Italy: Government crisis against background of growing polarisation

Towards a wave of struggle?

In the last weeks, Italy has seen a constant succession of developments in the political framework the likes of which have not been seen for years. The clash between FIAT and the unions, the crisis of the centre-right coalition, and the accumulation of forces around the support for the candidacy of Nichi Vendola as the new leader of the centre-left, all takes place against the background of a country where –despite the data on GDP growth, in particular in the industrial sector – the decline in the living conditions of workers and the poor is continuing.

Last week, two workers killed their bosses; one after being sacked, the other through fear of being sacked. They were employees of small companies, without any perspective of a collective struggle to keep their jobs, abandoned to their fate, and reacting in despair. Nevertheless, these two cases represent symptoms of a social phenomenon of a much larger size, which can lead, if properly channelled, to a social explosion of dimension far greater than we have experienced in the last decades.

In a context of social polarisation, which tends to bring out – on both sides of the class struggle – stronger and more decided stands, it is possible for the left to make demands of a transitional character, knowing that greater attention will be paid to them by the workers than in the past. In Genoa, after another financial crisis of the Theatre of the Opera, and the threat to close it for four months by making employees in “cassa integrazione” (at home with a reduced wage, paid by the state), a leading member of Controcorrente spoke on behalf of the PRC (Party of Communist Refoundation), asking that the theatre -already in public hands – be put under workers’ control, the only way of building a recovery plan and implementing it. The spokesman of the theatre’s most highly represented union (about 70 members out of 300 employees), after having attended the press conference, reported our proposal to a union assembly held the same day, and about 240 workers present there discussed it, generally approving of our intervention.

New developments in the FIAT battle. The FIOM resists

The battle at the FIAT is an example of the tendency towards this growing polarisation. The ones who will come out damaged from this episode– at least for now – are the ones who have tried to take an half-way position on the Pomigliano struggle (the CISL and the UIL in particular) who, after having ‘given their blood’ by signing a deal with the management imposing new harsh working conditions (see previous article: and having broken with the FIOM (the metalworkers’ union of the CGIL, the only one to have opposed the blackmail), are now in a delicate position.

"Pomigliano non si piega" ("Pomigliano will not bow down")

Indeed, the Executive Manager, Marchionne, after having seen the ‘yes’ vote in the ballot in Pomigliano, has now announced the transfer of the production from the historic FIAT plant of Mirafiori (Turin) to Serbia, as well as the creation of a new company in Pomigliano not affiliated to Confindustria (the Italian bosses federation), and therefore not obliged to comply with the national contract of the metalworkers. This announcement struck also the position of the leader of the CGIL, Epifani, who had attempted to re-align with the CISL and the UIL, calling for the FIOM to adopt more conciliatory positions, as well as the Confindustria itself. If Fiat abandons the national contract signed by the latter, it could create a dangerous precedent. Also, consequently, the FIOM, with his fighting stand, could become a “destabilising” example for the CGIL. The difference is that the leadership of the bosses’ federation- in contrast to what Epifani did with the FIOM – has not publicly criticised Marchionne.

The latter attitude is provoking a significant reaction. The newspapers reported statements from some workers at Pomigliano, who voted ‘yes’ at the referendum for the new business plan and who, facing this new attack, are accusing the FIAT of going too far. A few days before the triumphant welcome given to Marchionne by Obama, the director of the newspaper ‘La Repubblica’, Eugenio Scalfari, an influential Italian opinion-maker, denounced the policy of the Italian-Canadian manager, stating that “rather than Marchionne saving Chrysler, it has been Obama saving Fiat”.

After the company’s decision to separate the automobile sector from the rest of the group, ‘FIAT AUTO’ could become, in a few years, a bad company, while the investments and new lines of credit granted by the banks will be concentrated under the umbrella of the new company ‘FIAT Industrial SPA’. In this sense, the leap in net profit to €113 billion in the last quarter and the drop in car sales (which fell 36% in Italy in July, after the ending of government incentives) do not represent a contradiction, but on the contrary, the key of the whole policy. As the Financial Times wrote recently, Marchionne is the “oracle of the world car industry”, because he manages to increase profits by selling less cars. Today, in this context and for these reasons, the proposal to nationalise Fiat, which is a private group, but in fact has always survived thanks to state funding, would not sound like a mere slogan.

