Italy: In the aftermath of war

Following the official revelations of last month concerning the role of the "Italian intelligence services" in Iraq, the last fig leaf of Italy’s inactive participation in the invasion of Iraq has been taken away. Any possible fig leaf about passive acceptance of the "shock and awe" operation disappeared when the Paras of the Ederle US base in Italy were sent directly to Iraq, despite the Italian Parliament having decided that Italian bases should only be used in an indirect way in the event of an attack. Furthermore, unconfirmed reports about the Italian fabrication of documents concerning supposedly Nigerian uranium in Iraq would make clear who has been called upon to carry out the dirty work within the "coalition of the willing". (These documents were described as "false" by the ex-head of the UN inspectors, Hans Blix).

Getting a slice of the lucrative contracts for the "reconstruction" of Iraq was a stronger reason for any of Italy’s shameful involvement in the invasion of Iraq – open or, worse still, clandestine. Berlusconi during the war could not risk a straight parliamentary vote on the issue and showed that he considers Parliament a mere accessory. After all, Italian companies face fearful competition in the form of the American companies who have been placed there, for obvious reasons, in a prime position, so it was a case of make yourself seen and make sure you do something.

Parliament did vote on the deployment of Italian troops in Iraq following the conflict as even the Carabinieri are part of the Armed Forces (and they are not the only ones). The official justification is that they are an escort for the humanitarian convoys. It is a shame that, as it is seen by many, they are discussing which and how many soldiers to send, while, when it comes to relief aid, things become very vague and approximate. Moreover, now many humanitarian organisations no longer accept the hypocritical contributions from those governments who participate in acts of war.

The general of the Carabinieri, Leso, who was decorated by Bush for his past missions abroad, is well known in Italy for his active role in the repression of the Genoa demonstrations in July 2001. He was taken to be the most probable commander of the mission in Iraq.

Inconsistent ‘Olive Tree’

The Olive Tree are showing their inconsistency even as a simple parliamentary opposition. The Margherita (‘Daisy’ or centre democrats), the Ds (Democrats of the Left) majority, the Sdi (Italian Social Democrats), abstain on the Government motion. The Olive Tree motion could have been voted for even by the majority in parliament, talking as it did of the need "to promote Italy’s contribution in each European Union base and on the International arena". This at least tries to give an impression of "bipartisanship", but they abstain, except for the Lega (Northern League) and a few individuals.

The motion from Rc (Rifondazione Comunista), the Greens and the PdCi (the rump Communist Party of Italy) to exclude the deployment of troops in any shape or form, can rely only on the abstention from the "correntone" – the ‘Aprile’ current around Cofferati, the ex-leader of the biggest trade union federation, the Cgil. Naturally, a few individuals made an exception.

But you cannot win all of the time. Berlusconi was pushed aside at the Athens summit during the discussion on the European document over Iraq. After all, at that summit they talked about the role of the EU and the UN. European capitalism does not wish to concede special rights to Italian capitalism over the distribution of contracts during the reconstruction (something which is already difficult due to the US’s position).

Later attempts by the left of the Ds to launch a counter-offensive appear like crying over spilled milk; they now insist on unity. Then, they still have to find the funds for the mission, which they are hoping to do through a parliamentary vote.

Now the Italian humanitarian assistance for the people of Iraq consists of a field hospital that a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross defined as "useless". He described the building of this field hospital as, "An action that broke all the normal procedures of our organisation’’ (Il Manifesto, 10 May 2003). In addition, there are more or less 3,000 soldiers under the British Commander in the zone of Basra .

But we need to step back in time to understand the recent developments of the left in the Ds. At the beginning of April, a Ds convention was held in Milan to determine its programme. This convention, even before it started, was the scene of internal clashes within the Ds. From the very first day the liberal nature and Stalinist roots of the party were clearly exposed by Fassino’s speech. He defined as incompatible membership of a party such as the Ds with belonging to an association such as ‘Aprile’. He also strongly attacked the referendum sponsored by the Rc over the extension of job protection under Article 18 of the labour law to smaller workplaces. The conference hall applauded.

The following day, D’Amato, president of Confindustria – the Italian industrialists – gave his approval: "In the conference hall and amongst the leadership of the Ds there is a great understanding that by continuing on a slippery and maximalist road, one becomes alienated from the reformist process and from the consensus of opinion in the country". D’Amato also confessed to agreeing to many of the points raised by Fassino in his speech. The minority replied only with appeals for unity. Berlinguer said that, "In politics a divorce must be by consent. We shall not get divorced".

Article 18

After this we even had a face to face confrontation between Cofferati and Fassino at a meeting in Mugello. Even there, the need for unity was underlined. Cofferati demanded a determined opposition to plans to modify Article 18. Fassino replied by stating that the initiatives already being prepared by the Ds on Article 18, provided for a simple increase in compensation, without extending the threshold of 15 employees, as well as an increase and extension of the so-called "social shock absorbers". After all, Cofferati has never been enthusiastic about the Rc’s referendum, even if a section of the "correntone" has supported this referendum from the very beginning.

