Italy: Anti war on Iraq protest

The many hundreds of thousands of Italian protesters were joined by tens of thousands of foreign participants in the European Social Forum assembly and by others, like the French CGT union, who came to Italy especially for this demonstration.


Saturday 9 November saw the biggest protest so far against the threatened war against Iraq. Up to million people marched and sang their way through the streets of Florence, Italy, in protest at the policies of Bush and Berlusconi, writes Robert Bechert, a CWI participant on the huge protest. CWI online.

Hundreds of thousands march in Florence against war

The Italian government’s increasing hysterical propaganda attacks against the demo during the preceding weeks did nothing to lessen the turnout. On the contrary, it strengthened the mobilisation and created a high awareness of the necessity for protesters to be on guard against any agent provocateurs attempting to provoke clashes. This, along with the minimal police presence, resulted in a peaceful protest.

Italy’s fourth mass protest in 2002

This demonstration, at least double the size of last year’s Genoa march, was the fourth mass protest Italy has seen this year. Almost immediately after Berlusconi’s May 2001 election victory protests and mass struggles started. Over the last 18 months these have developed and included successful two eight-hour general strikes, one called in March by all three trade union confederations (Cgil, Cisl and Uil) and, one by the Cgil alone in October.

While smaller than the monster three million trade union March 23 demo in Rome, this protest brought to together the themes of fighting against unemployment, neo-liberal attacks, the right wing Berlusconi government and imperialist war. The protesters were very clear that they were against Berlusconi, but there were hardly any indications of what should replace his government.

The fact that the day before the UN Security Council unanimously accepted Bush’s resolution on Iraq had no effect. It was widely seen that the Bush administration had bullied, threatened or bribed other countries to get support. No one expected the UN to stop the Bush/Blair right to attack Iraq. It was understood that only a mass movement could defeat Bush’s war plans.

The size and enthusiasm of the march was a testament to the mass opposition Berlusconi is facing. While the mass of the march were workers and youth, many middle class protesters showed the widespread opposition to the Right and to Berlusconi’s shameless attempts to stop himself being tried in court for corruption.

The Left turns out

Many came individually to Florence. There were also delegations from the entire spectrum of the Italian Left and workers’ movement. There were political parties including the Prc (Refondazione) that had the largest contingent, although most of their young members marched with other groups of youth. Groups of workers came from different workplaces, including Fiat, where thousands are threatened with redundancy. The "unions of the base" (such as Cobas and Cub-RdB) had some sizable workplace groups and also attracted large numbers of youth to their contingents.

However, in comparison with Genoa last year, there was less of an organised presence from the workplaces. The Cgil’s own contingent was relatively small. It is not clear how much this represented a failure to mobilise or a feeling among some workers that enough demonstrations on their own will not stop Berlusconi.

The huge turnout in Florence illustrated once again the radicalisation that is underway in Italy. Now, even more than before, activists will be discussing what are the next steps that need to be taken and concretely what policies need to be fought for.

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November 2002