Plethora of parties and coalitions but none that represent workers’ need for a fight
In four weeks’ time – on 24 and 25 February – a general election takes place in Italy which will solve none of the problems facing workers and young people. As Controcorrente (CWI in Italy) explains in its statement, there is not one party or alliance that even begins to represent their interests.
The election follows the collapse towards the end of last year of the technocratic government of Mario Monti which had been ’appointed’ to sort out the disarray created by the maverick Berlusconi during his third term as prime minister.
By late 2011, Italy was heading for economic catastrophe. The national debt was reaching a massive EUR2 trillion – second only to that of crisis-stricken Greece. The cost of new loans to cover both the budget and the national debt rocketed. Monti was brought to power, reassuring Euro Commissioners and bankers that Italy could deal with its massive debt without the threat of a default or an exit from the Eurozone. As elsewhere, this would be achieved through the imposition of an austerity programme of savage cuts in education, transport and the national health service together with attacks on workers’ rights.
The first instalment of a hefty tax on homes (IMU), amounting in total to EUR25 billion per annum and 278 on average per household, was levied in June last year. With no organised resistance and a widespread feeling of resignation, there was a 96% rate of compliance. In January, however, this policy of Monti, himself a former European Commissioner, was criticised in a European Commission report which said it was "insufficiently progressive and would increase poverty". And now, Marco Veruggio points out, “The candidate Monti is also under pressure on another score – for his government granting a 3.9 billion euro loan to Monte dei Paschi di Siena (a bank very close to the DP), involved in a huge scandal over shady derivatives!”
Important battles last year – in mining, steel, shipyards and transport – have sometimes gained partial victories. The renowned militancy of Italian workers is not dead. Sardinian miners occupied the mine shafts and on a march in Rome, chased away a Democratic Party MP who had nothing to offer but empty promises. Bus-workers and ship-builders in Genoa have forced the halting of cut-backs and redundancies. A massive struggle at the biggest steel-works in Europe – ILVA near Taranto (in the south) – forced the government to step in with plans to clean up the production process rather than put 20,000 workers onto the bread-line, even putting in question the ownership of the plant by Riva’s family. (Emilio Riva was jailed in August and one of his sons, Daniele, was arrested a few days ago in London, after he escaped from Italy) .
On a national scale there’s a very contradictory situation: on the one hand, calls for general strike action by the major trade union federation, the CGIL, however half-hearted, have got a response. On 14th November workers participated in demonstrations to stop the austerity measures of the Monti government. “On the other hand,” Marco suggests, “It is clear they are affected by disappointment, due to the weak reaction of the unions to those measures in the previous months. The crisis is putting huge pressure on them and they seem to be ready to mobilise when their jobs are put in question more than on general issues (such as the attack on the labour statutes, national agreements etc).” In the schools and universities there were important occupations and demonstrations.
After Monti’s resignation and the announcement of new elections, little happened on the industrial plane as politicians began to position themselves for getting into parliament. The population as a whole remained fairly indifferent to what was being offered them. At the beginning of January, 40% said they did not know who they would vote for and even now, four weeks before the polls open, 25% are considering not voting at all. At least half of those on the election register for the first time – predominantly youth – are expected not to vote.
What is on offer?
The field is extremely fragmented. The Democratic Party – mostly members of the former ’Communist’ party and now barely resembling even a Social Democratic party – is standing in alliance with Nichi Vendola’s SEL (‘Left, Ecology and Freedom’). They are ahead with over one-third support in the polls.
Under the leadership of Pier Luigi Bersani, the DP alliance is predicted to form a government with Monti’s newly launched Civic Choice party (on about 12% at present). It will probably do this even if it gets enough to form a government on its own (with the extra seats allotted for the winning list which gives it a majority with 55%). Neither of these parties has any programme for getting out of the economic and political crisis in the country.
Monti is trying to dress up old hat with new ribbons. He would retain the austerity programme and the homes tax. Bersani says they would like to halve it, but not go for any wealth tax, as that would upset small businesses. This means taxing the poor but not the rich!
Beppe Grillo the famed comedian with his Five Star movement (that got over 20% in recent elections in Sicily), argues in a populist manner for ending the homes tax, for letting the people vote on staying or leaving the Eurozone and, sometimes, even, for bank nationalisation and a repudiation of the national debt. “He also has ambiguous positions on class issues”, Marco explains: “He says the 5 Star Movement is neither a right nor a left wing movement, he lauds the role of small enterprises and claims to defend public ownership of water supplies, transport, education and at the same time calls for more de-regulation.” He has problems pulling his organisation together and himself has chosen not to be a leader in parliament, saying he is disqualified from office by being convicted for fatalities in a driving accident, as nobody who was condemned by a court can sit in the Parliament.
