IN THE wake of the general strike in Italy on 16 April the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista (Communist Refoundation) organised a May Day rally which I was invited to address.
The rally, actually on Saturday 4 May in Naples, was called 'Europe e in movimento!' ('Europe's on the move!'), and attracted some 2,000 workers and their families. The alliance between Tony Blair and Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is an alliance between the two most zealous advocates in European politics of the idea that the role of government is to be the servant of big business. Their political mission is to provide a transmission belt of policy, ideas and consciousness from the boardrooms of the global capitalist corporations to the mass of the population.
The Naples rally was a call to challenge all of this. Fausto Bertinotti, leader of Rifondazione, explained to enthusiastic chants of 'Resistere, resistere, resistere!' the significance of the battle against Berlusconi's attempt to make it easier for bosses to sack workers. 'If the boss is free to fire me whenever he wants, then I'll be much weaker and he'll be much stronger. That's why we respond to the government which wants to abolish Article 18 by proposing to extend it to everyone'.
Berlusconi's attacks on Article 18 of the Statuto dei lavoratori-which guarantees reinstatement for unfair dismissal with a daily penalty on the employer for failure to comply-are a step in a campaign to destroy workers' rights and emasculate trade unions in Italy.
What Thatcher and Blair have tried to do in Britain through successive waves of anti-union legislation, attacks on social security benefits and the industrial tribunal systems over a period of 20 years is beginning now in Italy.
Rifondazione's demand for an extension of Article 18 to protect workers in companies with fewer than 15 employees is a bold move to turn a defensive struggle onto the offensive.
By linking up the evident anger of organised workers with the dynamism of the anti-globalisation movement, which has transformed Italian politics since the protests against the meeting of the G8 leaders in Genoa last year, the party is participating in a new industrial and political development.
A million and a half signatures are needed to trigger a referendum on the issue. Some 500,000 have already been collected, and according to Bertinotti getting the remainder was the immediate task for all at the Naples rally.
On 13 March 2003 a new European directive comes into force which will require the 'liberalisation' of all rail services in the European Union. And the same kind of process can be seen throughout the rest of the public sector.
The capitalists who are now colonising the public sector across the globe are the common enemy of workers everywhere. They represent a nightmare future where global corporation determine the health policy of hospitals, the education policy in schools, and the investment levels in transport and services.
We have to organise a new international working class response to the crisis of capitalist economy and society. If there was ever a time for a new expression of working class solidarity across national boundaries, it is today in Europe.
Bertinotti drew the rally to a close, explaining, 'The wind has changed. By revolting against neo-liberal globalisation, a new generation has taken its future into its hands.'