His decline has already begun
Matteo Renzi has announced his plans to ‘rescue’ the Italian economy from its long recession. With a thin veneer of ‘fairness’, what ‘The Scrapper’ gives with the left hand, he takes away with the right. The article below gives the background to his accession to power – the third unelected Italian prime minister in three years.
’Stay calm, Enrico!’ is the tweet with which Matteo Renzi, the newly elected secretary of the Democratic Party and Mayor of Florence reassured Prime Minister Enrico Letta, a week before convening the National Executive of the Party and forcing him to resign in order to take his place.
Why, when he had vowed that he only wanted to enter government after being endorsed through elections, did this relentless critic of palace manoeuvres decide to torpedo a party colleague with a move worthy of the old Christian Democrat bureaucracy of the ’80s? Because the alternative would have been a long attrition of his leadership, with the risk of arriving at elections after a year or two, as secretary of the party of Letta, and being penalised for what his mediocre government had done (or not done). This would have meant victory being handed to Grillo or even once again to a Berlusconi who appears dead, but is always ready to come alive again.
So, between the certainty of getting into government without elections and the fear of waiting for the approval of the people and risking not getting in, Renzi, the golden boy of Italian politics, chose the first path. In doing so he started off his career as a statesman badly; he dissappointed the many who had seen him as the only politician capable of ’de-bureaucratising’ Italian politics. And it got worse as he compiled the list of ministers with the ‘bureaucrat of all bureaucrats’ – the president of the republic, Giorgio Napolitano who made him take in the former IMF official, Padoan, as economy minister (instead of Graziano Del Rio, Renzi’s right hand man) and put a veto on the appointment of the magistrate, Gratteri (disliked by Berlusconi), as justice minister. (In his place is Andrea Orlando, a leader of the Democratic Party, which certainly gives Berlusconi better reassurance than a judge).
Immediately after taking office, Renzi announced a record-breaking ’road map’: in February electoral law reform, in March labour issues, in April taxation and institutional reforms. The government risks having to resign in the summer because it has nothing left to do. But clearly rather than a road map, this is a book of dreams.
In fact, you could say that the day before stabbing Letta in the back, Renzi was at the peak of his success. The day afterwards, his downward spiral began. Why? Because the old ‘PD bosses’ are defeated but not dead; they are waiting for the new premier to enter the parliamentary quicksands. Because the majority is exactly the same as that which supported Letta, and also Renzi’s closest aide is the former right hand man of Berlusconi, Alfano. Because Berlusconi expresses support for Renzi, but, after the break with Alfano, he remains in the opposition and is able to influence Renzi’s government and at the same time profit from its failures. But it is mainly because the Italian bourgeoisie, which supports him vociferously, presenting him as “the only alternative to the troika taking over” (which incidentally has already happened with the Monti government and did not work) could say today the same thing as the boss of Fiat said about Berlusconi in 1994: “If he wins we all win. If he loses only he has lost.”
Renzi’s first outing onto the international field confirms that even his reputation as “a politician who speaks clearly” does not stand up to the test in reality: “The Russian invasion of the Crimea is wrong, but Ukraine must make sure that the Russian minority has its rights guaranteed.” (Roughly translated:“Italy does business with both Russia and the Ukraine, so we’ll have to see!”)
The problem is that today high hopes are vested in Renzi both from the ruling classes (privatisations, deregulation, tax reduction) and from sectors of the intellectual middle class and even some workers and young people (the fight against unemployment, reduction of the privileges of politicians). But aside from his charisma, he does not have the material strength to intervene effectively on any of these points.
A few months ago, during the wildcat public transport strikes in Genoa, Renzi cancelled his visit to the city for fear of protests. And a national newspaper, after the meeting organised by ControCorrente in Genoa between Nannini, the leader of the Florence transport drivers, and their colleagues from Genoa, commented: “Renzi, who was invited to Genoa to explain his case, preferred not to turn up. Instead the drivers’ union leader from Florence, Alessandro Nannini, went to talk to the workers”. Today, however, Renzi can no longer escape.
The main ‘external’ enemy of the new government will once again be Grillo’s 5 Star Movement (M5S). He has not managed in the course of a year to do what he promised and “open up Parliament like a tin of tuna”, he has disappointed many of his voters, but managed to avoid a crisis thanks to the furious attacks he is subjected to by the establishment.
A few weeks before the resignation of Letta, his government had put a decree to the vote that contained both the partial abolition of the odious IMU (tax on housing) as well as a gift of a few billion Euros to the banks. The M5S MPs started being obstructive when the speaker of the House, Laura Boldrini of the ‘Sinistra, Ecologia e Libertà’ party (Left, Ecology and Freedom) violated parliamentary rules by suspending the debate and putting the measure to the vote. The justification was that Italian families affected by the crisis naturally cannot pay IMU. At that point the ’grillini’ besieged the speaker. In the confusion, a female M5S MP was slapped by a PD MP. In the end the decree was approved and the centre-left MPs celebrated in the chamber, singing “Bella Ciao”.
The next day the press started up a campaign against the M5S, accusing its MPs of fascism and of “sexist violence” in the confrontations with Laura Boldrini. At the same time, she herself declared in a television interview that the readers of Grillo’s blog are “potential rapists”.
Meanwhile, the courts have sentenced Grillo to four months in prison for having taken part in protest action during the struggle of the ‘NoTav’ movement in Val di Susa. The result of this is that, whereas a few months ago, the M5S had fallen in the polls from 25% at the last election to 20%, now, two months away from the European elections, they are at 30%. And the only chance left to the establishment to puncture the 5 Star phenomenon now seems to be only to get the ’grillini’ into the government.
