I guess Tottenham is most known for its riots in 1985 and 2011. These were in no way organised or led by anarchists, and we were a very small part of them. But, they definitely showed the anger sections of the local community had toward the killing of members of their community by the police. This anger was also evident on the streets of Haringey when Joy Gardner and Roger Sylvester were also killed by the state. Local anarchists have always tried to stand side-by-side with those more directly affected.
But disquiet goes back a long way in Tottenham. In 1909 two alleged anarchists held up a payroll followed by a two-hour gun battle with the local police. Maybe not our most positive moment but still part of our local history. For more details, check out “Tottenham Outrage.”
Tottenham and anarchism probably go back a lot further but this is a quick and brief history of the last 30 or so years.
The early ’80s saw three different anarchist newspapers in Haringey. In 1984/5 there was the aptly named Soci@list Opportunist which lasted for six issues. Then there was Haringey Anarchist News in 1986 followed by Haringey Free in 1987/8.
During this time the Trades Union Centre in Brabant Road was used for gigs and meetings and although not directly anarchist there was a local bookshop that stocked a number of anarchist books and magazines (Reading Matters).
The Unwaged Centre on West Green Road then became the hub of the anarchist and anti-authoritarian movement in the borough with many groups such as the Claimants Union, Haringey Short Life Users Group (collection of short life housing co-ops), Haringey Women’s Group and others involved. Squatting of homes and factories for living and parties has always had a strong tradition in Haringey from at least the early ’80s.
In the late ’80s local anarchists and friends formed the local Anti Poll Tax group. A small Labour Party-inspired group also existed but soon disappeared as they wouldn’t support non-payment, leaving Tottenham Against the Poll Tax as the only show in town. Similar groups set up in different parts of Haringey and at its height five area groups worked together in a federated structure alongside a number of street level groups. Although anarchist-influenced, these groups were broad based and made up of annoyed local residents and workers. For a more detailed account go to radicalhistorynetwork.blogspot.co.uk/2009/10/how-residents-defeated-poll-tax-in.html
Haringey anarchists were also involved with setting up the national autonomous group 3D (Don’t Register, Don’t Pay, Don’t Collect) and the Trafalgar Square Defendants’’ Campaign. With the Poll Tax beaten, the local groups stayed together, changed their names and became local “Solidarity Groups.”
Initially starting with Tottenham Solidarity Group, other groups soon formed into Solidarity Groups later coming together as one single group Haringey Solidarity Group (HSG). Again not specifically anarchist, these groups tried to be as open as possible and were more concerned with having local people involved than pushing a single line. Although for 25 years HSG has always kept the principles that they are not connected to any political group or party and “our aim is to promote solidarity, mutual aid and link working class struggles. We can’t rely on politicians or leaders to do things for us”.
Throughout HSG has had three main strands to its activities. To start local campaigns and link up with similar campaigns nationally; to support groups or individuals within Haringey; to help similar groups set up in London (and sometimes further afield).
There are too many campaigns HSG have been involved in over the years to mention them all. Likewise, for the number of groups and individuals we have acting in solidarity with. For any historians out there all the leaflets, posters and newsletters produced are available. From the early ’80s a number of issues have always been important including housing/squatting, worker’s solidarity, anti fascism, claimant support and others. Like our comrades from the ’80s we still believe in propaganda. HSG have distributed a local newsletter since 1992 (Tottenham Community Action then Totally Indypendant).
These have always been given out free on the streets of Haringey and at its height 12,000 copies were distributed four times a year. HSG have probably given out hundreds of thousands of leaflets on a huge and diverse range of subjects. And as all good anarchists should, tens to hundreds of posters have magically appeared on bus stops, billboards and walls regularly.
Haringey Solidarity Group will, as always, have a stall at this year’s London Anarchist Bookfair. Hunt us out especially if you live locally. Otherwise check out the website at: www.haringey.org.uk. For another view of local anarchist activities over the past 30 years check out: katesharpleylibrary.net/cvdp18. The booklet “The Poll Tax Rebellion in Haringey” is still available from HSG.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of Freedom anarchist journal — Summer 2017 issue out soon!