Italy: General Strike protests in more than 100 cities

Clear programme for future struggle needed

On 12 December around one and a half million striking workers braved driving rain to join protests in 108 Italian ‘piazzas’. The biggest trade union federation, the Cgil, had called a national general strike “against the economic crisis”, supported also by the ‘unions of the base’ – Cobas, Rdb-Cub and Sdl, and the student movement.

The biggest demonstration was in Bologna where, according to the organisers, 200,000 took part in four demonstrations which all converged on Piazza Maggiore where the secretary of the Cgil, Epifani, was speaking. 2,000 students also marched in a fifth demonstration. CWI members intervened in these demonstrations selling papers and distributing thousands of leaflets.

Pressure from below

The Cgil had been pushed into breaking with two other right-wing trade-union federations and organising the general strike following the massive education movement sweeping schools and universities, as well as unrest amongst metalworkers and in the whole of the public sector.

Support for the strike however was patchy and could have been much greater. There is no shortage of anger as the economic crisis is already beginning to bite. In November there was a 250% increase in the number of workers in ‘cassa d’integrazione’ (a scheme for workers who are temporarily or permanently laid off). Hundreds more are on temporary and short-term contracts (who receive no unemployment benefit) are not having their contracts renewed. At the head of the demonstration in Bologna, for example, were workers from the Maserati car company, where 112 had just been told that they will not be getting another contract.

It was clear, however, that the Cgil leadership viewed the general strike purely as a means of workers protesting and letting off steam and then going home again. There was no clear aim or strategy, merely an appeal to prime minister Berlusconi to do something to help workers in the crisis. Understandably some workers were reluctant to lose a day’s pay so near to Christmas for a strike which seemed to have no real purpose.

Committees of struggle

The fact that the government made a partial retreat on its education reforms on the eve of the general strike, however, shows what could have been possible with a clear programme and strategy. Rank and file, cross-union committees of struggle should now be formed in every workplace, linking up with the student movement in the schools and colleges, and on a local and national level, to discuss the way forward after the strike, including plans for a 24-hour general strike in the new year with a national demonstration in Rome.

A clear set of demands should be drawn up including:

  • Complete withdrawal of education laws 133 and 137 (job cuts, closures and privatisation).
  • A reversal of the Brunetta and Tremonti attacks on the public sector.
  • No weakening of national contracts.
  • Abolition of law 30 on ‘precarious’ working. Unemployment benefit to be extended to all workers.
  • A minimum wage of at least 1,300 euros a month.
  • Nationalisation under democratic workers’ control and management of companies threatening redundancies or closure.

A political alternative

The economic crisis also raises the need to build a political alternative to Berlusconi, the Pd (Democratic Party) and other main capitalist parties. Unfortunately, the majority of the leadership of the Prc (Party of Communist Refoundation) appear not to have grasped the magnitude of the current crisis and the need for an anti-capitalist/socialist programme.

The Prc leaflet for the 12 December strike, for example, called vaguely for “a strong public role” in industrial policy rather than launching a clear demand for nationalisation under democratic workers’ control and management. The party is in danger of squandering an opportunity to restore its credibility amongst workers and young people and to rebuild the party into a mass force which could lay the basis for a future workers’ government.

Marxists inside the Prc will continue to push for the party to adopt a real socialist programme which can link the current struggles to the need for a fundamental transformation of this crisis-ridden capitalist system, whilst joining with workers, students, social movements and other forces to campaign for the building of a mass anti-capitalist party.