By Hugh Edwards
That was the defiant declaration of one banner as over a million workers struck on Tuesday 6 September against the latest and most draconian budget of Italy's coalition regime of Silvio Berlusconi.
In a hundred cities and towns workers' responded to the strike called by the main confederation union CGIL. Large parts of industry, transport and public services closed down. Tens of thousands marched and rallied in the country's public squares.
The overwhelming feeling of those on the streets was "enough is enough"; the conditions of life have plummeted to new lows of hardship and suffering, poverty and despair, and even before the details of the latest 52 billion worth of austerity measures were agreed.
The sudden emergence of the present crisis in Italy, posing a threat of Italian economic default and the survival of the eurozone, underlines a decades-long decline of Italian capitalism. After Italy's emergence as a major industrial power post war, from the mid-70s onwards it was increasingly forced to rely on currency devaluations, an inexhaustible supply of irregular labour, cheap credit alongside massive corruption.
The consequences were felt in the early 90s with the political scandal of Tangentopoli (Bribesville), the near bankruptcy of the state, when the money markets, as today, dumped its Treasury bonds.
The bedrock of the purely conjunctural resolution of that series of crisis, saving the country from the abyss, was a cynical deal trade union bureaucrats with the bourgeois state and the capitalist class (graphically spelled-out by the fact that the buying power of the Italian working class has risen by only 4% in two decades, as against 30 % for the powerful professional and commercial middle classes!). But the underlying deficit and debt problems of a stagnating economy, almost wholly made up of small and medium-size firms, remained. In a fiercely competitive new context of globalisation and the Eurozone, the problems sharpened.
Since 1994 both centre-right and centre-left governments have attempted to prove who was better fit to exact further tribute from the masses — inflicting budget after budget to the tune of nearly 400 billions of cuts!
The current budget is the fifth in the three years of the Berlusconi government, exposing the last "big lie", up to now swallowed by millions of his credulous (if not cretinous!) followers, that the country was surviving the crisis better than elsewhere. Ultimatums from the European Central bank and former Stalinist Giorgio Napolitano, President of Italy and the Eurozones " last hope", forced the regime to bite the bullet.
Like piranha fish devouring each other, we witness the spectacle of the odious fragments of the coalition frantically trying to unload cuts on anyone but their own priveleged hard core base of support. We need a Grosz or a Heartfield to capture the unique quality of bourgeois lowlife that has evolved here in Italy.
Finally a formal agreement was stitched together to satisfy — at least as to appearances — Brussels and the bankers. The glutted, bloatedly corrupt, property classes and the crew of politicians who serve them have had, like the bankers in London and Wall St, their existence and plutocratic lifestyles formally and publicly acknowledged. Their armies of equally corrupt lawyers will ensure that their incomes and wealth will remain largely untouched. Meanwhile the ruthless pillaging and sacking of the public realm carries on. The cost in deepening, intolerable grief for millions more is inevitable as it is tragic.
It is this reality that was given voice and expression in last Tuesdays national strike! Simultaneous parallel strikes and marches by non-CGIL unions took place — by all the neo-syndicalist "Base" unions, notoriously and self-destructively sectarian, but also from signifcant sections of CISL and UIL, whose "yellow" union leaders had condemned the strikes as a "threat" to the markets and the budget. Throughout the north and centre north local strikes by the CISL were held in solidarity, and calls for a joint union campaign to resist the specific attacks on workers rights were made. This courageous action gave the lie, widespread among sections of the Italian left, that the members, like their leaders are a write-off, bought by the crumbs from the table offered by the government.
In fact 15 months before in the Fiat bosses putative coup to hold referendum in two major plants to usurp workers' rights, large numbers of metalworkers from CISL and UIL voted with their FIOM colleagues to reject. The call and the fight for unity of the workers movement is the supreme and critical test of whether the juggernaut of capitalist austerity can be halted in its tracks, driven back and routed. And by that criteria the leaders of the latest strike fall a long, long way short.
CGIL and its national Secretary Susannah Cammuso, whatever the current differences with CISL and UIL leaders, have in the recent past done little more than seek to ensure that resistance would not threaten the fundamentals of bourgeois order. In June CGIL, CISL and UIL signed a deal with Confindustria, the principle organ of Italian business and others, pledging the unions to a common front to "save the country". Cammuso's rhetoric about"rejecting" the budget is all of a piece with the union's political voice, the Democratic Party— a temporising devise to cover for complicity with the system, to buy time to turn anger and action away from the danger of sustained and general mobilisation. No declaration was made for further action from her other than "pressure on all the institutional fronts that count" (sic).
But what of the militant FIOM metalworker leaders, or the syndicalist leaders of the BASE unions? The former, members of the CGIL confederation, and justly condemnatory of its record of passive collaboration, has won the support of the most militant and political workers. Its leaders — Cremaschi and Landini — have again and again the need for sustained, generalised action. However on Tuesday, on a rare day of genuine cross union workers action as concrete evidence of the belief in and hope for united militant action, Landini offered no perspective other than a series of what are effectively desperate stunts of mounting symbolic "protest" tents outside selected factories, public buildings etc. He also called for a referendum against article eight of the budget which abolishes workers rights in the factories. A sure recipe for demoralisation and derailing of any further action!
Similarly the BASE organisations with a record of resistance and militant anti-capitalist rhetoric are floored by a chronic incapacity to offer concrete political answers to the profound crisis of the system as a whole. That is strategic and tactical proposals starting from loud, clear and repeated affirmations of the absolute centrality and imperative of creating and building the United Fronts of the workers organisations. These alone can become the foundation for drawing into battle from every quarter of resistance to reject both Budget and the goverment itself. Only on such foundations of struggle can the self-organisation of the masses, led by the workers' movement address the obstacles of treacherous and bureaucratic trade union leaders, the cul-de-sac of reformist parliamentary illusions, while at the same time pose the need for the self-organisation of the masses in government — a workers goverment, something never more needed today in Italy!