By CHARLES WALKER
Did news of last month’s Italian general strike make the front page of your hometown paper? My guess is probably not. I don’t say that just because my hometown Oakland, Calif., paper limited itself to printing three sentences from a wire report on page 8.
And I don’t say that because another daily I read, the San FranciscoChronicle (“Northern California’s Largest Newspaper”), didn’t do much better when it carried nine sentences from the same wire report and far from the front page. (Given San Francisco’s sizable Italian population alone, it’s hard to conclude that the Chronicle’s editors figured that the story had only limited interest, right?)
But what about the other daily paper I read, The New York Times? You know, the paper that seems to serve as a template of sorts for many U.S. papers of all sizes. You guessed it, didn’t you? The Times also didn’t find a place on its front page for the largest labor demonstrations and workers’ protests in Italy in at least 20 years.
Not that The New York Times didn’t do much better than the two local papers I mentioned, it certainly did. But in its own way it put down the importance of the turnout of millions of Italian workers and their supporters by relegating the news to page three with a quarter page article from Rome, under a black and white photo of massing crowds.
Why do I say that The Times is disrespectful? Because on the same day, on its front page, in the prestigious “above-the-fold” location, the editors ran a color photo of scores of New Yorkers spending “their lunch hour taking the sun.”
Clearly, the sophisticated, cosmopolitan Times was telling its readers, as well as many editors around the country, that the Italian workers’ effort to counter their government’s attack on their hard-won job security wasn’t all that important to U.S. corporate press lords.
There are emerging movements around the world that are challenging the so-called neo-liberal assault on workers’ living standards, the environment, and national independence. For now, those movements are mankind’s best hope for escaping from the “race to the bottom” that’s driven by capitalism’s competitive pathologies.
The Italian general strike is as much a part of the anti-globalization phenomenon as the Seattle demonstrations, the Argentine assemblies, and the like. What’s more, the Italians seem from here to constitute at present a major part of the largest, broadest, and most dynamic sector of the movements ignited by the sharpening capitalist crisis. Remember, the Italian unions have mobilized millions of workers, not once, but twice in the past few weeks!
It’s not clear to what degree the union leaders are responding to pressures from the ranks and to what degree they are inspiring and arousing their memberships. But there can be no doubt that the primary defensive organizations of Italy’s workers, the unions, are where they belong-and that’s out in front and in the streets.
Moreover, their general strike has received backing from unions in other countries. For example, the British Trades Union Congress notified the media and the Italian government of its support “for the three national trade-union centers who have called an eight-hour general strike against government plans to remove workers’ protections against unfair and arbitrary dismissal.”
In Finland, the three major unions that represent a majority of workers in that nation also notified the Italian government that they backed the “legitimate demands of the unions.”
Swedish unions, too, expressed their support for the strikers, recognizing that “the protest was not just against the Italian government but against the policies of right-wing governments around Europe,” reported AP (April 16).
And what did the AFL-CIO say about the Italian general strike and in messages of solidarity? Did they suggest ways that U.S. organized labor could support the Italian workers? For example, did the federation’s president, John J. Sweeney, propose that U.S. unions mass in front of the Italian government’s offices in this country, if only for the immediate purpose of getting the news of the attack on the Italian workers onto the front pages of the corporate press and into the consciousness of all American workers?
I keep checking the AFL-CIO website’s section of speeches, news releases, and testimony for some evidence of the federation’s support for the Italian workers and I’ve got to tell you that I’ve turned up nada. The AFL-CIO’s web page couldn’t be less informative about the Italian general strike if the strike hadn’t happened at all.
We’ve heard that the AFL-CIO has mended its ways and that it’s no longer the foreign policy lapdog of the government that it was under George Meany and his handpicked successor, Lane Kirkland. If that’s true, shouldn’t Sweeney give the world’s workers, including the Italian working class, some unmistakable evidence that Sweeney and Co.’s “New Voice for Workers” is a voice for workers’ solidarity across the world? And wouldn’t that make the corporate press sit up and take notice?