Now the official line of the Ds on the referendum is abstention. The Cgil, under the pressure of its members from below, supports a ‘yes’ vote as do the "unions of the base" (Cobas, Rdb etc.).The other main trade unions, the Cisl and the Uil are also for abstention.

Nobody, following what has happened with the hundreds of initiatives carried out against Berlusconi’s proposals should have to doubt whether the referendum will automatically obtain popular approval. But there is now cause for concern over the percentage of people voting. There is silence on the part of the majority of the media, to which must be added the decisions of the ruling body of RAI to limit debate on the referendum. Anyway, it seems certain that a majority of the working class will vote and this referendum will see a success for all who have fought against the proposal of the government.

Nevertheless, it should be seen already as a testament to the strength of all the past protests on the issue, that Berlusconi is forced to proceed extremely slowly with his project to abolish article 18 altogether. In fact it has been put on ice for the moment it seems – something which should be regarded as a silent victory for the workers’ movement.

In spite of the importance of this referendum in the battle for the extension of article 18 and for defeating the plans of Berlusconi on the issue, it is unlikely to be sufficient for bringing down the government. Even though a victory for the ‘yes’ camp would be a big set-back for Berlusconi, only the mass struggles of the working class can carry out the job of unseating the ‘Cavalier’ from the saddle.

Attacks on pensions

The proposal of the government about the reform of the pension system, as has already happened in Austria and in France, will inflame the anger of the working class and will provoke an enormous clash between the classes. At the moment, the package of proposals is vague and the leadership of the main unions have rediscovered their unity in order to send a deadline to the government – 8 June – to clarify their proposal. If the proposals come out against the rights of workers and pensioners, the main unions are ready to call for a general strike.

The long story of the trials against Berlusconi and his cronies took a new turn on the 29 April when a court found Cesare Previti guilty for bribing a judge. He was Berlusconi’s lawyer and was also a minister during the first Berlusconi government. New attacks by Berlusconi and his ministers on the magistrates (the lawyers) followed this sentence, plus new attacks on press freedom and new attempts to use his position to save himself and his friends from the reaches of the law.

Beginning to appear over the political horizon now is the first round of the local elections on 25th and 26th May. In many places we can see different local tactics. The Lega will stand on its own in Brescia, Vicenza and Treviso, at least in the first round. Within the ruling coalition of parties, there have been many disagreements over this or that candidate. The leadership of the Rc have tried to impose an electoral alliance with the Ds everywhere or nearly everywhere that the elections are to take place. But not in all places was this possible since the Ds were not always prepared to negotiate an agreement with them. It is also clear that the Rc electoral alliances face open opposition from a big part of its own members, who are obviously not prepared to accept their party supporting the policies of cuts that the DS are implementing at local level. And there are numerous other local peculiarities.

Attacks by the extreme right

There is now also widespread concern over recent events orchestrated by the extreme right. During the celebrations of 25th April some Rc headquarters in Rome suffered arson attacks. On the same day, also in Rome, the police had to intervene against a group of individuals who were putting up fascist posters. These incidents were what spoilt the celebrations of 25th April, rather than as some claimed, the open booing on the Milan demonstration directed at Pezzotta (leader of Cisl).

This booing was mainly for the position taken by the Cisl on the referendum about Article 18. Now, however, there is another new reason for the anger of large sectors of the working class against him. That is the agreement between the metalworkers’ section of his union (and of the metalworkers’ organisation of the other smaller trade union federation – the Uil) and the bosses and the government over the metalworkers’ contract. This contract was not signed by the Fiom (metalworkers’ section of the Cgil) because it does not fulfil the (minimal) demands of the Fiom, For example, it does not come out against casualisation of work and does not give anything more for workers who are seeing their wages eaten up by the growing inflation. This agreement, on top of the arrogance of many public speeches by Pezzotta himself, inflamed the anger of the metalworkers who are now engaged in a long series of strike actions.

A brief look at the economic situation sees the Fiat crisis in full flood. The short-term solution that the company is proposing is to transfer the bulk of production to the factories in the south – Termini and Pomigliano d’Arco in particular – where the company will try to impose stricter working practices similar to those at the Melfi plant. This is a clear attempt to split the workers, setting some of them against others.

Even the most (wrongly) optimistic of Government’s in recent Italian history has had to revise its economic growth forecasts. Inflation continues to increase and unemployment is still high. Even the OCSE is forced to put back to the year 2004 its prediction for an ever less likely economic recovery. It is clear that the current economic system is in deep crisis, on a world scale. No real solution can be offered by Berlusconi or by his co-thinkers.

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