Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A Workers' MP on a Workers' Wage

Photography: Dave Sinclair

Between 1983 and 1987 Liverpool's Labour council, then led by socialists, refused to transfer the burden of Tory government cuts, introduced by Margaret Thatcher, onto the backs of Liverpool's working people. The 'Liverpool 47' councillors adopted the slogan of 'better to break the law than break the poor', first used by the jailed councillors of Poplar in 1921.

Liverpool council -which included supporters of Militant, the Socialist Party's predecessor - was the only local authority that successfully extracted extra funding - £60 million - from Thatcher's government.

The council was never voted out, but pushed out by a combination of the Tories, the national Labour leadership (under Neil Kinnock, now a Lord), and the courts using retrospective legislation. The councillors had carried out their socialist promises, but there has been an attempt to bury the council's achievements in an avalanche of distortion.

What was achieved

  • 6,300 families rehoused from tenements, flats and maisonettes
  • 2,873 tenement flats demolished
  • 1,315 walk-up flats demolished
  • 2,086 flats/maisonettes demolished
  • 4,800 houses and bungalows built
  • 7,400 houses and flats improved
  • 600 houses/bungalows created by 'top-downing' 1,315 walk-up flats
  • 25 new Housing Action Areas
  • Six new nursery classes built and open
  • 17 Community Comprehensive Schools established following a massive reorganisation
  • £10 million spent on school improvements
  • Five new sports centres, one with a leisure pool attached, built and open
  • 2,000 additional jobs provided for in Liverpool City Council Budget
  • 10,000 people a year employed on Council's Capital Programme
  • Three new parks built
  • Rents frozen for five years

Dave Nellist, Terry Fields

Traditionally Labour conducts campaigns more as opinion polls. The canvasser is advised by 'professional agents' merely to obtain the voting intentions of the elector. Canvassers are told not to 'waste time' on Tories, Liberals, SDP, or even the 'doubtful'. In contrast, the Broadgreen campaign started off with the understanding that only through a campaign of explanation, discussion and attempting to convince people through arguments would it be possible for the seat to be won. Sometimes canvassers were asked into houses or were kept for 20 or 30 minutes on the doorsteps discussing political issues. A massive campaign of political education took place, with tens of thousands of workers understanding the issues clearly by the end of the campaign. The main demands of Terry Fields' campaign carried in Broadgreen Labour News were:

  • A crash programme of public works to build houses, schools, etc. and to provide jobs.
  • The immediate introduction of a drastically shorter working week, without loss of pay, to create jobs. This to be coupled with a national minimum wage.
  • The repeal of all anti-trade union legislation implemented by this Tory government.
  • An end to the scandal of council rents of £25 to £30 a week while the council has to pay 85p back to the money-lenders for every £1 collected in rent, and where home-buyers are having to pay the highest mortgage repayments in history.
  • These demands will be linked to the call for the public ownership of the nation's wealth and resources – democratically managed and controlled – which is being sold off by the Tories to their rich backers or invested abroad to the tune of £7000 million each year, while industry is being starved of investment.

Special leaflets were produced and appeals made to the youth and to working-class women to draw them into the campaign. A central feature of the campaign was the call for a 35-hour working week. This was official Labour Party policy but, although in the election manifesto, it was never featured by the leadership running the national campaign.There was deep scepticism as to how a Labour government would pay for its promised reforms. Moreover, many workers were searching for an explanation of the difficulties that would confront a Labour government working within the framework of capitalism.

The modern working class is more cultured than in the past, has much wider horizons because of the television and other mass media, and sees what is happening in the labour movement in other countries. Workers pointed to the inadequacies and the retreats of the French Socialist-Communist government. How would a Labour government avoid treading the same path? The right wing of the Labour Party, and also some on the left, contemptuous of the capacity of working people to understand an analysis, completely failed to give any explanation of the process at work in society.

In contrast the Marxists in Broadgreen did not restrict their campaign to a few slogans, but sought to raise the level of understanding and to prepare a bastion of working-class consciousness for future battles, no matter what the outcome on 9 June. Above all Labour's candidate, Terry Fields, never hesitated to explain that within the confined of capitalism any limited concessions won by Labour for workers could be snatched back by the capitalists at a later stage. Only a socialist planned economy, the idea of which is enshrined in Clause 4 Part IV of Labour's constitution, would eliminate the mass poverty and suffering which scars the Broadgreen constituency and Britain as a whole.

A Workers' MP on a Workers' Wage

One demand which separated Terry Fields not only from his political opponents but from other Labour candidates, was his promise to be a 'workers' MP on a workers' wage'. The slogan was displayed in thousands of leaflets and posters throughout the city. This generated colossal enthusiasm amongst workers, who were convinced that 'one of their own' would enter Parliament and would not be separated from them in his lifestyle or outlook. 

From the following books by Peter Taaffe:
Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight, [1988]
The Rise of Militant: Militant's Thirty Years 1964 – 1994 [1995]

After being expelled from the Labour Party for the ‘crime’ of fighting valiantly for old time socialism & the people of Liverpool, Terry Fields stood alone as a socialist candidate in the 1991 election Battle For Broadgreen. A battle which he lost. Following that he opened a pub & was again in the papers for rescuing a woman from a fire at age 65. I think the phrase “working class hero” doesn’t come into it really.

I had the pleasure of meeting him during the unsuccessful 1991 Battle For Broadgreen. I was standing on the street with Terry & another campaigner, both of us breathing in the delightful smoke from his pipe, when he suddenly expectorated an impressive greeny which underwent a graceful parabolic flight and landed with a glistening splat on the pavement. We stood there for a while in the sunlight, staring at it, and with perfect comical timing, Terry Fields said: “That’s a Tory that”.
By North Utsire

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