Vote Socialist Alliance

Firefighter Syd Platt is the Socialist Alliance candidate in the February 20 council by-election in Haverstock ward in the London borough of Camden. Peter Manson spoke to him

What is your political background? I was a Labour Party member years ago, but I became disenchanted when clause four was dropped. I have always voted Labour, right up until the last election. I used to think it was better to try and change Labour from within, but now I've seen the light. New Labour is continuing the Tory mantra - public bad, private good. They're privatising through PFI or through the back door. I was interested in what lots of the left groups were saying, but I hadn't considered joining, and certainly not standing in an election. I suppose I had the mainstream union view - you have to fight to take the party back to old Labour. But the fire dispute made me realise that's a lost cause - we need a socialist alternative. Would that socialist alternative be like old Labour then? Well, in many ways old Labour did follow socialist principles - it was a lot more caring, while New Labour is more like old Tories. Old Labour believed in putting people before profit. But it's all about socialism, to be honest with you. Some people are embarrassed by the word - for the last 20 years the press has been trying to get rid of socialism in all its forms. But when you speak to people about their beliefs, you realise that they have socialist politics without using the term. It's something we should be proud of - we should say, 'I am a socialist!' You said the firefighters' dispute helped you make the break. Yes, my own personal experience played a large part. There was a feeling amongst firefighters that New Labour was our friend, but now they are waking up. Eventually there must be political disaffiliation. A lot are opting not to pay the political levy. In my opinion we need to break the link, while maintaining the levy. We need to support politics - including, I believe, socialist politics. The Socialist Alliance is for the democratisation of the political fund, of course, rather than calling for an immediate break with Labour while there is no viable alternative. That's one thing. But if the Fire Brigades Union executive council backed me, for example, the Labour Party would have problems. The FBU London region has endorsed the application for support from Steve Cracknell, who stood for the SA in Haringey, but it will be turned back nationally. London has also backed me - with good wishes so far. I haven't asked for more - I'm waiting to see what happens on the national executive with Steve. As I say, if the NEC went ahead and was brave enough to give their support to Steve and myself, that would cause problems for Labour. They could either pretend it hadn't happened or they could disaffiliate the FBU. But that would have repercussions in other unions - they are already talking about withholding £40 million. The time has come to make a move - many are beginning to realise that. Why don't we do what the RMT did - give Labour a list of four or five options? Do you oppose cuts in the fire service? Do you oppose PPP? The union should only support those who back the things we fight for. What is your view of the conduct of the FBU dispute? I suppose there is a gap between the rank and file and the leadership. While they haven't sold us down the river, every time they've acted 'reasonably' and called off strikes to allow more negotiations, the employers and the government have come back with a worse deal. They shouldn't cancel any more strikes - let them negotiate while we're out. The membership have found it all frustrating and would support that. The brigade committees are meeting every week and are keeping up the pressure. If the Bain report is still on the table, the union should give seven days notice of another strike. It's been a bit like a roller coaster - a build-up of momentum, which is lost when the action is suspended. It's the same for the support groups and other trade unions too. We organise big events for the strike dates, but when they are called off, the meetings go ahead, but with low attendance - it's all a bit wearing. What is the mood of the rank and file? They feel it's no longer just about pay. The position of the employers and the government threatens the future of the fire service itself and the whole FBU. John Prescott tried to enforce a deal on us and there's the threat of an injunction banning strikes during a war. But how would they lock up 50,000 people? This is a battle for all trade unions and even for democracy. It should be a signal to the rest of the union movement - are you prepared to let this happen? They should all be called out for a day on a general strike. The labour movement was set up to defend basic human rights and we should do that. Blair has said that Gilchrist and the FBU leadership just want to politicise a trade union dispute. It's the government that has politicised it. Andy Gilchrist is not leading the strike. There was a massive 90% 'yes' vote - the members are leading it. We have our own programme of 'modernisation', such as the community fire safety initiative, aimed at preventing fires. And there are other things - greater equality, health and safety: management need to be more serious about these things. Their programme of cuts won't help - the public will have a much smaller, much worse service and heftier insurance bills. So it's been politicised by the government - we went out over pay. MPs demand a 40% pay rise for themselves, but they want to give us 11% over two years and increase our working hours under 'modernisation'. What about the idea that in the build-up to war firefighters are a "disgrace to their country"? A lot of us find that deeply offensive. Whenever there's a big national disaster every politician comes out with how we are a 'wonderful bunch of people'. But, as soon as we stand up and dare to demand more pay, we are 'rabid leftwingers' leaving the country without protection. We are 'criminally risking lives' or are even 'in the pay of Saddam Hussein'. But the FBU has supported socialism all over the world - we won't jump on The Sun's bandwagon. The government are the ones putting lives at risk. Because of the dispute soldiers have been tied up firefighting instead of killing men, women and children in Iraq. They are putting lives at risk in Iraq and here. In my opinion the FBU leadership has been too defensive on this question. We should say, this is not our war - we are against it. Like the public 80% of firefighters are against the war. There will be FBU banners on the February 15 demonstration and lots of firefighters in uniform will be there. A lot of FBU ex-servicemen are dead set against war on Iraq. It will cause misery and suffering and increase the threat of terrorism. The only winners will be the multinational oil companies. The money should be used on public services, not on war. How has the war featured in your election campaign? I was speaking to the Labour candidate on Saturday and he said that the war was "not a local issue". As far as I'm concerned it's an issue if the people want to discuss it. They do - and it's costing Labour votes. They're asking, how can you spend three and a half billion pounds on war, yet you can't afford to pay the nurses or firefighters? How are voters reacting to you as a firefighter? People are reacting positively. There has been lots of sympathy and massive public support for the firefighters. They can see the link between cuts in the fire service and all the other public services. Whether that will translate into votes is yet to be seen. How is the campaign going? We've been out leafleting and canvassing and there's been a lot of support. The problem will be the turnout - it could be as low as 22-23%. That means that only the hard-core support, including for the established parties, will vote. A number of people have told me they're never going to vote Labour again - there's an awful lot of disenchanted Labour voters about. They were expecting things to change, but the gap between rich and poor is still growing. Locally, when it comes to schools, libraries and housing, New Labour stand for the same as the Tories - cuts in jobs and working conditions and worse services for the public. Join SA campaign Help needed with canvassing. Meet outside the Fiddlers Elbow pub, junction Prince of Wales Road, Malden Road, 11am, Sunday February 16, 5.30pm, and Monday February 17, 5.30pm. Campaign meeting, Monday February 17, 7.30pm, Castlehaven Community Centre. To help on polling day, Thursday February 20, or at any time call Simon Joyce (07811 144890) or email sallythompson@blueyonder.co.uk