Thursday, 3 July 2008

Terry Fields: Socialist, Friend and Fighter

This obituary from Tony Mulhearn, leader of Liverpool DLP during the Militant era on the city council appears in the latest edition of The Socialist.

Tragically Terry Fields has died from lung cancer at the age of 71. Terry was a supporter of Militant, forerunner of the Socialist Party, and a defender of the working class. In 1983, after many years as a lay official for the fire fighters' union, he was elected as an MP for Liverpool Broadgreen on a clear socialist programme. His campaign slogan was 'vote for a workers' MP on a worker's wage'.

There was no doubt in the minds of the Broadgreen electorate that Terry was a dyed-in-the wool radical socialist, because it was published in his campaign material and the capitalist press told them so. Terry was celebrated for his dedication to workers in struggle. He was a regular on the miners' picket line. He supported the printers at Warrington when they fought Eddie Shah, the stalking horse for the press magnates who were preparing to smash the print unions.

It wasn't only British workers who enjoyed Terry's support and solidarity. He was invited in 1990 to a conference in Novokuznetsk setting up a Confederation of Labour of the USSR. As a socialist and internationalist he addressed the 600 delegates and visitors - mostly mineworkers - congratulating them on their strikes and struggles to throw off the old, parasitic bureaucracy. He warned them against taking the "road to the market", and defended the ideas of genuine socialism against both Stalinism and capitalism.

In addition to fighting for a remedy to the problems facing working-class families in his constituency, he gave unconditional support to the Liverpool 47 in their titanic battle with the Tory government and Labour right wing. The Liverpool 47 were Liverpool's socialist councillors who built five thousand houses, created thousands of jobs, and opened many nursery schools in 1983 - 87.

Terry kept his pledge to take only a worker's wage and donated the remainder back to the labour movement. On this score he invited the bile of career MPs whose snouts in the parliamentary pig trough have been an ongoing scandal.

Terry played a leading role in opposing Thatcher's hated poll tax. The non-payment campaign eventually defeated both the tax and Thatcher. Alongside 18 million people he refused to pay the tax. For this he served 60 days in Walton jail. In his response to Terry's imprisonment, former Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock, showed his true colours. His reaction was not a condemnation of the poll tax, but an attack on Terry for breaking the law!

Terry supported the slogan of the imprisoned Poplar councillors of 1919, adopted by the Liverpool 47: 'Better to break the law than break the poor.' He pointed out that if people had not been prepared to break unjust laws in the past there wouldn't be a Labour Party for Kinnock to lead.

He refused to pay his poll tax even though some, who later deserted Militant's ranks, urged him to pay it.

A role model for today

Standing over six feet, Terry was a big man in every sense. His lifestyle was that of the working class. Not for him the fancy cars and silk suits. In fact he was known in parliament, to the annoyance of the chief whip, for wearing his trademark leather jacket.

He had a deft turn of phrase. At a meeting to mark the 20th anniversary of the 47 councillors' surcharge he said: "Neil Kinnock had been a young firebrand with socialism spewing out of every orifice - but he finished up with something else spewing out of every orifice!"

In his private life he enjoyed a social life in the local club mingling with working people from the community. He was a good singer and sang with a skiffle group in the 1960s, and he was no mean bingo caller.

These days there are calls for millionaire professional footballers and other sporting celebrities to act as role models for the youth. Terry Fields was the perfect role model for today's young people who look for a solution to their everyday problems of work and security for the future. But they look in vain at the current crop of parliamentary miscreants.

3 comments:

Charlie Marks said...

A majority of MPs have voted to keep their perks. How urgently we need people like Terry in parliament.

Phil BC said...

I couldn't agree more, Charlie. The example set by Terry Fields will still be discussed in our movement 50 years from now, long after the witch-hunters, the Blairites and the Brownites have faded from the pages of history.

Seán said...

Nice tribute, for a nice guy.

I only met him a couple of times, the second time after his release from prison for his non-payment of the poll tax. I shared a pint and a chat and he was fully committed to the cause - and more importantly prepared to give up his liberty. I wasn't sent to jail because of his actions.

Everyone in the working class pub we supped in that day supported him.

None of the current Labour Party careerists (sorry MPs) - and I mean none - could be comfortable in a really working class pub in a run down and economically devastated area like he could.

A true peoples' representative, his actions and deeds reflected his words.