Call for unity

Andy Holder is England's first self-declared Socialist Alliance councillor, representing a ward in Burnley, Lancashire. He spoke to Peter Manson What is your background in politics?

I'm a working class lad. My mother struggled and was a single parent at one stage.

When I heard militant trade unionists speaking, I thought, 'Yes, that's for me.' Thatcher tried to destroy the community - those people were fighting to defend it. I'm proud to say I still believe in those things today. We've sold all our national assets - telephones, trains, gas, etc - for private profit. The unemployed are not able to enjoy the fruits of their work. The fat cats are in charge of everything - even water, which everybody and everything needs to survive. But when an ordinary worker asks for six percent, they're told, 'You're a greedy bastard.'

As a member of the GMB, I'm a delegate to the trades council and have been very active in recruiting people to the union. Even when employers didn't recognise the union, I said, 'To hell with it', and persuaded people to sign up.

I joined the Labour Party in 1993 and quickly rose up over a period of 12 months or so. I was attracted to Labour because of what was written in clause four - that industry should be in the hands of the public. I was the Burnley Labour Party's first disabled officer. My own disability was caused by a works accident and I can speak out for disabled people.

In 1997 Labour scored a tremendous victory after years of Tory rule. We all remember, 'Things can only get better', the campaign song. In fact at times it's got worse - look at single parents, the disabled, people on benefit. Personally I've been out of work for 16 months - there's a lack of opportunity for people with disability.

When clause four was actually abolished, I thought, 'I'm going to fight them at their own game.' The word 'comrade' was dropped. It was treated like a four-letter word. The new clause four has no backbone behind it. It gives no sense of security to the underprivileged.

When the Tories were in power the Labour leader on the council was always attacking quangoes. She used to come along to ward meetings and say how evil and undemocratic they were. Now that Labour runs Burnley she has jumped on about five of them.

In 1998 I resigned from the Labour Party. I stood as an independent in Queensgate ward. I decided to take on one of the big guns - Peter Kenyon, the Labour group secretary on the council. There were a lot of people who thought, 'You can't be supporting these attacks on people who are worse off then yourself.' Labour had held the seat for the previous 18 years with a majority of around 900. But I came second, reducing this to about 200. After that I got approached in 1999 by the independent group on Burnley council to stand against Labour in Brunshaw ward.

We usually think of independent councillors as tending to be rightwing. What is the situation in Burnley and how did you fit into it?

There are about 11 independents on the council. Some of them are ex-Labour Party and one or two are moderate socialists. There are also three or four Tories - a motley crew, united only by their opposition to Labour. The leader of the independent group was Harry Brooks, a former Labour man himself and a very close friend of Frank Dobson. Unknown to me at the time, he has some very rightwing views. He came over as all the things I'm not - xenophobic, homophobic.

When I fought John Ormrod in Brunshaw, I stood on an independent programme, but I actually did most of the work myself. I was well known - my family had lived in the area for three generations. My granddad was a staunch socialist. He came to Lancashire from the Rhondda valley where he had been a militant miner. Today he would see Tony Blair's Labour Party as being more rightwing than the Tories.

I won by 37 votes. I was the first to take a seat from Labour in Brunshaw. Funnily enough, John Ormrod himself has also left the party now. He couldn't stomach it himself.

But when I realised what Brooks' views really were, I was so disgusted that I broke ranks and left the independent group. At this point some Labour members said, "Come back and help us fight." The group leader wanted me back in. But they'd put a five-year expulsion order on me for standing against the official candidate and wouldn't overturn it. So I called myself an independent socialist.

When I added 'socialist' to my 'independent' tag, the BNP attacked me personally. They don't like socialists because of our opposition to them taking their shit onto the street. But it doesn't help when you've got people in government acting rather rightwing on refugees and asylum-seekers. And now the scum of the earth are coming out of the woodwork. The BNP want to cause a race war by telling lies. They want to stand here in Burnley.

How did you get drawn towards the Socialist Alliance?

During last May's local elections I thought it was fantastic that there were people standing for the Greater London Assembly with the same views I had. I've been following the London Socialist Alliance programme. With Ken Livingstone breaking ranks and the formation of the Socialist Alliances it's been an exciting time for leftwing politics. I've always thought it's 'sexy to be a socialist'.

John Nicholson of the Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance contacted me and asked me to speak in Manchester. Since then I've spoken at quite a few meetings. And when a comrade from the Socialist Workers Party told me they were going to form the Lancashire SA and asked me if I'd be interested in joining, I said, "Try keeping me out".

As you know, it was launched last Thursday at a press conference. I declared myself a Socialist Alliance councillor. It was a blow when the three Preston independents decided at the last moment not to do the same. But I'm looking forward to the future with confidence. Ordinary people are fed up with Blair and his cronies, so the left has got to make a statement.

Had you had much contact with leftwing groups previously?

I've got quite a number of friends in the SWP. I like to read Socialist Worker, and The Socialist when I can get hold of it - anything that's leftwing in fact. These papers aren't afraid to tell the truth.

The SWP, Socialist Party, CPGB, etc all declare ourselves to be revolutionary. How do you feel being in an alliance with people who stand for revolution?

Sometimes it's the only way - we've got to make a change. Take Seattle - people were protesting about the injustice going on in the real world. The only way you're going to change things is through a revolution.

When the Labour Party was formed in 1900 it was going to revolutionise society. It was formed to do that. Then there was Russia in 1917 - the ruling class here were bricking themselves. The same thing was happening in Germany. There were mutinies in France. Events will lead to workers trying to overthrow capitalism again. If you keep people under pressure, then eventually they're going to explode.

How do you see the SA moving forward?

I'm hoping we'll be able to turn round to people who've seen no change after the Tories and offer a lot. We need to look after everyone 'from the cradle to the grave'. We have to look after the pensioners who helped to defeat Hitler. The Tories broke the link with earnings and this government doesn't give two shits. The 75p increase was an insult. It stinks. At the same time MPs vote themselves any rise they see fit.

Do you think we will need to move towards a party?

I think we will form a party. Labour is no longer the party of its members, of the working classes. While we're all in our own individual little parties like the SWP, SP and your own, we'll get nowhere. Now I'm aligned to everyone. We'll all have to get round the table and decide what we agree on. Where we disagree can wait for the moment. If we don't form a party, eventually you'll get the situation where one group says, 'We're pulling our people out of this alliance.' If there's no progress in elections the whole thing could fold. That's why I'm calling for unity.

But the party must be democratic. Every member must have a vote, be able to stand for positions and be able to speak out openly. I don't believe one particular group should take control. I'll use the SWP for an example. If they run everything, then the SP and CPGB will say, 'Hold on, we're not having this. We're out.'

This is no insult to the Socialist Party, but they're always on about building this "mass workers' party" of theirs. Well, the SA is a start. This is the way we're going to work. And this is the way we can get a party in practice.