Despite the optimism of Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, and the growing list of his supporters amongst traditional politicians, members of the business community and journalists on the economic front, the situation in the country continues to worsen.
The economic policy he has adopted on taking the destiny of the country into his hands has had the effect of a horse cure given to a a dying patient. There has been a deepening of the crisis with a further decline in GDP of 0.2% in the third quarter of this year. Unemployment is still increasing with 3,300,000 now out of work and the rejection by the European Central Bank’s "stress test" of two major Italian banks - Monte dei Paschi di Siena and Banca Carige – has introduced a further element of uncertainty in the economic outlook of the government.
On the political side, there is no real opposition to the policies of the government. The 5* movement is inconsistent and the right-wing Forza Italia and Silvio Berlusconi are being forced to renew their image in order to stay on the scene. As a result, all national political debate is focused within the Democratic Party.
Renzi’s shift to the right was greeted with jubilation by the majority of the current leaders and organised currents within the Democratic Party. Hundreds of long-serving government officials, councilors and ‘heirs’ of the old Communist Party have recently become huge fans of Matteo Renzi and of his new neo-liberal course.
With its new leadership, the Democratic Party secured more than 41% of the vote in the last European elections. This was partly due to a tax bonus of €80 for low-paid workers but also a constant media campaign of "hope" against the old "owls" who are running Italy down. Now, the economic measures of the government are doing nothing but attack ordinary people.
The so-called Jobs Act contains a set of measures designed to permanently destroy what remains of the Labour Laws and to confirm that working conditions inside factories depend exclusively on the market and the needs of business.
In relation to youth unemployment, which now stands at over 44%, the government is letting companies take on apprentices with no guarantee of employment at the end, giving them large numbers of workers at very low cost.
One of the worst aspects of the new "reforms" is companies being allowed to hire workers over the next three years without having to pay towards state benefits. Giorgio Squinzi, spokesman for the big bosses’ organisation, Confindustria, declares such reforms as "all that Confindustria has dreamed of for years".
Inside the Democratic Party, only a small minority is opposed to this new course – 13% on the National Executive. The ‘old guard’, defeated inside the party and in the country, is desperately trying to be talked about. Wanting to be in opposition, and at the same time in the government, the old PD leadership grouped around Bersani and Cuperlo are trying to hold on to the wagon of the CGIL to find legitimacy for their existence.
The prospect of a split in the PD cannot be ruled out, but it is more likely to arise from the prime minister wanting to get rid of this annoying ballast, rather than any desire of the ’left’ of the Democratic Party which is politically and socially inconsistent. They have anyway paved the way for the victory of Matteo Renzi by going along with the party’s neo-liberal policies.
However, a new coming together of forces to the left of the Democratic Party is possible involving the SEL (Left Freedom and Ecology) party, some sections of the engineering workers’ union, FIOM, and others.
The recent electoral successes of the Democratic Party belie the huge loss of membership resulting from its electoral consensus approach - nearly four-fifths over the last two years. The PD has given up any claim to represent ordinary people and will never be a mass party of workers but only a party of professional politicians, careerists and representatives of the ruling class.
Over the last few months the Prime Minister has tried to push the trade unions’ backs against the wall. Renzi has refused to grant the union leaders any right to deal directly with the government and sent them back to deal with the bosses company by company in a situation where the balance of forces is very unfavourable. He has made a series of attacks on the unions, accusing them of defending only their own members and not speaking out against the proliferation of atypical and precarious contracts. He has consciously focussed on the potential conflicts between young and old, over ’guaranteed’ and non-guaranteed jobs and expose the contradictions of a left and unions that have embraced the flexibility of the market.
All of these attacks forced the CGIL – the biggest Italian trade union federation and the one closest to the PD - to convene a day of struggle against the government’s economic policy on October 25. Its leader, Susanna Camusso, did it against her will after having peddled for months the tale of a ‘friendly’ government.
The organizational effort put in to the success of the demonstration in Rome demonstrates the potential for mobilisation of the CGIL that has been almost completely untapped in recent years. It organised more than 3,000 buses and several trains from Milan and Bologna and an entire ferry from Cagliari.
