The general strike on Friday of last week against the attack on pension rights was a massive success. All three trade union federations called the stoppage, which was almost totally solid in engineering and transport, while 70 percent of teachers struck. The fall of Aznar's right wing government in Spain has created a mood that it's possible to defeat the administration of Silvio Berlusconi-the media magnate who heads the most right wing government in Europe.
One million people took part in demonstrations across Italy, with 200,000 marching in Milan, 120,000 in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, 80,000 in Naples, and 50,000 in both Bologna and Genoa. The success of the strike follows the two million strong anti-war demonstration in Rome on 20 March.
This new level of resistance is reaching into new areas of the workplace and into regions of the country, particularly in the south and the islands, where the workers' movement has been traditionally weak. Ten workers from the central branch of the bookshop chain Feltrinelli joined the strike and rally in Rome's Piazza del Popolo.
One of them, Fabrizio, explained, 'We are fighting to build the union and we felt we had to make a stand over the question of pensions and Berlusconi's neo-liberal assault. 'All of us are young and have taken part in the protests against the war, and I was in Genoa in July 2001 for the G8 protests. This is another important step in that same road.'
Two things have contributed to this growing movement of resistance. One is that Berlusconi's attempts to push through more of his neo-liberal agenda has coincided with warnings from employers that the country's economy could face an Argentinian-style melt down.
The second is the hope inspired by the fall of the Aznar in Spain. Rifondazione Comunista issued a call for a general strike to defeat Berlusconi. Attention is now focusing on the European elections.
Police attack protesters
SOUTH AFRICA Police met a recent peaceful, left wing protest with stun grenades and mass arrests. The arrests came as demonstrators gathered on human rights day on 21 March in Johannesburg near the opening ceremonies for the country's new constitutional court.
The Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) and its affiliates had called for a protest to demand that basic services such as water should be included as human rights and against the installation of pre-pay water meters.
The authorities at first said the demonstration would be allowed, then said it was illegal. Protesters were harassed, arrested and fingerprinted even before any march started.
Over 50 people were formally arrested including members of the APF and Socialist Worker's sister organisation in South Africa. They were held under the Gatherings Act, a law dating from the apartheid era that gives police wide powers to ban legitimate protest.
All of those arrested were released the same day on bail. They now face a court appearance on 5 May. The crackdown on protest is a sign of how much still has to change a decade after the first free elections in South Africa.