Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2060

Workers in South Africa on strike last month

Workers in South Africa on strike last month

Strike shows the way

The recent public sector workers’ strike in South Africa was very successful, although strikes are never 100 percent perfect.

The Nehawu education and health union was the only union that consciously planned for a strike. It then led the strike through setting up strike committees in all provinces and holding mass based meetings in all workplaces leading up to the strike.

We also made the conscious decision to defy essential services rules (that make it illegal for nurses and others to strike) and use the tactic of pickets for the duration of the strike.

The pickets were very effective as they sweated out the toxic shop stewards who, through the years, had been making deals with the employer at an institutional level – often selling out the members’ interests for their own.

The strike meant that they would be telling members to go on strike and then return to work through the back door – and were therefore exposed to members.

The effect has been good for bringing in new layers of leadership and getting rid of the sell-outs.

Nehawu also made the decision to conclude the strike on a high note with every intention not to demobilise but to redirect our efforts to service delivery at all levels.

This will be done through a post-strike programme. We will shift the strike committees to campaign committees to take forward the many struggles for service delivery countrywide.

The public servants were always portrayed as privileged workers (professionals tied to the ANC government) who would not take to industrial action.

We have now emphatically dispelled this myth.

Public service workers have benefited enormously organisationally, politically, economically and ideologically from the strike.

The strike saw 11 million working days lost, with between 600,000 to one million workers estimated to have been out on strike – the highest since 1994.

And the working class as a whole has gained massive confidence as indicated by the ongoing wage disputes and threats of industrial action in many other sectors.

Guy Slingsby, South Africa

Taxing the poor to give to the rich

Since the last budget, I have been trying to get an answer to my question:

“How does a socialist government reconcile the proposal to abolish the lower tax rate of 10 percent – when it reduces the standard rate from 22 percent to 20 percent – with its principle to support the underprivileged?”

The proposal means that, using the current allowances, anyone with an income between £5,225 and £18,605 will pay more tax.

Those earning £7,455 are worst affected, paying double their current tax, while those with an income over £18,605 will pay up to £469 less tax. 

This means that the low paid are funding a tax cut for the higher paid.

The “poor” get a 100 percent tax increase to give the “rich” a 6 percent tax cut.

Not, in my mind, a socialist principle. I still await an explanation.

A W Wisher
For full figures see » Labour Party tax increases for the lower paid

Still much to fight for

As a feminist, I was interested to read Marnie Holborow’s review of Lindsey German’s new book (» Material Girls: Women, Men and Work, 7 July).

However I do not think Marnie did justice to feminism or the content of the book by equating feminism with individualism.

Undoubtably some women did rise up the business and professional ladder, but that was not what we were fighting for. In the 1980s we took to the streets to reclaim our right to be there without fear.

We fought for free childcare, abortion, the right to determine our sexuality and for economic independence.

We demanded an end to male violence and pornography. The women’s movement changed women’s lives as did the peace protests at Greenham Common and the protests by miners’ wives during the 1984-85 strike.

I agree with Lindsey that “There is so much wrong in women’s lives and by implication in the lives of men and children as well, that only fundamental changes can begin to put things right,” and I welcome her proposal for a charter for women.

However, I believe that the backdrop to capitalism, neoliberalism, oppression and violence is that we live in a patriarchal world where one group (men) has power over another group (women).

We need look no further to see who controls and dominates the world’s governments, the world’s military, multinationals and legal systems.

In the 1980s, as feminists, we learnt a lot about our differences based on class, race, sexuality and disability.

We fell into the divide and rule strategy of the patriarchy and retreated. Let us build on those lessons and learn how to embrace those differences and make them strengths.

In the words of Audre Lorde, black, lesbian, feminist poet, writer and scholar, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the masters house.

“They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us (women) to bring about genuine change.”

Sorrel Weaver, Manchester

Attempting to take politics out of the party

Former CBI bosses’ leader Digby Jones is in Gordon Brown’s government because Brown seeks to remove parties from British politics.

Not to be outdone, the Hampstead and Kilburn Tories selected Chris Philip – a Tory councillor, from a field including non-Tories – in what they were pleased to term a “primary” after the US system.

Most politically active Americans register as “supporters”, not members of parties. And they can register as supporters of more than one party.

A US party’s policies are determined in secret by a timely corporate donation.

