Italy: Country closed down by general strike

Millions take industrial action against Berlusconi’s pension “reforms”

Millions of workers in Italy, in both the public and private sector, struck work on Friday 26 March. They brought the country to a standstill for at least four hours and in many areas for much longer. The three major trade union federations – Cgil, Cisl and Uil –made the call for this second general strike against Berlusconi’s pension ‘reform’ and against the deteriorating economic situation. But the union leaders themselves were astonished at the “extraordinary” turnout.

In spite of pouring rain across Italy, over a million workers took to the streets in mass protests. ‘Liberazione’, the paper of Rifondazione Comunista, reports that in Milan, 200,000 marched through the streets of the financial and industrial ‘capital’. The Piazza del Popolo, in Rome, filled to overflowing with a similar number. 120,000 participated in two marches that crossed the Sicilian capital of Palermo. Between 50,000 and 70,000 turned out in Genoa, 50,000 in Florence, 40,000 in Bologna and Turin. In Cagliari, Sardinia, and in Empoli and Reggio Emilia, there were 20,000.

Many newspapers internationally report that the right-wing coalition government is being forced by the strength of the protest to come back to the negotiating table and discuss with the union leaders. But that is precisely what many of the most militant trade unionists fear most – a deal being done at the top without the agreement of the millions of workers who have been involved in the strike struggle.

In Genoa there were three marches converging on Piazza de Ferrari and the speeches of the union leaders were quite fiery against the government. But as CWI member, Philipp Fleischmann, reports, there were no proposals for the next stage of the battle. Workers faced with falling living standards (12% at least over the last two years) and seeing their retirement and pension rights under attack, want to see a long-term strategy for defeating the government.

CWI member, Marco di Francesco, from Modena, wrote on Friday, “The theme amongst the workers was: ‘Chase out Berlusconi and the government of business!’

The demonstration involved members of the three union federations, Cgil, Cisl and Uil, and ranged from manual workers to teachers (against the Moratti laws and the school reform) and many public sector workers of the Cgil.

“The fact that Cobas and the unions of the base were not participating prevented the demonstration from being even bigger. They are highly critical of the federal trade union leadership, but they should have been there with their platform for taking the struggle forward…

“It is true,” explains Marco, “That, instead of demanding decent pensions for all, the Cgil, Cisl and Uil leaders support the so-called ‘Dini’ pension reform (of the previous Olive Tree government), which has already reduced pensions and wiped out the hopes of young people for a good pension in their old age.”

“Today, in this country, a large number of struggles are taking place against the anti-social policies of the government, from workers in education and health to railway workers etc…We have seen how a large section of workers are ready to challenge the government.

“We, the members of ‘Lotta per il socialismo’ (CWI in Italy), believe what is needed is a wide mobilisation for a more determined (and longer) general strike – on the issue of pensions and to try and remove Berlusconi from power. In 1994, the resistance of workers to his planned cuts in pensions led to the downfall of the government. This could be repeated today.”

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March 2004