Italy: One and a half million protest in Rome

Over a million and a half people from all parts of Italy crowded into Rome’s Piazza San Giovanni last Saturday (6 December) to attend the ’Defend Your Future’ rally organised by Italy’s three biggest union federations – Cgil, Cisl, Uil. Many had travelled overnight to take part in the demonstration opposing the government’s hated pension reform and its other attacks on workers’ rights. Numbers were so big that the tightly packed crowd not only filled the square but stretched back as far as the eye could see.

The mood was militant, forcing the union leaders to reflect the anger and combativity in their speeches. "The government should have no illusions, this counter-reform will not pass", was Uil leader Angeletti’s rallying cry to the crowd. It was taken up by Pezzotta of Cisl who promised that, "Our mobilisation does not end today, but will continue until our objective has been achieved".

Epifani, leader of the Cgil, the biggest and more left union federation, received prolonged applause when he took the platform. Even the police helicopters, which became more intrusive, could not drown out the union leaders’ words as he rained down criticism on government policies. Taking up the slogan of the rally ’Defend Your Future’, he pointed out that the Berlusconi government had, “Created a country that was poorer and more insecure. (This was) not just due to the pension reform but also the constant rise in the cost of living, the increase in work flexibility and insecurity, cuts in resources for education and health and for the Mezzogiorno. (It was) also because of the defence by Berlusconi of the privileged few, coupled with a complete lack of response to the needs of the many".

The anger and frustration felt by millions was in evidence on Saturday as people described the bleak future they see for themselves and their families. They have been even more determined to express their feelings since the impressive Milan transport stoppage of Monday, 1 December. This strike successfully drew attention to the plight of workers in that sector, struggling to make ends meet on very low wages.

The real effect of Saturday’s demonstration must also be seen in the context of the ongoing strike situation and militant mood among workers. More stoppages are planned this week by Alitalia airline workers and by transport workers on Monday 15 with a 24-hour strike.

The question of what the unions will do next has yet to be decided. So far only Pezzotti has mentioned the necessity of formulating a counter-proposal to the government’s pension ‘reform’. Whether other parties and unions on the left will give a strong lead to worker militancy has yet to be seen.

Nearly all the leaders of the main centre-left parties attended the rally. Speaking for the Refoundation Communists (Rc) (in the absence of the secretary, Bertinotti), Franco Giordano said the aim must be not simply to oppose the government but to bring it down. And so say all of us!

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December 2003