Italy: Gloomy outlook after Prodi government defeat

Workers need party that fights bosses’ system

Economy and society face The second Prodi government, and the 61st in Italy’s post second world war hitory, has gone. A confidence vote in the senate, after the defection of a small party that held the balance of power, led Romano Prodi to tender his resignation. (The right wing Udeur party in Prodi’s alliance had faced a crisis last week as its leader, Justice Minister, Mastella, was forced to resign over accusations of extortion and corruption in his home area of Calabria, where his wife and 22 other party members are already under house arrest!)

The country’s president, Napolitano, must now decide whether to appoint an interim “institutional” or “technocrats’” government, to go for an immediate general election or, perhaps least likely, to ask Prodi to head another government.

Prodi’s ‘centre left’ eight-party government had been struggling for 20 months to keep a government majority in the upper house. Numerous confidence votes saw it survive by a tiny margin. This time, the vote hung on a 98 year-old, one of the seven non-elected senators-for-life, being fit enough to get to vote and another senator being driven from a hospital in Milan, struggling to the ballot box on crutches! One of the three senators from the Udeur party, who did not agree with the deecision to vote against Prodi, was spat on and fainted, being taken out of the hall on a stretcher. (Feelings were running high, partly because pension rights for Senators only kick in after two years!) The sitting had to be suspended to calm down the physical tumult and the vote finally went 156 to 161.

Former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, the richest man in Italy and still heading a media empire, has been pushing for immediate elections. He and his cronies cracked open champagne bottles in parliament to celebrate the vote and other arch right wingers took to the streets! The ratings for Berlusconi and his present allies have gone up to a 15% lead recently, reflecting dissatisfaction with Prodi’s faltering government.

In the past few days, Berlusconi and Veltroni, leader of the new Democratic Party – the largest party in Prodi’s coalition – had been discussing cooperating on proposals for electoral reform, now undergoing much public discussion. (Some alternative proposals are being put forward in a non-government national referendum in June or soon after). This is said to have panicked smaller parties who face extinction under new arangements. It is an irony that Berlusconi’s last government changed the electoral law in the other direction and then (narrowly) lost in February of last year.

Gloomy prospects

While they are tired of half-measures ion the economy and social issues, neither workers nor the more sober representatives of the bosses would be happy with a new Berlusconi government. Many will feel as gloomy as Prodi about the future of the Italian economy. Before the vote yesterday, Romano Prodi, who had been the favourite of Italy’s capitaslist class, told senators: “A power vacuum is a luxury that Italy cannot allow itself. Italy risks finding itself in in a negative economic cycle which we will face with still imperfecrt structures”.

As an ex-Commissioner of the capitalists’ European Union, Prodi was well aware that EU finance officials fear a worsening of Italy’s finances and its inability to meet the balancing of its budget by 2011 as promised.

The day before the resignation of Romano Prodi, the Financial Times quoted commentators of the left and the right agonising over the “undignified, slow-motion collapse of Mr Prodi’s unwieldy coalition, just when global markets were in turmoil and economies slowing.” It reported Italy’s stock market falling sharply on the news of the government’s imminent collapse.

Class struggle

The CWI has always urged the parties claiming to represent workers, and especially the Party of Communist Refoundation, to fight on an independent class programme of socialist change and not to participate in any government of capitalist parties. Unfortunately the Rc did not rise to the challenge of mobilising a struggle against the last Berlusconi government, in spite of six general strikes and millions-strong demonstrations. They have clung to office in a government which has continued the attempts to reform Italy’s economy at the expense of the public health, education and transport services and by holding down wages, ‘reforming’ pension rights and worsening the conditions of work for young and old.

Even the militant metal mechanics of Fiom, looked to by Italy’s workers for a lead in combatting the bosses’ demands, have recently agreed to a poor deal in relation to wages and conditions, which will lower the expectations of other workers in being able to win advances. Lotta, the CWI in Italy, has argued against coalition with the ‘Democrats’ and against the dissolution of the Rc (See previous articles on this site). The ex-general secretary, Fausto Bertinotti, leader of the lower house, is even now backing the idea of a technocrats’ government to avoid a general election confirming the recent rapid decline in support for his party. Instead, a party of workers and young people, claiming to be communist, should be preparing to fight a bold election campaign on a clear alternative to all capitalist policies.

A full analysis of the latest situation will be carried after the ‘consultations’ of the president about what happens next.

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January 2008