Platforms replace manifestos, which are binding, at least in theory.

Here the Tories do not even vote on the motions at their conference. While New Labour simply ignores many conference votes.

Why should political parties be given state funds and free airtime for their election broadcasts.

As in the US the apparent right to select a candidate does not mean the right to determine policy, since each candidate is a mini “party”.

In the US the electoral calendar requires the selection of candidates long before any consideration of policies.

The US system of “parties” leads to the selection of the least viable candidates.

D Shepherd, North London

Using race to win?

Strategists in the Australian government believe it was the question of refugees that won the conservatives the last election.

They chose to ignore the real cause for their victory – fear of interest rate rises amongst a debt-ridden population.

Now the conservative government wants to whip up racist hysteria for the coming election – this time bringing to the fore their racism against indigenous people.

John Howard’s government is focusing on the high rate of child abuse within the grossly impoverished Aboriginal communities to justify their latest attacks.

These attacks range from removing Aboriginal people from their land, to enforced and invasive health checks, to the accelerated removal of Aboriginal children from their families by social services.

The government is simultaneously shoring up big businesses wanting to get their hands on Aboriginal land and introducing the idea of using the military against a civilian population during “peace time” – with soldiers overseeing an alcohol and pornography ban.

We are watching a renewed justification for the creation of another “Stolen Generation”. This was a policy originally aimed at forcing the genocide of Australia’s indigenous peoples. This is not an issue we should pass over lightly.

Rose Gruber, South London

Student solidarity

Students in Glasgow have been actively involved in building solidarity with the postal workers’ strikes.

We have raised hundreds of pounds for the strike fund and large delegations from Glasgow and Strathclyde universities have visited picket lines on several occasions.

The issues facing the post workers – pay cuts, job losses, and privatisation – are the same for workers in every public service.

They are all victims of a government that prioritises weaponry over welfare.

We must build links with everyone affected by these issues. Action now will determine whether or not we have a public sector when we graduate.

James Foley, Glasgow university
Jonathon Shafi, Strathclyde university

Films don’t give solutions

Esther Leslie’s article on cinema and ecological catastrophe (» Spectacle of disaster, 14 July) hinted that computer generated imagery (CGI) was, in part, responsible for creating a “spectacle of disaster” without providing solutions to the problem of climate change.

What a crude way of looking at art.

Why should films be judged by the extent to which they depict political solutions? And what is Leslie’s problem with CGI? Any serious film-maker today ought to be open to using the most advanced techniques to heighten the realism of their work.

Leslie goes on to suggest that the criteria for the depiction of reality is whether a film is informed by “good science” or “bad science”.

The film The Day After Tomorrow was based on a serious scientific possibility – abrupt climate change – as John Bellamy Foster, Robert McChesney and Harry Magdoff argued in Socialist Worker (5 June 2004). I’m not sure that this makes it more or less “realistic” than Happy Feet, the only other non-documentary film mentioned by Leslie.

To conflate “realism” with the depiction of reality as it is understood by science is bizarre.

Many films,such as those dealing in science fiction or fantasy can tell us something interesting about reality and our place within it, without being scientifically accurate.

Norman Tesler, Bristol

Gambling with the future

So finally Gordon Brown had the guts and politics to reverse one of Tony Blair’s policies.

What is this decisive change of direction? Troops finally brought home? An end to privatisation of our public services? An end to the highest prison rates in Europe?

No. Brown’s brave contribution to a new Britain is to scrap the planned Manchester super casino. I am not a supporter of super casinos but is this really the most we can hope for from the new prime minister?

And while he scraps the casino, he increasingly ties his policies to the biggest gamble of all – the free market.

As we know, it is working class people who pay for the failed bets of corporate power.

Jenny Briggs, Northampton

Charities not so charitable

What a breath of fresh air it was read Bob Holman’s article, » Why are the big charities involved in public services? (30 June).

I would argue that the voluntary sector is probably the most exploitative of all of the sectors in terms of its working conditions, practices and attitudes to those who wish to politically organise.

Quite often they are ruthless in the way they treat their employees and, if it wasn’t for the dedication and sacrifice of front line staff, would have surrendered vulnerable client groups to the commodity market place position to which their chief executives aspired to long ago.

Ray Riley, Bristol

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Article information

Tue 17 Jul 2007, 19:46 BST
Issue No. 2060
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