Renzi seen as last chance for way out of impasse
The European election results in Italy seem to go against the stream. A pro-European incumbent government party not only gets the most votes but these increase by 2.5 million compared to the general election. With over 40% of the vote going to Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD), commentators are talking about a return to the stability of the 1950s when the Christian Democrats (DC) were politically dominant. But they are forgetting one small point. The DC held power in a period of economic upswing while Italy today is still mired in its longest and deepest post war crisis. GDP actually fell again in the first quarter of this year and is unlikely to reach even the minuscule projected growth of 0.6% this year.
The election results reflect volatility not stability. Against most expectations, Beppe Grillo’s ‘5 Star Movement’ (M5S) trailed the PD by nearly 20 points (21%). This might still seem a large vote for an anti-establishment party (pushing Belusconi’s Forza Italia into 3rd place on 16%) but it was down from the spectacular 25% in the general election, losing 3m votes in what should have been even more fertile ground for protest votes to be made. Many former M5S voters abstained but others moved back to the PD as Renzi won the battle of the populists. He stole part of the M5S programme about cutting back on wasted political expenditure, democratic reform etc. and called for concessions from Europe on debt reduction and budget balancing. Most importantly, he gave every low paid worker a tax bonus of 80 euros a month.
After years of austerity, cuts and job losses (1,000 a day in 2013) this opportunist bribe had the desired electoral outcome. Having only been heading the government since February, it was too early for the full consequences of Renzi’s anti-worker, neo-liberal programme to be felt. This election was in effect the equivalent of a general election and the endorsement of Renzi (who had not been elected) as Prime Minister. There were some illusions and a lot of desperate hope from ordinary voters and on the part of the ruling class that he represents a last chance to change things for the better.
Renzi seems invincible. He has virtually destroyed the centre parties, weakened the M5S and dealt a further blow to Berlusconi and his Forza Italia. He has the backing of Confindustria (big business) and won important support from small and medium business. While the Lega Nord recovered slightly to 6% (+300,000 votes), it has still seen a big erosion of its support base amongst these layers in the north.
Attacks to come
Now everyone is suddenly a Renzian. The President of Confindustria, Squinzi, the governor of the state bank and the ruling class in general are unanimous in calling for Renzi to use his dominant position electorally to immediately railroad through attacks on workers’ rights, privatisations and public sector cuts (10bn euros a year). But who will channel the unrest that these attacks will inevitably provoke, when the realisation sinks in that Renzi’s medicine is, in fact, more of the same and when the promised economic improvements fail to materialise?
The union federations, and especially the CGIL which has historically been close to the PD, are paralysed. Renzi has made it clear that there will be no more “concertazione” (employer-union consensus). Labour “reforms” and cuts will be pushed through with or without the agreement of the union federations.
While they are still able to channel discontent electorally, the M5S are incapable of mobilising opposition in the workplaces and local communities. The decision to discuss with UKIP about forming a joint group in the European parliament has provoked more uproar in the ranks of the M5S and reveals the impossibility of sustaining a populist, cross-class movement that declares itself “neither left nor right” for any length of time. More resignations, splits and political zig-zags, are inevitable.
The main ‘left’ parties, ‘Sinistra Ecologia e Liberta’ (SEL) and ‘Partito della Rifondazione Comunista’ (PRC) are so weak and ineffectual that their only hope of winning seats in the euro-elections was to totally submerge themselves in an electoral project dominated by intellectuals and standing as the ‘Lista Tsipras’. They reached the threshold by a hair’s breadth (4.03%) taking 3 seats but they have no future. They can’t even agree between them about which group to sit with in the European parliament. SEL is on the verge of a split, with one section ready to leave and jump on the PD bandwagon.
All of this means that social, industrial and electoral opposition will have to be rebuilt from below. Recent local struggles and strikes amongst transport and logistics workers, for example, have shown that where even small groups of workers and activists are able to give a lead (including ControCorrente during the transport strikes in Genova last year) workers are prepared to fight despite the difficult circumstances. It will be on the basis of struggles like these that the logjam will be broken and a real opposition built.