On the other hand, the FIOM is resisting the attempts at isolating it, by FIAT, the Government, most of the press, the judiciary and the leadership of the CGIL itself. The political layoffs in Melfi, Termoli and Mirafiori, as well as the investigations of the judiciary (such as the one involving 19 Genoese workers from the State owned shipyard company, ‘Fincantieri’, for the occupation of the Sestri Ponente factory last December) do not seem to have intimidated the new FIOM secretary, Maurizio Landini, having recently replaced the outgoing Gianni Rinaldini, who is now leader of the opposition inside the CGIL. A few days ago, a labour judge reinstated the three workers (and FIOM members) sacked by FIAT at the Melfi plant some weeks ago, and condemned the company for its anti-union practices. The last Central Committee meeting of the FIOM has decided to call for a mass demonstration against Berlusconi government on 16 October, a demonstration of the metalworkers but “open to the social participation of the public”, a bit of a tortuous way of saying that all workers and left political forces are invited to participate to this initiative. This demo emphasises the political role of the FIOM. The FIOM will also participate in the European demonstrations on 29 September, and will launch a remarkable campaign of ‘proselitism’, a sort of call to the ‘friends of the FIOM’, which has obviously the purpose of consolidating the wave of sympathy and solidarity acquired after its clash with Marchionne (after years of resistance).

The Berlusconi-Fini clash and the crisis of the government

While the press tends to present it as a clash of personalities, the break between Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini (main co-founder of Berlusconi’s ‘People of Freedom’ Party) must be understood within the framework described above. Fini, the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, represents a wing of the centre-right which has still roots in some sectors of the population, particularly in the public sector and some segments of the most socially alienated in the south of the country. These are areas that have been hit hard by the economic policies of Tremonti and Brunetta (Economy and Public Administration Ministers in the right-wing coalition), and run the risk of being massacred by the federalism pushed by the Northern League. It is no coincidence that Fini’s key lieutenants today come from the southern regions of Sicily and Campania, while his former colonels, who have passed over to Berlusconi’s side, have their electoral base in the North and especially in the Centre of the country. It is no coincidence neither if Fini has been silent about the Pomigliano issue. The President of the Chamber is uncomfortable with the Northern populism of Bossi and Berlusconi (who has lost long ago the support of the President of the Sicilian Region of Lombardy and part of his former Sicilian loyalists), and hence is looking, on the one hand, towards the European liberal right, and on the other has engaged in negotiations with Casini (UDC, Christian-Democrats), Rutelli (Catholic split from the PD), and Montezemolo (former Chairman of Confindustria), all protagonists of the reestablishment of a third ‘centre pole’, to which the opinion polls are giving a potential of 22% electoral support. Even here there is no contradiction, but rather a sort of revised and corrected edition of the traditional alliance, developed between the ‘50s and ‘70s, between the Christian-Democrat right and the more institutional part of the old MSI (neo-Fascist party from which Fini comes from).

However, we cannot say that Fini himself has built some kind of political operation. Actually he offered more than 50% of his former party to Berlusconi, and if today, even if he can exercise the power of blackmail (in the Parliament, without him the centre-right does not have a majority), it is a fact that Berlusconi continues to keep the initiative. A few days ago, he announced that in September he will present a package of measures on which the confidence of parliament will be requested (including on justice reform and federalism), and Fini will have to choose: to take a step backwards on the question of legality, or to assume the responsibility for making the government fall, knowing that he risks paying a price in the elections. On the other hand, the PD, the main opposition force, is doing everything to avoid early elections, coming out with proposals for a technical government and even raising the possibility of such a government being led by the current Economy Minister, Tremonti, the author of the budget against which the PD has been arguing for months, describing it as ‘unfair’.

The result is paradoxical: the head of a divided government, engulfed in scandals, working for early elections, while the opposition is working to avoid them. However, the possibility of a technical government seems to be quite remote, and the press is giving enough information for us to assume that elections could take place in November, or more likely in March (because the Northern League aims to introduce fiscal federalism before the government falls). However, there is another element that nobody is considering: the social battles. If the autumn becomes ‘hot’, the class solidarity of the bourgeoisie could prevail and the appeal for a government of national unity (the one the former Christian Democrat Casini has long been calling for) might be realised.

The left in decline – the left that Confindustria likes

Meanwhile, what is the left doing? On the one hand, the PRC and the PdCI (‘Party of Italian Communists’) are preparing to tackle perhaps the first true ‘hot autumn’ of their history with their leaderships discussing between themselves, firstly in the framework of the forthcoming December Congress of the Federation of the Left (Federazione della Sinistra), rather than in the Congresses of their respective parties. This is a debate featuring many paradoxes and a real democratic regression. First of all – and this is obvious to all, especially to their members – in order to decide on the dissolution of the two parties and to create a new political entity, the Congresses of both parties should have been held first, and only later the Congress of the Federation.

Ferrero (PRC) and Diliberto (PdCI) will argue that this is not dissolution, but that assertion is disproved by the procedure of the Congress of the Federation itself. The political document and the rules are in fact drawn up by the national coordination of the Federation – which should be simply an executive body – without going through the bodies of the two national political parties and other affiliates in this alliance. In order to present amendments or alternative documents, it is also necessary to collect the signature of at least 5% of the Coordination, and, for the first time, the possibility of collecting signatures among members is not envisaged. So, if an alternative position had the support of even 10,000 members, it could still not be represented in the congressional debate.

