Is the leader of the Italian metalworkers about to form a new workers’ party?

On March 28, more than 50 thousand people marched through the streets of Rome in a demonstration called by the metalworkers’ union (FIOM) against the so-called “Jobs act”, a law approved by the parliament that cancels many of the gains made by the Italian workers’ movement in the 1970s. The demonstration was a success, also because it was the first test for the “Coalizione Sociale” (Social Coalition), a proposal raised by Maurizio Landini, the general secretary of the FIOM.

The proposal is analysed in details in the article below (first published in Italian on March 18). Despite its vagueness, it has opened up a debate within the Italian labour movement.

Landini is the most popular leader amongst workers and left-wing activists. His stance, more radical than the rest of the Cgil leaders, his frequent appearances on talk shows defending the rights of workers, has made him a point of reference. Last autumn, he was seen on every TV channel at the front of a steelworkers’ demonstration, beaten by the police and arguing with them.

The mere fact that he has said, for the first time, that the unions must “start to intervene on political issues” has raised a lot of expectations.

In the meantime, the left in Italy is in an abysmal state. The electoral list “L'altra Europa per Tsipras” [Another Europe for Tsipras] split just a few weeks after having elected three MEPs in May of last year, as we had predicted. Rifondazione Comunista is in a state of total disarray and the most likely outcome is that in the forthcoming regional elections in May the party will not get any of its candidates elected. “Left, Ecology and Freedom” (SEL, Vendola's party) saw its parliamentary group reduced to half its size when a number of its MPs joined Renzi’s Democratic Party a year ago. SEL is in fact facing a huge crisis of strategy in a situation where the Democratic Party in most areas is no longer open to discussing electoral pacts with them, which would mean they would find it very difficult to maintain their parliamentary group.

Renzi (and the Democratic Party) is emerging as the most reliable force for the ruling class. He is cutting the grass from under the feet of all the other small political parties to his right and to his left.

As a result of this, the traditional right-wing parties are totally divided, with a fight for who should be the recognised leadership of the right taking place between Berlusconi and the Northern League’s rising star, Salvini. It is very likely that they will not be able play any pivotal role for the bourgeoisie in the short and medium term.

This “stability” of Renzi's government, however, is very relative. The economy is very from a recovery, while the workers' movement demonstrated last autumn that is willing and able to fight.

The problem is one of leadership. Camusso, CGIL general secretary, and also Landini, after the general strike of December 12 did not call for any further action and, most importantly, did not give any perspective to the movement. This attitude of the workers’ leaders paved the way for a sound defeat of the movement that was developing against the Renzi government [see article in Italian] “Coalizione Sociale” could be facing the same problem, i.e. that words are not followed by deeds.

At the same time, Sinistra, Classe Rivoluzione [the IMT in Italy] is not standing on the sidelines, but is taking an active part in this debate, with our Marxist ideas and stressing the need for a revolutionary programme. For the first time a debate about the need for a workers’ party is involving tens of thousands of people. A mass part of the working classy, however, cannot be created in a laboratory. It will come from big events and mass movements. Whether Landini will play a key role in this or not, Sinistra Classe Rivoluzione will be there, for sure!

Roberto Sarti

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Social Coalition: Without Struggle There Is No Project

By Alessandro Giardiello (March 18, 2015)

Many on the left in Italy are questioning the real meaning of Maurizio Landini's “Social Coalition”. Landini is the Secretary of the FIOM metalworkers' union and in his letter, which appeared in the Corriere della Sera on 13th March addressed to all the other potential members of such a coalition, he writes: "We need to find a way of giving form and substance to an innovative project, identifying the common programmatic points..."

"The policies of the European Commission and the Troika in Italy are calling into question democracy, workers' rights, education, healthcare, state owned assets, culture and justice." From this flows the need to "unite together to call for social justice which is increasingly left with no political representation. This Social Coalition will have to be independent and autonomous, which means that it will have to stand on its own two feet and think collectively for itself."

What is being proposed is in effect a coming together of different associations (such as Emergency, Libera, Arci, Articolo 21, Giustizia e Libertà, etc) that would act as a political force – as Landini says, "politics is not private property". The first thing to be said about Landini's letter is that it represents a rejection of all the political parties that occupy the reformist camp, from Rifondanze Comunista (PRC) to Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (SEL) and the Democratic Party, none of whom were invited to the meeting to discuss the proposal. Bersani and Speranza, of the Democratic Party, have come out firmly against the project, whilst Ferrero (PRC) and Vendola (SEL) are making the best of a bad situation, and present themselves as being "enthusiastic" about a proposal which in effect aims to wipe them off the political map.

As far as we are concerned, we do not have a conservative approach towards Landini's proposal. For some time we have noted that the array of groups that emerged from the PRC have lost any significant role. The effective political liquidation of the PRC was carried out during the Prodi governments (1996-98 and 2006-08)when the party first gave external support and then entered the government, supporting privatisations and cuts, long before Landini (or whoever for him) delivers the final blow organisationally.

Independence from the PD

If a number of organisations decide to begin a process of coming together to fight against the policies of the PD, this is in itself a positive development, and we believe that the FIOM, because of its history, size and traditions is the force which better than any other could lead the Italian Left in making itself independent of Renzi's party (the PD). This is in spite of our disagreements with the FIOM's leadership over a series of trade union policies it has adopted.

Having said this, however, we are interested in discussing the aims of the project, for if this proves to be something concrete and not yet another flash in the pan, three fundamental issues will arise at a certain point: its strategic objectives, its programme, and its organisational model. Its objectives are summed up in the letter, mainly "Opposition to the Troika's policies". This is a very good starting point but then we must go beyond that and look at the coalition's programme, because, at least in words, Salvini, leader of the right-wing reactionary Northern League is also against the Troika.

