The fragile government of Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi suffered another significant blow as students poured onto the streets over the past two weeks to protest against proposed education reforms.
In over 20 cities students have blocked motorways and roads and occupied schools and universities.
In several cities, including Milan, Venice and Scalea students stopped trains by sitting on the tracks and blockading ticket offices.
Rome was brought to a virtual standstill on 30 November—“Block Everything Day”.
Five high schools have occupied in solidarity with university students, and across the country high school students have joined the demonstrations.
Students made huge cardboard book covers and held them like shields, mimicking those of the riot police. In Pisa the leaning tower was occupied, as was the Coliseum in Rome.
As many as a million students have taken part in the protests, according to some estimates.
Berlusconi’s reforms would slash the education budget by 300 million euros (£255 million) next year—26 million euros alone will be stripped from the
scholarship fund which helps poorer students.
Infighting has ravaged the right wing coalition government as Berlusconi’s old ally, “former fascist” Gianfranco Fini, has abandoned the ruling party—taking four government ministers with him.
Berlusconi faces a vote of no confidence initiated by Fini on 14 December in the lower house of the parliament, where he no longer has a clear majority.
The Democratic Party (ex-Communist Party) and others on the centre-left are lining up with Fini in an attempt to force Berlusconi’s resignation. If he loses the vote he will have to resign.
But the key is not to ally with ex-fascists who have fallen out with Berlusconi but use the government’s crisis to escalate the movement on the streets and take it into the workplace.
And there are signs that the student revolt is drawing in the support of workers.
At the train station occupations workers have shown their solidarity with the students, holding banners and bringing coffee to the protesters.
In Rome bus drivers got out of their vehicles and refused to challenge the roadblocks despite pressure from bosses.
Occupying students have built links with local trade unionists from the main federations.
A protracted economic downturn has brought unemployment to almost 9 percent of the population.
The burden has fallen particularly hard on young people—unemployment stands at 30 percent for those aged 18-25.
Giampiero Modena of the General Confederation of Labour said, “Eighty percent of employment contracts signed by those aged 25 and younger are temporary ones, so no one can make long term plans for their future.”
Workers in Italy have demonstrated in recent months against unemployment, but plans for widespread strikes have not come to fruition.
The story is very similar to that in Britain—students are being radicalised and showing how to fight.
If workers in Italy join the students on the streets and on strike then it won’t just mean Berlusconi resigning.
It will signal the resurgence of the left in Italy.