Italy: Modena, a Marxist standing as mayor for the PRC in the local elections

The Marxists of Falcemartello played a key role in defeating the old discredited right wing at the last congress of Rifondazione Comunista. In the process they have strengthened their position in the party, taking on some key leading positions. One example is Modena where they have pushed the party to break the long-standing position of support for the Centre-Left. Here we publish an interview with Francesco Giliani, a supporter of FalceMartello, who is standing as mayor in the local elections, defending the positions of genuine communism.

FalceMartello: In Modena, following a period of renewal within the party, you have withdrawn your support for the Centre-Left coalition on the town council. Why have you felt the need to do this just a few months before the local elections?

Francesco Giliani: We’d already swallowed too much. The break was needed so that we’d finally be free to act consistently and recover credibility for the party. Protesting while at the same time staying in a coalition that was carrying out privatisations, outsourcing and compromising with the Catholic Church had demoralised the rank and file and broken a lot of the party’s links with the community. The birth of the Democratic Party [PD, formed by the fusion of the DS – Left Democrats and former communists – with ex-Christian Democrats] had speeded up the whole process, including a growing arrogance in the way they took decisions. The last straw came in August 2008 when mayor Pighi’s council sent the police to evict the “Libera” centro sociale [“social centre”, part of an Italian left tradition of occupied buildings used as centres for social, cultural and political activity]. And what are they planning to build on those greenfield sites? A motor-racing circuit that will be an environmental calamity that could threaten the town’s groundwater resources. But this is only the umpteenth profit-making opportunity for the building companies. So the break was by no means premature.

How did the party go about taking this decision to reach this break?

It was a very clear process. Nearly all the party members had expressed a negative appraisal of the coalition’s performance, so we wrote a document calling on the PD to accept a series of programmatic points which would have represented a turn to the left, stating at the same time that we would immediately break with them if these were not accepted. We called for the return to public ownership of HERA – a mixed public-private capital company that runs water, electricity, gas and refuse – the non-privatisation of transport, council workers on temporary contracts to be made permanent, an end to the spread of the concrete jungle and a stand to be taken for the closure of the CIE [centre for identification and expulsion of illegal immigrants]. These points were used to open up a discussion in the town to clarify the reasons for our break. The PD didn’t reply, while the SD [Democratic Left, a part of the old PDS that didn’t enter the PD] accused the PRC of maximalism and of “a return to Stalinism”. The vote on the town council on the budget was the best opportunity to formalise our withdrawal from the centre-left coalition.

What was the atmosphere in the party? How did the Vendola followers react?

[NOTE: At last year’s party conference, held after a disastrous performance in the general elections, a part of the party leadership, the most right-wing section, headed by Nichi Vendola – to become known as the vendoliani made an all-out defence of the disastrous strategy followed by the party up to then; but they lost the majority and subsequently split away].

There was heated discussion in the party. For the first time in years the ranks of the party were made fully aware of the policies of the coalition and express an informed opinion. There were no longer two levels, one for the party’s elected representatives in the state institutions together with the ruling elite and the other for the rest of the party. The vendoliani didn’t take part in the debate and left the party, crying out against the change that was taking place.

What effect has this change of strategy had on the activity of the local party branch?

First of all, there’s a livelier internal situation. There’s less self-censorship and more openness in the debate. However, it is not easy to work on a terrain that is scattered with the debris of what was a leader-dominated, reformist management of the party. We often meet youth and workers who are distrustful because of the party’s previous period in government and it is quite understandable that they should now want to first see whether we’re serious or not. The branch is intervening at the gates of the main workplaces and has contributed actively to the struggle against the sacking of 112 temporary workers at the Maserati plant. A FIOM [metalworkers’ union] shop steward and PRC member, Eugenio Scognamiglio, was unfairly fired by the company after being one of the leaders of that dispute.

We have intervened on a wide variety of issues, from increases in people’s bills to the issue of the foibe [a historical controversy between fascists and anti-fascists dating from the Second World WarI], all without any of the old politician-style diplomacy. A number of workers and trade unionists have joined for the first time, while some other comrades have come back to the party. The most encouraging sign was the participation of 300 people in our party’s contingent on the Liberation Day march [25 April]. This group drew behind it nearly all the young people, marching to the rhythm of a band playing and singing partisan and communist songs from the back of a truck.