However, beyond the technical issues, the real problem lies in the political theses themselves, which, after developing a smokescreen of good intentions – calling for an end to redundancies, a public banking centre (without explaining how this could be built) and ‘democratic control’ over the ECB (European Central Bank), the re-nationalisation of privatised services (once again: how?), a guaranteed salary, the fight against insecurity and so on – we arrive at the critical point: the proposal of a ‘democratic coalition to defeat Berlusconi and Bossi’ (ie open to Fini; the same Fini who in 2001 brought, in Genoa, his solidarity to the police and carabinieri while visiting the commanding police headquarters during the savage beatings in the streets of anti-globalisation demonstrators), based on a “more rigorous defence of democratic and social rights of working men and women”. In other words, the political equivalent of the miracle of the loaves and fish!

On another front, the rising star of the Italian left is Nichi Vendola. Former leader of the Bertinotian wing (right-wing of the party) during the last national congress of the PRC, and defeated by Ferrero, he left the PRC a year later to form ‘Sinistra e Libertà’ (Left and Liberty), which afterwards became ‘Sinistra, Ecologia e Libertà’ (SEL – Left, Ecology and Liberty), now also leader of the “Nichi’s factories”. A supporter of the alliances with the “centre-left”, and even the UDC (former ally of Berlusconi government), Vendola is nicknamed “the white Obama” and actually shares some features with the U.S. President. Besides an undoubtable personal charisma, Vendola, despite being a career politician (Vice-President of the Youth Federation of the old PCI, then deputy for four legislatures, and twice President of the South-Eastern Apulia Region), combines a certain charisma with some elements of ‘diversity’. He is gay and from the South, which in Italy means that his candidacy for leadership of the centre-left is seen by many as a revolutionary event. His left-wing populism, in some ways mirrored to Berlusconism, in comparison to Prodi or Bersani’s bureaucratism, makes him attractive in the eyes of his most loyal supporters, mostly young moderate progressives.

Nichi Vendola, the rising star of the Italian ’left’

But his strength lies mainly in the fact that he has twice beaten the center-right in the Apulia regional elections, after having defeated the candidates of the PD in the primary elections. This is exactly what Vendola wants to do again now on a national level, by presenting his own candidacy for the presidency of the centre-left in the upcoming elections, a candidacy that part of the Italian bourgeoisie is using as a way to “make up” the image of Italian politics. Vendola has among his sponsors Don Verzè, the prelate master of important parts of the private health system (and a personal friend of Berlusconi), and is cultivating good relations with the Catholic world. At the same time as the battle was raging in Pomigliano, Vendola received applause at the Confindustria of Vicenza, and the praise of the President of Confindustria, Emma Marcegaglia (“He is the best governor of the South. My companies are doing excellent business in Apulia”). Shortly after receiving the official recognition of the Republic as President of the South-Eastern Apulia Region, he had already among his supporters Michele Santoro (journalist of the RAI, kicked out by Berlusconi, then returned to State TV) and ‘Il Manifesto’, an historical newspaper of the far left. This does not prevent him from running to the gates of FIAT to show solidarity with the workers, perhaps forgetting how in February 2009, visiting Genoa, he declared that “the metalworkers are thinking more about cocaine than about the FIOM”. Yet in the desert of the Italian left, his candidacy could attract the interest of many workers and left activists, drawn by his image and above all by his seemingly successful future. Especially since the Federation of the Left, while criticizing Vendola, is actually working for an alliance with him.

We could say that although the crisis is strongly hitting the working class, from another point of view the situation could be favourable. The dispute at FIAT shows us that Italian bourgeoisie is in dire straits. They have no politicians who can represent their interests as they would like and once the main industrial group – FIAT – decides to take the initiative itself, it has to face the strong resistance of the metalworkers and the solidarity of large layers of the population. In the autumn, the left could take advantage of the situation. The 29 September European day of action (the CGIL announced they will organize a big demo, but to do seriously they should call for a general strike) and, even more, the 16 October metalworkers demo, will give the opportunity to express our support and solidarity for the metalworkers and FIOM leadership who are currently at the forefront of the struggle. We argue that their struggle puts in question the power of the FIAT management and raise the issue of the nationalisation of FIAT under workers’ control.

If early elections are called we will raise the question ’who represents the working class?’ in a more concrete way, challenging the leaderships of the PRC and SEL (and the PD as well) to clarify their intentions. This question is now also increasingly being asked by some leaders and ex-leaders of the workers’ movement, but for many of them what they mean is parliamentary representation and not a party that struggles and seeks to realise the historic socialist and communist aims of the Italian workers’ movement. This also applies to the leaderships of the old left parties because, while we do not know exactly what they will do, it is not likely that they will organise to support and give the struggles a political point of reference. This is because they are far more likely to focus their attention exclusively on how to gain some seats in the Parliament. However, while paying attention to what these leaders are doing, Marxists don’t need them to move, but will intervene and do what has to be done.

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