The latest venture of Italy’s right wing government onto the field of class battle is a blatant all-out attack on the whole of the working class.
It attacks workers in all sectors and of all generations. Again Berlusconi is attempting to reform (or more correctly “counter reform”) Italy’s public pension system. The last time Berlusconi attempted to do this in 1994 it brought down his first government. Now ten years on and hardened by almost constant strikes since taking power and being pushed desperately by the economic crisis he is trying to go down the pension road again.
The pension counter-reforms are a massive attack on the quality of life of Italian workers. As it stands an Italian worker with a public pension can retire after 35 years of work. Many people choose to do so and the average age of retirement to 57. Berlusconi wants to change the system to one where workers must work to 65 or can retire after 40 years of work. This means Italian workers are to work an extra five years of their lives and gets absolutely nothing in return! It is no surprise that in a recent poll by the Repubblica daily 59% said they support strike action against the counter reform.
The morning after Berlusconi made his paternalistic and condescending televised speech on pensions Italy was struck from top to bottom by spontaneous strikes.
The CGIL, CISL and UIL trade union federations have called for a four-hour general strike on the 24th of October while some of the more militant base unions have extended the call to a one-day strike. But to a battle hardened Berlusconi who has already faced two one-day general strikes over his attacks on workers rights as well as countless smaller strikes and countless demonstrations, some involving literally millions, this will not be enough.
Already 14% of Italy’s GDP is being spent on pensions and the economy is in crisis. Confindustria (the bosses organisation) is pushing for cuts in workers’ rights and welfare to make Italy more competitive on the world market, which they hope will solve the crisis. This is their part in the worldwide race to the bottom where the “winners” will have to work all their lives with little or no rights or welfare and the very air that we breathe will be privatised. When it comes to cutbacks as usual the working class is expected to pay. Pensions as far as the bosses are concerned are far too generous. They of course would like to see the state pull out of the pensions business altogether – cutting payments and making higher profits at the same time.
Berlusconi and his coalition represent the most base interests of a large layer of Italy’s bosses and the attack has nothing to do with what is necessary or fair. If cuts have to be made and money must be found it will not be Berlusconi’s class who will pay. It is as simple as that. Only Berlusconi’s removal from power will safeguard pensions. And in the long run only a government that truly represents workers will protect pensions – one that is not a slave to the neo-liberal capitalist agenda. Unfortunately, even if Berlusconi goes it is doubtful a Prodi-led government will, apart from presentation and style, be very different. It is hard to see why the Rifondazione Comunista leadership are trying so hard to join a coalition whose politics are so removed from the Rifondazione’s core principles and even reason to exist.
The trade unions will need bolder action to defeat Berlusconi and to give a warning to Prodi. The workers have shown themselves willing to fight; all that’s lacking is a leadership willing to do the job. Workplace committees and assemblies need to discuss the way forward and prepare for more prolonged and determined action. The unions and left parties must follow up the four-hour strike of October 24 with policies and a struggle to finish with Berlusconi and with his system of class rule once and for all.