The disgraced prime minister and scandal-ridden business tycoon, Silvio Berlusconi, has re-entered the electoral fray having brokered an agreement with the far-right Northern League. He says he does not want a fourth term as prime minister. "If we win", he told Sky TV, "The premier will be Angelino Alfano". Lega Nord leaders may have other ideas.
The International Herald Tribune describes Berlusconi as now railing against the fiscal consolidation policies advocated by Germany, "sounding not unlike the Greek leftist party, Syriza"! "And", they add, although he stands for cuts in spending as well as tax cuts, "He has taken to quoting the New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, a critic of austerity"(17/1/13) .
Managing to get a verdict in his latest trial for sex offences delayed until after the election, he continues to denounce as ’communist feminists’ the lawyers ranged against him. (He is reported to pay for the maintenance of no fewer than 42 women at present!) It is, however, his much trumpeted promise to abolish the highly unpopular homes tax completely that sees him quite rapidly closing the gap in the polls between him and the PD!
Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party is unlikely to reach enough votes to form a government, even a coalition. But in the Senate, he and his allies could have enough influence to block legislation from the lower house leading to paralysis and stalemate.
Major changes in Italy’s electoral laws, which favour vested regional interests, have again been shelved. Even their original architect described them as ’pig’s mess’ , or, more delicately, in Latin as ’porcellum’!
The practically defunct Communist Refoundation Party, again in danger of ending up with no MPs at all, has managed to become part of a left alliance with other parties in a list headed by the former anti-Mafia judge, Antonio Ingroia. With faint echoes of the ’Citizen’s Revolution’ of Melenchon’s Left Party in France, the list is called ’Civil Revolution’. On it, alongside the RC are the Communist Party of Italy (who split from the RC in 1998, as it decided to bring down Prodi’s Government), the Greens and the ex-magistrate Di Pietro’s ’Italy of Values’.
This alliance fields a number of well-known names and genuine activists, alongside some more dubious figures, but is entirely lacking in a programme to get out of the dire crisis in Italy’s economy, let alone expressing total opposition to cuts in jobs and services and arguing for public ownership and control of banks and major companies and the democratic planning of society. According to Ingroia’s programme, the way to find a solution to the world capitalist crisis is ‘to reinstate the rule of law in Italy’.
Marco adds: “By the way, it’s not so strange that they’ve tried until the end to open the door to an agreement with the DP. Most of the members of the RC and the activists of social movements are really angry, as they perceive this list as a mask for the discredited old left parties with the contribution of some prominent figures from the so-called ‘civil society’.
“They include: Ilaria Cucchi, the sister of a young man who died in 2009 after he was arrested and savagely beaten by the police; Claudio Giardullo, a policemen trade unionist, who argues against the proposal to print a serial number on policemen’s helmets, in order to identify them, as they commit abuses; Luigi Li Gotti, an ex fascist lawyer who defended the chief of the police at G8 in Genova in 2001 and Tommaso Buscetta, the most important ‘pentito’ (informer) from the Italian Mafia; Franco La Torre, the son of a CP leader killed by the Mafia in 1982 and… some workers from the FIAT plant in Pomigliano and from ALCOA!”
Italy has experienced a decade of economic stagnation and is now in the seventh quarter of its longest recession since World War 2. Industrial production is now 25% below its pre-2008 levels Overall output was down 2.4% in 2012 and consumer spending registered its worst post-war fall. New car sales declined by 20%. and real living standards have slumped to the level they were in 1986 – nearly 30 years ago!
Yet the capitalist press bemoans that in Italy "unit labour costs have barely started to fall" (FT 22/1/13). These journals pile the pressure on Bersani (whom they expect to form the next government along with Monti) to take on the unions in a Thatcher-like campaign to destroy their fighting capacity. It’s not as if the main unions in Italy, with the exception of the FIOM (Engineering section of the CGIL), have been a great obstacle to the plans of the bosses to make the working class pay for the crisis in their system.
Who will do the job for Italian capitalism?
An article by Wolfgang Munchau on January 21st was headed ’Why Monti is not the right man to lead Italy’. But the Italian big bourgeois, such as Marchione and the Agnellis of Fiat, Montezemolo of Ferrari and Confindustria – the bosses’ club – have had difficulty finding any other reliable political expression.
