Italy: over a million of workers and youth say no to the occupation of Iraq!

On Saturday, March 20, more than one million workers and youth marched through the streets of Rome, in one of the biggest demos against the occupation of Iraq anywhere in the world. This massive turnout reflects more than just opposition to war, but also a growing militancy among Italian workers and youth.

Last Saturday once again the streets of the Italian capital were flooded by demonstrators. It is really hard to give an exact figure when demonstrations reach such numbers but clearly more than one million workers and youth marched through the streets of Rome, in one of the biggest demos against the occupation of Iraq anywhere in the world.

This time the demo was heavily influenced by the events in Spain. Workers and youth were inspired by the victory of the Socialist Party in the elections. The feeling of “we can kick out the right wing from power in Italy as well” was prevalent.

The anger at the policies of the right-wing government is growing. The government is deeply divided; there is hardly an issue where the different parties that make up the right wing coalition are able to agree upon. Incredible but true: one of the biggest clashes now is over the football championship!

But the fundamental factor provoking the instability is the rise in the class struggle over the last few months. The local transport workers led the way in showing the rest of the working class how to carry out militant strikes ( see: Wildcat strikes in Italy: A turning point in the class struggle ).
It is true that this dispute did not lead to a clear victory, however several sections of the working class gained a lot of confidence from this militant example of the transport workers.

Thus in January-February we witnessed a massive strike in the town of Terni, where the Thyssen-Krupp company wanted to sack 800 workers from the local steelworks, the biggest factory in the town. The reaction of the workers and whole population forced the management to back down.

The government was also forced to retreat from carrying out two of its proposals that would have seriously damaged the environment in Basilicata (southern Italy), where a nuclear waste storage plant and a long distance power line were about to be built. There was an amazing mass reaction on the part of the local population, with regional general strikes, street blockades, etc, which defeated the government.

For tomorrow, Friday, March 26, the three main trade union federations (CGIL, CISL, UIL) have declared a four-hour general strike against a new counter-reform on pensions proposed by the government.

In this rising tide of militancy, the crisis that is developing in the “Olive Tree” (centre-left) coalition is really striking. The bourgeois parties within it are taking an increasingly and openly reactionary stance on a whole number of issues (from pensions, to the occupation of Iraq, the right to strike, etc). In their words, they want to be ready to “replace” Berlusconi.

However, the main left party, the DS (the Left Democrats) are not doing much better. The majority of its leaders are alienating a large number of their own activists with their latest policy proposals. They have refused to vote against the Italian military presence in Iraq, using the excuse that this would involve opposing other Italian missions, in Kosovo or in Aghanistan, (which they support). This vote provoked a big protest in the party’s rank and file, but also within the parliamentary group itself. Three DS MPs have left the party and a number of “loyal” backbenchers actually voted against in the parliamentary vote.

This explains why on Saturday during the demonstration Fassino, the DS secretary, was shouted down and was physically forced to leave the demo. Those who challenged Fassino were not the usual anarchists or hopeless ultra-left, but also ordinary left wing and trade union activists. Although we do not condone any acts of violence, we can understand the feeling of rage and dissatisfaction among large sectors of ordinary workers and youth after this latest betrayal in parliament.

Now would be the time for Rifondazione Comunista to be in a marvellous position to take advantage of all the weaknesses of these right-wing reformist leaders. Unfortunately Bertinotti, the PRC general secretary is presently intoxicated with “pacifism” at all costs. He has spoken several times condemning not only individual terrorism but any kind of armed resistance on the part of workers around the world. He is taking a “non-violent” position, quoting Gandhi at length.

All this is linked to his belief that it is possible “to change the world without taking power”. He has a new theory. According to Bertinotti war and terrorism feed on each other in an evil spiral. As Marxists, we understand that it is the capitalist system that produces both war and terror and we believe more than ever that if the masses in Iraq defeat achieve a victory in throwing out the imperialist armies this would represent a huge step forward for the masses throughout the entire Middle East.

Thus, with this latest position the leaders of Rifondazione Comunista are throwing away another opportunity for the Italian Communists to influence and win over the hardcore of the rank and file of the DS and CGIL.

It was really amazing to hear the speeches from the platform on Saturday, speeches that were so distant from the real tasks posed by the situation. The UN is “sacred” to these “leaders” and also a big majority of the leaders of the peace movement in the West would actually support a military intervention if it had the cover of Kofi Annan, which means ignoring the real essence of the world situation as it stands at present. It means they have understood nothing from the last period. They are still stuck in the reformist swamp, where they play games with the workers and youth.

That is why it is vital to build a Marxist alternative within the labour movement in Italy and internationally, and we, supporters of FalceMartello are fully committed to this task.