“The entertainment is over, now we mean business”, declared Matteo Salvini, leader of the racist National League and Italy’s new Minister of the Interior.
He has threatened to deport 500,000 “illegal” migrants and usher in a new regime of repressive” civil protection”.
Then news arrived of the coldblooded murder in Calabria of a young activist of the country’s United Base Union, long active among the half million or so migrant workers in the fields of the south picking fruit for 20 Euro a day and forced to live in hovels and shantytowns.
Sacco Soumalyla, from Mali and long settled in Italy, had gone to help two field workers gather sheets of aluminium lying among the innumerable wrecks littering the periphery of the shantytown. From a car 60 metres away alighted a man armed with a rifle who opened fire, killing Sacco and injuring the others. As one of the leaders of the union asked, declaring a strike and protests from his members: “Is this what Salvini means when he declared the fun was over? Is this what the new ‘government of change heralded’ by him has in store for us?”
Over years, Bossi’s and then Salvini’s Lega Nord carved out a powerful, political alliance with Berlusconi. That delivered wealth and power to the thousands in Lombardia and Veneto all too eager to jump on the gravy train. An infinite warren of tiny family-based workplaces provided them with votes according to the mantra “our union protects us from the Padrone, Bossi from the immigrant”.
Bossi’s eclipse in 2012 enabled Salvini, in a context of centre-party decline and collapse, to forge a new profile as an aspiring national leader.
Racism and social conservatism remains to the fore — his number two in the party has just declared that “there is no such thing as a gay family”. Small and medium-sized producers remain the bedrock of the League’s electoral fortunes.
Given the League’s origins as a northern-separatist party hostile to Italy’s South, the South remains sceptical.
Salvini sees racism is his key weapon there. He headed straight to Sicily the day after assuming office to “cleanse the island of its reputation” as the most secure port of arrival in Italy. Now “there will be no more such places, not even for the deputy-traffickers” (by which he means NGO boats who help refugees).
Salvini is certain that there will be another election quite soon, given the frailities and contradictions of his stitch-up with the volatile Five Star Movement and its leader Luigi di Maio.
The opinion polls indicate that the League stands neck and neck with Five Star, but the League would have the support of the declining neo-fascist Brothers of Italy.
Salvini’s demagogy is in unstable combination with other tactics.
Many if not all of the leading ministers in the new government based on the League and Five Star are leading establishment figures, strongly pro-European and nominally antiracist.
The roll-call of executive worthies who have seen previous service in technocrat governments with Ciampi (1995) or Monti (2011), or with the World Bank, or with Berlusconi or Cossiga, or Confindustria, seems, at least in the short term to have doused the Italian bourgeoisie’s fright at the putative anti-European proclivities of Di Maio and Salvini.
But changes there will be. The well-off will gain from the promised “flat tax” on income for individuals and companies, with rates set at 15 per cent and 20 per cent, on the backs of the wage earners.
There will be an increase in irregular, insecure work contracts, and methods of payment. Italy’s recent increase in employment numbers disguises a more than five-million-strong precariat, the largest in Europe.
Cuts in public welfare provision will be exacerbated further towards collapse, with the South of the country — western Europe’s most impoverished large region, and home for 22 million people — defenceless in the face of its own putrid ruling elites and the living-death of Italy’s once-radical forces.