Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/29670

Posted on 7 October 2019 at 15:30 GMT

Tony Mulhearn 1939-2019: A courageous leader of the Liverpool working-class movement and a lifelong member of Militant and the Socialist Party

Tony Mulhearn, photo Harry Smith

Tony Mulhearn, photo Harry Smith   (Click to enlarge)

.
By Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary

Tony Mulhearn was a titan, a courageous leader of the working-class movement in Liverpool and Merseyside, as well as a life-long proud member of Militant, now the Socialist Party. His death at the age of 80 leaves a big gap for Socialist Party members in Liverpool and elsewhere. We will miss his steadfastness in the cause of socialism.

Much has been written about the Liverpool struggle but most of this in the past was superficial and facile in character. Only in our account of the Liverpool struggle and the lessons for the Labour movement (Liverpool: A city that dared to fight) was a proper record published of this epic struggle.

Tony has added to this through his recently published autobiography, 'The Making Of A Liverpool Militant'. He played a central role, particularly as the president of the Liverpool District Labour Party (DLP), in coordinating the battle which defeated the 'Iron Lady' herself, Margaret Thatcher.

How did Militant supporters like Tony Mulhearn and Derek Hatton and hundreds of others come to wield such influence in Liverpool? Even the serious strategists of capital were at a loss to understand how the mass movement took shape, and moreover one whose leadership had the strategy and tactics able to defeat, on behalf of the working class, the capitalist enemy.

The possessing classes attempted with all the enormous means at their disposal in the media to heap abuse against the mass movement and particularly against leaders like Tony, and Militant supporters generally, who were in the vanguard of the struggle. This was done in order to deflect attention from the real colossal achievements in housing, health, education as well as in the heightened political awareness of the working class of Liverpool.

They were answered and defeated again and again because of the deep roots and mass support that had been built up through incredible mass campaigns. These went into every section of the working class throughout Liverpool and Merseyside.

Lenny McCluskey, leader of Unite the union, recently wrote about the struggle in Liverpool:
"It is little wonder that the Militant Tendency received the reception that they did in Liverpool. Their reception on the doorstep never matched Neil Kinnock's lies. Many working people supported them because they were fed with cut after cut imposed by central government. The people of Liverpool wanted someone to stand up and fight on their behalf and during that period an enormous amount was done, including the building of beautiful, brick-built, semi-detached council homes with front and back gardens. To many in the city it is still remembered as the time when Labour defiantly stood for the communities it was meant to represent" ['In Defence of Liverpool', Tribune Autumn 2019].

Some of Liverpool's Militant-led socialist Labour councillors, including Tony Mulhearn (second from left in flat cap), photo Militant

Some of Liverpool's Militant-led socialist Labour councillors, including Tony Mulhearn (second from left in flat cap), photo Militant   (Click to enlarge)

Tony played a key role, along with others, in helping to create this mass movement and leading it to victory over the Thatcher government. He spoke to 20-30,000 at the end of mass demonstrations and rallies at the Pier Head in Liverpool. He was president of the DLP for many years. Attendances at the monthly meetings climbed to 700, the biggest of any section of the Merseyside labour movement and anywhere else in the Labour Party throughout Britain.

Steadfast approach

The steadfast approach of those like Tony - not just Militant supporters, but a broader layer of politically developed workers he helped to educate - pushed the Labour Party in the city towards the left. This culminated in the great triumph of the May 1983 council elections in Liverpool. In a brilliant victory, Labour gained 12 seats, 10 from the Liberals and one from the SDP. Not a single Labour seat was lost and even the Tory leader lost his seat to Labour.

This was in a city dominated by the Tories until 1964! Labour's vote increased by an astonishing 40% - 22,000 extra votes. In addition to this, a month later Militant supporter Terry Fields was elected as a Labour MP in the Broad Green constituency, with a general swing towards Labour throughout the city. This was in contrast to what happened in the rest of the country, as Thatcher and the Tories won by a landslide.

After its outstanding victory in May 1983, the new Labour council, with a majority of only three, was faced with a simple choice: obtain significant financial concessions from the Tory government or abandon the programme upon which it was elected. This meant that the campaign to win increased resources from the Tories began immediately. The mass campaign was organised, with Tony Mulhearn, Terry Fields, Derek Hatton and many others as the driving force.

The leadership of the Labour Party meanwhile were taking fright at what was unfolding in the city. They could comfortably coexist with Labour councils that were carrying out Tory cuts. No Labour leader condemned Newcastle City Council, which had cut 1,300 jobs from a workforce of 18,000.

But if there were any doubts about the mood that was developing in Liverpool these were soon dispelled by the turnout on 19 November 1983. In bitterly cold weather, but with a carnival-like atmosphere, more than 20,000 workers marched through the city streets in a solid working-class demonstration. This was seen as just a springboard for an even wider and greater mobilisation of the working-class population of Liverpool behind their council.

Tony Mulhearn was in the vanguard of this movement. He pointed out the stand of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders workers in 1971 who forced a Tory government into a U-turn. He said that the Liverpool labour movement intended to get the same result - big concessions from the government - which was duly achieved. Tony warned the Tories that the Liverpool labour movement would never be bought off, that the city still faced appalling problems and would not be satisfied until the Tory government was removed from office and the capitalist system destroyed.

Both he and Derek Hatton got a tremendous reception, especially when they said that even the victory gained at that stage was temporary so long as capitalism continued to exist.

