200,000 school and university students march through the streets of Rome
"We won’t pay for the crisis". This was the main slogan on the lips of 200,000 school and university students who marched through the streets of Rome on the 14th November. "If they block our future, we’ll block the city" they cried, and that’s exactly what happened.
They came from all over Italy - from the North, the centre, the South and the islands - to take part in the latest mass action in the "Wave" of student protests that has been sweeping Italy. Thousands more who couldn’t get to Rome participated in local demonstrations. Even Erasmus students protested abroad in Paris, France, London, Madrid, Brussels and elsewhere.
The 14th of November was also the day of a national strike by university and research workers. 100,000 lecturers, researchers, technical and administration workers, many of them ’precarious’, took part in a parallel demonstration in Rome organised by two of the main trade union federations, the Cgil and the Uil.
Students gather in occupied "Sapienza" university in Rome
A mass movement
This huge movement, the biggest in education for over 20 years, is against the Gelmini ‘ reforms’ which will mean massive cuts, job losses and privatisation from primary schools to universities. It has been growing for over a month now with students and parents occupying schools and universities and classes taking place in the local squares to publicise what the reforms really mean.
When the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi threatened to send in the forces of the state to evict students involved in occupations the protests spread even further. However, intimidation and repression in the schools has meant that it is mainly the university students now who are continuing the occupations. But tens of thousands of school students are participating in local and national demonstrations.
Lotta, the CWI group in Italy, has been calling for a national 24 hour general strike to link together students, parents and education workers with other public sector and private sector workers who are also under attack from the Berlusconi government. Aided by CWI student activists from Germany, Ireland, and England sold copies of our paper on the student demonstration as well as distributing thousands of leaflets explaining how these attacks are rooted in the economic crisis and raising the need for a mass anti-capitalist alternative.
Over the past month, in addition to the national university strike, public sector workers have been involved in regional strikes and a national strike against their latest pay offer; the unions of the base have organised a general strike which mobilised 2 million workers; 1 million workers and students marched in Rome on the day of a national schools strike; transport workers have ground cities to a halt in a national strike over pay; retail workers have taken part in a national strike, also over pay, and unofficial strikes have paralysed the airline Alitalia in protest at thousands of job losses and attacks on working conditions as the company is sold off.
Now it looks likely that the ‘hot autumn’ will spill over into a ‘ hot winter’. Under pressure from the movement, especially in the public sector and from the metal workers who had also called their own national strike in December, the main trade union federation the Cgil has been forced to call a national general strike for the 12th December.
The way forward
Committees of struggle should now be formed in every school, university and workplace to mobilise for the strike and ensure the widest possible participation. Representatives from these committees should then meet at a local and national level to discuss the way forward for the movement after the strike.
The first Berlusconi government was brought down in 1994 by a mass general strike against his attacks on pensions and welfare. But this raises the question of a political alternative. The main opposition party, the capitalist PD (Democratic Party), also carried out attacks on education, welfare and pensions when it was in government. The PRC (Party of communist refoundation), while supporting the education movement, has been discredited by its participation in government with the PD at a national and local level.
Making comparisons with the student movement in 1968 (which in Italy was the prelude to a mass workers movement) the press have described the students involved in the “Wave” as apolitical. But the slogans and demands against privatisation and for public education are clearly political. It is established political parties that the majority of students reject in a situation where there is no mass ideological point of reference on the left.
Potentially this movement could lay the basis for the building of a mass anti-capitalist party of workers’ and youth in Italy. It could also assist in revising the communist combativity of the PRC, although that is by no means certain.