On 23 March, about 20,000 protesters from all over Sicily marched on the Sigonella US Navy Air Base. The base has operated since 1959 after US – NATO agreements. It is situated in Eastern Sicily, 16 km west of Catania and under the shadow of Mount Etna.
Stop the war in Iraq. Italy.
Thousands brave torrential rain to protest at US Air Base in Italy
The base provides logistical and operational support for NATO and the US military and is the main supply base of the US 6th Fleet Mediterranean. It is seen as a hub for imperialist military forces in the Middle East and Africa. Over 7,000 military personel and families live there permanently. Sigonella’s air terminal is NATO European Command’s second busiest.
Italians, as reported before, are completely opposed to the US invasion of Iraq. Italy was brought to a standstill by strikes, occupations and protests on the first day of the war. And the protests are continuing to put the government under serious pressure.
Universities continue to be occupied across the country. The 24 March teachers’ strike, called by the trade union federation, Cobas, has been linked to the war and more importantly the rank and file unions. The militant metalworkers’ union Fiom, which has called a general strike against the war for 2 April, backs it.
The Berlusconi government could face trouble in the future from its coalition partners. The UDC (the remnants of the old Christian Democrats) is finding it difficult to support a war opposed by the Pope. Four Iraqi diplomats were expelled from Italy yesterday (23 March) and yet the Italian Foreign Minister tried to claim relations with Iraq are normal and says that, "Italy is not at war."
General strike against the war
A continued war with casualties will see support for the general strike on the 2 April growing. Pressure from below could push the largest trade union federation – the Cgil – to support the strike. It can be taken as read that the militant secondary school and university students will support the strike en masse.
On 23 March, at Sigonella, the protesters came from all over the island with fifteen buses from Palermo alone. The protesters braved literally torrential rain to march. It was amazing and very heartening to see so many protesters out, even in such bad conditions. Free buses were supplied from Catania, which dropped protesters some kilometres from the base at the beginning of the march.
The march was mainly made up of young people but included many trade unionists as well as pacifists. Some of the slogans were very political. Rifondazione Comunista (Rc), which was the biggest block, called for a general strike against the war and an international general strike against the war.
However the Rc leadership under Bertinotti is calling for Ciampi, the Italian president, to intervene on behalf of Article 11 of the Italian constitution, which forbids Italian involvement in war. This is a mistake. Moral arguments have never prevented or stopped an imperialist war; only actions from workers and youth can do this and the Rifondazione should concentrate on this.
At the end of the march a worker from Fiat Termini spoke from the Rc platform, denouncing the war. Now, as the protests continue and casualties from the war begin to mount, the task in Italy is to build support for the strike on the 2 April and to spread the call beyond the ‘unions of the base’ into the official unions and beyond.