policing had led to a near-disaster, with fans crushed, but no fatalities.
But absolutely nothing was done to improve matters by 1989, either by Sheffield Wednesday’s profit-conscious owners or South Yorkshire Police.

They framed the dead!

People at the match told me 25 years ago how they arrived to utter chaos. There was no proper stewarding of fans, with only two policemen outside Leppings Lane! Fans thronged into the middle terraces, even though the side terraces were half empty.

Whilst doing nothing to address this, senior police officers vastly compounded the crush by ordering the opening of Gate C (one of the Leppings Lane exits) – to reduce the logjam at the turnstiles.
Instead of delaying the kick-off, they shoved thousands of fans through Gate C and turnstiles like cattle. Disastrously, Gate C led them straight down a steep tunnel into the already-overcrowded middle sections.

In their vilification of the dead and injured, the same police chiefs who ordered the opening of Gate C then told the media that afternoon that the gate had been smashed down by fans – a malicious strand to their lies about “drunken, ticketless Liverpool fans” being the cause of the disaster.

As the crush began, rows of police, three deep, lined up outside the cages at the goalmouth where people were dying. Eyewitnesses told me how police ignored pleas for help: shoved the fence back into position when fans desperately tried to smash it down as a means of escape; refused to help a child gasping for breath who was passed over the heads of fans; truncheoned a group of fans who managed to get onto the pitch to try and rip down railings.

This callous failure to act as a rescue service largely lay in the previous training of police as unthinking, obedient servants of the police chiefs, who in turn deployed their forces on behalf of the Tories against mining communities and disaffected young people, and whose attitude to Liverpool working class people in particular was steeped in class hatred.

Tory hatred of Liverpool

It is no coincidence the police mercilessly doctored the evidence, to smear Liverpool fans and hide their own scandalous role. Thatcher’s Tory government’s fingerprints were all over this monstrous frame up.
Only four years earlier, hundreds of thousands of the city’s working class, led by socialists in general strikes and demos of 50-60,000 for jobs and services, won £60m in government funds in a massive defeat of Thatcher's Tories.

Liverpool was an inspiration to workers across the UK and beyond; the target of ruthless revenge by the Tories and their media lickspittles.

Thatcher made the trip north the day after the Disaster to meet South Yorkshire Police chiefs. In part to defend her loyal protectors during the momentous class confrontation with the miners in 1984-5 - but also fueled by the Tories’ desire to avenge their government’s 1984 defeat by the rebellious Scouse working class, led by socialists.

Press vitriol

In their demonisation of Liverpool, the press didn't even wait for the dead to be buried before spewing out their vitriol.

A Sheffield Tory MP, Irvine Patnick, passed the Sun a packet of vicious lies, peddled by police chiefs, which the Murdoch rag gleefully published. This accused Liverpool fans of being “drunken animals”, of “urinating on the dead and police”, of “mugging dead bodies”, of “assaulting firefighters”. Sales of the Sun have never recovered since on Merseyside.

Boris Johnson, now Tory London Mayor, wrote in the Spectator magazine after Hillsborough that Liverpool “is wallowing in victim status”.

Several Inquiries and successive Tory and Labour governments buried the truth, terrified of the backlash against institutions that the rich rely on to maintain their power. But they reckoned without the Hillsborough Justice campaigners, who were adamant in their demand ‘Never again – justice for the 96′.

Monument to the 96

I stand by the words I wrote in April 1989:
"They are desperate to cover up the real culprits – the police, the Tory ministers, the football clubs who just want our ticket money. They do nothing about the clapped out, unsafe grounds, which are part of the whole rotten free enterprise system which the Tories and their press uphold…
The unity of working class people in this hour of sorrow cuts across the rivalries which big business fosters in order to reap profits…
One day the silent, choked up rage of these two million people [the number who poured into Anfield to pay tribute to the 96 the first week after the tragedy - RV] will be turned on the authorities responsible for this needless suffering and death. They will erect the best possible monument to the fallen 96 – a society where men, women and children can work, rest and play without fear of poverty or death for profit’s sake."

