Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2143

Alan Walter (centre) helped take the campaign for council housing to the heart of political debate

Alan Walter (centre) helped take the campaign for council housing to the heart of political debate

‘We must continue the fight that Alan Walter started’

We are shocked and immensely sad at the death of Alan Walter, who was the chair of the campaigning group Defend Council Housing (DCH). The many messages of condolence on the DCH website show how far and wide he was appreciated.

The best way to show our respect for Alan is to carry on the campaign to win direct investment in council housing and stop privatisation.

Alan taught us that we can win if we are fast, bold, determined and united.

So let’s beat back the threat of more privatisation in Cambridgeshire, Wales and the other areas where it’s proposed. We also need to push the government’s review of council housing funding to deliver secure, publicly owned and accountable council housing.

That means practical action. Find out what councils in your area are doing, get your organisation to affiliate to DCH and send a big donation in Alan’s memory.

DCH will organise a national meeting in a few weeks to work out how we can collectively begin to fill the huge gap Alan leaves. Tell us what you can do to help by emailing

Meric Apak, Chair of Artisan Dwellings TRA, Camden
Frank Chance, Chair, Birmingham DCH
Dave Kelleway, Chair, South Cambridgeshire Against Transfer
John Marais, Cambridge Tenants Against Privatisation
Eileen Short, Tower Hamlets Against Transfer


I first met Alan Walter ten years ago, when housing stock transfer was first mooted in High Wycombe. Alan was a great source of strategic knowledge and tactics, and what he said in our first eight minute phone call has remained with me ever since.

Alan taught me that the ratio of “politics” to day-to-day grievances was much lower in housing matters than in the trade unions. He said this was because housing is a very personal thing, and sometimes, when we get home, we want to lock our doors and retreat into our private space.

But Alan also knew that housing is also a key political question, and a well-organised pressure group would have a serious impact.

He believed that we were talking sense, that we belonged in the mainstream – and he was determined to take us there.

He had the strategic vision to lead DCH from an enthusiastic group of small-time local campaigners right into the mainstream of housing policy.

Alan did not, as far as I know, have comfortable political relationships with anyone. He was not embarrassed about having disagreements, and he did not expect anybody else to be.

He argued with his comrades and tenant allies probably as much as he argued with his enemies, and we loved him for it.

Alan’s last words to me, the day before he died, were that we need to focus on getting the historic debt of council housing written-off.

Our task now is to ensure that his hopes become reality.

Paul Burnham, North London

Strike spirit still lives on

More than 500 miners and their supporters from Rotherham’s Silverwood colliery marched back in time to mark the 25th anniversary of the great strike two weeks ago.

Silverwood was at the forefront of the picketing which started the strike. Pickets were branded “scum of the earth” by the Sun after facing down police violence.

Much talk on the march was about today’s battle for jobs, rather than simple nostalgia.

Many ex-miners believe unions should again launch a fight back to stop the bosses making us pay for their crisis.

Silverwood’s former NUM president Granville Richardson received huge applause when he called on Gordon Brown’s government to stop “chucking money at the bankers” and invest in coal and jobs instead.

Phil Turner, Rotherham

Playing on memories

My first visit to live theatre was to see the play The Hounding of David Oluwale, reviewed in your paper (» Interview with Daniel Francis , 31 January).

I remember the case well from my teens. My brother Terry, who accompanied me, used to work at the Golden Cock public house in Leeds at the time that David was being persecuted.

The pub was a less than salubrious hostelry, frequented by some of the city’s less fortunate, and also by the police officers involved in harassing David.

The play stirred powerful emotions. On stage, before our eyes, we saw the disintegration of a man.

But for me, it was a mistake to omit the infamous expression “nationality wog” from the title of the play – the title of the brilliant book on which the play is based.

This phrase appeared on one of David Oluwale’s police charge sheets. Under nationality was written British – which was crossed out by an anonymous officer and substituted with the word “wog”.

Malcolm Bastow, Leeds

A pension con that swindles workers

Defined contribution pension schemes – where the worker pays in and their money is invested on the stock market – represent one of the greatest frauds perpetrated on the working class.

You know how much money you put in, but there is no guarantee of what you’ll get out.

