Italy: Fightback begins/ FRFI 230 Dec 2012/Jan 2013

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

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

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.

Saving Italy for capitalism / FRFI 225 Feb/Mar 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 225 February/March 2012

The sudden collapse of the Berlusconi government and the formation of a ‘technocratic’ and supposedly apolitical leadership on 16 November 2011, led by ‘Super’ Mario Monti, is an ominous sign for the Italian working class. Monti is a former adviser to Goldman Sachs and currently European Chairman of the Trilateral Commission, a think tank created by David Rockefeller which includes such notorious members as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Although Italy has never been known for its political stability, its sudden change of status to the ‘sick man’ of Europe is creating major problems for the eurozone.

Since the armistice and the surrender of Italy in 1943, 63 governments have ruled Italy. In a country which used to have the largest communist party in Western Europe, one opposed by an alliance of local reactionary proxies of US imperialism (the Church, the Christian Democrat faith-based party and the secret organisation P2, to which Berlusconi belonged), the ruling class has often used ‘technocratic’ governments to make a truce with the parliamentary representatives of the Italian working-class, in particular the Communist and Socialist parties. These in turn would make sure that their trade union organisations toed the line. Such governments are established when the ruling class faces a crisis, as it does now: they can be likened to lightning-rods for institutional parties when unpopular decisions are to be voted on and implemented, like the present round of economic reforms. These reforms, dubbed Saving Italy, include measures to:

• raise the retirement age progressively from 65 to 66 for men and from 60 to 66 for women by 2018, (regardless of the strenuousness of working conditions). The full pension can be obtained provided that contributions have been paid for 42 years;

• increase VAT from the current 21% to 23% on 1 July 2012. It had already been raised from 20% in September 2011;

• reintroduce a property tax called IMU from 1 January 2012. The house ownership rate in Italy is above 70%, and those on low incomes will be particularly hit thanks to a deductions system that is skewed to benefit wealthy people.

The new Minister for Economic Development is Corrado Passera. He privatised the Italian Postal Service in the late 1990s when he was Minister for Telecommunication. Liberalisation is the current mantra. Passera will be introducing the second phase of Saving Italy shortly. This will aim to liberalise closed-shop sectors including taxis and pharmacies, as if this would create thousands of jobs, and to privatise the national railways, local public transport systems and last but not least publicly-owned water companies – even though in a referendum on the subject in June 2011, 95% opposed privatisation.

Whereas social movements have sprung up across European countries, the Italian ruling class has faced little opposition to date apart from protests that immediately followed Monti’s installation. Trade unions have not organised any mass action: they are not willing to challenge the priorities of the Italian bourgeoisie or European imperialism. The left has been drastically weakened by failed attempts to form all kinds of alliances and coalitions against Berlusconi. There is a pressing need to create a movement which breaks from these old forces with their record of appeasement towards the ruling class.

Dario Chiaradonna

Italy: European capital claims another scalp

Silvio BerlusconiThe sudden collapse of the Berlusconi government on 12 November and the formation of a technocratic leadership are ominous signs of things to come, not only for the Italian working class but for the peoples of Europe.

Three times prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the former cruise ship crooner and right-wing populist, had been under the shadow of charges and allegations for fraud, corruption and statutory rape, but it was the demands of European capital that finally brought him down. The European Central Bank demanded that the Italian government pass a €54 billion package of austerity measures to deal with Italy’s €1.9 trillion debt – 120% of GDP. As Italy’s costs of borrowing soared to an all-time high, the parliamentary budget vote on 11 November accepted the package; Berlusconi resigned the next day, paving the way for an unelected cabinet, led by former EU competion minister and Goldman Sachs adviser Mario Monti, to rule Europe’s third largest economy strictly in the interests of European capital.

Read more ...

Ethnic cleansing in Italy / FRFI 213 Feb / Mar 2010

FRFI 213 February / March 2010

The fascist policies of the Italian government are finding fertile ground, as blame for everything from crime and social instability to unemployment is heaped on Italy’s immigrant population, who are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis.

Immigrants battle racists

At the beginning of January, hundreds of African immigrants were driven out of the town of Rosarno in southern Italy by its white citizens who were spurred on by the local Ndrangheta mafia and supported by the police.

Rosarno has for years depended on immigrant labour to pick the oranges, tangerines and kiwi fruit on which its economy relies. The immigrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, were housed in disused factories and barracks, often with no electricity or running water, in the most appalling conditions, described by the local priest as ‘something out of Dante’s inferno’. During the picking season, they worked a 12-14 hour day, for which they were paid €20 – a quarter of which had to be handed over to the Ndrangheta, who control the area.

On Thursday 7 January, white youths, thought to be from the Ndrangheta, fired from a car at a group of immigrants returning from work, injuring two of them. In response, and in protest against their conditions, hundreds of immigrants took to the streets, accusing the townspeople of racism and demanding to be treated with dignity. Cars were burned and windows smashed as they fought pitched battles against residents, who were spurred on by the mafia, and the police, who used tear gas against the protesters. Some were beaten with iron bars. Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorrah, an exposé of gangs of southern Italy, praised the immigrants for their stand, saying they had done more than anyone else in Italian society to confront the mafia. However, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, of the fascist Northern League, declared an ‘immigration emergency’ and formed a regional task force to ‘guarantee public order’. Its main task was to drive the immigrants out of town. A van with loudspeakers drove around Rosarno blaring: ‘Any black person who is hiding in Rosarno should get out. If we catch you, we will kill you.’ Representatives of the white population occupied the town hall, demanding the removal of ‘i negri’. The next day more than 1,000 immigrants – including those with documentation – were bussed out of Rosarno to government holding centres, with promises that they would not be deported. Roberto Maroni then declared that they would all be expelled after all. He claimed the government had ‘brilliantly resolved the problem of public order’ and thanked police for organising the exodus ‘in an exemplary way.’ On Sunday 10 January, bulldozers were sent in to destroy every trace of the immigrants’ wretched homes, including all the possessions they had left behind.

White Christmas

In December, in northern Italy, the town of Coccaglio launched Operation White Christmas – an official drive to identify and expel as many ‘non-Europeans’ as possible before Christmas. Northern League Mayor Claretti was given new powers to check the residence status of all foreigners in the town with house-to-house searches: ‘We just want to start cleaning the place up.’ His councillor for security Claudio Abiendi, also a member of the Northern League, said that Christmas was not about hospitality but ‘the Christian tradition and our identity’. 3,000 people – out of a population of 8,000 – marched through the town to protest against such ethnic cleansing.

Backed by the vicious racist law passed by the Berlusconi government in August 2009 that criminalises ‘illegal’ immigrants, fascist elements in Italy’s police force, government and in the mafia are being given free rein to scapegoat, attack and expel immigrant communities. In Rosarno, some of the residents stood by the immigrant population against the racists and the mafia; in Coccaglio more than a third of the population protested. They demonstrated that resistance to fascism is possible, even in the League’s northern heartland. It has certainly never been more necessary.

Cat Wiener

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