Socialist Workers Party (SWP) members and working class activists will be shocked and saddened to hear the news that Alan Walter died suddenly from a heart attack last Saturday.
To anyone who knew Alan, it would come as no surprise to learn that he died late at night working on his computer on the latest stage of the Defend Council Housing (DCH) campaign.
It can sound like a cliche, but Alan was an inspirational figure. He was an active, outspoken and proud member of the SWP, he was a committed trade unionist, a central figure in DCH and, most of all, he was unique.
Camden in north London was his home and the centre of his political life. His deep roots in his local community and the vast number of people he knew were the bedrock of his involvement around national and international issues.
Alan always talked up the achievements of the people around him, often playing down his own, selfless efforts. He battled against the usual adversaries and a severe back problem that would have driven many people into inactivity. You’d often see Alan at meetings in considerable pain.
Sometimes he’d even be forced to lay on the floor. But this didn’t stop him soaking up debates, arguing his corner and picking away at the issues that concerned him.
Alan was a troublemaker of the best kind from an early age. He was expelled from school for standing up for his class mates.
In the late 1970s, Alan, along with Candy Udwin, was involved in the squatting movement at Tolmers Square in central London. This was no ordinary squat. It was supported by trade unionists and tenants. The people in it always seemed to be fighting with the police.
Around 1980 Alan joined Camden council where he worked in the boiler section. He became a NUPE union shop steward. The section was known as the most militant as it would down tools at any management infringement.
It was agreed that transport was needed to bring tools and equipment to any job. If the spare part was a one inch bolt, so be it. Transport was insisted on – all to the managers’ fury!
At NUPE mass meetings Alan would walk to the front to make a speech with his trademark copy of Socialist Worker sticking out of his back pocket to a chorus of cheers and banter.
Everyone in Camden knew him as the person you went to if you had a problem with your sick pay, health and safety, or a bullying manager. No problem was too small. For many manual workers under the cosh of managers at a time of ratecapping, Alan’s intervention made all the difference.
Alan and Candy finally joined the SWP in 1982 after much discussion and debate. They joined just as some of the big battalions of the working class were facing defeat. From the moment he joined Camden SWP, Alan played a central role at a district level and soon on the SWP’s National Committee.
The Miners’ Strike of 1984-5 saw Alan in his element. He was at the heart of building solidarity from Camden NUPE members. He would do the long winter journeys in his car up to Hatfield Main pit in Yorkshire with food, toys and money.
Throughout the early 1990s, Alan sold Socialist Worker to postal workers at the North West London delivery office in the run up to its closure.
Alan produced workplace bulletins, stickers and posters. By the end he was selling over 30 papers a week. Nothing fantastic we hear you say. But Alan did it lying down on a campbed as his back was so bad he couldn’t stand up.
When a young white boy, Richard Everitt, was murdered on the Somerstown estate, just north of St Pancras Station, tensions grew on the estate. The Nazi BNP attempted to exploit the situation. Alongside Richard’s parents, Alan helped launch Camden Action Now (CAN).
CAN organised community, youth club meetings and protests outside the town hall. CAN was a big success. It won facilities and money for local schools, youth clubs and estates. Most importantly of all, it united the community.
About 18 years ago Alan left Camden council and got a job at British Telecom. He played an active role in building the union, was active in his branch and the Broad Left.
But he will always be remebered as Mr “Defend Council Housing”. DCH was set up in 1998 to fight against the privatisation of council housing and for direct investment. Alan wanted to make council housing first class – a tenure of choice – for all who want it.
Today the campaign unites council tenants, trade unionists, local activists, councillors and MPs. For ten years Alan and the campaign have fought the government and councils intent on privatising our homes, winning major victories.
Alan wasn’t just a political activist. He loved jazz and food, and took up painting just before he died. He was so proud of his son Joe, he loved his partner Anne Drinkell and always remained the closest of friends with Candy Udwin, Joe’s mother.
Alan cared about working class people. He made sure that local campaigners and activists got the recognition they deserved and were acknowledged in the local press. We hope that this tribute goes some way to making sure that this remarkable man and his achievements are remembered and celebrated.
Alan was what all socialists aspire to be – no mean fighter.