THREE MILLION Italian trade unionists, students, immigrant workers, unemployed people and pensioners defied Tony Blair's key European ally last Saturday. Six huge feeder protests marched to the centre of Rome to demonstrate against Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's plans to 'reform' laws protecting workers. Some 9,200 coaches, 61 special trains, five aeroplanes and four boats brought people to Rome from across Italy.
The British press portrayed the protest as against terrorism after the killing of government adviser Marco Biagi last week. Of course people were against that killing, but on Saturday they were mainly marching against Berlusconi's right wing government. Berlusconi, a billionaire media tycoon, heads a coalition government which includes the anti-immigrant Northern League and the fascist National Alliance. The government wants to scrap a law which gives workers facing the sack at least some protection.
Saturday's demonstration was the biggest in Italy for over 50 years. It was called by the official trade unions. But the spirit of anti-capitalist demonstrations, such as that seen a week earlier at the European Union summit in Barcelona, Spain, was reflected on the Rome march.
'Berlusconi's government is capitalist-it governs for the interests of industry. It is taking democracy from the people. This is for the young people-it's their future,' an electrical worker from Rome, Andrea, told Socialist Worker. 'This protest is for our rights and the rights of future generations,' said Stefania, a public sector worker from Florence. 'Berlusconi only wants to give power to the higher classes.'
'Today we're just useful to the laws of the market. Berlusconi wants to make sure the bosses make more profit out of us. 'When we're not needed we're thrown out without hope for dignity of life,' said Andrea, a mobile phone worker from Milan.
'More than anything else this is for the future generations,' said Roberto, a chemical industry worker from Bergamo. Tens of thousands of people from the social forums that came out of the great anti-capitalist protests in Genoa last summer joined with workers on Saturday's march.
Everywhere you looked you saw people with Palestinian scarves or flags, trade unionists as well as young people, in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for justice. 'We are not on our own any longer,' said Vittorio Agneletto of the Italian Social Forum. 'We want life, rights and democracy.' Many of those who marched also made it clear they were against war. One of the most popular stickers read 'The only general we like is called strike'.
'A part of Carlo has come back'
'I'M PROUD to be here. There are a lot of honest and free people here today. They haven't let the lies and the atrocity of terrorism influence them. The beautiful part of the country is here today. In 1994, here again, I participated with my son and my wife. I feel part of Carlo has come back onto the streets today.'
GIULIANO GIULIANI, whose son Carlo was killed by police at the Genoa G8 protests in July last year
Where next to beat Berlusconi
THE demonstration was a sea of red CGIL flags, the most left wing of Italy's three trade union federations and the organisation which called the protest. The march was so popular that the Democratic Left and the Margherita parties were forced to attend.
The 'centre-left' coalition government involving these parties pushed through pro-market policies which led to mass disillusionment and the election of Berlusconi last year. Even after Saturday's massive show of strength Berlusconi's government is refusing to back down.
The momentum for a general strike on Friday of next week against the government's plans is building up. This will involve the other two union federations, the UIL and the CISL, who did not support Saturday's march.
Pressure from rank and file workers forced the CGIL leaders to call last Saturday's protest and the planned general strike. A general strike and a protest of over one million people caused the collapse of the last Berlusconi government in 1994.
The different elements of Berlusconi's coalition are more united now than then. But Saturday's protest and the coming general strike show where the power to beat him lies.
'This is the biggest demonstration in the history of the Italian republic,' said Giorgio Cremaschi, the general secretary of the FIOM metal workers' union. 'The only thing that can be done now is to go towards general strikes. As we fill the streets we must also empty the workplaces.'
Terror, 'tension' and the movement
THE MURDER of Marco Biagi in Bologna last week was a reminder of Italy's past. Biagi was a government adviser working on the reform of Article 18, the labour law which Berlusconi is attacking. Two men who claimed to be members of the Red Brigades terror group shot him on Tuesday of last week. Many people have their suspicions that other, right wing, forces could just as easily have been involved.
The Red Brigades carried out attacks on the forces of the Italian state during the late 1970s and early 1980s. They kidnapped and murdered Aldo Moro, Italy's most influential politician, in 1978. The Red Brigades came out of the demoralisation workers felt after the defeat of their movement in the late 1970s.
The violence of the Red Brigades was disastrous, and allowed the state to crack down on the workers' movement in response. That is why many people on last Saturday's protest were opposed to terrorism as well as supporting the fight for workers' rights. 'Workers think that when these things happen they pay the price,' said chemicals worker Roberto from Bergamo.
Many people were suspicious about the killing of Biagi. They remember that the right and the state carried out attacks and murders in Italy in the 1970s, and sought to portray them as the work of the left. Fascist terror groups and government secret services blew up crowded areas throughout the 1970s, killing innocent civilians. The left would then be blamed and the right would win support.
Some of the people involved infiltrated left wing groups and encouraged them to carry out violent attacks. This plot was called the 'strategy of tension'. 'Who has an interest in Biagi's murder?' asked Roberto on last Saturday's march. 'Biagi's killing was a political killing,' said Donatella from Rome. 'It was an institutional death. The right wants to divide people. They want to say the left did it. Why was he killed just before this protest?'
Berlusconi's government removed Biagi's bodyguards even though it knew his life had been threatened. Berlusconi sought to use the murder to undermine Saturday's march. He even phoned Biagi's widow to try and get her to agree to a state funeral for her husband on the same day as the protest. She refused.
Whoever killed Biagi, the alternative to terrorism and the force for change in society was seen in the mass movement last Saturday. Olga D'Antona, the widow of Massimo D'Antona, the last man the Red Brigades claimed to have killed, attended the protest. 'All these people comfort me,' she said. 'This is a day with a double value-the defence of workers' rights and a democratic response against terrorism.'
For reports of upcoming anti-capitalist events in Britain and the forthcoming European Social Forum see later in this issue.