Italy: A week of strikes and blockades against war

Last week-end saw dramatic scenes of direct action in Italy to stop the movement of US military supplies in the country. One major rail convoy was forced to stop and to re-route in a number of different places by hundreds of demonstrators occupying the tracks. The biggest US military base in Europe at Camp Darby, near Pisa, was under siege for seven hours overnight from Friday to Saturday.

Representatives of the biggest trade union federation, the Cgil, have been forced by the pressure of dockers in Livorno and Genoa to declare, "No worker will put arms on ships". Representatives of railway workers, already involved in their own strikes over cuts in jobs and pay, have been forced to demand that Italian Railway staff and resources are not used to transport arms, which are "being sent to cause destruction and death".

Strike action, if war breaks out, is now widely under discussion, with the ’unions of the base’ like Cobas and Rdb, the country’s social forums and the Party of Re-foundation (Rc) all pressing for Europe-wide action on the day after the first bombs fall on Iraq.

This idea must be coordinated and argued for by activists in every workplace. Assemblies or mass meetings need to be called to discuss the issues. ’Stop the War’ committees need to be set up to prepare and produce explanatory leaflets, posters for rallies etc. Indeed, in Italy, such committees could link up the need to campaign against war with the on-going class struggle against the right wing policies of the hated Berlusconi government.

The three million strong anti-war protest demonstration in Rome on 15 February was a magnificent landmark in Italy’s proud history of struggle. But less than a week later, on 21 February, came a 4-hour general strike of industry and small workshops called by the Cgil and accompanied by mass demonstrations in all the main cities across the country.

"In the Florence area," writes Fabrizio Cucchi, a carpenter in a small workshop, " this strike was a success, especially in the industrial sector. At the regional demonstration, there were about 15,000 strikers, including some with banners from Empoli and also Fucecchio. The mood was combative and determined for pursuing the struggle".

The Cgil-called strike was mainly over wages and job security and was widely supported.

Concerted campaign needed

However, it is becoming clearer by the day that a more energetic and concerted campaign is required from the union leaders in order to defeat the reactionary Berlusconi government. The metal-workers’ section of the Cgil, Fiom, which is at the sharp end of the crisis in Italy’s manufacturing industry – symbolised by the special crisis at Fiat – decided to go for eight hours of strike action last Friday and will continue to push the Cgil to step up the strike campaign, drawing in, if possible, the other union organisations in Italy.

Coming as they did on the eve of war, and so soon after the massive Rome protest, the demonstrations during last Friday’s strike inevitably saw many slogans against the US attack on Iraq, combining the social and economic struggles directly with the fight against war. On the same day, 21 February, Tony Blair visited Rome to discuss the US’s military plans with his Italian counterpart, Berlusconi, and also with the Pope, who has recently come out against this war. But given the hostility to war and to the governments that support it continue to build up, it will take more than a blessing from the Pope to save prime ministers from the wrath of their opponents!

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February 2003