But the main problem for Renzi will be the anger in society that the M5S is somehow trying to “represent” in Parliament. Grillo has said several times that his movement is the only alternative to express the revolt of the masses and in fact many are still hoping that the movement might change things. But its members’ assault on the speaker of the Chamber showed that the ‘representation’ of the struggle in Parliament, without a real mobilisation outside, is ineffective.
Trade union struggle
The wild-cat strikes in Genoa and Florence towards the end of last year showed what can happen when workers’ anger explodes and a trade union is not able to keep it under control. The clash between the leadership of the CGIL and FIOM confirms that there is open warfare even within the trade union bureaucracy.
A few months ago, Landini, leader of the metal-mechanics’ FIOM, decided not to put forward an alternative document for the CGIL congress. This left the banner of opposition to the former secretary of the FIOM, Cremaschi – on the left but almost totally devoid of any support in the workplaces. This was a correct decision in view of the lack of interest of workers in a pre-congress debate (the participation in it is very low). So there was no basis for opening up an internal conflict within the CGIL. It is true, however, that Landini did start the pre-congress discussion with the illusion that he could have an effect on the CGIL bureaucracy. Similarly, after the election of Renzi as leader of the Democratic Party, he has deluded himself into thinking that he could have an influence on him, pressing him on some issues dear to FIOM (trade union democracy, the labour market).
The response of Susanna Camusso – general secretary of CGIL and a PD member – was not long in coming. In January, she signed an agreement that in certain cases introduces sanctions against unions who go on strike and gives the CGIL, CISL and UIL the possibility of taking over unions specific to certain sectors (such as FIOM). When Landini declared at the national executive meeting of the CGIL that for FIOM this agreement was invalid because it was taken without discussion in the leading bodies and without the vote of the workers, Camusso herself referred Landini to the CGIL’s Control Commission, asking it to confirm whether this behaviour is punishable.
The fight is hard, reflecting as it does the political battle within the centre-left and confirming ‘the FIOM anomaly’ – the fact that it is regarded both inside and outside the unions as a problem that needs to be sorted out. It is a battle that will not lead to a split or to the expulsion of the FIOM from the CGIL – at least not immediately. But it is one that the FIOM leadership faces without any political support and without having a clear idea of how to get out of it and, meanwhile, the pressure on engineering workers of the crisis is growing by the day.
A different expression of the deep anger in society was the ‘forconi’ (pitchforks) movement which broke out in December last year and died down within a few weeks. The anger of sections of the impoverished middle class, unemployed youth, laid off workers who, once out of the factory, lose their class identity and barely feel themselves as Italian citizens, disgusted by politics and by the unions, all united in challenging the system, but often without knowing exactly what they would like in its place.
From 2012 to 2013 the number of suicides for economic reasons in Italy increased by 67% and the number of suicide attempts by 80%. Half of them were small business owners. One third had a job. The number of unemployed people who committed suicide doubled. Impatience with the austerity policies imposed by the European Union stimulates nationalistic impulses; right-wing groups tried to infiltrate the ‘forconi’, though without great results because even they are seen as ‘politicians’ by many.
The left is divided between those who judged the ‘forconi’ to be reactionary fascists and those who deluded themselves with the hope of being part of the movement. In fact, very heterogeneous and politically confused social sectors have been involved, but some of them are the same people who we saw a few years ago on the streets with the workers of Fincantieri and last November with the public service workers in Genoa. So it is the strength of the labour movement that can pull them to the left rather than the right, and it is a task that the left should seriously reflect on. But most left organisations criticised them because the ’forconi’ are not only an expression of the crisis, but also of the political failures of an incapable left.
While in other countries, some left-wing parties have decided to support the candidacy of Tsipras for president of the European Commission, giving him their support, in Italy, the only case in Europe, the left, rather than show its own identity to be judged by voters, has decided to hide behind the ‘clean face’ of the leader of SYRIZA – unknown to 90 % of Italians – inventing for themselves a Tsipras List (‘Another Europe with Tsipras’). From a proposal launched months ago by the secretary of the nearly defunct RC, Ferrero, this has been immediately adopted (with the collaboration of Tsipras himself) by a group of intellectual golden oldies who have decided to leave out candidates from the ‘old parties’ and to choose from among ‘civil society’ figures.
Just six of them – self-appointed ’Spokespersons of Tsipras’ – opened an online consultation, but announced in the end that nominations would be chosen by themselves “because there is no time to discuss”! The RC thus found itself once again supporting a list in which the party counts for nothing, and which is uninspiring for its few voters (the latest surveys give them around 1,3%) and for its few remaining members. The leader of SEL , Nicchi Vendola, who has been cultivating for years the project of joining the Socialist International, was forced to go in with the Tsipras List by a decision taken at his party’s national congress and has coined the slogan: ’With Tsipras, but not against Schultz (the European Socialists’ candidate)’.
Meanwhile Tsipras presents himself to Italian voters waving the banner of a ‘social Europe’ and with a 10 point programme, including “a new European New Deal” and “a new European Glass-Steagall Act” (passed by US Congress in 1933 to counter bank failures) and which seems to have been written for voters with a Masters’ degree in political science. Under these conditions, the possibility of the Tsipras List getting more than the 4% threshold seems very small.
This is the context in which ControCorrente exists – a small organisation not yet in a position to influence Italian politics significantly. But at the same time we have a programme of action for the coming months.
The day after the fall of the Letta government, in an editorial published on our website, we wrote: “Welcome Renzi! We are waiting for you in the workplaces you want to privatise, in the schools for which you are cutting the funds, in the squares of the cities that you are trying to sell off to your sponsors, in front of the headquarters of your party of lobbyists and careerists. Two months ago, while you were in Genoa and thousands of workers went on strike and occupied the streets to defend their jobs, you decided that it was better not to be seen. It is a sign of your weakness and for us a pointer to the future”.