Italy: General strike paralyses Italy

Today saw Italy’s first united general strike in 20 years.  All the unions were involved, even the CGT, a very right wing union. First reports are saying 95% of public sector workers took strike action. Only three newspapers came out today the Vatican’s, the Lega Nord’s rag and another right wing one. The trains are completely shut down.

Florence itself was dead in the morning until people came in for the demos. The buses organised their eight-hour strike so that they worked in the morning and afternoon to take protesters to and from the marches.

There were five processions in all: three united ones of the CGIL (led by ex-’communists’), UIL (ex-’socialists’) and CISL (Catholic), one procession of students and one procession of the unions of the base – COBAS, CUB and RdB. The CGIL/CISL/UIL processions ended in Santa Croce where Cofferati and other leaders spoke.

For many protesters it was impossible to get close to the piazza let alone into it. One procession from Porta Romana didn’t make it because it was so big they couldn’t get across the Arno river!

The platform of the unions of the base demonstration was obviously against the ’reform’ of article 18 of the labour laws, against Maroni’s "White Book" of attacks on workers’ rights and against the war. They were for the defence of precarious workers, for wages to be brought to the same level as the rest of Europe; for an expansion of public schools and health and all public services (the base unions are especially strong in the public sector) and for the defence of pension rights.

The base unions’ demonstration attracted most of the more active layers. It marched from Piazza san Marco to Piazza Santrissima Annunciata. It was the smallest procession but there were probably about 10,000 on it. The organisers claimed 15 to 20 thousand. All the base unions were present as well as the Florence Social Forum, the C.P.A and ex-Emerson Social Centres and some large groups of secondary students who chose to march with the workers rather than the student demo. A fairly large delegation of anarchists and the anarchist base union -the USI – were there. The biggest and most impressive turnout was from the RdB base union.

The procession had the usual carnival atmosphere with singing and dancing and chanting, but it felt different. You only had to look down a street and see another demo the same size or bigger walking alongside us. When we got to the Duomo (cathedral) square, one of the CGIL/UIL/CISL demos was marching across the other side. Everywhere you looked in the city there was protesters with flags and music. Every time you turned a corner there were thousands more waiting. We’ve no idea how many came out yet, but it was tens of thousands at least. And Florence is a small city. It seemed like the whole city was marching!

Lotta per il Socialismo (the CWI in Italy) supporters handed out leaflets which called for a two day general strike as a final warning to Berlusconi before an all out strike. Although now it looks a bit soft! Cofferati himself is waiting to see what the government does next. They are meeting tonight to discuss it.

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