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General strike offers a new vision for a growing movement in Italy

This article is over 19 years, 9 months old
VITTORIO AGNOLETTO is the spokesperson of the Italian Social Forum movement. He was a leading figure in the protests against the G8 in Genoa last July. In the run-up to Italy's general strike, which took place on Tuesday, he spoke to Tom Behan.
Issue 1796

Did the Genoa protests contribute to the three million strong demonstration called by the CGIL union federation in Rome on 23 March?

They were absolutely essential. The 23 March demonstration would probably not have developed in the way it did if Genoa hadn’t happened. Genoa opened up a debate about democracy. We opened lots of possibilities.

Members of the centre-left Democratic Left party have now started demonstrating. The CGIL union federation gained a bit more courage to take decisions independently of the two other federations. I’m not trying to say that everything needs our rubber stamp of approval — but we’ve made a recognised contribution.

What kind of discussions are you having with the trade unions about the general strike called for 16 April?

We’re going to deal with issues beyond those faced by unionised or waged workers. We’re calling on all non-unionised and self employed workers not to go to work. If some services aren’t closed down we’re thinking of closing them down ourselves.

And we’re going to blockade workplaces where illegal and temporary work takes place-workplaces where they risk the sack if they go on strike.

Have the union leaders given you permission to do this?

We don’t need their permission.

Our movement is strong even in its relations with the unions. We’ve told them this is what we’ll do, and we’ll soon see how it all fits together on the day. Not that we want to hold demonstrations on our own -we’ll be on the union marches, but we’ll be bringing these issues along with us.

We’re happy about defending the current law giving workers some protection from sackings, but it’s pointless if we don’t start talking about extending rights at work. You recently said, ‘The ‘Third Way’ died on the fields of Afghanistan.’ What did you mean? Blair has been the real cheerleader of the ‘Third Way’.

When we had a centre-left government in Italy the Florence summit took place. All the European leaders met and said that there is a ‘Third Way’ between old-style Communism and the attacks of the big international financial institutions. Blair has been figurehead for all this.

I say there is no ‘Third Way’. It died on the fields of Afghanistan. Blair behaved as if he were Bush’s helmeted recruiting sergeant. He then had summits with Berlusconi, but the ‘Third Way’ had already died. Furthermore, I’d say that the alternative is not between neo-liberalism, the WTO and old-style Communism.

The real alternative is between the World Bank and the peoples of Porto Alegre.

What role do you think political parties play nowadays?

I think parties still have a role to play, particularly as regards institutions. However, I don’t believe in the ‘autonomy of politics’, the idea that politics dominates over social questions.

This is something that has been practised by elements of the Italian left, and which has destroyed mass parties. I think the mould in which movements raise demands and questions, and parties provide the answers, has been broken. Today, the movements are also providing answers.

What do you mean by the phrase ‘a non-ideological left’?

For example, you can’t call our movement a communist movement. We’ve got people who look to communism and people who don’t, those who look to environmentalism and those who don’t, and so on. What keeps us together is ideas and programmes. Our movement doesn’t conceive of the world as a classical painting that we just have to copy to be able to change things. We’re a movement full of ideas which is building things step by step. Therefore we don’t always approach things with preconceived notions, although we have got some clear reference points. This is why I define our movement as being ‘non-ideological’. If we were ideological we wouldn’t be able to be a pluralistic movement.

How do you visualise the European Social Forum (ESF), which will be held in Italy in November?

Firstly as a journey. It should be built in all European countries. It has to be discussed in all movements. For example, I hope that when the big international organising meeting is held in Vienna in May all organisations will have discussed their ideas thoroughly and come with proposals.

In turn, the ESF itself will be part of the journey towards another mass gathering at Porto Alegre. Secondly, I think it should link the radical nature of social movements with cultural, scientific and political channels. This is absolutely essential. For example, within the Italian movement we’ve got a lack of contacts with the world of culture, which has a tendency to try and hide away from us. Thirdly, we want a stop to Eurocentric attitudes.

We need to bring Eastern Europe into things, as well as the Balkans. This is an area of Europe that has been a war zone, where aspects of the free market played a central role. Then there is the issue of the Mediterranean, and how to involve people who live to the south of it.

What do you think the important issues for building the European Social Forum in Britain are?

Without a doubt we should be arguing against ‘Fortress Europe’. We should be talking about a Europe that does not characterise its relationship with the US either on the basis of military competition, or on the basis of political hegemony or dominance over markets. It is absolutely essential that we start talking about a different form of social development within Europe.

In Britain we should be talking about things such as the welfare state, a basic minimum standard of living, etc. We don’t want to create a kind of European imperialism built around the European Union (EU), in which other European satellite nations hover around outside providing labour when needed.

There is a law by which the citizens of nations due to join the EU in 2004 will not be allowed to move freely within the EU. Instead they will be regulated by market forces within the existing 15 member states, which is outrageous. So we should be for a ‘Europe without frontiers’, in the sense that although there might be nations there will be no borders.

The European Social Forum will be an event for anti-capitalists to map out the the future of the movement. Get your union branch to back the European Social Forum. Get delegated from your workplace, college or campaign group. For more information or for a model motion visit

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