National Sections of the L5I:

Italy: strikes and demonstrations against Prodi’s cuts budget

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In Rome an 80,000 strong demonstration made its way from Porta Pia to Piazza Barberini and impressive demonstrations took place in Naples, Milan and Florence. According to union organisers at least one and a half million workers took strike action and more than 300,000 participated in the street protests. Mass rallies took place in 27 major towns and cities. In addition some 50 per cent of schools were closed with many of their students joining the demonstrations.

The strike affected public and private workers, disrupting flights and bus and rail schedules. Students and teachers from secondary and higher education protested against planned cuts in the education and scientific-technical research budgets. They also demanded the repeal of the “Moratti education reform", passed last year under Berlusconi, which provoked a major movement by university and school students.

The centri sociali (social centres) – which act as organising centres for the unemployed and casual workers also mobilized. There are 350,000 workers on short term and insecure contracts in public administration alone.

The reasons for Prodi’s attack on workers, the young, the poor, are straightforward enough if you totally accept, as he does, the logic of neoliberal capitalism and the project of building a strong European capitalist block able to compete with the United States. After all Prodi was a key architect of the Lisbon Agenda, adopted in 2000, which set itself precisely this goal. Italy’s budget deficit is expected to reach 4 per cent of GDP this year, a whole percentage point above the Maastricht threshold, the basis of the Euro. Prodi’s budget aims to cut up to 15 billion Euros from state expenditure. The budget passed the Chamber of Deputies on November 19 by 311 votes to 251, a day after the government won a confidence vote on a series of measures tied to the budget.

The major Italian union federations –Cgil (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro), Cisl (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori) and the UIL – (Unione Italiana del Lavoro), have been mildly critical of the new budget, because it includes tax increases for working people as well as cuts in social and public services. They asked for the inclusion of measures favourable to the poorer paid and retired workers and the transfer of sums earmarked for military spending to the social sector. But Guglielmo Epifani, the leader of the biggest trade union federation the Cgil, has said that when push comes to shove Prodi’s is the “only possible” budget. Leaders of Rifondazione Comunista have even claimed that it is a left-wing ‘redistributive’ budget.

But the demonstrations and general strike proved that many workers are not fooled by such attempts at spin. They were a triumph for the radical left wing of the Italian workers and social movement. The strike was organized by COBAS, (Confederazione dei Comitati di Base). Cub/rdb (Rappresentanze Sindicale di Base) and other more radical sections of the trade unions, totally without the official support of the big federations – CGIL, CISL, and UIL- whose leaderships are committed supporters of the Prodi governmemt. Nevertheless many rank and file members from CGIL-CISL-UIL participated in the marches and strike action, against the wishes of their leaders, resenting the way the latter have blocked resistance to Prodi’s neoliberal policies.

The big unions present Prodi and Co as “ our friends in government”, It is noteworthy that one of the major slogans of the demonstrators was “we don’t have friends in government.”

The November 17 mobilisation comes after the considerable success of a 200,000 strong demonstration against casualisation on November 4th and a demonstration by 20,000 pensioners in Rome. The protests have mounted against the neoliberal policies of Tommaso Padoa Schioppa (Economics minister) and Cesare Damiano (Minister of Labour and Social Policy). The projected Finance Act is nakedly favourable to the Confindustria (the Italian employers association) and slavishly continues policies backed by the ousted right wing premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Nor will the budget prove the end of the attacks. Franceso Rutelli, Minister of Welfare and leader of the Margherita Party, Prodi’s party and one of the main parties in the coalition, has outlined an even more hard hitting series of neoliberal attacks as a ‘phase two’ of ‘reforms’. This will include increasing the pension age, market reform of the health service, cuts in public-sector jobs and a long list of privatisations including local transport, energy and other public services.

The Prodi government, under constant pressure from the powerful anti-war movement, has finally withdrawn Italian troops from Iraq as it promised in the elections. However its troops continue to play an important role in the occupation of Afghanistan. Also the Prodi government enthusiastically sent a considerably bigger force to Lebanon in order to prevent the Lebanese Resistance from renewing any armed action against the Zionist occupiers.
The l’Unione coalition contains openly bourgeois parties such as Prodi’s party Margherita - Democrazia è Libertà, (Daisy-Democracy is Freedom), the Repubblicani, the Radicali, allied to parties descended from the old Italian Communist Party (PCI) which split in 1991- the Democrats of the Left (Democratici di Sinistra) and the Communist Refoundation Party (Partito Rifondazione Comunista) led by Fausto Bertinotti. In office it is carrying out precisely the pro-capitalist policies, which revolutionaries predicted that it would.

This is the fate of all popular fronts. They deceitfully promise to carry out reforms in the interest of the workers, to block the road to the reactionary right wing, by uniting with the “progressive wing of the bourgeoisie” (in this case Prodi). In reality they bring about the complete opposite. They carry out neoliberal policies in the interests of the bosses which the right wing parties find it more difficult to implement because of working class resistance. By using the influence of the reformist workers parties and their bureaucrats who lead the major unions (particularly the Cgil) they hamper and divert resistance, claiming the government is “ours” or at least is “friendly to us”. This is a downright lie.

The main danger facing the Italian workers movement - the young, the unorganised casual workers, the unemployed, the poor in town and country is that this government will sell them out, confuse and break up their resistance and through spreading disillusionment with the official labour movement, open the road to a new right wing government, more vicious than Berlusconi and Fini.

A major test is looming for the left opponents of the Prodi budget within Rifondazione Comunista, the Essere Comunisti (To be Communists) grouping, the old traditional PCI grouping of Cossuta and Sinistra Critica (Critical Left), the Fourth Internationalist current. The budget must be approved by the upper house, the Senate – in which Prodi has a majority of only one or two - before the end of the year. Claudio Grassi is a senator and national coordinator of the Essere Comunisti current. Will these forces dare to vote no against the cuts? Past actions do not give any grounds for confidence, given their fear of expulsion from RC.

In fact on the streets and in the workplaces the forces of the left in the movement are revering their strength and militancy as the current wave of resistance shows. Important sections of the larger federations too, like the metalworkers section of CGIL, FIOM (Federazione Impiegati e Operai Metallurgici - Federation of metal workers and employees) whose members were victorious in the FIAT strike in Melfi in 2004, can be won to resistance. So too can the rank and file of parties like Rifondazione who are key activists in the anti-capitalist or ‘no global ‘ movement. What is needed now is clear and decisive political leadership, unafraid of the repression or expulsions of the parliamentary bigwigs and the union bosses.

At a local level the workers and youth have built up many organisations which are able to take up the struggle. They need to be brought together in co-ordinations – united fronts for militant action. They also need to set themselves the political goal of mass direct action on a nationwide scale - an all out general strike to stop the neoliberal reforms and go on to force the concession of a series of anti-capitalist measures aimed at meeting the burning needs of workers, youth and pensioners.

But the overriding problem is the need for government not merely “friendly” to workers but a workers’ government which will take state power out of the hands of the Confindustria for good, which will smash the military-police-bureaucratic repressive machinery, putting power in the hands of the workers organised in councils. To achieve this the working class needs a political leadership, a party, equal to the militancy Italian workers have shown time and again over the last five years and more. In the meanwhile, socialists across Europe should turn their attention to Italy in the months to come where, once again, many vital lessons of the class struggle can be learned.