Italy: Mass movement to stop education cuts

General strike needed to unite struggles against Berlusconi

Last Friday, 17 October, a strike called by the ‘unions of the base’, without a call being made by the main trade union confederations, mobilised no less than two million workers. Three hundred thousand demonstrators marched through the streets of Rome, including tens of thousands of students.

Kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, and universities are in revolt against a massive programme of cuts – the Gelmini reforms. Tens of thousands of children, youth and parents are occupying their schools and universities, protesting and demonstrating in all parts of the country. Faculties in the universities of Bologna, Milan, Turin, Genoa and Naples, Rome and elsewhere are occupied as cuts in this sector alone amount to 445 million euros.

Education under attack

If it is not defeated, the Gelmini programme will mean the sacking of 80,000 teachers and 43,000 non-teaching staff such as secretaries and technicians. This, under the Berlusconi government, is in addition to the 47,000 jobs in education destroyed under the previous ‘centre-Left’ government of Romano Prodi. This is happening at a time when the numbers of pupils in state schools is increasing – classrooms are often chronically over-crowded.

Primary and middle schools, which are at present full time in Italy, will be cut to just 24 hours per week. This would force many parents to make an unpalatable choice – to give up full time work (mostly the mothers), to employ a child-minder or, if the family could afford it, send the children to private – often catholic – schools.

The closure of smaller schools is planned, especially in the south of Italy and on the islands. This will mean that pupils will have to travel more than 30 miles to get to school. Much outrage is being caused by the planned introduction of “maestro unico” – one teacher for all subjects in primary schools. As teachers in Italy are not trained to teach everything, the quality of education could decline greatly.

Other measures include giving grades for behaviour: a grade 5 could mean pupils having to repeat a year. The students currently occupying their schools are being threatened with being given a grade 5. The right of pupils and teachers to have a say is also under attack. Schools and universities are going to be turned into ‘foundations’. The school board can be made up of representatives of the bosses’ organisations (Confindustia and Confartigianato), banks and other financial organisations! Unicredit bank, for example, is already a board member of the University of Bologna. This is clearly a step towards privatisation and education run according to the needs of business.

Cuts, cuts and more cuts

The Berlusconi government wants to cut 15 billion euros in total from the public sector (8 billion from education) and tries to portray public sector workers as “fannuloni”- a bunch of slackers. At the same time, Confindustria is trying to get rid of the system of national contracts in the various sectors. This will undermine unity in struggle, hugely important in a country were the great majority of workers work in small companies.

And now the government is preparing to make it much harder for workers to go on strike, especially in the public sector. With the situation in Italy already bad, with rocketing prices for food and energy, very low salaries and job insecurity, the effect will be terrible when the financial crisis hits the real economy.

Lotta, the CWI in Italy, is calling for a general strike to unite students, teachers and parents with other public sector workers and those in the private sector. Berlusconi himself was kicked out of government in 1994 following a mass movement involving three million workers. The current struggle is also an opportunity to unite and build the anti-capitalist forces in Italy, and lay the basis for the construction of a mass party of workers and youth.

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October 2008