Recently, a string of reports have looked at these increasingly common alternatives to final salary schemes that give you a pension with a guaranteed value.

One, from financial firm Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), showed that two decades of poor stock market performance have left fund members no better off than if they’d put their money in a savings account.

Those who started investing in the 1990s will now have less in their retirement fund than they paid in!

PWC calculates that a worker who is 50 years old today, and who has been paying such a scheme 5 percent of their pay for the past ten years, would have invested £24,000.

But today their money would only be worth £21,000 – a loss of 3 percent a year.

This shows how disastrous it is that the unions have not defended a decent state pension and final salary schemes.

More attacks are on the way. This latest evidence should stiffen our resistance.

Margaret Moore, Birmingham

Personal budgets will hurt disabled

Roderick Cobley says that the introduction of personalised budgets in the NHS will be an empowering development for disabled people (» Letters, 7 March).

Disabled and non-disabled people should all support the principle of increased control over services.

But I don’t agree that the government’s plans will achieve this.

In fact the increased privatisation of the NHS, which is the real aim of these proposals, will have the opposite effect.

Some service users – probably a minority – will have no problems “fighting their corner”. But most will find that decisions about allocation of resources will remain outside their control.

In the future the government will find it easier to make cuts because they are much harder to fight against on an individual‑by‑individual basis.

The principle of more control over our lives is one that we should all fight for.

The growing numbers thrown out of work by the current economic crisis strongly suggests that the market is not the way to deliver it.

Rob Murthwaite, North London

‘Britishness’ is offensive

Esme Choonara’s article on British nationalism was spot on in its rejection of the slogan “British jobs for British workers” (» Who benefits when ‘we’re all in it together’?, 14 February).

The slogan is racist and encourages the British National Party (BNP).

As socialists we have every right to condemn the word “Britishness” when we take a close look at the history of the British Empire.

The British Empire carried out countless imperialist massacres.

Today British foreign policy remains useful to oppressive regimes around the world.

I would like to see the word Britishness – along with the BNP – flushed into the sewers where it belongs.

Charlie Dowthwaite, Barrow-in-Furness

How to make money cheap

Simon Basketter’s column on quantitative easing discussed how the Bank of England is trying to boost the money supply and inject liquidity into the banking system (»  What on earth is quantitative easing?,14 March).

But many commentators stress the other role of quantitative easing.

Put crudely, by purchasing bonds the Bank of England drives up their prices. This reduces the “yield” of those bonds because the payments received by bondholders are fixed.

In other words, they receive a smaller percentage of the value of the bond each time they get a payment.

This drives down the cost of borrowing beyond what can be achieved by cutting the Bank of England’s bank interest rate.

There were some signs that this was indeed happening as the Bank of England started printing money.

Mary Bolton, Sheffield

Share and share alike

Readers may be interested to know about the Equality Trust (»

It is a new group campaigning against the effects of the growing divide between rich and poor.

Its website explains how inequality has a negative impact on our physical and mental health.

The launch of the Equality Trust coincides with Richard Wilkinson’s new book Spirit Level.

This explains how issues such as obesity and teenage pregnancy rates are linked to inequality.

Graeme Kemp, Shropshire

Beauty myth worth fighting

Protests against the Miss London University “beauty pageant” have attracted a lot of attention.

Students from across London joined together to build a radical campaign against the sexist event.

Universities should be places where women and men of all backgrounds can be themselves and shake off some of society’s most oppressive ideas.

This event does the opposite. It parades women as sex objects – to be lined up and judged.

Some people say that those of us who campaign against these sick charades are “unattractive” and “jealous”.

What a load of crap. We just believe that people should not be reduced to an imposed set of physical characteristics.

Liz Brown, Kings College

Going, going... not gone

Your article on countries going bankrupt (» Can countries become bankrupt?, 7 March) reminded me of Argentina’s economic collapse in the 1990s.

Then the bosses arranged for gold bullion to be driven out of the capital city in security vans while protesters filled the streets.

They wanted “their” money hidden well away.

This example shows that the flight of capital still involves physical labour – and that if protesters are well organised, the moving of money can be stopped.

Anna, by email

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Article information

Tue 17 Mar 2009, 18:45 GMT
Issue No. 2143
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