Montezemolo gave his backing to the formation of Monti’s party to run in this election. Berlusconi is an, unpredictable maverick – not a suitable representative of their interests. Bersani seems to please them when he says, "We will not renegotiate the fiscal compact or our balanced budget amendment in the Constitution". (Ferdinando Giuliano FT 14 January). He also calls the CGIL a ’conservative force’, blocking reform of the labour laws. Fears on the part of the capitalist class that the PD and its leader could be too influenced by the party’s ’left wing’ as well as the CGIL are unfortunately exaggerated. In power they will do the dirty work of the bosses in pushing down the working conditions and living standards of the working class.
As Marco says, in Controcorrente’s new journal, if the Italian capitalists cannot gain competitiveness through devaluing their currency, they will try to force down the value of labour (as the German capitalists did at the beginning of this century). Attacks on wages and job security will see a further impoverishment of Italy’s working class.
A study by one of the more moderate union federations – the UIL – estimates that by the end of this year unemployment will reach 3.5 million with two thousand being added to the scrapheap every day More than a third of all young people in Italy have no job – 37%. Many are forced to depend on their parents or even grandparents for food, housing and clothing. This, along with cuts in services, education, transport and health are piling on the pressure.
An intensification of the class war inside Europe’s third largest economy is already underway. When the election is over and a new stalemate results, workers and young people in Italy will try again to take things into their own hands. If Ingroia’s ’Civil Revolution’ gets over the required vote threshold, there might be a few illusions amongst workers that they will have a voice in the Chamber of Deputies, able to moderate the demands of the new government for compliance with the dictates of the market and of the European Commission. “But it won’t last very long,” Marco emphasises.
But Controcorrente will be at pains to point out that even when Rifondazione Comunista had a sizeable presence in parliament, in 2005 it junked any pretensions to struggle for socialist demands. It ended up being deserted by its working class supporters by participating in the ’Centre Left’ government of Romano Prodi – a government which introduced some of the most far-reaching austerity measures of the time (with Bersani as Minister of Industry as well!).
While understanding that many activists in the workers’ movement and young people may see no alternative but to vote for the Civil Revolution or even the PD, Controcorrente cannot recommend either. None of the forces within the Civil Revolution is posing a clear socialist alternative to capitalism in crisis. Some, like Di Pietro’s party and the ’orange movement’ of De Magistris (ex-magistrate and mayor of Napoli) , are openly for the system… just capitalism with a more human (or cleaner) face. Ingroia himself is a general without an army. His defence of the poor businessmen is decidedly plebeian. Controcorrente sees Ingroia picking up votes that are escaping from the centre-left, only to deliver them, at a later stage, back to Bersani in government.
In its election statement, Controcorrente says: if ’Civil Revolution’ fails to get representation in parliament, workers and young people will have to look elsewhere for a force to fight alongside. The idea of building a new mass force – in the factories, offices, schools and colleges and amongst the unemployed will gather momentum. Left and socialist forces in the unions and in the student movements will need to coalesce around a programme of struggle.
The ’No Debt’ movement, headed by Georgio Cremaschi, former secretary of the Fiom metalworkers’ union, managed to mobilise tens of thousands in Rome towards the end of last year against the austerity of Monti’s government. It had a clear programme which Controcorrente supported, but had not proved capable of involving important sections of workers in an organised movement. ALBA, launched by the political left-wing newspaper ’Il Manifesto’ brings together members of trade unions with campaigns to protect public property and the environment, is highly critical of ‘Civil Revolution’.
Although the leaderships of these movements are not likely to play a decisive role, most of their rank and file could be involved in the foundation of a new party. This will necessarily be linked to the development of a new wave of class struggle in the country. The work of these activists and that of the most militant groups of workers and students, needs to be united behind a banner of struggle against austerity, against the dictates of the EU commissioners and for a new workers’ political force capable of taking on, and defeating, the bosses and their political representatives.
This, and only this, kind of fighting organisation can counter the growing pernicious influence of organisations like Casa Pound and outright fascists, Mafia elements and Mussolini admirers. The links they have with, and support they receive from, high-up figures in the Italian state must be exposed.
The names on the electoral lists have been finalised, and the starting gun has been fired but this could prove to be one of the flattest election campaigns in Italian history. The formation of a government (that could take some time) can be followed by a still further period of apparent calm and dismay. “But then the storm can break,” says Marco, “As this new government will definitely follow the path already taken by Monti in the last year. It will destroy the last illusions of those who still expect some turn after the elections.” Capitalist parties of various hues can win the coming election but in the struggle that ensues, the attraction of clear genuinely socialist policies can lead to the rapid growth of a mass workers’ formation in Italy.