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Italy - a 'hot autumn' awaits Berlusconi
ITALIAN SOCIALIST Fabrizio Cucchi, (a member of Lotta per il socialismo - CWI, Italy) on a recent visit to London, spoke to the socialist.
IT'S LIKELY to be another 'hot autumn' for Italy's working class this year.
The ruling class plans a major attack on pensions and there will be further attempts to cut back workers' real wages and their industrial power.
Italy's economic crisis is different from that in Germany and elsewhere. It has both inflation and a fall in production.
For the last two quarters, Italy saw a decrease in domestic production, meaning it is now technically in recession. But this has been combined with a high level of inflation, producing what is called "stagflation".
The ruling class urgently needs to bring down inflation and improve the competitiveness of Italian goods. The favoured method of the past - devaluation - which hits workers hard in the pocket, is now ruled out by Italy's membership of the European Monetary Union.
There are now renewed attempts to bring in the 'Biagi reforms' which severely undermine workers' rights. For example, from 1 September, many new kinds of labour contract will be legal.
One is the "job on call" where workers have to wait for calls from the factory to work and are only guaranteed a minimum number of hours (and pay).
THERE IS likely to be another big struggle when the government tries once more to change Article 18 of the country's Labour Law, which was won by workers' struggles before 1971.
This guarantees that workers will not be fired without just cause if they work in factories with over 15 employees.
Berlusconi's government has now made it possible for a factory to be split up into many small units so that more workers are not protected by article 18.
Industrial action is promised against this move this autumn. The biggest trade union federations are calling for a general strike on the issue, but only for two hours. Much bolder action is needed.
There is mounting pressure on the Berlusconi government, both from the leaders of Confindustria - the Italian bosses' association - and also from the European Union to cut back spending on pensions and/or raise the age of retirement.
There are many disagreements amongst the ruling coalition parties about how to deal with the issue.
Some are fearful of clashes on the issue, in the light of the massive opposition to pension reform shown on the streets in France and Austria this year and also in Italy the last time a Berlusconi government tried to introduce pensions reform.
OTHER STRUGGLES continue in Italy. Two of the three major union federations have signed a new national contract for the engineering industry.
But FIOM - the metal mechanics' section of the largest union federation, the Cgil - is still fighting to win their original demands.
Their tactic, in the recent past, has been to try to conclude separate deals with individual companies if they come up to this level. But it is a mistaken policy since it undermines the strength that comes from a united struggle.
Anyway, the struggle on a national level will most likely rise again this autumn.
Inside the Cgil in particular, and the other big unions as well, there is mass pressure from below. The Cisl and the Uil - the other two major union confederations - are continually making compromise deals with the employers.
Since the 1970s, 'unions of the base' have existed - formed in opposition to the major unions' bureaucracies.
Understandably, because of long and bitter experience of betrayals by the leaders of the 'Big Three', the attitude of some of the unions of the base can, unfortunately, tend to be somewhat sectarian.
POLITICALLY THERE is confusion amongst workers because the centre-left 'Olive Tree' coalition between the two Berlusconi governments also put through anti-working class laws and neo-liberal economic measures.
At the moment, the leaders of the large left-wing Communist Refoundation (Rc) are trying to make a programmatic agreement with the centre left. Quite a lot of Rc members are opposed to such an agreement with a political coalition which would again attack the working class.
The biggest left group inside Rc is collecting signatures for a new party congress to come out against this. At the last congress Rc leaders spoke about everything except a new agreement with the centre left.
There are definitely problems with democracy in the Rc!
On the other side of the class divide, some bosses now openly support the Democrats of the Left (the DS or former Communist Party of Italy). D'Amato, the leader of the employers' federation, has also publicly applauded the DS leader, Fassino.
They believe his less abrasive, more long-term approach towards attacks on workers' living standards would be more successful than a head-on clash.
Lotta per il socialismo (CWI, Italy) sees the working class as holding the key to the Italian situation. The struggles of the metal workers and those against the new laws and pension reform will be of vital significance both in Italy and beyond its borders.
In The Socialist 6 September 2003: