Italy: The more things change, the more they stay the same / FRFI 227 June/July 2012

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

After nearly six months in power, the aura around Prime Minister Monti is fading and his fate is hanging by a thread. In fact, Monti’s ‘technocratic’ government is being criticised increasingly by both the right and the left and the direction in which the latest political developments are taking Italy is quite uncertain. DARIO CHIARADONNA reports.

After getting thrashed in local elections on 6 May, the right is looking fragile. Parties such as the Lega Nord (Northern League, a secessionist party allied to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Casa della Libertà), which prided itself on being tough on crime and corruption, was lambasted in its strongholds amid a financial scandal that forced its leader Umberto Bossi to step down.

That situation should have clearly benefited the left but the void was quickly filled by a citizens’ movement called Il movimento cinque stelle (The Five Star Movement) led by Beppe Grillo, a stand-up comedian. ‘I Grillini’, as the activists of that movement are called, express more the disgust of people at the way politics works in Italy than the resurgence of a popular force that could spell doom for Italy’s ruling class.

For the parliamentary left like the Democratic Party (PD), Monti’s attempts at reforming labour laws such as Article 18 of the Workers’ Statute, which regulates cases of unjustified sacking, showed its absolute readiness to compromise with the right, lest the EU treat Italy like Greece.

On the trade union front, only pressure from CGIL (the largest Italian trade union federation) stopped the PD from agreeing the labour reforms. The other main workers’ organisations, the CISL and UIL, had already accepted them, paving the way for further attacks on working class conditions by making it easier for employers to sack workers.

PD’s position is more and more similar to that of PASOK of Greece because it is finding itself in a contradiction that threatens to dissolve the party. Stuck between an outright revolt from the rank-and-file militants, the pressure from its labour arm (the CGIL) on one side, and on the other its drive for domestic respectability and credibility abroad with the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank, a Greek scenario looks all the more probable albeit with a much lesser role from a class-based movement from the left.

Gone are the days when Monti could garner strong support through the decree Salva Italia (Saving Italy), which introduced austerity measures for Italy in December 2011. In fact, the government had to balance the cuts with new sources of revenue by increasing taxation and breaking up closed shop arrangements for the likes of pharmacies and taxis. Such moves alienated self-employed people and small businessmen such as shop-owners, a core constituency of the right. The Monti government was further weakened when it backed down from proposals to auction off the frequencies for the major Italian television networks in April this year: opposition from Berlusconi’s huge media empire proved too much. An embattled Monti means that the days of this technocratic government are numbered.

The economic situation is becoming so desperate that every day there is news of people who have taken their own lives due to indebtedness and lack of work. It is estimated that about seven million people are either unemployed or underemployed – on short-time working, for instance; this is about 30% of the workforce. Even the media reports that Italian society risks being dislocated altogether with more and more families falling below the poverty line. The country is becoming once more a nation of emigrants as people leave in droves: in 2011, for instance, 60,000 emigrated to Australia alone.

Yet the economic morass in which Italy finds itself has yet to generate massive resistance such as in Spain or Greece. If the left does not find a way to unite and to create a structure where a class-based movement can grow, the country is in great danger of falling prey to the far-right and its petty-bourgeois decoys.