THE ITALIAN state is clamping down on the anti-capitalist movement. That should concern every reader of Socialist Worker and every activist. Since the extraordinary success of the European Social Forum in Florence, the Italian government has arrested 42 leading activists and charged them with political crimes. Some of the charges carry five to ten year sentences.
At the same time the policeman accused of killing Carlo Giuliani in Genoa last year has been released without charge. All this is a response to the growing strength and influence of the Italian movement. A recent poll showed 70 percent of the population support the aims of the social forum.
Meanwhile, Fiat workers are involved in a very militant and long-running strike against redundancies. Italy has the strongest anti-capitalist and working class movement in Europe.
The movement in Italy is responding. There has been a series of mass demonstrations against repression, including one of 100,000 in the small southern city of Cosenza. Before Christmas 40,000 marched in Genoa. The stakes are very high. The Italian prime minister, Berlusconi, is trying to criminalise the movement.
It is crucial that we stand by our Italian brothers and sisters. Globalise Resistance is coordinating a defence campaign in Britain with Italian organisations here.
Every activist should take round the campaign petition. Union members should try and pass the resolution in their branches and get it raised regionally and at national conferences. The defence of the Italian activists must be taken up by the whole movement here.
CHRIS NINEHAM, Globalise Resistance
For more information go to www.resist.org.uk
A focus on fascism is needed
DARREN RUSSELL (Letters, 6 December) wonders whether the left should focus on the racist policies of mainstream parties rather than fascism. He is right that the racism of mainstream politicians must be opposed. But it needs opposing not just because measures which scapegoat immigrants wreck lives, but also because they help the far right to grow by making racism respectable.
Many people were shocked at far right election results across Europe last year because they had underestimated the threat posed by fascism. This is because the strength of fascist organisations is usually measured only in electoral terms.
Before Le Pen's success in France's presidential elections, poor votes for his Front National (FN) led some to declare it finished. But Le Pen's vote in 2002 was only possible because he had an organisation capable of spreading his message.
Three years earlier the FN had been in disarray following a split. At the time, rather than break the organisation, anti-racists focused on government policy, giving the FN time to regroup.
Support for the far right is volatile, and rises and falls depending on many things. But the threat of fascism can only become a real danger if organised. The left has to ensure that anger at the failures of mainstream parties does not turn into support for the far right.
This means effective opposition to the mainstream, and action to prevent fascist parties from organising.
JIM WOLFREYS, London
Time to open the prisons
THE PRISON population in England and Wales (already at record levels) is expected to crash through the 100,000 barrier within four years. This is not because more crimes are being committed. The British Crime Survey shows crime is declining.
More people are being imprisoned because of political pressure brought by David Blunkett and other ministers. This means sending ever greater numbers of working class people and, disproportionately, black and Asian youth to prison. In the last 25 years the welfare state has been privatised and cut. There are fewer resources to deal with the needs of the poor, or those in need of care.
As the 'caring' role of the welfare state has been slashed there have been greater attempts to control the poor, and this has meant following the US model of mass incarceration. It's time to open the prisons and provide decent jobs and welfare services-a much better investment than pouring millions into the present barbaric system.
MICHAEL LAVALETTE, Lancashire
Is direct action key to success?
WE, THE Women With Bolt Croppers, claim responsibility for breaking into US spy base Menwith Hill in Yorkshire and destroying their devices for intercepting radio communications. On the night of Saturday 14 December 2002 we made our way to the base. We proceeded to cut a hole in the fence and climb through. No alarms sounded, no one came to challenge us-surprising since the base is on 'black alert' (one below red).
We set about causing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage. Our work done, we sat down for a bite to eat before leaving through the hole we came in through. We had been inside sabotaging the war effort for over an hour! You'd think the US military might be on the case. Apparently not-it seems they have as much intelligence as their leader George Warmonger Bush. We did this because we are angry at the US state's plans to bomb Iraq.
We have signed petitions, we have lobbied our MPs, we have marched in London and throughout the country on numerous occasions. None of these tactics are working. We must decide whether we are serious about stopping this war. We need to take direct action now.
WOMEN WITH BOLT CROPPERS
Scandal over council rents
COUNCIL HOUSING is one of the few affordable options for working people in London. Because successive governments have stopped councils building homes, it is difficult to get a council home in the capital.
For those who have one it is a lifeline when you look at the costs of private renting or mortgages. Now Hackney's New Labour council wants to end even that-and claims that it is being pushed by the government.
They have sent out letters saying they want to force council rents up and link them with average manual wages, and with market prices of property in the area. They say they will 'only' put up rents each year by inflation, plus £2 a week, plus 0.5 percent!
What should be happening is building more council houses at affordable rents to deal with London's housing crisis. As usual New Labour seems intent on doing the exact opposite of what working people want and need.
LYNDA AITKEN, East London
Stand up to Putin, and Blair
UNDER THE cover of the 'war on terror' President Putin of Russia is demanding the extradition of Chechen diplomat Akhmed Zakayev from Britain. In 1991 Chechens hoped they would finally win freedom from a colonial occupation that stretched back to the days of the Tsars. Instead they have suffered war, invasion and bombardment at the hands of the Russian army.
Up to 10 percent of the population have been killed since 1994. Another 10 percent are refugees. The capital Grozny has been destroyed. Torture, mutilations, hostage-taking and systematic rape of civilians are routine. Yet Russian losses in Chechnya are now running higher than during their war on Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Zakayev has taken a leading role in previous negotiations with the Russians and has travelled widely, meeting Western leaders. Blair has been an avid supporter of Putin. The demand to extradite Zakayev is an attempt to criminalise all Chechens and legitimise Russian terror. Everyone should oppose it.
ROB FERGUSON, South London
I KNOW that this sounds like niggling political correctness, but Paul McGarr really shouldn't use expressions such as 'stark staring bonkers' to describe the Blairs and the backward mystical tosh they believe in (December 14).
The pressures of living under capitalism mean that many working class people suffer from mental illness at some time in their lives, and socialists should give a lead in showing them support and understanding.
MARK DONALDSON, Edinburgh
IS IT not time for socialists and Labour Party supporters who agonise about voting for Blair and Co, and then do so rather than 'let the Tories in', to change their view?
That morally bankrupt mob masquerading as the 'people's party' have long since lost the right to govern. Stop agonising over who to vote for and kick them out of office. Even if the Tories did manage to win the next election they would soon implode.
JOHN HARRIS, St Albans
SINCE 16 December 2002 hundreds of people of Iranian descent have been arrested in the US. Many have been here legally or were even born in the US. This act has been conducted by the judicial system here in the US, the one that talks about human rights!
BIJAN KOHAN, US
SOCIALIST Worker (21 December) is right to attack the government's failure to tackle road congestion and the disaster of its transport policies. London mayor Ken Livingstone's congestion charging and backing for better buses is a step in the right direction. New Labour and the Tories oppose him. Why does Socialist Worker?
DAVE KINGSHILL, North London