Italy: Fightback begins

FRFI 230 December 2012/January 2013

On 14 November 2012, the European Confederation of Trade Unions called the first ever European day of action. Spurred by recent political and social events in Spain and in Greece, the European trade union movement, however reluctantly, coordinated actions throughout Europe with general strikes in Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal. According to the CGIL, Italy’s largest trade union federation, 50% of its members came out on strike; in some sectors including mining and metallurgy, two-thirds of the workers came out.

Thousands of people marched through the streets of the major Italian cities such as Turin, Milan, and Rome. In Milan, students clashed with the police in the vicinity of the EU local offices and manure was thrown in the entrance of the Italian subsidiary of Deutsche Bank. In Rome, major clashes took place between students and the police (who also had to deal with fascist elements among the students, the ‘Blocco Studentesco’) and 50 people were arrested; in Bologna, the offices of the CISL (an important trade-union that is refusing to fight the austerity measures) were occupied by demonstrators. In Padua three police officers were injured during fighting with protesters.

The anger of the people is such that students have finally started to fight back. It may be anecdotal, but it is possible that remarks made by the Minister of Labour Elsa Fornero did not go down too well with the youth. When she was asked why the unemployment rate among the youth was so high, she said it was because they were being too ‘choosy’; she even said it in English, a sign of snobbishness in Italy.

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica, known as the ‘Italian Guardian’, showed the fear of the liberal bourgeoisie. Rather than highlighting the content of the strike and the motivations of the people who took part, it concentrated instead on the violence of the protests. With parliamentary elections due in April 2013, the social democratic Partito Democratico (PD) is holding primaries on 25 November. It is attempting to complete a purge of the left to make itself acceptable and credible to major European leaders and, of course, to the infallible markets.

Clearly, the demonstrations on 14 November have helped show the gulf between the petty politics of rivalry inside the PD and the expectations of the people. So great is the disconnection that the incumbent PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani, who represents the institutional left with an ex-communist background, might lose the primaries to a newcomer, Matteo Renzi, the current mayor of Florence, an avowed believer in a ‘third way’ who longs to become the Italian Tony Blair. All of this is reinforcing the political vacuum that has been filled so far by the Movimento Cinque Stelle led by maverick stand-up comedian Beppe Grillo. This social movement, loosely grouped around five themes – public water, transport, development, connectivity and environment – has found a mass following amongst ordinary people who are disillusioned with traditional politics to the extent that it has a real prospect of winning the election, and therefore naming the future prime minister.

The decay of the Italian political class is becoming more blatant every day. Polls indicate a possible abstention rate of 50%. The discontent on the streets might be a final blow to the traditional party politics of the post cold-war period. One sign of things to come is how fascism is rearing its ugly head once more in Italy. On 14 November, neo-fascist elements infiltrated the demonstrations (especially those by the students) in order to oppose the current austerity measures. A leading neo-fascist movement ‘CasaPound’ (close to student groups) is calling once more for a march in ‘defence of the welfare state’ on 24 November in Rome, the very same day chosen by trade unions, student movements and other leftist groups.

Dario Chiaradonna


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