MILAN – On Friday, Dec. 12, Italy, the land of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Antonio Gramsci, and the home of the Vatican, came to a halt. Scopero! Strike! was the word of the day. Sixty percent-plus of all working people in Italy walked out of their jobs or simply stayed home. One and a half million of them marched in strike demonstrations throughout the country in 54 different cities.
Building up to the general strike only a month and a half ago, on Oct. 25, in the capital city of Rome, a million people from all over Italy came in answer to the call for public protest issued by Susanna Camusso, the leader and general secretary of the CIGL (General Federation of Labor), the largest of the trade union confederations. Italians marched with many slogans, including “Basta” – Enough! – demonstrating in the streets because of the economic crisis caused by unemployment, underemployment, plant closings, cuts to public schools, cuts to the public health care system (one of the best in Europe 20 years ago ), and cuts in public services in general.
At the same time that cuts and economic devastation are happening to the Italian people, the Italian government is announcing it is going to buy, at a cost of 13 billion Euros, ninety (90!) F-35 fighter jets from the United States that will be built here in Italy to create jobs. But this has created deep resentment among the millions of Italians who ask why the Italian government is spending billions on fighter jets which are useless except for war and only create devastation in other countries, instead of investing 13 billion here in Italy, in jobs, higher wages, unemployment benefits, pensions, public schools, health care and public services.
The devious and sarcastically so-called “Jobs Act” proposed by the government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, of the Democratic Party, formalizes high unemployment and underemployment with no serious government proposal to lessen this crisis on its citizens. Aside from the severe cuts to social welfare services, it worsens the already horrible conditions that working families are enduring. The lack of government consultation with the trade unions was a further reason the unions found it necessary to call a general strike in the country only a month after a million-person protest.
The Dec. 12 general strike was called specifically against the passing of the Jobs Act and in favor of extending workers’ rights at the worksite. The Jobs Act pits worker against worker. One of many ways it does this is by allowing new hires to work without certain rights and protections alongside other previously hired workers who have those rights under union contract. CIGL, UIL (Italian Labor Union), and CISL (International Trade Union Federation) are the three union confederations in Italy. CIGL, by far the largest of the three national union confederations and one of two of which were out on strike, said, “This is a no go!” to a government-proposed jobs act whereby human labor would count less than the products it creates. CISL, the larger of the other two confederations, which, like CIGL represents workers in all categories, did not join the call for the strike.
The police in some cities were out in full force in riot preparation on Dec. 12, as usual, creating a climate of intimidation to try and discourage people from participating in the demonstration, as they did also in October. There were some confrontations where demonstrators and strikers were hurt after being charged by the riot police. As in other western countries like the U.S., France, Germany, Belgium, Mexico, or Honduras, abuses by the police and the military are becoming more frequent, and the perpetrators are less and less held legally responsible for the acts of uncalled-for violence and terror against peaceful demonstrators. In addition there is a growing presence of right-wing, fascist-led groups that are being allowed to operate without fear of prosecution by the government and its legal authorities and police structures.
These demonstrations and strikes, in the piazzas and streets, by millions of men and women, young and old, immigrant and citizen, will be, and must be, a response to governments composed of elected representatives who have forgotten that democracy requires, and is based on, the making and passing of laws by the elected that benefit these millions of workers. The few owners, bosses, multinational corporations and super rich who buy and obligate the elected to pass laws against these millions must be stopped. Elected legislators who cannot and will not use their power to make laws to benefit the people as a whole must be replaced. Democracy is, after all, the power of the many!
Photo: Pier Paolo Cito/AP