National Sections of the L5I:

Students and workers say 'We won't pay for your crisis'

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The present upsurge began in mid-September when the largest union grouping, the CGIL (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro), called out a million workers in a one-day general strike.

On 17 October, a grouping of Italy's smaller but militant unions, COBAS (Confederazione dei Comitati di Base), CUB (Confederazione Unitaria di Base), and SDL (Sindacato dei Lavorati Intercategoriale), also called a general strike.

Bus, rail and tube workers brought many city transport systems to a halt. Large numbers of workers from the education, health and emergency services took part. In Rome, 300,000 demonstrated, a major success for these unions. At the same time, 80,000 took part in Naples, 50,000 in Milan and 40,000 in Florence.

Not to be left behind, the three biggest union federations, the CGIL, CISL and UIL then mobilised 10 million workers and office employees in a four-hour general strike on Friday 24 October.

The biggest ongoing struggle, however, is the huge upsurge of young people in education, a movement that calls itself L'Onda anomala (the anomalous wave). Starting in early October, school and university students, supported by university workers, teachers, lecturers and parents the length of Italy, launched a protest against the attacks on the education system by education minister, Maria Stella Gelmini. Their most common slogans are "We won't pay for your crisis" and "Cut resources to bankers and war missions, not schools and universities!"

The Gelmini "reforms" promote privatisation of university-level education. Other measures mean that no new teacher in schools can be hired until five have retired. The aim is to use "natural wastage" to cut 87,000 teachers' posts and 44,500 administrative posts in three years. Many smaller schools will be closed and in primary schools there will be one teacher per class instead of two. Gelmini's decree also reintroduces compulsory school uniforms, a grading system, including for "behaviour", and the segregation of immigrant pupils.

Huge demonstrations have taken place. On 29 and 30 October, over one million took to the streets and between 300,000 and half a million on 14 November. On 15 and 16 November, over 2000 delegates met at the occupied La Sapienza University in Rome. Discussions centred on three themes:

1. How the university system turns students into "human capital"  obedient, individualised workers ready to fight for a place in the labour market.

2. How student fees and debts act as "privatised welfare" ensuring future subservience and also excluding many from poorer backgrounds.

3. How the neoliberal approach subordinates education to the "needs" of the economy and how to fight this.

A national day of action on the 29 November will see more demos, teach-ins and blockades. A general strike is planned for the 12 December: a whole day of strike action by COBAS and its allies and four hours by the CGIL. Calls have been made for a week of actions leading up to the strike. These will focus on student poverty by the mass practice of "auto-riduzione" (self-reduction) paying only a percentage of prices in university canteens, on public transport and public entertainment (cinema, theatre etc).

Clearly, the most militant sectors of workers and youth have recovered from the setback many felt last April when Silvio Berlusconi swept to power in an electoral rout of the Left. Rifondazione Comunista lost all its seats in parliament, a punishment for supporting the neoliberal policies of the previous government, headed by Romano Prodi. Now, COBAS and the other Left unions, students' and teachers' unions in high schools and universities, plus the far Left groups, are in the forefront of a massive struggle.

Italy faces a major recession and fierce battles lie ahead. The mass social movement against education cuts can be an inspiration for an even greater tidal wave of workers' struggles. Ground lost in the years since 2003 must be regained. This means rebuilding organisations like the social forums that played an important part in the mass mobilisations against the G8 in Genoa in 2001 and the huge antiwar mobilisations after the European Social Forum in Florence in 2002. Despite this, they withered in the years of unfocussed resistance to Berlusconi's previous government and the disastrous "Left" government of Prodi, Veltroni and Bertinotti.

Since the elections there have been signs that the Left is regrouping. To do so effectively, it must not only mobilise with the trade unions and the students but also overcome two political errors that led to calamitous defeats over the last decade.

The first of these is the electoralism of the Democratic Party and Rifondazione that has led them to fall for the fatal temptation of entering class collaborationist governments. Although supposed to "keep out the right", these governments then carry out the very neoliberal reforms that the right demanded, thereby weakening and demoralising the parties' own working class base.

However, the magnificent mass movements of the 2001-2003 period also had their fatal flaws in terms of libertarian, anti-political and anti-leadership prejudices. These also led to defeat. Without a tested political leadership and organisation, they ducked the fight to kick out Berlusconi with an all-out indefinite general strike and to replace him, not with a Walter Veltroni or a Fausto Bertinotti, but with a government based on the power of the working class, organised in councils of recallable delegates.

All experience shows that when the government totters under mass pressure on the streets, we must fight for power in a revolutionary way or else we effectively cede leadership to the bourgeois reformists and the union bureaucracy, which then lead workers into electing yet another bourgeois government. For this reason, Italian revolutionaries urgently need to begin the campaign to build a new, revolutionary communist party of the working class that can address, and answer, the question of power.