On the final day of November the psychology department of Rome’s La Sapienza university is a hive of activity.
The collective which has been organising occupations and protests against a law proposing to privatise higher education is in permanent session. But 75 students have taken time out to come to a film showing organised by the university branch of the Rifondazione Comunista.
The film is of the 150,000-strong student demonstration through Rome on 25 October. Barbara, a party member, explains, “This is the biggest student movement for 15 years and the first since the Genoa protests at the G8 in 2001.
“It’s been easy to discuss with people who’ve never been involved before because they see that the education ‘reforms’ flow from the neo-liberal agenda.”
Aurira has been in Rifondazione for a year and adds, “The student movement has made me understand it’s the movement that can change things.”
The student movement began at La Sapienza with a spontaneous demo of 10,000.
From Rome occupations spread to 70 other campuses. Barbara explains, “There is a great thirst for political discussion. The Young Communists of Rifondazione argued for students to join a protest march last Friday when the main union federation called a general strike.
“But the Disobediente (autonomists) argued against, saying the union federation is linked to the centre left and its presidential candidate Romano Prodi and if we go we will be endorsing him. We lost that one.
“The autonomists argue we can build a world in the here and now with no markets, but here they argued for self-teaching at the university. This shades too easily into reformism. We need to establish a revolutionary tradition.
“We have 60 members. We always hold weekly discussion meetings but now we meet each day.
“The Young Communist leadership argued against working in the universities. Now they admit we were right. The university branch is unusual in that it is dominated by party members opposed to Rifondazione joining a Prodi coalition government, if it defeats Berlusconi.”
Aurira adds, “The alliance with Prodi is a disaster because it is not an alternative to neo-liberalism. When he was EU commissioner he backed the neo-liberal Bolkestein Directive. The education ‘reforms’ we are fighting were introduced by the centre left.”
Barbara says, “We need to be clear people should join Rifondazione to participate in the debate. We must remain in the party to win people. People in the movement are saying the alliance with Prodi is bullshit, but they like our ideas.”
Since Genoa in 2001 there has been a rash of monster protests and general strikes but Berlusconi and the right remain in office. That has led to frustration. The student movement has not only been inspiring but it has opened much greater debate within the left and Rifondazione.