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Italy-general attack on the working class

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The new government in Italy has launched an all out attack on the Italian people with cuts and austerity to try and save the their system, writes Martin Suchanek

Mario Monti, whose “government of experts” was installed in December, has wasted no time in launching his “anti-crisis” programme. It reads like a wish list of the big bourgeoisie and represents a historic offensive against the Italian working class:

Cuts in public services of €24 billion in 2012; freezing of salaries until at least 2014, massive cuts in expenditure on welfare, training and transport;

Privatisation of local and state undertakings and responsibilities;

Further liberalisation of entire sectors including banks, pharmacies, taxis and petrol stations.

Raising the pension age and cutting pension levels;

Increasing VAT to 21%

Aiming for a balanced budget and incorporating this objective into the constitution

Attack on the right to work, especially employment protection rights

Support for capital regarding reductions in working conditions and workers' rights.

Monti, Merkel and the EU

Nobody should be taken in by Monti's more “outspoken” attitude towards the EU and the German government. Of course, as head of government of an imperialist state and the third biggest economy in the Eurozone, he expects to be treated with a certain respect by other heads of government. All the same, as he explained to Merkel, his government will do “what is necessary”. In return, however, he wants access to cheap credit and an extension of the European rescue package.

Monti is not just a technocratic handyman for European capital. He also represents Italian imperialism, even if the Italian bourgeoisie is weaker now. An economic collapse of this country would probably pull the euro and the EU over the precipice with it and severely set back German plans for the EU as a world power. In the end, Italy is “system relevant" for the future of an imperialist Europe under German leadership. Against this background, Monti is making it clear that he is prepared to be a junior partner, but not just a messenger boy.

Broad parliamentary support

The EU decision that brought down Berlusconi was actually widely welcomed in Italy. Most of the labour movement, the trade unions and the social movements were, and are, happy to see their arch reactionary enemy finally forced out. What the parliamentary opposition, the trade unions and the left had been unable to do for years, because of their political disunity, was now seen as “a gift from the EU".

It's not only Monti who is exploiting this. The parliamentary left, the “Democratic Party", by a fusion of the majority of the former Communist Party of Italy and a minority of the former Christian Democrats, has also justified its 100% support for Monti's government by saying that a return of Berlusconi had to be prevented by any means. What they meant was without any fighting, without any mobilisation against the right wing. Instead they wanted peaceful acceptance of Monti's programme that could then be “improved" in the back rooms of Parliament.

Ultimately, they said, it was a matter of “saving the country", that is, saving Italian capitalism. For that, they had already agreed to Berlusconi's billions of cuts in the spring of 2011.

Nor was it only the parliamentary “left” and the parties of the “democratic" centre who supported Monti's “government of experts”. Even Berlusconi's “people of liberty" voted for the attack on the working class which they had not been able to implement as strongly as the ruling class demanded. The only parliamentary “opposition" came from the right wing, chauvinist “Northern League" of Bossi, who want to make the EU, migrants and “lazy Southerners" responsible for the crisis. This almost complete support for a government, which is a far clearer expression of the needs of the ruling class in Italy and the EU than any parliamentary combination could be, will not, however, last forever, even if the Democratic Party has said that it will give Monti “as much time as he needs".

The role of the trade union bureaucracy

Equally, in the working class, among trade unionists or in the social movements, the fear of a return of the right wing will not weaken resistance and mobilisation for ever, even if the leaders of the main union confederations remain committed to negotiations.

This is what constitutes the main obstacle to the mobilisation of the Italian working-class against the biggest attack on the class for decades. Under pressure from their memberships, the main confederations CGIL, CISL and UIL have been forced to call days of action and limited strikes several times in recent years.

On 15 October 2011, that is during Berlusconi's government, 300,000 demonstrated just in Rome against the policy of the government. In addition, Berlusconi suffered significant defeats over water privatisation and nuclear power.

Although there was a 3 hour general strike in December after the formation of Monti's government, as in many European countries, the trade union bureaucracy sees such one-off and limited demonstrations as a means of “letting off steam". They hope this will be enough to persuade the government to enter negotiations even though Monti has made it clear he will not withdraw his “balanced” programme of cuts.

