Don’t ignore the state
Luis A Gomez (What next in Bolivia?, 10 September) writes an interesting argument about the discussions running through Bolivian society regarding the direction in which the movement against the government’s neo-liberal reforms should travel.
His conclusions seem to be that due to the rich tapestry of traditions in Bolivia it is not possible for a genuine unity of the oppressed. Instead, he argues, “horizontal dialogue” is the way forward, with the movement as a many-headed beast.
Gomez’s assertion that the state is “carefully designed against us” is astute, and this is exactly why the movement should organise to defeat it.
The state is always centralised — the military, the police force, the judiciary, the civil service and so on have huge amounts of resources at their disposal and recognise the importance of class unity.
They will all act together to crush any genuine opposition to the privilege of the ruling class.
The concern in Bolivia is that if the state is left to its own devices, with a strong but fragmented opposition movement, it will use its collective strength to smash movements such as that of the Aymara.
In a revolutionary situation the state needs to be taken. It is currently in the hands of a right wing government, the corporations and the various international trade organisations led by multinational capital.
Should, however, the oppressed people of Bolivia unite together with a cohesive strategy to take power, a different sort of state, a workers’ state, can be used as a tool to transform society, to defend the gains of the revolution.
If it is left as it is, it will be funded and armed to the hilt by multinational capitalism and its client governments, and used to crush the disparate groups trying so hard, and so courageously, to transform society from below.
Patrick Ward, South London
How to do a collection at work
I was on the recent Bristol demo called to support the reinstatement of Jerry Hicks.
There was a big cheer as 1,000 demonstrators welcomed the Gate Gourmet strikers who arrived late from London.
The two strikes look very different but they are fighting over the same issue.
The right to trade union organisation is being challenged by the boss class. Solidarity is the key to winning both of these disputes.
I have done several collections, including one of £42.50 from my five-a-side football team. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who want to make collections but are not sure what to do. Here’s what I do.
I put my name at the top with as big a donation as I can afford. Then I go to my closest workmates.
When I’ve got a decent list of donations I widen it out. I’ve found it took about 20 minutes of explanation for each donation before the strike got well known.
You can also raise it at your union branch. Better still get a striker to address a branch or workplace meeting.
I proposed a £500 donation at our branch meeting but was trumped by a new steward who suggested £1,000. It was supported unanimously.
We can win such disputes through solidarity. But victories will not come automatically. We need organisation from below.
Phil Jones, Branch secretary, Gloucester City Unison
Lives being destroyed
Ann Wallace (Letters, 27 August) expresses understandable frustration and anger with the leadership of the T&G union for cutting deals instead of building broader solidarity action at Gate Gourmet. But as a Unison union activist I disagree with her prescription that socialists should quit the unions.
For most workers joining the union is the first step in asserting our rights, and the first port of call in any resistance to management attacks. Just listen to the Gate Gourmet workers chant “long live T&G” on the picket line!
It is of course true that union officials are in a contradictory position, pressurised from above by management, government, law and media as well as from below by members. And the further up the hierarchy you go, the more pressure you come under. But this is systematic and affects everyone, it’s not a product of individual moral weakness — nor will it be solved by abandoning existing unions and starting again.
The only real answer is strong organisation from below, so that members and activists can communicate and build solidarity directly, and thus strengthen the pressure on officials from below (also creating the ultimate option of bypassing them if needs be). In my view this is best done within the existing unions, to which most workers in dire straits continue to turn.
I do agree with Ann about bringing the vibrant mood of the anti-war and anti-capitalist movement into the unions. Most union members would agree another world is necessary. What we need to do is keep building confidence that it really is possible!
Ben Drake, York
Christine Buchholz (German establishment closes ranks against the left , SW, 10 September) is not from Linkspartei, as the article originally stated. She is from Wahlalternative, which supports the Linkspartei in the upcoming elections.
Support Alfred Ridley, jailed council tax rebel
Alfred Ridley was sent to prison for 28 days last week for non payment of part of his council tax.
I understand that 28 days is the maximum sentence for debts of up to £1,000.
The court was packed with press and supporters and overflowed into the corridor. Alfred was given one minute to make a statement and then the magistrate granted South Northants council’s request that Alfred should serve his sentence.
