Last week Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi told people how they could stave off financial disaster – buy shares in two national energy companies – yet by the end of that day’s trading they had lost 7 percent and 8 percent in value.
It was because of this stupidity, and for many other reasons, that Italy is engulfed in a wave of protests. The reality for most people, as revealed in a recently survey by the FIOM engineering union, is an average take-home pay of £1,000 a month.
Three weeks ago the main union federation, the CGIL, organised nationwide protests that involved a million people.
Last Wednesday there was an open air meeting of 3,000 staff and students at Pisa University against huge cutbacks proposed in education. This year Italy will be the only major country that will hire no researchers whatsoever within its universities.
The following day 300,000 school students took to the streets in 100 towns and cities because tens of thousands of teachers are currently facing the sack.
And last Saturday there were three demonstrations. The main one in Rome was organised by the radical left, and saw 300,000 people protest against what is the most reactionary government since 1945.
Environmentalists demanded a halt to a government decision to start building nuclear power stations. African immigrants from near Naples protested against racism – as well as the murder of six Africans by the Camorra last month. Other groups from Naples were campaigners against plans for huge rubbish landfill sites.
Workers of all kinds attended, including a contingent from Vodafone. Many of the trade unionists demonstrating were angry at the continual bloodbath in workplaces – on average three workers die and 27 are permanently disabled every day in industrial accidents.
In another part of Rome there was a much smaller anti-Berlusconi demonstration. The purpose was to start a referendum campaign to cancel a new law Berlusconi has passed, that stops him being brought to trial.
In just one day they got 250,000 out of the 500,000 signatures needed for a national referendum – not surprising as Berlusconi was a defendant in five separate trials. Meanwhile, the family firm of the leader of the bosses’ organisation, the Confindustria, has just paid 500,000 euro as part of a plea bargain in a corruption trial.
The third demonstration of 2,000 was in Sicily, against the decision of a local council to change the name of the local airport from that of an anti-fascist campaigner to that of a fascist general.
Given all this activity the leader of Rifondazione Comunista, Paolo Ferrero, said: “The retreat is over”.
For six long months the party has been locked in an internal battle between a narrow unstable majority and a large united minority – with front-page articles in the party’s daily Liberazione in which leaders attack each other – a recipe to drive members and supporters away.
Recently however party members have become active again – one initiative that has proved very popular is selling a loaf of bread and olive oil in working class areas for just a euro. Another positive sign is the general strike in education called for 30 October.
There is a growing urgency for the left to stop squabbling, because the economic crisis has only started to hit Italy in the last few weeks. Underlying the big Rome demonstration was a demand for unity – there are currently four Communist Parties, with none of them being represented in parliament. This protest occurred exactly ten years to the day that two of them split, and there is a growing mood that divisions come to an end.
A FIOM leader, Giorgio Cremaschi, hit the nail on the head, when he said, “This demonstration shows that people are willing to fight. The problem lies in the headquarters of left wing parties and trade unions.”