Tony Mulhearn  speaking from the Socialist Party's 'open mic' at an anti-austerity demonstration in London, photo Paula Mitchell

Tony Mulhearn speaking from the Socialist Party's 'open mic' at an anti-austerity demonstration in London, photo Paula Mitchell   (Click to enlarge)

The vote for Labour's budget - which included the concessions from the government - was carried by 57 votes to 38 and resulted in wild celebrations with a standing ovation for the councillors from the public gallery. In appreciation of Militant's role in the struggle, the Labour councillors carried an advert printed in our paper: "Fraternal greetings and thanks to the Militant newspaper and its supporters for the outstanding help and assistance given to our campaign to defend jobs in Liverpool." We also celebrated with a Militant rally of 500 people in the city.

Tony was also an intelligent and astute leader of trade unionists, an implacable opponent of the bosses, determined to defend all workers' living standards, particularly opposing right-wing trade union leaders. He is perhaps best known as a mass leader of Militant, speaking to tens of thousands at mass demos, as well as for his leadership of the Liverpool District Labour Party.

The right wing of the Labour Party considered the DLP, which implacably opposed them and their programme of council cuts, to be a small "unrepresentative caucus"! Like other supporters of Militant, Tony was hounded and eventually expelled from the Labour Party by Neil Kinnock and his right-wing cronies for the 'crime' of standing up for and defending the marvellous Liverpool working class.

Tony Mulhearn in front of one of the houses built by Liverpool City Council in the 1980s, photo Harry Smith

Tony Mulhearn in front of one of the houses built by Liverpool City Council in the 1980s, photo Harry Smith   (Click to enlarge)

Without Tony and many other working-class heroes within the ranks of Militant and in the broad labour movement, the colossal achievements of the Liverpool City Council - of a mass council house building programme, new schools and parks, etc. - would not have been possible.

Achievements

Tony Mulhearn's achievements - as one of the immortal 47 councillors, who stood firm against Thatcher and the right-wing Labour sell outs, like Neil Kinnock - would not have been possible without mass support from the working class, endorsed in every election while they were in power.

Like generations of workers before him, Tony was vilified and attacked by the bosses and their representatives, victimised and forced at one time to hunt for any kind of job to keep the wolf from the door, for standing up for his class.

This only acted to deepen and consolidate the respect and love that Tony generated, not just in his steadfast family, but in the ranks of Militant and among working people in general.

He remained firm to the end in his support for the Socialist Party, and for socialism in Britain and around the world.


Peter Taaffe is the co-author with Tony Mulhearn of the book "Liverpool - the city that dared to fight" It can be ordered from http://leftbooks.co.uk, as can Tony's new book: "Tony Mulhearn - the making of a Liverpool Militant".

Listen to the Socialist Party podcast of Peter Taaffe speaking about the achievements of Tony Mulhearn:

https://soundcloud.com/socialismpodcast/43-tony-mulhearn-militant-and-the-city-that-beat-thatcher


The above is an extended version of the obituary printed in the Socialist on 9 October 2019.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.






Related links:

Tony Mulhearn:

triangleCardiff Socialist Party: Tribute to Tony Mulhearn

triangleTony Mulhearn - a Eulogy

trianglePacked labour movement service a fitting farewell to Tony Mulhearn

triangleCarlisle Socialist Party: Tony Mulhearn - the making of a Liverpool Militant

triangleBook: The Making of a Liverpool Militant by Tony Mulhearn

Labour:

triangleI'm 90 and still a socialist

triangleBradford libraries and museums: Unite members escalate action against cuts

triangleSave education - Kick out the Tories

triangleLabour MP targeted by right wing stands as independent

Militant:

triangleSocialism 2019: Major rally to plan how to get Corbyn elected with socialist policies

triangleObituary - Bob Lee: 1954 - 2019

triangleTony Mulhearn 1939-2019: Courageous fighter for the working class and socialism

Socialist:

triangleSocialism 2019 - what you thought

triangleWe saved Chatsworth Ward - two years on

Liverpool:

triangleLiverpool Socialist Party: Can a socialist Brexit be delivered?

Socialist Party:

triangleHackney Socialist Party: Fighting for Corbyn's manifesto and more!

The Socialist:

triangleSocialism 2019: the Saturday rally, 2nd November 2019. Reports of the event will be posted soon.

Merseyside:

triangleMerseyside Matalan workers walk out over pay deal

Labour Party:

triangleAttacks show elite fear a Corbyn election win

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis

13/11/19

Education

Save education - Kick out the Tories

13/11/19

Green Party

Green Party offers no alternative for young people and climate change chaos

13/11/19

General election

Strike, Protest, Vote - to Kick the Tories out

13/11/19

CWU

High Court injunction: solidarity to the CWU - support the posties!

13/11/19

NHS

NHS in critical condition

13/11/19

Labour Party

Labour MP targeted by right wing stands as independent

13/11/19

General election

Attacks show elite fear a Corbyn election win

6/11/19

Election

Tories out! Corbyn in with anti-austerity and socialist policies

6/11/19

Grenfell Tower

Grenfell fire inquiry spin deflects blame from establishment

6/11/19

General election

General election 2019 round-up

6/11/19

Tony Blair

Tony Blair launches manifesto to sabotage a Corbyn government

30/10/19

Black history

Black Liberation... Only possible through socialist struggle

30/10/19

General election

Tories out now! Bin Boris

30/10/19

Migration

39 migrants found dead in Essex lorry container

30/10/19

Argos

Argos Christmas bonus cut

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: info@socialistparty.org.uk

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0784 114 4890

North West 07954 376 096

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


November 2019

October 2019

September 2019

August 2019

July 2019

June 2019

May 2019

April 2019

March 2019

February 2019

January 2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999