Tensions in the Caucasus
John Rees is right to highlight the military ambitions of US imperialism to extend its power and influence into the Caucasus region (» Imperialism’s unstable world order , 23 August).
The US and its Western allies are also using their economic influence in the region to reshape the lives of ordinary people for the worse.
Georgia, for example, is named this year by the World Bank as the “world’s top performer” in its annual Doing Business report. Under pressure from the bank, Georgia stripped away its labour protection laws in 2006 to create a “business friendly” environment.
Labour laws were changed so that workers can now be dismissed without a valid reason, while trade unions can be prohibited by the state if they are deemed to be stirring up “social conflict”.
The new laws also allow employers to unilaterally change working conditions that were previously subject to collective agreement with the trade unions.
However, a recent International Monetary Fund report into Georgia admits that poverty and unemployment have both increased in the country. Poverty levels currently stand at over 30 percent of the population.
The offensive against ordinary workers in Georgia is clearly designed to help Western based employers and to suppress workers’ dissent against Mikheil Saakashvili’s pro‑Western regime.
In this context the Georgian government’s offensive against South Ossetia and its desire to join Nato are a useful reminder of the dual nature of military and economic imperialism.
Martin Upchurch, Bristol
Capitalism means war – and modern capitalism means war conducted with a barbarism and ferocity previously unknown.
Humankind has always faced a choice between barbarism and socialism, but as the US continues its drive to strategic international domination, never have the risks for everyone on the planet been higher.
Those who confuse the current situation with what happened between the US and the Soviet Union miss the point.
The old Cold War was a relatively stable stand-off, with each side limited by the structures and “fields of influence” agreed after the end of the Second World War.
The current situation has none of that stability. The US is seeking to achieve a strategic advantage over Russia. This could easily lead to conflagration on a massive scale.
We may be watching the opening moves of such a conflict. All the signs are there – massive economic recession and ability of major imperial powers to generate conflict among themselves. If ever there was a need for socialism, it is now.
Steve Bennett, Walsall
Fascism in Russia
Boris Kagarlitsky is right to argue that the Georgian government should not be portrayed as a victim of the recent war (» The limits of a superpower , 23 August).
With Russia also posing a threat to Poland if the US sites its military bases there, our thoughts should be with the people of both those countries.
But we should also be considering the threats to immigrants and people from ethnic minorities within Russia.
Russians may “love Georgian wine” and sympathise with Georgians for cultural reasons – but there is a growing cadre of fascists active in Russia which should not be ignored.
Fascist street violence in Russia is on a steady rise. And with increasing frequency, these Nazi assaults on ethnic, religious and sexual minorities are ending in murder.
Last year 67 people were killed and more than 550 injured in fascist attacks across Russia. But the courts only managed to deliver 24 convictions related to hate crimes.
This year there has been an average of two fatalities every week. More often than not, Russian police look the other way. The Nazis openly brag that many police officers sympathise with their cause.
Their youngest victim was only nine years old. In February 2004, a Tajik girl called Khursheda Sultanova was stabbed to death in front of her father by a gang of ten Nazi skinheads in St Petersburg.
The main defendant was sentenced to just five years for “hooliganism”, and the rest up to two years. This is just one of countless examples of the Russian authorities treating Nazi murders as “hooliganism”.
In contrast to the British National Party fascists in this country, Nazi groups in Russia no longer feel the need to hide their true colours and portray themselves as “respectable” political organisations.
They demonstrate in the streets with black flags and openly describe themselves as “national socialists”. Anyone who wants to know more or find out what can be done should go to » www.myspace.com/russiancrisis
Z Zurowski, East London
Bolivian referendum shows strength of left
James Norrie’s article about the Bolivian recall elections (» Rejecting the right in Bolivia, 23 August) is right to call for an independent organisation of workers and peasants to make the breakthrough in the present crisis.
If you look at Bolivia’s referendum results last month they show the scale of support for the left and the possibilities for isolating and smashing the right.
The radical president Evo Morales won 2,103,732 votes against 1,016,992 anti-Evo votes, with a turnout of 83 percent.
This is a massive show of support for Evo Morales’s government and his MAS party. It also demonstrates the polarisation of Bolivian society that James Norrie described.
