Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2532

Austerity-lite has given a dangerous boost to the right in Italy

This article is over 7 years, 4 months old
The right has fed off a political crisis in Italy but workers’ action could shift the mood to the left, writes Simon Basketter
Issue 2532
Beppe Grillo of the Five Star Movement in Italy proclaimed it is, the barbarians will take the world forward
Beppe Grillo of the Five Star Movement in Italy proclaimed it is, “the barbarians will take the world forward” (Pic: Livioandronico2013/Wikimedia commons)

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi’s referendum on constitutional reforms is the next opportunity for voters in a large economy to give the establishment a kicking.

Everyone in Italian politics now claims to be anti-establishment.

But a general strike on Friday may shift politics to the left.

The large CGIL union federation joined the action after having previously supported some of Renzi’s labour “reforms”.

Renzi declared that if the 4 December referendum fails, “my political time is over”.

His centre-left Democratic Party (PD) came to office after voters rejected austerity.

Yet it pursued cuts at a slightly slower speed than the European Union (EU) demanded.

Renzi is pushing against EU-backed austerity measures to try and hold onto votes.

He has threatened to use Italy’s veto to block the EU’s budget unless the eurozone relaxes austerity rules.

And he has raged against the EU for trying to cap his government’s 2017 budget deficit to well below his promised spending.

Pierre Moscovici, an EU finance commissioner, said Italy was “at risk of non-compliance” with eurozone spending rules, putting the country at risk of sanctions.

Sandro Gozi, Italy’s Europe minister, threatened to block all decisions on the EU’s long-term spending plans, which are due to be reviewed this month.

But polls suggest that Renzi will lose the referendum anyway, which will probably lead to a general election.

All his cuts from the Jobs Act to pensions and education reforms, have been at the expense of workers and the poor.


There have been repeated strikes and protests. But at one level the right has made much of the running against the government.

The populist Five Star Movement campaigns on corruption but has demanded more clampdowns on migrants. It is running at 29 percent in the polls, edging closer to national government.

Five Star leader Beppe Grillo proclaimed, “It is those who dare, the obstinate, the barbarians who will take the world forward.”

The hard right Northern League and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia have used the campaign to build support.The Northern League’s Matteo Salvini—running at 13 percent in the polls—described the euro as a “crime against humanity”.

Renzi has campaigned on the basis that he has better anti-establishment credentials than the right.

But voters, who lived under a series of unelected, technical governments between 2011 and Renzi’s appointment in 2014, are moving away from his failed government.

Economic output is down by 9 percent from a 2008 peak. Industrial production has dropped by a quarter.

Some four and a half million people now live in absolute poverty, and youth unemployment is officially around 40 percent.

Italian banks face collapse.The International Monetary Fund warned in July that Italy faces a second lost decade lasting into the mid-2020s.

However there are moves to shift the struggle to oppose Renzi’s anti-worker measures.

Over a million workers took part in a general strike last month. In Rome a left demo for a No vote in the referendum attracted up to a million people.

Friday’s general strike can continue the trend.


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