No strategy

The leaderships of the main confederations have no strategy for leading the resistance and no agreed objectives. This problem is made worse by the worsening economic situation. Already, around 5 million workers are unemployed and in addition there is a huge army of under-employed and precariously employed workers. The Italian economy has slid into a deep recession and is in a much worse position than the European average. GDP is expected to shrink by 1.6% this year. Even more alarming is the collapse of industrial production. Whilst in Germany production has for some time been above the level reached before the global recession, in Italy, production is still some 20% lower, that corresponds to approximately the position in 1994. It is expected to shrink further this year.

Even the employers' federations calculate a loss of 210,000 jobs in productive industry in the coming year, the trade unions expect it to be nearer 300,000, mainly in transport, the car industry, telecommunications and textiles. The attack is “unfair" whined the chairman of the main union federation CGIL. So what are the trade union leaders demanding? In the face of such tensions and the danger of social unrest, the government should “at last discuss with the trade unions and should not rule alone".

Such whingeing will only strengthen the government. They know perfectly well that the crisis of Italian and, indeed, European, capitalism will not be resolved through “appropriate compromises" or “balance and fairness". What they think is necessary is rather a general attack on the working class and oppressed and the destruction of their ability to fight back.

That is why the attack on trade union rights in FIAT is at the heart of the class conflict in Italy. Fiat employs almost 200,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of further jobs are dependent on Fiat in the supply industries. At the same time, the engineering trade union FIOM, which stands on the left wing of the CGIL and is the most militant trade union in the country, has a strong base in FIAT. In contrast to the other, smaller and more right wing trade unions, which have been prepared to cooperate with the company, not least to the disadvantage of FIOM, they have rejected any cuts in wage rates or the rights of trade unions.

An attack on FIOM would be an attack on the vanguard of the Italian working-class and would have a massive, if not decisive, impact on its ability to resist, comparable to the defeat of the miners under Thatcher and its effect on the British working class as a historic defeat.

General strike!

In this situation, a drastic change of course is necessary for the Italian labour movement! We must demand that the trade unions, the social movements, in fact, all the groups in the labour movement, must make a complete break with any support for Monti's government!

The general offensive can only be stopped by the most decisive fight back, by an unlimited political general strike. For that, it is necessary to build strike and action committees as well as self-defence groups against right wing and state provocation and repression, that is embryonic forms of councils and workers' militia.

With its programme, the Monti government, backed up by the full power of the EU, the Italian capitalists and the bourgeois parties of every colour, has declared war on the working class. A general strike would not only put in question the entire programme of attacks but also the technocrat dictatorship of capital behind the parliamentary mask. It would pose the question of power.

For this, the working class needs a programme of its own that goes beyond the rejection of the government. It needs a programme for the formation of a workers' government based on the councils and self defence organisations that can break up the state organs of repression and disarm them and force capital to pay the cost of the crisis. How? Through the expropriation without compensation of the banks and corporations under workers' control, the introduction of democratic planning to meet the needs of the working class. Certainly such a movement, which would throw back the entire programme of the EU and the IMF, cancel the imperialist debts and establish a new economic order, could not remain limited to Italy. Rather, it must become the motor of resistance in the whole of Europe and the starting point of the struggle for European revolution, the United Socialist States of Europe.

Revolutionary workers' party

This would be a realistic perspective for the class, however distant and “utopian" it might appear to the many “realistic" reformist politicians. What is really utopian in an historic crisis of capitalism, however, is any programme for peaceful long-term reform and compromise between the classes.

All the same, in order to realise such a perspective we need a force that is consciously fighting for it. The Italian left, the Italian labour movement, is faced with the task of building such a party. Trade unions such as FIOM and COBAS, as well as the various “communist" and “socialist" groups, must take up the task of the creation of a new workers' party and revolutionaries must fight, from the beginning, not only for a general strike and militant resistance but also for a revolutionary action programme.