The courtroom erupted, the anger was tangible. Alfred was given no private time to say goodbye to his wife, so they parted in an open courtroom.
How can this man receive a sentence of 28 days for an original debt of about £40 (now nearly £700) while people committing robbery, theft, assault and drunkeness often go scot free, only to roam the streets and commit the same crimes with no fitting punishment?
What they have done will not quell the population fighting for a fairer form of taxation. Pressure your council, write to your MP, write to the newspapers to tell them about Alfred.
A truly just form of local taxation must involve a link between people’s incomes and the amount they pay.
It must also have a hard look at the way businesses are let off lightly and have their local tax increases capped at the rate of inflation.
Helen Lee, Watford
No understanding of how we feel
I recently attended a public discussion in Bolton organised by JUSTPEACE and the Thinkers Forum on “Terrorism”. Over 250 people from the Rumworth ward attended the event.
Local Labour MP Dr Brian Iddon attempted the impossible by trying both to defend government policy and to keep the support of the audience. Later he and the Rumworth Labour councillors attacked the meeting in a local community magazine for being too one-sided.
In fact speakers from the platform and the floor were from a wide variety of political backgrounds, but were united in their condemnation of Labour’s foreign policy and of restrictions on civil liberties at home.
Can our political representatives really be so out of touch that they are unaware of the deep anger not just in the Muslim community, but across Britain as a whole, about the continuing occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.
Neil McAlister, Bolton
My friend Paul Coker
Your article on the death of Paul Coker (Why did Paul Coker die in custody?, 27 August) is right to ask questions.
The whole incident is a sham from start to finish, I certainly don’t believe that Paul was attacking the police — that is pure fiction.Anyone else that knows him will say the same.
I have been best friends with Amy Coker and have known her family including Paul for about seven years. I am sure the truth will eventually come to light.
Karen Ashcroft, Southend
The glass is half full
I was shocked to see the letters about binge drinking (Letters, 10 September). The government defines binge drinking as having three pints in one session, something I — and doubtless many other readers — have enjoyed after a protest.
Drinking and protest are inextricably linked in Britain. The industrialists’ model towns without pubs were publess because pubs have for centuries been centres of sedition.
Pubs are also centres of community, and it is not just disappointing, but an attack on the working class, when our pubs are closed, demolished and replaced with yuppie flats, or gentrified with locals priced out or barred.
The extensions in pub hours only return us to the situation before the First World War. Karl Marx frequently enjoyed a late night drink — and so do I!
Edward McKenna, East London
How left was 1945 Labour?
Colin Littlejohn (Letters, 10 September) equates the 1945 Labour government to socialism. This a government which was responsible for acquiring nuclear weapons, sending troops into Korea and for breaking up strikes. Is this the socialism that Colin wants?
Adrian Cannon, Leith, Edinburgh
Not a natural disaster
I was surprised to see Socialist Worker (The price of Bush's war, 10 September) describe Hurricane Katrina as a “natural disaster”. The fact that the Gulf of Mexico is 2 degrees warmer than in previous decades hurricane seasons increased the severity this time.
Global warming is generally accepted to be a non-natural phenomenon.
Also the unregulated reclamation of the wetland bayou between New Orleans and the open sea 100 miles south has removed a previous natural barrier to these winds and rain.
Lastly, despite the rain and wind of Katrina itself, the massive inundation came from the breeching of levees to the north of the city. Bush looted funds meant to improve those levees for military needs in Iraq.
All in all it’s a disaster for capitalist politics.
Jo Lang, by e-mail
The culture of New Orleans
Further to Charlie Hore’s article (America’s cultural heart, 10 September) readers might want to read Michael Ondaatje’s novella Coming Through Slaughter, a painfully relevant evocation of the period when jazz emerged in New Orleans, concentrating on Buddy Bolden’s fate as a trumpeter and asylum inmate.
It’s also worth noting that the room where the 1803 Louisiana Purchase was signed is now an exhibit in New Orleans central Jackson Square.
However, it fails to make clear to visitors that the reason France was so keen to sell what amounted to the whole mid-west of the US, was to fund an army to overthrow a slave rebellion led by Toussaint L’Ouverture in what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Perhaps just one small part of the reconstruction of New Orleans, for the political benefit of its people, should be to commemorate a black revolutionary’s connection to the city.
Nick Grant, by e-mail