Italy: Colourful anti-war demonstration in Rome

Opposition to Berlusconi but ‘Unione’no real alternative

A colourful and noisy demonstration made its way through Rome last Saturday afternoon demanding the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and no invasion of Iran. As part of a world-wide protest after three years of US led occupation, young people and workers converged on the capital from all over Italy. There was music and dancing all along the route, as over a hundred thousand filed behind their banners past the colliseum and the Roman Forum into Piazza Navona.

There were contingents from the ‘unions of the base’ like Cobas and also groups of workers from the biggest trade union federation, the Cgil. There were many activists and young people from the Rc (Party of Communist Refoundation), environmental groups, including the Greens and student organisations.

But the grey day in Rome was matched by a more sombre mood than usual.

The prospects for the economy in Italy, especially for young people, are grim. An election campaign is under way, which should be generating enthusiasm for the prospect of getting rid of the tycoon prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Saturday’s demonstration was an opportunity for the leaders of the main parties in the centre-left coalition, ‘Unione’, to show the strength of the opposition reflected at present in the opinion polls. Instead, they and the leaders of the Cgil withdrew their support, considerably affecting the turn-out on the day.

The excuses they made included the lack of a slogan balancing withdrawal of the troops with the call for an end to terrorism. They also said they could not advise people to go on the streets after the violence of a week before in Milan, where there had been violent clashes during a right-wing demonstration.

This is symptomatic of the lack of a real alternative being posed by the main centre-left parties, including the ex-‘communists’ of the Democrats of the Left (Ds). Prodi, the leader of Unione, has prefered to visit the conference of the Employers’ Federation, Confindustria, to assure them that their interests are safe in a future centre-left government. The Rc in this situation should be arguing not just for Italy to “Change really” – the slogan of their campaign – but for a programme of nationalisation and democratic planning to begin a genuinely socialist transformation.

Bertinotti, the Rc leader, spoke at an election rally on Sunday and said nothing about this kind of thing. When, in a conference earlier in the day, he mentioned socialism, it was in terms of the individual. “We today can pass from the class to the person”!

In the wrong direction

It was clear on the demonstration that there are many within Rifondazione (Rc) who feel the party is going in the wrong direction. The clear intention of the leadership is not simply to stand on a list to help defeat Berlusconi but to participate in what will inevitably be a government implementing attacks on workers and young people, as the Ulivo government under Prodi did the last time round.

Italy is in the throes of an economic crisis and Prodi can talk only of tax increases and a social contract with the employers. Half of the country’s young people are in precarious jobs and fears of a worsening situation are not lifted by the prospect of a centre-left government. There is even an outside possibility that, using his massive domination of the country’s media, Berlusconi can convince enough of the 24% undecided voters to support him and come back into power. This could open the floodgates of class struggle.

Many on the demonstration were encouraged by the events in France – the mass demonstrations of youth and workers and the call for a general strike. These will, undoubtedly, have the effect of reviving the combative mood of workers and young people in Italy. The literature of Lotta per il socialismo (CWI in Italy) was well received in Rome, on Saturday. A clear programme is urgently needed to build the forces opposed to capitalist policies inside the anti-war, anti-globalisation and anti-Berlusconi movement.

Literature of Lotta per il socialismo (pdf, 1MB, opens in new window).

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