As things stand, there has been no programmatic statement, but if we were to take as good what was presented by Landini to the June 9, 2012 Assembly held in Rome ("Labour speaks out") we would be dealing with a Keynesian-type programme, not very different from that supported by parties of the European left. The experience of the Tsipras government has demonstrated, however, that there is no economic room for manoeuvre to carry out such a programme unless the left is prepared to put into question European Monetary Union and the whole of the capitalist system. To achieve this objective we would need much more than a social coalition, but a much more defined and cohesive political party able to bring together, organise and give expression to the social discontent that has accumulated over these years of crisis and austerity. What kind of model are we referring to? We need a mass organisation able to defend the interests of all workers and that, at the same time, is also able to remain independent from the ruling class. In a word, a workers’ party armed with the strength and programme necessary to transform society.

Is the idea of a party old-fashioned?

According to some supporters of the proposal, such as Fausto Bertinotti [the general secretary of Rifondazione Comunista between 1994 and 2006, who subsequently split from the party], the social coalition is precisely what is needed, because parties are no longer fertile ground, as the experiences of Podemos and SYRIZA would supposedly demonstrate. The facts demonstrate the exact opposite. Podemos was born as a political movement in January 2014 and only 9 months later it constituted itself as a party, in the Asamblea Ciudadana in Madrid, on 18th and 19th October. In a similar manner, SYRIZA was born as a coalition between Synaspismos and other minor forces of the Greek left, and then became a party in its conference in spring 2014.

If experience teaches us anything, it is that if a political project is successful, sooner or later, regardless of the programme and strategic objectives it pursues, it will end up assuming the form and appearance of a party. You can change the name of things, but this does not change their substance.

The problem in Italy today is not that parties as such are finished and something new needs to be invented. This is nonsense that it is not even worth wasting time on. What are finished are parties that have failed to defend the interests of the class they were supposed to represent.

The real question is: what do we need a party (or political project) to do? In Italy there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who would potentially join a party that aims to seriously fight for jobs, better wages, rights and welfare. How could these millions of workers join Landini's social coalition? Would they have to create an association or would they be able to join directly as individuals? And if so, what relationship would there be between associations and individual members, and how would decisions be made?

These questions may be premature, but if a timely response is not provided, we risk that the entire project stays in the hands of an extremely small number of people (presumably the secretaries and presidents of the associations which affiliate to it), limiting the participation of the activists that would join en masse if only they were offered channels of democratic discussion and decision-making. History has shown us all kinds of parties – revolutionary, reformist, democratic, anti-democratic, “movementist”, centralist, etc., but although it is true that the parties of the Left have undergone a process of unprecedented degeneration and are largely dominated by politically corrupt bureaucracies – and sometimes not just politically corrupt – it is still true that if rank-and-file activists want their opinions to be heard they require a structure. The more solid, democratic and efficient this structure is, the more possibility they have of making their voice heard.

A mass movement is needed

Another lesson that we can draw from Spain and Greece is that Podemos and Syriza do not arise from nothing, but are the expression of a process of mass radicalization that has taken place in both countries. These conditions in Italy do not yet exist, although the mobilisations of last autumn represent an important anticipation of what is to come. This is an objective limit that can be overcome with the help of FIOM (and of CGIL, the trade union confederation the FIOM is a part of) if it is prepared to organise a fightback and take it to the very end – something which it stepped back from doing after the December12th general strike.

We believe that only the living class struggle and the growth of the mass movement can remove the ambiguous elements contained in the proposal, over which the bourgeois press, such as the Corriere della Sera, has widely speculated in the recent period. They believe, for example, that Landini is not at all interested in the construction of a political movement, but that his immediate aim is simply to become General Secretary of the CGIL, when in 2018 Camusso's mandate expires [Camusso is the present CGIL general secretary]. Therefore the role of the social coalition would only be as an auxiliary in providing external backing in the battle of positions within the CGIL. This would explain Camusso's cold reaction to the proposal.

Beyond all this journalistic speculation, what matters is that without a truly mass movement (which is unavoidable in the long run, but for which it is necessary to work towards), the entire project could deflate like a bubble, or it could turn into yet another electoral flop in 2018 (when the elections and general congress of the CGIL will also be taking place). If the interests of the workers and those of the CGIL's bureaucratic apparatus were the same, not only should Camusso not oppose a more political role of the union, but Landini himself should come up with a much bolder idea than what he has come up with so far. If one acknowledges the lack of a political point of reference for the workers of Italy, as Landini has done, then he should draw all the necessary conclusions.

By involving all those union structures that are open to such a project, the authority of the FIOM should be used as a lever to promote the convening of a constituent conference, democratically elected in the workplaces and in all areas, that would lead to the formation of a new workers' party.

Such a proposal would provoke a wave of enthusiasm, not only in the workers' movement, but throughout the entire country. Landini himself, in a recent meeting in Milan, recalled the history of the Labour Party, born out of a wave of working class mobilisation and out of the initiative of the unions at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The tasks we face today are not so different from those back then: break with the liberals, unify the fragments of the left, and organise the workers in a party that represents them. The fact that the Labour Party, a century later, has ended up where it is now, doesn't remove an ounce of significance from the enormous role its foundation played in the growth of the British labour movement.

What we can say is that without involving the masses such a proposal is destined to fail. For this proposal to take off it is necessary to link it to the mobilisations that began in the autumn. The two things stand together or they do not stand at all. This is what we have to say to comrade Landini and to all those workers who are looking with hope to the proposal and who will always see us fighting by their side with our programme and perspectives.