Councillor John Nield was a Communist member of the Liverpool County Borough Council who belonged to the Communist faction of the Labour Party and later simply the Communist Party. Nield was but one of many leading Labour activists who had entered the Communist Party on its foundation. It is probable that he had been first elected as a Labour candidate but his joining the Communist Party did not seem at first to damage his position.
Nield's earlier life has been difficult to trace but his first involvement with the working class movement could have been as a committee member of the Northwich Amalgamated Society of Salt Workers Rock Salt Miners Alkali Workers Mechanics and General Labourers. At any rate, Tom Mann spoke at a rally in Northwich in October 1893.
If Councillor Nield was the same man and this is not a case of mistaken identity, it is likely that he was the John Nield born locally in 1869 and still living in that area during the 1891 census (although the name is very common in the district). If this was the same man he would have been 24 years old at the time of Mann’s speech – not inconceiveable. If this is the same man, by the time he appears in Liverpool, he would have been 52 years of age.
He would have been part of a thriving Communist Party in the early 1920s. The Socialist Labour Party was strong in the city – James Morton of the Liverpool SLP was one of the signatories to the Manifesto on Community Unity issued by the SLP Unofficial Conference, held at Nottingham on Easter Saturday and Sunday, April 3rd and 4th, 1920 that led to the bulk of the SLP joining the new Party. J Hamilton (Liverpool Communist Unity Group) and J Fitton (Birkenhead Communist Group) were at the Unity Congress along with a Mrs. Walker of East Liverpool’s British Socialist Party branch.
In common with most of his comrades in the new Party in the Merseyside area, he was involved in the National Unemployed Workers’ Committee Movement (NUWCM) occupation of the Walker Art Gallery in 12th of September 1921 in protest against the levels of Poor Law relief given to unemployed workers and their families. The police carried out a brutal assault on the protesting activists.
Nield had not been the only Communist councillor in Liverpool. There was at least one other, the more famous Mary Bamber (see separate entry), who certainly was present during the Walker Gallery occupation, for she was arrested. Bamber must have been one of the first females to be elected in Britain, as a Labour councillor for Everton who was also a foundation member of the Communist Party.
But over the eighteen months following the violent state suppression of the Walker Art Gallery occupation, some of the key figures of the local nascent Communist movement shifted rapidly to official Labour, leaving Nield alone on the council as Liverpool's only Communist councillor. Oddly, Bamber, as delegate from the aforementioned East Liverpool BSP, had opposed the Communist Party’s affiliation to Labour at the Second Unity Convention of the the Communist Party in Leeds in 1921. She claimed she had had “a very painful experience during the last twelve months of working inside the Labour Party as city councillor”.
Some former Communists would find a long and prosperous career in leaving the Communist Party but Nield only tasted poverty and the struggle was bitter at times. In 1923, he announced an intention to voluntarily enter his local workhouse, having been himself unemployed for two years solid. On June 22nd, newspapers around the country led with headlines such as: "TO THE WORKHOUSE – A COMMUNIST COUNCILLOR”.
The Liverpool Guardians, the officials responsible for administering the poor laws before the state assumed the role, had withdrawn the `outdoor relief’ from Nield, saying that as he was so busy with unemployed agitation he could not be trying to find work. He naturally complained of being persecuted, owing to his political views and stating that he had a wife and three children he did not want to be a burden to, her made his declaration of willingness to enter the workhouse, a remarkable thing to do.
In September 1924, Nield, who represented Kirkdale, was ejected from a meeting of the City Council for defying a ruling of the Lord Mayor. Trying to move a resolution which concerned the “discipline of the police” the Lord Mayor held was out of order. The astonished annoyance that followed saw Nield led out by the police from the council meeting. Newspaper headlines everywhere splashed "COMMUNIST EJECTED”.
As Labour became increasingly irritated by association with Communists, the first avowedly Communist candidate in Liverpool, J Young, stood in St Anne's Ward in 1924; in 1925 Nield secured 706 or 16% of the vote in the same ward but had lost his seat and was not heard of again.
Sources: Daily Chronicle 5th October 1893; Official report of the Second Unity Convention; Liverpool Echo, June 22nd 1923; Derby Daily Telegraph 4th September 1924;
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