Iraq: 15 February – Italy – Over three million in Rome against the war and Berlusconi

After yesterday, there is no doubt whatsoever that Italy is against the war, whatever the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, might claim, reports CWI member Henry Silke from Sicily.

15 February. No to war in Iraq. cwi reports from around the world. Italy.

Over three million in Rome against the war and Berlusconi

Three million men, women and children crowded into the streets and piazzas of Italy’s capital. 25 special trains and over 2,000 coaches from all over Italy ferried protesters to Rome. Some 900 of us on a train from Catania in Sicily travelled 12 hours overnight each way.

The demonstration was like a carnival of protest with music and dancing and the rainbow flags of peace predominant. In some parts the march was just a crush of people as numbers swelled way beyond the 1 million expected.

All along the route, people draped peace banners from their balconies and windows. Even the cameramen from Berlusconi’s own Mediaset Corporation displayed anti-war banners incorporating the TG5 network symbol! An air-raid siren was sounded in Rome for the first time in 50 years to bring home the reality of war.

In Piazza San Giovanni, hundreds of thousands gathered to hear the speeches against the war. The demonstration was given a truly international flavour by speakers from all over the world denouncing Bush’s war. The Rifondazione Comunista Party (Prc) had two huge banners suspended by balloons one of which called for a European -wide strike against the war.

Today, the front page of the daily paper of the Prc – Liberazione – carries a photo of the massive demonstration with the words "Pacific Ocean". La Repubblica says simply "Three million for peace". The size of this demonstration puts Berlusconi, one of Bush’s chief allies, squarely between a rock and a hard place.

Even before yesterday, Repubblica reported polls showing 80% of the population against the war without UN backing and still 71% with it. Now that the Pope and the church have come out totally opposed to the war, a whole area of the Right’s traditional constituency has been removed.

But will Berlusconi dare oppose Bush? Italy is essential for the US war effort with numerous US and NATO bases all over the country. The US right expects Italy’s support.

After the protest, there was a feeling of great strength in that that so many people had come together in one movement. But rather than feeling that their work was done, Italians are preparing a mass movement to continue the opposition. Even on the train back to Sicily, plans were being laid to organise a blockade of the massive Sigorella military base on the Island.

Yesterday there were also sizeable protests reported in other Italian cities including Milan, Palermo, Cagliari and Bergamo. All over Italy, an overwhelming majority are opposed to Bush and his war. As well as workers and students, even voters of the middle class and Italian right are opposed.

Berlusconi’s downfall?

Berlusconi’s support for the war could easily spell his downfall and he knows it.

Italy will continue to lead the world-wide outcry against the war. It is already clear that throughout Italy students will simply walk out on the day war starts. They have had numerous assemblies discussing the issue. The mass anti-war protests are also linked in with a wave of industrial battles still taking place.

It has been commented on in Italy’s press that yesterday’s great demonstration in Rome is the second time 3 million have filled the centre of the capital in less than 12 moths. Last March it was in protest at the government’s attempts to attack protective labour law. This mass protest comes just 6 days before the next general strike action called by the Cgil trade union federation. There will be mass walk-outs for four hours on 21 February in industry and small workshops.

Many Cgil workers have come out in favour of a European general strike against the war and a conference of 5,000 metal-workers in Bologna have made a clear call for this to be taken up and prepared for. ’Lotta per il socialismo’, the Italian group of the Committee for a Workers’ International, welcomes and supports this call. In the end, it is only mass strike action on a national and international scale that can defeat today’s breed of neo-imperialists.

Today’s Italian papers carry reports from CNN news that world-wide well millions of people marched against the war in 603 cities in 72 countries. It has been an historic day.

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February 2003