The event was organised around the abstract buzzwords of "Work, Dignity and Equality" in a surreal atmosphere - directed against the economic policy of the presumed ‘friendly’ government lead by the Democratic Party. This is a government that in trying to dismantle the rights acquired by workers over decades, has gone further than the previous ‘technocrat’ governments of Mario Monti and Enrico Letta.
While the CGIL demonstration was taking place in Rome, the prime minister and the majority of the Democratic Party were gathered together with supporters, funders, think-tanks and all the elite of the new Italian politicised bourgeoisie for the fifth convention of the ‘Leopolda’ in Florence. Entitled "The Future is just the beginning", it brought together foreign investors, Italian entrepreneurs, bankers and other ‘experts’ to debate the economic crisis. Among those present were the financier David Serra, CEO of the London-based fund, Algebris, newly recruited to the party, who came to the convention to propose the abolition of the right to strike.
Contrasting with the gloom of the the Leopolda convention, the trade union demonstration was an undisputed success, attended by a large number of workers and pensioners from all over Italy as well as student organisations.
There were combative delegations of Fiom from Emilia Romagna and Liguria that brought to the streets thousands of workers whose jobs are threatened. There were big delegations from factories and plants in difficulty such as TITAN, Crespellano (Bologna), AST Steel Industry (Terni), the former Fiat plant in Pomigliano D’Arco (Naples) and many more. The demonstration brought many people together who are simply struggling for survival. A hundred and fifty workers from the choir of the Teatro dell’Opera of Rome, due to be sacked on 1 January, 2015, gave a rendering from the stage of Verdi’s "Nessun dorma" by Verdi.
On the demonstration there was evident rage, anger and frustration at the policies of the prime minister but also a feeling, especially amongst some of the older participants, that the PD could still be rescued. But the defeat of the social democratic old guard undoubtedly marks a definite turning point in the history of the party.
At the end of the Rome demonstration, many people were expecting the CGIL general secretary to announce the calling of a day’s national strike. No such announcement was made. Susanna Camusso ended her speech by saying that all forms of struggle would be needed, including a general strike, but she did not call it. Nevertheless, the CGIL may be forced to convoke such a strike in December, maybe even around Christmas when the Jobs Act will already be voted on and implemented.
A general strike may be called with the aim of letting workers vent their anger and nothing more. It really needs to be part of a general process of mobilisation with a clear strategy and tactics to bring down the government. Regional 4 hour and 8 hour strikes being called by FIOM should be seen as preparation for more widespread action of all workers.
To expect Camusso, who has for decades passively accepted all that the bosses and political system has imposed on workers, to take the lead in a movement of political opposition to the government, is utopian. But huge pressure could force the CGIL to set a date for general strike action.
Autumn protests in Rome have tended to be somewhat of an annual gathering, celebrating the traditions of struggle and returning home. This time the situation may be different. The turnout in the capital on October 25 - reported to be a million - marks a big step forward. The attack on the unions by the government has left no room for the leaderships of the unions to stay passive. Inside and outside the CGIL, the engineering workers of FIOM will continue to press for the naming of a day for a national strike of all workers – in the public and the private sectors.
Not only the success of the Rome protest, but the very high participation on the preceding Friday (October 24) in the strike organised by the USB union federation, show a great willingness to fight growing among important sectors of the country’s population. So does the strike called by FIOM for Friday, October 31 in solidarity with the struggling workers of the Terni steel plant who who have been attacked by the police. All this is putting big pressure on the CGIL leadership to mobilise against the government.
This is not the first time that the CGIL, in its more than a century-long history, has faced a crossroads. It could continue trying to moderate the demands of workers and seek conciliation choose the path of total opposition to a government that massacres the rights of workers and their families. Tertium non datur, there are no third ways.
The anti-Renzi material of Association ControCorrente (CWI in Italy) was well received on the Rome demonstration. We we will continue to build from the bottom political and social opposition to the Renzi governement and to those who support it, however ’critically’.
Against the Jobs Act and the ‘law of stability’ of this government.
For a general reduction in working hours without loss of pay.
For the introduction of a minimum hourly wage of €8.
For the introduction of unemployment benefit that is the same for all workers, even those looking for their first job.
For the immediate stabilisation of the terms and conditions of all casual workers.
For the calling now of a general strike of 24 hours.
For the launching of a mass political mobilisation against the government.