Now we are in the election campaign for the European and local elections. In Modena the party is running alone, with you as candidate for mayor. What is it like to navigate in open seas?

There is a strong push from below. The initiatives for the election campaign are decided in our meetings, the rank and file comrades are producing the posters that we use on the streets themselves.

Our programme highlights the often covert manner in which the Council has been transferring public resources to the private bosses, and we are also putting forward some proposals about how to turn this process around. We started out with the idea that even the Council budget is not neutral from a class point of view and in the process we have discovered some very interesting things.

Such as…?

For example, Modena Council hands out more than three million euros a year in direct aid to private businesses. Even bigger sums, around ten million euros, are used to subsidise interest paid by companies to the banks. So you get some businesses paying 1.5% interest, while common mortals taking out a loan for a house or a car have to pay four or five times as much. I could go on: they give help in buying land for industrial use at non-market prices, or for marketing expenses to promote trade fairs for local products. Why can’t this money go to workers to cut nursery fees and bills?

Another interesting point is the direction that policy took under the former municipal organizations. The management of these enterprises is a means whereby the PD can integrate better with capitalism. In Modena the big local company is HERA. Private organisations control 42% of its shares, including commercial banks such as Lazard and Pictet. HERA now does business beyond the local area. HERA and ACEA, for example, have gone into business together with Dyna Network, a company controlled by a finance institution based in Luxembourg. Why has it done this? In order to benefit from the liberalisation of the sale of gas decided by Bersani [PD minister in the former Prodi government]. For the same reason HERA, VNG – the German gas giant – and the Republic of San Marino have signed a letter of intent for the marketing of the gas that San Marino, which holds a stake in HERA, intends to buy from Libya.

All of this is happening behind people’s backs. Only the taking back into public ownership, i.e. the re-municipalisation, of HERA would make it possible to launch a plan to close down the refuse incinerator and replace it with door-to-door differential refuse collection, effective recycling and the processing of non-recyclable refuse by mechanical-biological treatment. Instead, following the logic of the market, we have a doubling of the incinerator’s capacity and you can be sure that they’ll be looking to treat as much special waste as possible, as it is more profitable to dispose of at free market prices, a nice profit for HERA shareholders but not for the health of the population.

A debate is raging nationally about security on the streets. What about Modena?

Modena is no exception; the PD and the PdL [Berlusconi’s party] are making it their main issue. The mayor has issued a shameful by-law against begging on the streets, has legitimised the so-called “Citizens’ Security Committees”, and has even accused the right-wing government of not doing enough. Recently three members of the committees stood as candidates for the Lega Nord [the Northern League, a reactionary, racist right-wing party that stands for greater autonomy and even independence for the North of Italy] and another for a centre-right civic list. The PD is running along behind the right at breakneck speed.

The PRC in Modena is fighting against the criminalisation of immigrants and against the town being militarised with the excuse that there is an increase in petty crime. In any case, figures provided by the local police reveal a fall in petty crime and an increase in extortion and the penetration of the mafia into the construction industry and other sectors. This is why we are calling for the banning of sub-contracts and while other parties are calling for an extra 25 police officers on the streets, we answer that there should be an extra 25 work inspectors.

To make the neighbourhoods more liveable we do not need policemen, we need places for people to meet and above all public housing for everyone. But while 1500 families are on the waiting list for a council house and about 10,000 homes stand empty, the PD has launched a multi-million euro scheme to give a facelift to some of the squares in the town centre. There idea is to do up the elegant parts of town and leave the working class areas to fend for themselves. We say that the money for these schemes should be spent on a public housing programme and that the Council should buy, or if necessary requisition, the empty homes.

What criteria did you use in drawing up the list of candidates?

It is a list of candidates made up of industrial workers, office workers and teachers. There are ten or so shop stewards, from the engineering (Ferrari, Sirti) to the textile industries (Simint), trade union activists from Terim, Maserati, and the social services. There are also quite a number of workers on temporary contracts and there are students active in the struggle against the Gelmini [Minister of Education] reform. We represent a real slap in the face for the “caste”! We will be acting as mouthpiece for the class struggle and the ideas of communism.