‘Unions of the Base’ and social movements on the streets
Anti-government protests in Italy on 18 and 19 October exceeded the expectations of the organisers. Participation in the strike of the ‘Unions of the Base’ on Friday (18), even though they organise fewer workers than the large federations, reached 100 % in some workplaces. More than 140 flights were cancelled in Rome’s airport, while train, buses and underground services were severely disrupted in the capital and other cities.
The march in Rome was attended by thousands of workers representing important disputes taking place, some of the most advanced sectors of the struggle in the country. The presence of a large delegation of fire-fighters, who have recently declared “a state of agitation”, was very significant.
The demonstration on October 19 against the austerity policies, for a guaranteed minimum income and for housing rights, saw the participation of several tens of thousands of people (the exact figures are, as always, difficult to estimate). It was a large combative and radical demonstration, with important political demands. In the run-up to the demonstration of the 19th, Rome had seen an imposing security machine put in place – a clear attempt by the state to flex its muscles, to intimidate demonstrators and also to protect, not just symbolically, its institutions. The police heads had assembled more than 4,000 officers from four different branches of their forces, including the Carabinieri and hated ‘Finance Police’, ready to intervene to counter any ‘disorder’.
The success of this demo, held immediately after the general strike of the ‘Unions of the base’, should be seen in the light of the shameful campaign of ‘media terror’ carried out on the days before by the pro-governmental press. Much of the media raked up the memory of the 15 October 2011, when a protest in Rome saw violent clashes between riot police and hundreds of anarchists. They spoke provocatively of the arrival in Rome of ‘window -smashers’, of hundreds of violence ‘professionals’, of No-Tav campaigners from the Val di Susa, all trying to besiege Rome and bring mayhem to the capital. As if this was not enough, the train company, Trenitalia, did everything possible to prevent the arrival of protesters. The negotiations to get special trains at low prices, normally made available to protesters, were dropped under political pressure a few hours before the start of the protest, in a vain attempt to prevent arrivals in the capital.
The media campaign which beat the drums right up until the end of the protest was intended to arouse the hostility of Rome’s residents against the movement, and to discourage participation in it. To this end, the press exaggerated news relating to the arrest of young anarchists, presenting them as dangerous terrorists or linked to the discovery of alleged ‘arsenals of war’ along the route of the march. The understandable fear of Roman citizens, given the insistence of such a campaign, were soon contradicted by reality: the excessive alarmism of pro-government forces proved to be mere sensationalism.
Beyond a few isolated and entirely marginal acts of violence, the march was peaceful and disciplined, much to the dismay of those journalists and political proponents of ‘law and order’ who had expected rivers of blood or at least the revival of the damaging fighting which took place in October 2011. The presence of stewarding teams, who moved and coordinated in a well-organised way, managed to prevent the actions of a few giving the state forces the pretext to attack and disperse the whole protest. The presence of stewards capable of coordinating the demo and of keeping out provocateurs was a strong point leading to the success of the day.
The protest on Saturday was able to cross the centre of Rome and to pass in an organised way in front of the sensitive targets – the Deposits and Loans Fund, the Ministry of the Economy, the Ministry of Infrastructure – without reacting to provocations. This was the case even in front of the headquarters of the neo-fascist group, ‘Casa Pound’, where a hundred or so fascists, armed with clubs and bars, threw glass bottles at the demonstrators.
The demonstration was a popular event, which has seen thousands of workers targeted by the austerity policies coming together: casual workers without rights, activists from the movements ‘No Tav’ and ‘No Muos’ (a movement aimed at countering the installation of a satellite network for US military defense in Sicily), and representatives of various environmental movements. It was not just the usual parade of left organisations. In the square there were many young people, as well as many families without income, as evidenced by the size of the delegations from ‘Blocchi precari metropolitani’ (a collective struggling against difficult living conditions of youth, migrants and workers), of ‘ASIA’ (a tenants’ association organised by the ‘Unions of the Base’) and of other movements defending housing rights.
The protest day of 19 October allowed some of the first victims of Italy’s austerity policies to come together and protest, even if only for a few hours. Being able to give political representation to this social group is a vital necessity for the working class movement in our country. At the moment, however, a force is lacking that is capable of linking up the various sectors in struggle. The days of 18-19 have shown that there is definitely the basis for developing such a force on a programme to end austerity and fight for genuine socialist change.