Wednesday, 9 April 2014


The annual conference of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) meets against a background of ferocious attacks on workers, their rights and living standards by employers emboldened by the most vicious government of millionaires in memory. And it meets amidst raging debate on whether trade unionists should support Scottish Independence. 
With 37 affiliated unions and 630,000 members, the STUC represents a huge force, so the battery of progressive policies and demands being debated are potentially vital to the future working people face, provided the STUC takes decisive action in pursuit of its own decisions.
As the Westminster old-Etonians kick seven colours out of workers' rights, and preside over the most prolonged decline in wages since the 1870s - yes, the worst drop in real wages for 140 years! - the STUC Motions up for debate rightly demand an end to austerity; investment in public services; fair pay; a living wage; redistributive taxation; reduced inequality; social justice; support for carers; investment in public sector housing; a ban on zero hours contracts; an integrated public transport system; renationalisation of Royal Mail; public ownership of the Big Six energy companies; collective bargaining rights for workers; industrial democracy; election of accountable trade union representatives on company boards; take union facility time for unions in all workplaces with over 21 workers; state retirement at 60...and a host of other specific reforms that would enhance the lives of millions in Scotland. 
Two related questions arise. How can the trade unions best put up a serious fight to achieve these gains? And how does that relate to the Referendum?
Nothing has ever been gained by merely passing Motions at conferences. It's always taken determined action, with maximum unity, to win every reform, however mild or far-reaching. The STUC and it's affiliated unions have a duty to give leadership amongst working people, their families and communities, through public forums, rallies, demonstrations and in some circumstances united industrial action - such as in opposition to the crucifying cuts emanating from the Twin Tory Coalition. Pleas for mercy fall on deaf ears; action by the working class speaks far louder than words. So the STUC conference needs to support those Motions that include a strategy for action.
But that inevitably also raises the issue of the Referendum. 
Those unions backing the scrapping of Trident and Defence industry diversification must surely face up to the fact a Yes vote would guarantee this path, whereas it is beyond the powers of a devolved Edinburgh parliament in a continued UK.
Calls for collective bargaining, trade union facilities at work, employment rights will fall on utterly stony ground if we remain under Westminster rule - even in the less than probable event of Miliband's Labour winning office in 2015; look at Labour's record in office. And again this is all beyond the remit of a devolved Holyrood.
Likewise with the level of minimum wage; state pension; welfare spending; retirement age; fully redistributive taxation - not to even mention the fact Holyrood is powerless to take Royal Mail, transport or energy into public ownership, or to pursue the general aim (in UNITE's Motion) of "public and common ownership, with election of trade union reps onto company/industrial forums and boards".
Only a fully-fledged government elected by the Scottish people would have the powers to transform workers' lives, through these and other measures.
And here again there needs to be a bit more consistency on the parts of many trade union leaderships. The STUC and its affiliates have a proud record of fighting South African Apartheid (as, in fact, referred to in a Motion to this STUC on the death of Mandela), fighting for majority rule. So where are many of the same trade union leaders when it comes to majority rule for the Scottish people - with an overwhelmingly working class majority? Are they going to advocate a No vote on 18 September so we continue to suffer 'rich minority rule' by Westminster Tories - who have been openly, nakedly dictating over Scotland for at least 34 years since 1955, despite never once getting a majority vote in Scotland since that year?
A Conference Motion from ASLEF rightly offers solidarity to the Greek people, supporting "democracy, sovereignty, independence and the right of the Greek people to determine their own future free from oppressive external intervention". Does this not sound uncannily familiar? 
So why therefore do union leaderships like those of ASLEF, USDAW, GMB, CWU not apply the same principles to Scotland? Why are they so rightly eager to support self determination for the Greeks or Palestinians, but so eager to ignore the right of their own Scottish memberships to determine the views of their own trade union on the Referendum -  through branch debates, votes and a Scottish conference, rather than having no consultation or sham consultation after the UK-wide union leadership declared and imposed support for Better Together?
And the dusty old argument that independence would wreck the unity and solidarity of the working class melts in the face of reality. Since when did any British government - including Labour ones - ever encourage or facilitate the unity and solidarity of workers across the UK? 
On the contrary, measures banning so-called secondary action, combined with the break-up of public sector industries and services through rampant privatization, have been used to block workers' unity, to divide and conquer.
On the other hand, when Liverpool dockers, Manchester care workers, or Bristol civil servants were brought on tours of Scottish workplaces and unions by those of us who founded the SSP, not one Scottish worker ever spurned them on the grounds they were English. Nor did they turn away appeals for support to Irish car workers or Danish bus drivers that I toured Scotland with. The solidarity of Scottish workers - which also dates back to the 1930s Spanish civil war or the 1973 fascist coup in Chile - has never been dependent on workers being part of the UK, and certainly never awaited the support or permission of any Westminster government. 
So why should that change after Scotland gained self-rule? The opposite: an emboldened Scottish working class, which helps not only to win a Yes vote but goes on to organise to shape the type of Scotland we build, would act as an example, a shining beacon, to workers across England, Wales, Ireland, Europe and beyond. 
Trade unionists should not only stand up for Scottish self-determination, but fight to achieve a just and egalitarian Scotland, based on the best traditions of the trade union movement - an independent socialist Scotland - which would advance the cause of workers and socialism well beyond the boundaries of Scotland. In contrast, continued rule and ruin by the Westminster puppets of bankers and capitalists spells misery for millions of working class people. The choice is stark, the opportunity for sweeping change in favour of working people far too precious to miss.