Hillsborough exposes Establishment’s fear and loathing of the working class

25 May 2016

The 27 year campaign for truth and justice is a lesson in the value of courage and solidarity

By Dave Stockton

Hillsborough – which saw the death of 95 Liverpool fans on 15 April 1989 – remains one of the worst sporting tragedies. Given that that it took 27 years for the South Yorkshire Police and Ambulance Service to admit that they were unlawfully killed, due in the main to their own actions, it is right that it should be so prominently discussed.

The 95 people who died on the day and one other victim after a long period in a coma, were ordinary fans, not the “drunken hooligans” or “wild animals” the press described them as. Though as if they were indeed the latter, they were crushed into high metal “pens” with locked gates which the police, for long after the situation became clear kept closed and even pushed back people who were climbing over them. 37 of the victims were teenagers, twenty-five were fathers; one was a single mother with two teenagers. Altogether, 58 children lost a parent.

Indelibly linked to this tragedy was the report of the The Sun, four days after the deaths. It carried the infamous front page, claiming as “THE TRUTH” that fans “picked the pockets of victims”, “urinated on the brave cops,” and “beat up a PC giving the kiss of life.” In fact it was a pack of lies fed to the press by the South Yorkshire Police, confirmed by a Sheffield Tory MP Invine Patnick and spiced up on the orders of Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie.

No surprise then that on the day the Independent Panel published its verdict the Sun reported it on its inside pages. That is the way with the billionaire media – lies in huge front page headlines and apologies many years later given no prominence.

But the culpability of the SYP and the lies of the Sun were well- known at the time as is clear from the article in the May 1989 issue of the monthly socialist newspaper, Workers Power, republished on our website. The really significant fact about the 27-year wait for truth and justice (and the justice is yet to be meted out) is summed up in the word impunity.

We are all told at school that a policeman is just a citizen in uniform, subject to the same laws as the rest of us. Tell that to the families bereaved at Hillsborough. Tell it too to the miners fitted up by the same constabulary over the Battle of Orgreave, five years before Hillsborough; who have not received either truth or justice; indeed have been denied an independent inquiry.

In fact in our society justice is class justice – it has to be filtered through the interests of the ruling class. Thus it is that working class people as a whole, plus people who suffer systematic racism and sexism, are repressed and brutalised by the forces of order without any real recourse to law . The state protects its own protectors first and foremost.

Their thinking is that unless they have virtual immunity from prosecution they could not be relied on to lay in to those considered the enemies of the boss class, on the picket line, on demonstrations or wherever “dangerous” crowds gather. The aim is to make working class people forget that, as the revolutionary poet Shelley wrote; “we are many; they are few”.

Thus political and class prejudice on the part of the police, politicians, the press, and the courts all played their part in the cover up. And politics – not the politics of elections – but of the struggle between classes – was the background to the lies of the SYP, the Tory ministers, Margaret Thatcher, and the right wing press.

Class hatred

1989 was the end of a decade of intense class struggle, like the preceding decade. But if the 1970s was a time of stunning victories for dockers, miners, local government workers and the growth of the unions to 12.2 million members in 1979 the 1980s was the decade of stunning defeats – the steel workers (1980), the miners (1985), the printers (1987) and the dockers, in the months following Hillsborough.

Nor should it be forgotten that Liverpool Council was in the forefront of the defiance of the Tories “rate capping” aimed at forcing Labour Councils to cut services, house building and jobs, etc. In the person of Derek Hatton and the Militant Tendency it was the site of a vicious witch hunt by the then leader of the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock.

As well as deep hostility to pickets and paramilitary police attacks on them at Orgreave during the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike and outside Rupert Murdoch’s Fortress Wapping, where the Sun was produced, the press and Tory ministers including the Iron Lady herself, whipped up a frenzy of hatred against “football hooligans.”

Even papers like the Daily Mirror (14 June 1988) could write; “It would be wrong to compare them with animals because no animal is like them. No brute could be so brutish. No pig could so wallow in the mud. No rat could be as cowardly.”

And Bobby Robson, the England manager, demanded that they should be “flogged in front of the main stands before the start of a home game” (both cited in Hillsborough and After the Liverpool Experience First Report April 1990).


Of course all football fans were not angels; there were terrible accidents like the Heysel Stadium disaster in Brussels on 29 May 1985, when Juventus fans were crushed by a collapsing wall after being chased by Liverpool fans, before the start of the 1985 European Cup Final.

But by far the greatest numbers of injuries were due to the dilapidated stadiums or the control measures instituted by the clubs and the police.

Particularly dangerous were the high, locked, fencing which hemmed in the terraces to prevent pitch invasions – which, as researchers have shown, were actually quite rare events and led to few injuries.

The answer which the owners came up with were all-seater stadiums and the end of the terraces, and the remorseless rise in the cost of tickets, as the Workers Power article foresaw. Of course the “game of the working man” [sic] was always at club and top division level a game for the working class, and had its darker sides – racism, localism and nationalism.

Yet its mass, collective, team spirit was expressed when for example miners took huge collections outside stadiums during their strike and when the increase in the number of skilled black players and the antiracist fans’ organisations combatted the racist chants.

As Hillsborough showed, the police treated the fans as though they had already committed a crime by being there, herding them as though they were prisoners of war. And in a sense they were because throughout the Thatcher government, not simply during the Great Miners’ Strike the ruling class was engaged in destroying a whole section of the working class – moving the ports and the Fleet Street, closing the mines and devastating their communities, breaking the traditions of solidarity and community.

As we are rebuilding these traditions and reclaiming our organistions we should not forget the lessosn Hillborough can teach us, the courage and struggle for justice of the families, the solidarity of a very working class city and indeed people around the country. But also we should not forget the ruthless of our class enemy. Forewarned is forearmed – or at least it should be.

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