Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Once-Great Port Rebuilds Series: POINTS OF THE COMPASS. LIVERPOOL. City on the Mersey Fights Back against Years of Economic Decline, Political Extremism, and Massive Urban Decay. First of Three Stories Appearing Today

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Once-Great Port Rebuilds Series: POINTS OF THE COMPASS. LIVERPOOL. City on the Mersey Fights Back against Years of Economic Decline, Political Extremism, and Massive Urban Decay. First of Three Stories Appearing Today

Article excerpt

EVERY time Peter Bounds pushes his way through the doors of Liverpool's Victorian-era municipal building he gets a sharp reminder that he serves a community where political passions can run notoriously high.

Placard-toting trade unionists greet the newly-appointed chief executive of the city which produced the Beatles, used to be the hub of Britain's commerce with North America, and until its sharp decline in the 1960s was one of the world's great ports.

They ritually complain to him about cuts ordered in the council's over-bloated labor force, and mutter "hatchet man."

In an interview Mr. Bounds shrugs off the doorstep pickets as "a symptom of a much larger problem."

The heart of that problem is that Liverpool has suffered from prolonged political turmoil and economic decline. Unemployment is 19 percent city-wide and over 30 percent in some areas.

But the burly 46-year-old lawyer who moved into the executive hot seat early this year, after an 18-month vacancy, believes Liverpool is fighting back. He says the years are past when members of the Trotskyite Militant Tendency gained control of the city's government in 1983 and went on a four-year spending spree that took it to the brink of financial collapse.

"We still have an image problem largely as a result of that period," Bounds concedes, "but I think we have turned the corner."

There are plenty of other places around the world where economic stagnation and large-scale unemployment have combined to produce massive urban decay.

But Liverpool has faced two unique problems. As its port declined, it had few major local industries to fall back on. Car assembly plants that might have revived the local economy were closed down in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This swelled unemployment and gave extremists a chance to exploit grievances.

Harry Rimmer, moderate Labour leader of Liverpool Council, describes Militant Tendency as "a revolutionary organization with a vested interest in chaos."

Since losing their grip on the city council in 1987, Militant members have been charged in the courts with fraud. Their group's rule left Liverpool with a debt of 800 million pounds ($1.34 billion) and nearly 6,000 council-owned houses empty and unrepaired.

Many Militant Tendency supporters defend their record. "I have no regrets," says Militant organizer Richard Venton. "Liverpool could still be the graveyard of capitalism and the birthplace of socialism."

Hugh Parkman, chairman of an engineering group involved in several Liverpool projects, agrees that there is an image problem. But he maintains that too close a focus on politics distorts what had begun to happen in the city.

Mr. Parkman's office is in the famed Cunard building, above the docks where, in the 19th century, half of Britain's external trade was handled and where proud ocean liners once tied up by the dozens. …

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