The Socialist 8 July 2008 |
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Terry Fields: A socialist voice that rocked Whitehall
THE voice of workers anger reached the hallowed chambers of the Houses of Parliament on 24 June 1983, when Terry Fields, MP for Liverpool Broadgreen, spoke for the first time in the Commons. His speech accurately reflected the hatred of the Merseyside workers for the Tories and their system. Here is his speech below in full:
Terry Fields addressing an Fire Brigades Union lobby in London in 1989, photo Steve Gardiner
I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for you having called me in this debate for this, my maiden speech.
I wish to make it clear from the outset that making my maiden speech is not a formality. Maiden speeches are supposed to be non-controversial but having listened to the cant and hypocrisy from the Conservative benches it is difficult to keep my temper let alone observe the proprieties of this place. For the working-class people who have sent me down here to represent them, matters in our area are far too pressing and urgent.
The solutions that I will be proposing to the problems of our people will be controversial to the government but not to the people of Broadgreen and Liverpool. Because of those policies, we obtained victory in Broadgreen in the general election. I should like to record my gratitude and thanks to the people from all over the country who worked to ensure that we gained victory in Broadgreen.
My first task as a Member of Parliament, apart from dealing with the appalling housing conditions inherited from the Tory-Liberal alliance which ran Liverpool for a decade, was to deal with the closure of Crawfords biscuit factory, in Liverpool with the loss of 2,000 jobs, which was announced on Tuesday 14 June. Those circumstances are typical of what has happened to ordinary decent people all over Merseyside. The workers at the factory have had no major industrial disputes since the turn of the century. They have accepted shift change patterns with the loss of £40 a week in earnings. They have adapted to flexible working agreements. They have cooperated in the shedding of 1,000 jobs already and now for their pains and for their co-operation with management they are threatened with the sack.
Unemployment on Merseyside has been mentioned on many occasions in the House, and as recently as 20 April by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside. [Mr Parry] Since that debate a further 3,555 jobs have gone or will be lost in the area. I am saddened and angered to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton [Mr Heffer] that a factory in his constituency has been notified today that it will close, with the loss of a further 350 jobs.
Conservative members talk about privatisation. Let us call it by its proper name - asset-stripping. It is the reward and rake off for those who gave £20 million in handouts to the Tories to fight the election. I hope that members of the Post Office Engineering Union and other organised workers will stand up and fight the government's proposals to close their industries and sell them to private individuals.
Since the Tories came to power in 1979 Merseyside has lost 48,000 jobs. One firm a week has closed its doors. About 12,000 jobs a year are going - that is 33 jobs every day of the year, Unemployment on Merseyside is currently about 150,000. In some areas 94.7 per cent of young people are unemployed. That is the grim reality of Tory Britain for the people whom I represent.
The heartless, cynical response from the government in the debate on 20 April, talking about the demise of the Kraft factory in Liverpool, was to say that such events were unavoidable and involved commercial judgements. What judgement do Tory members put on human dignity when adults at a factory like Crawfords are reduced to tears of despair and anger because their factory is closing?
The Pontius Pilates of the Tory government attempt to shift the blame from themselves and their system to the world crisis. The truth is that unemployment is not an act of God. It does not fall from the sky, but it is symptomatic of the system they defend, typified by the world crisis of capitalism and the even deeper malaise of British capitalism. The government's policies have contributed to the misery of working people on Merseyside. They have no solution for working people. A Select Committee, chaired by the right hon. Member for Taunton [Mr du Cann], clearly states that 50 per cent of unemployment in Britain is the direct result of the government's monetarist policies. Many people looked to the Queen's Speech for some direction for the millions who are unemployed or face redundancy. We warned during the general election campaign that if the Tories were elected on 9 June closures and redundancies would happen immediately, but in Liverpool we did not expect it to happen so soon. It is no coincidence that the announcement of the closures came after the election result and the return of Labour members from Liverpool.
There is no hope in the Queen's speech for ordinary working people. For the government it is business as usual with policies the same as before. On 5 May in the local government elections the people of Liverpool ditched the Liberal-Tory ruling alliance and elected a Labour-controlled Liverpool City Council to fight to reverse the decline of our once great city.
On 9 June the people of Liverpool elected five Labour members out of a total of six. They had campaigned uncompromisingly on socialist policies, which the electorate of Liverpool have accepted as the only hope for the majority in society in the face of heartless Toryism. Workers in Liverpool who have had to suffer longer and harder than workers in most areas from the excesses of capitalist exploitation have turned correctly to a political solution for the resolution of their problems.
The record of this government and the big business interests that they and the Liberal-SDP alliance represent hold out no hope for the majority of workers.
There has been a 29 per cent fall in investment over the past four years. The patriotism of capitalism has been exposed as a sham. A total of £29 billion has been exported - that is, wealth created by the workers but shunted abroad - aided and abetted by the Tory government. The living standards of ordinary, decent, working class people have been driven down, despite officially doctored statistics. I assure Tory politicians that it is no good just reading about it. You have to live in those conditions to understand what the majority of people are going through. It is in those circumstances that small business men have been driven to the wall by bankruptcy.
Despite the Tory victory on 9 June, we give fair warning that a large majority in Parliament will not save the government when the true effects of their policies are felt by British people. The government of 1924 had a majority of 200. Stanley Baldwin thought that he could savage the living standards of ordinary people. Do the Tories now think that they can do the same, perhaps in a more brutal fashion? Baldwin's actions provoked the 1926 general strike. This government's policies will provoke even greater reaction from working people. Of that there is no doubt.
Events shape history. The nostalgic yearnings for the 1950s and 60s, when times were good, which moved people to vote Tory at the last election will finally wear thin and the hard facts will emerge. Then, the inability of the Tories and their system to satisfy the expectations of workers in their belief that things will turn out right will explode in Tory faces. There are no solutions in the past; Tory policies will provoke a social upheaval in Britain. Neither monetarism nor Keynesianism can solve the problems of working people. You have tried and failed. When will you learn your lesson?
The experience of working people under the government will teach them that there is no solution under capitalism. Increasingly they will turn to the socialist alternative and the labour movement - to the benefits of democratic public ownership based on a planned economy - when the needs of the majority will be fulfilled. Then, the mayhem and lunacy of the present system, like Conservative hon. members, will be cast into the dustbin of history. Ordinary decent people will be heard and the voice of Liverpool - with the message of hope that turning to socialism will bring - will act as a beacon to the rest of the country.
At the start of the election campaign in Perth, the Prime Minister said that she was giving the British people an opportunity to banish socialism and Marxism from the land. Others stronger than she have tried and failed. Labour may have been defeated at the election, but socialism and Marxism have not been, and will not be, defeated in the eyes and hearts of the working class.
My election victory in Broadgreen, which for many decades was a marginal, refutes the Prime Minister's boast. The victory in Liverpool for working people is the music of the future.
The media and my political opponents during the election, in seeking to denigrate me and the socialism I stood for, made great play of the label 'militant'. Let me make my position clear. I wear the badge of a militant with honour, and do not forget that a militant is only a moderate who has got up off his knees. In time, the whole of the working class will arise from their knees, and you will not be laughing then.