By GERRY FOLEY
Three million workers and youth marched in Rome on Saturday, March 23, in response to an attempt by the recently elected reactionary government in Italy to give employers an unrestricted right to fire their workers. It was undoubtedly the largest demonstration in the history of the country.
The march, called by Italy’s largest trade-union confederation, the CGIL (Italian General Confederation of Labor), was joined by about 300,000 young people mobilized by the anti-globalization movement, a number similar to that of the anti-globalization march in Genoa last July.
The rightist government headed by Giacomo Berlusconi, known as “il commendatore” (“the commander”) is seeking to change Article 18 of the labor code, which obliges employers to rehire unjustly fired workers. The proposal would in effect give bosses the freedom to hire and fire as they choose.
This is a basic goal of the international capitalist offensive called the “neoliberal revolution.”
The Berlusconi government, however, has a shakier political basis than other rightist governments (or Social Democratic ones) that have set out on this course. It includes former fascists and reactionaries that have called for the separation of Northern Italy from the South, the so-called League of the North.
The regime is headed by a speculative tycoon who is reputedly the country’s richest man, and whose business dealings have repeatedly drawn the attention of the courts. It owes its election only to disillusionment with the rule of former leftists (mainly the old Communist Party) who carried the ball for the bosses but without Berlusconi’s panache and promises. (He has pledged to create large numbers of jobs through an adventurous public works program.)
The truculent rightist government has attempted to ignore the March 23 demonstration, but the CGIL is following up up with a call for a general strike for April 5. And the following Wednesday, March 27, there were massive workers demonstrations against terrorism, including one of 300,000 in Rome. These demonstrations were really a rebuff to the government’s attempt at witch-hunting the union movement.
The government, particularly, the most right-wing forces within it, has been trying to use the “war against terrorism” hysteria against the trade-union and the anti-globalization movements.
The pretext was the murder of Professor Mario Biagi, the government official directing the attempt to change Article 18. The assassination was claimed in the name of the Red Brigades, a shadowy ultraleft underground group that carried out political assassinations decades ago.
In response to the government’s demagogy about terrorism, the demonstration’s organizers made opposition to terrorism and sympathy with its victims one of the themes of the march.
The secretary general of the GCIL, Sergio Cofferati, told the 3 million demonstrators, “Your presence is the strongest answer to terrorism.” They also called for a minute of silence in respect for Biagi and in protest against his murder.
Nonetheless, the government is continuing to press its aggressive attempts to stigmatize the mass protest movement. On March 27, Berlusconi declared that “neither pistols nor the streets [i.e., demonstrations]” would force the government to change its course.
Umberto Bossi, chief of the League of the North, along with Berlusconi’s minister of defense, called the trade-union movement “the ocean in which the terrorists swim.” On March 27, the same day as the latest massive workers’ marches against terrorism, the government imposed “special security measures,” supposedly to defend U.S. citizens and diplomatic representations against “terrorist attacks.”
Berlusconi chose the same day to try to raise a scare about undocumented immigrant workers: “The mass immigration of undocumented workers can create a dramatic situation, a pressure that could lead to war and situations like Sept. 11.”
Anti-immigrant rabble-rousing is also a specialty of Bossi and his League of the North, except that they extend their racism even to southern Italians.
Instead of intimidating the masses, however, the right-wing threats of Berlusconi and his sinister cohorts has already brought 3 million people into the streets to defy his government. The attack he has led on the past gains of the workers has united the entire trade-union movement against him, forcing the Catholic CISL and the post-Stalinist UIL to break off negotiations with the employers’ organization, the Confindustria, and join the movement for a general strike.
Berlusconi is a symbolic figure of capitalism in our time, like the bosses of the Enron corporation in the United States. He has built an empire and political power on parasitic speculation.
But like the Enron’s declared worth of tens of billions of dollars and its pack of bought politicians, his empire and his power are a house of cards that can collapse if his bluff is called. And it looks like it is being called, and that he himself has forced this by his need to push his luck further and further, by the fact that he has nothing to base himself on but his daring.
Moreover, Berlusconi’s regime is no exception in the world today. In an age in which the capitalists work more and more by smoke and mirrors and live on their nerve, a lot of other capitalist rulers are running as fast as they can on thin ice. The chances are increasing that they are going to start taking falls. Berlusconi may be the first, but he is unlikely to be the last.