National Sections of the L5I:

Italy: Draghi falls, the far right rises

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

On July 21, Italy’s prime minister, Mario Draghi, resigned for the second time in one week, after key parts of his national unity coalition; the populist Five Star Movement, M5S, Matteo Salvini’s far-right Lega and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, called his bluff. President Sergio Mattarella dissolved parliament the same day and elections are due to take place on September 25. The M5S itself had just suffered a major split with Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio leaving the movement to found his own party, with the uninspiring name “Together for the Future". Giuseppe Conte, Draghi’s predecessor as prime minister and chairman of the party, leads the rump.

Draghi, formerly a managing director of Goldman Sachs, governor of the Bank of Italy and then President of the European Central Bank from 2011 to 2019, was lauded as “Super Mario” for “doing whatever it takes” to save the euro from collapse. What it took was handing out billions to the capitalist class and then clawing it back from the working class, via falling real wages and slashed social programmes. He raised interest rates, when central banks on either side of the Atlantic were lowering them, thereby precipitating a severe recession for workers and pensioners.

Under his leadership, the ECB repeatedly blackmailed EU governments into imposing “savage austerity” on their peoples. While some of the most savage of these “packages” were imposed on Greece, his intentions were just as harsh for his native land. A leaked letter he co-drafted and sent to the Italian government set out the ECB’s conditions for aid:

These included “a major overhaul of the public administration”; “the full liberalisation of local public services”; “large scale privatizations”; “reducing the cost of public employees, if necessary, by reducing wages”; “reforming the collective wage bargaining system”; “more stringent . . . criteria for seniority pensions”; and “constitutional reform tightening fiscal rules”. The supreme goal was, “to restore the confidence of investors”.

This period saw the rise of the "financial expert", so-called technocrats, called in when the elected representatives could not, or dared not, impose the severe medicine demanded by Big Capital.

No wonder it was not just Italian bosses but their entire class across the European Union who saw him as the safest pair of hands to impose “reforms” on Italy, such as the price of disbursing €200bn of EU aid, under the "Next Generation EU" pandemic recovery plan. No wonder the most solid bourgeois papers in Europe let out cries of dismay at his ouster, as well as voicing despair at the Italian political class and indeed the whole governmental system.

The venerable Turin daily, La Stampa, was incensed by the populist parties' voting behaviour:

“A disgrace! There is no other word to describe the way the Draghi government has failed in the Senate ... It's as if an abyss has opened up into which, together with the government of national unity, that large part of Italy that was willing to make sacrifices to regain credibility in Europe and the world, thanks to the trust placed at all levels in the man who left the stage yesterday, is also being dragged.”

Likewise, the Milan-based Corriere della Sera says:
“Even Draghi, the most illustrious Italian we had, and whom we hope to see back in the service of our country soon, has paid the price for the relentless law of national unity governments. Namely that the parties in Italy do not stick to their 'broad' or 'very broad' agreements for more than a year, a year and a half at the most."

The immoderate praise heaped on Draghi by the media is accompanied by biting satire aimed at the Italian political “casta”, as the Cinque Stelle called it before they themselves got their snouts in the trough.

In fact, the shameless corruption of politicians or even the narrow-minded rivalries of the parties, is not the real problem. And it most certainly will not be solved by continuing to entrust power to apolitical experts.

Underneath the noisy superstructure of parties and their ceaseless and unprincipled battles for the fruits of office, lie the interests of classes. Despite their tiny numbers, the bourgeoise set the shape of economic and political policy, but they are forced to leave it to the political caste to implement them. The politicians, in turn, have to find some way of getting the voters to put them into office to do so. This means systematic lying and deception on a grand scale.

So, despite the great majority of the parties elected in 2018 denouncing neoliberal austerity policies, by February 2021, the voters faced a government headed by one of the main architects of those policies. No doubt, after September 25, or whenever a right-wing coalition can be put together, it will in substance be Draghi’s policies that are adopted in order to win the ECB’s largesse. Those policies will include Super Mario’s wholehearted support for NATO's involvement in the war in Ukraine. Despite Salvini’s and Berlusconi’s past fawning on Putin, they have both fallen in behind this war.

Draghi’s fall is, in part, a blowback from this gigantic swindle practiced on the electorate. The three right and centre right parties were all elected on a promise to put an end to the neoliberal reforms being imposed by “Europe”. But, precisely because they joined the national unity coalition, they saw their poll ratings collapse, whilst those of the Fratelli d’Italia, whose leader, Giorgia Meloni, wisely stayed out of this "unpopular front", rose precipitately at their expense. Now, she is leading in the polls with nearly 24%, ahead of the Democratic party with 22%, the Lega with 14%, M5S with 11% and Forza about 7% of the vote. (According to a poll by the SWG Institute, 19 July).