Six of the nine departments voted for Evo. He won massively in the western highlands, as was expected, but he also won the “rebel” departments of Chuquisaca and Pando. Only two departments voted against Evo.
The Bolivia Rising website at » boliviarising.blogspot.com is well worth reading. It reveals in greater detail the weakness of the old oligarchy and shows how its support is located mainly in the city of Santa Cruz.
But we must remember the lessons of history. Chile in the early 1970s also had a popular leader in Salvador Allende. But he did not build a popular movement from below – and so became isolated and was deposed by General Pinochet.
Roger Cox, North West London
Travellers battle racism in Swansea
Your recent article (» Attacks on Roma echo a warning from history, 30 August) highlighted the institutional racism that Roma in Italy and Gypsies and Travellers here in Britain face on a daily basis.
In Swansea, where I live, there is only one official site that is grossly inadequate for the number of local Gypsy families.
It is situated on a contaminated site that was previously occupied by heavy metal industry. Toxic waste surrounds them, children play in an unsafe environment, and accidents and illness are common.
Other families have been living on roadsides for years with no access to water. The police constantly harass them and move them on.
Readers should also know that Gypsies were not just victims of the Nazi Holocaust – they also fought and died heroically during the Second World War, joining the resistance and the Allies to fight fascism.
Despite this, they rarely merit a mention at memorial services. The Traveller Education Service in Swansea has argued for the role of Gypsies be recognised and valued as part of the annual Holocaust Memorial Day event.
Helen Tingate, Swansea
Anger at Oval crackdown
Well done for exposing the police raids on young black men that took place in the Oval, south London, last week (» Notting Hill Carnival crackdown targets young black men, 30 August).
One detail you didn’t mention is that the police commandeered buses to transport the youths to Epsom, Surrey, allegedly to prevent a breach of the peace.
Local community members are incensed by this incident and have demanded that the police account for their actions at a public meeting to be held on Tuesday of this week.
I have no doubt that the anger will gather momentum as awareness of what happened grows.
Oval resident, South London
Why searches must continue
It is unfortunate that these police searches have to happen in order for everyone to feel safe.
I am the mother of a young black male who has done her best to bring him up with high self esteem. He does not feel the need to carry a knife.
I do not want him to be a target simply because others can carry knives and guns for cowardly attacks on unarmed youngsters.
Let’s not forget that the majority of young men killed by knives and guns are black.
If this is the way to stop this happening, then these searches must continue.
Valerie Mae, South London
Shop Direct should pay up
I work at Shop Direct, whose Sunderland call centre workers are voting for strike action over low pay (» Call centre workers vote on strike , 16 August).
I’ve been working here for over ten years. We have taken below inflation pay rises for years because the company was doing so badly. We are all fed up.
The company told us it was reducing our staff discount while it got back on its feet. That was over eight years ago and we have yet to have it reinstated.
Shop Direct is getting over £50 million back in overpaid VAT, but it only want to give us a poxy 3 percent pay rise.
I get up at 4.15am during the week to start work at 6am with no shift allowance. Come on Shop Direct – give us a decent pay rise for a change.
Shop Direct worker, by email
Let’s raise a glass to Ralph
Simon Behrman’s article on Ralph Vaughan Williams (» Music that expressed the horrors of war , 30 August) was an excellent celebration of a great composer.
It amazes me how the right tries to claim Vaughan Williams for itself when he was so obviously a forward looking and progressive force, both in his music and his personal life.
So let’s all drink to “RVW” – a lifelong socialist and creator of some of the most beautiful music of the 20th century.
Des Bowring, Bristol
Housing crisis hits Norwich
Norwich is one of those small cities that nearly everyone thinks is cosy. But like every city, divisions of wealth and poverty are but a few yards apart.
I’ve been renting here since February. In that time the number of adverts offering flats and homes for let in the city have quadrupled.
At the same time, Norwich is second worst place in the country for repossessions.
We’re talking rises of 131 percent and 38 percent going through the courts.
What’s interesting is that working people who buy houses and those who rent are finding themselves in the same boat.
Flat rents cost twice as much as mortgage payments, producing fat profits for landlords.
The “fine city” is development mad, driven by speculation by supermarkets and people “buying to let”.
However, this bubble cannot hold – jobs are going and few can afford to move here with the hiked rents.
Rupert Mallin, Norwich