A huge series of demonstrations and occupations in Italy over the last few weeks has seen the return of the student movement. Students across the country have been protesting against the new university bill recently introduced by the ministry of education.
This new bill increases the privatisation of education.
An unexpected, vibrant and colourful 150,000 strong student demonstration took place on Tuesday of last week in Rome, Italy’s capital, against the right wing government of Silvio Berlusconi. This followed a series of occupations of universities that challenged the government’s plan.
The demonstration peacefully occupied the centre of Rome and for many hours students filled the streets and the squares near the Italian parliament.
Ignazio la Russa, a member of the “post fascist” National Alliance party, which is in the government, tried to incite the police against the students. Police then attacked some students.
The success of the protest sparked off occupations of universities all over Italy. Two days after the Rome demonstration Milanese students marched on the state university because the minister of education was due to attend a meeting there.
The demonstration turned into a victory march when the news spread that the minister had decided not to come.
Students found Nobel prizewinning playwright Dario Fo marching alongside them.
He then gave an impromptu speech focused on the need for education to be free — as opposed to the Berlusconi government’s proposals of placing education at the service of private business.
Parts of the university were then occupied, and two days later Fo returned to give a theatrical performance. Elsewhere, occupations and demonstrations are spreading.
Giorgio Sestili, a student at the University of Rome, said, “We are protesting against the plan of transforming the university into an institution where only an elite can afford to go.
“The services for students are getting worse, there are no grants, fees are increasing. This is part of a neo-liberal model of society that we strongly oppose, where both workers and students are under attack. That’s why we will join the national strike called by the unions.”
The protests have increased the pressure on the Berlusconi government, which faces a general election next year.
It also shows the centre left and its leader Romano Prodi that hundreds of thousands of people reject the neo-liberal policies he has hinted that he will keep in place if he wins the election.
Last week’s demonstration sends a clear message of the strong opposition to the privatisation of higher eduction and in favour of a social model where education is a fundamental right.
Many commentators are talking about the arrival of a new generation of protesters.
Suzie Wylie, a member of the National Union of Students (NUS) national executive, told Socialist Worker, “Neo-liberal governments across Europe, whether it’s Berlusconi in Italy or Tony Blair in Britain, are pushing through policies which are destroying people’s access to higher education. This is part of a broader attack on the whole concept of the welfare state.
“Students in Italy have shown the way to fight such attacks. Their direct action has forced their government to take note.
“We need a similar movement in Britain against top-up fees and other pro-market policies. We need to show the same resistance to these policies that Italian students have.
“The Italian movement has been organised by students in local areas taking action. We can replicate that in Britain, which can increase the pressure on the NUS to call national action.
“Activists will be inviting Italian students who have been involved in the movement to visit Britain to explain their struggle and inspire students here.”
To read more on the revolt against neo-liberalism across Europe get International Socialism journal 108 for £5. Go to www.isj.org.uk or phone 020 7819 1177