As a result, Italy and the European Union face the prospect of a government headed by a representative of the tradition of Benito Mussolini. Only the London Times (owned by the right wing media lord, Rupert Murdoch) views this prospect with equanimity.

“An election victory for Brothers of Italy, with its neo-fascist roots, would certainly be a political shock but no more so than previous successes for the populists Five Star and Lega. The carrot of generous EU funds and the stick of bond market volatility provide powerful incentives for the next government to continue Mr Draghi's reforms.”

They judge, probably correctly, that the actual policies of a right wing coalition will not be so different from those of Draghi. Meloni, has become a strong supporter of the EU and NATO's involvement in the war in Ukraine.

However, against the background of an impending recession, the disruption of the world economy this coming winter and rampant inflation as central banks raise interest rates, Italy, like the rest of the EU, could face a major recessionary crisis in the coming year. The official unemployment rate is already 8.4 percent, while youth unemployment is 24 percent. In addition, 3.4 million workers are precariously employed. The number of poor rose to 5.6 million during the coronavirus pandemic, and official inflation is at 8 percent.

Meanwhile, at a local level, strikes against job losses, low wages and deteriorating working conditions are growing. As yet, they are mainly on the imitative of the smaller "rank and file" unions. SI Cobas members in the logistics sector, many of them immigrants, have been organising in defence of jobs and workers’ rights in various warehouses and units of logistics giants.

On July 19, eight members of SI Cobas (Sindacato Intercategoriale Cobas) and USB (Unione Sindacale di Base) were placed under house arrest by the Piacenza prosecutor’s office, charged with organising strikes and disrupting work at the warehouses of multinational logistics companies, including Amazon, Nippon Express, Fedex, TNT, and others in Piacenza. Aldo Milani, national coordinator of SI Cobas, was among those arrested.

In response the union stated,

“It’s a very heavy assault on the freedom of unions and the right to strike, brought on by a sector of the judiciary that has already distinguished itself over the years for its anti-union [actions] with complaints, arrests and residence bans. With accusations of “violence” and “extortion” they want to suppress workers’ struggles against exploitation and for wages, at a time when Italian and international owners and speculators are robbing wages, while prices have increased 8% (10% for low income families) and more. A generalised fight to defend purchasing power …is urgent.”

Italian left political organisations and their youth groups and other unions have organised protests and strikes in solidarity with those arrested in Turin, Rome, Naples, Genoa and Bologna, as well as in Piacenza itself.

What is needed in Italy today, despite, or rather because of, the threat of a right wing government, is a hot autumn of militant action against the austerity measures being traded for ECB funds to Italy’s bosses. The big union federations, CGIL, CISL and UIL, as well as the militant "rank and file" unions, should immediately put in claims for increases that fully compensate for the loss of purchasing power due to the pandemic and inflation and include the demand for a sliding scale of wages (scala mobile) - one per cent for one percent rise in a working class cost of living index.

Given the rising price of fuel, the unions must also fight for the nationalisation without compensation of the big energy monopolies under workers' control. They should demand that not a single euro is spent on the huge NATO rearmament programme and block the drive towards war. Instead, the workers' movement needs to call for massive investment and job expansion in health care, education, renewable energy, indeed a whole spectrum of measures against climate change and protection of the environment.

This autumn, if a new right wing government, led by the Fratelli, takes power, Italian workers can expect a savage neoliberal economic attack, very similar to that intended by Draghi. But, in addition, they will face the violence of an emboldened and strengthened far right like Forza Nuova and Casa Pound, the former responsible for last October’s occupation and trashing of the CGIL’s Rome headquarters.

The entire labour movement needs to protect itself against such attacks, organising and training groups large enough to perform this task effectively and teach the neo-fascist gangs a hard lesson. But defence is also needed from the state forces who will become ever more aggressive when they know their political masters are behind them all the way.

A decade or so ago, Italy had the most powerful political labour movement Europe. The movement's class collaborationist right wing became the centre left bourgeois party, Partito Democratico. Together with the left wing, Rifondazione Comunista, they squandered that strength by joining or supporting class collaborationist governments that then carried out neoliberal reforms. Rifondazione had 41 deputies in 2006, by 2008 it had none. Today, it has only10-15,000 members. In this fatal course of class collaboration, they were supported by the bureaucracy of the big union federations.

The task today is to rebuild the strength that existed at the beginning of the century, both at workplace and local level on the basis of class independence, adopting the goal of building a new revolutionary communist party in Italy, as part of a new revolutionary workers' International, the Fifth.