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From The Socialist newspaper, 1 March 2007

Italy: Political crisis grips Prodi government

But Prc lacks coherent alternative policies

ON 21 February, the Italian coalition government faced collapse when the Prime Minister, Romano Prodi tendered his resignation.

Christine Thomas, Lotta per il Socialismo (CWI in Italy), Bologna

This crisis came just four days after the magnificent 200,000 strong demonstration in Vicenza against the government's decision to approve the expansion of the US military base in that town. The government did not get an overall majority in the Senate for a motion outlining its foreign policy, including keeping troops in Afghanistan and maintaining 'good relations' with the US.

Prodi's nine party centre-left coalition, 'Unione', had a razor thin majority of just one in the Senate. For the last nine months it has managed to get most of its policies passed by resorting to votes of confidence or relying on votes from the seven 'senators for life'.

This time two left-wing senators, Turigliatto from the Prc (Party of Communist Refoundation) and Rossi, formerly of the Pdci (Party of Italian Communists) abstained in the vote. More unexpectedly, two senators for life who had said they would vote in favour abstained, including former president and 'friend of the Mafia', Andreotti. In the Senate, abstaining counts as a vote against. When the "no" votes and abstentions were combined the government was defeated by 160 to 158 and Prodi decided to immediately hand in his resignation.

More of the same

Fresh elections will not be held. The President, Napolitano, has called on Prodi to stay in office and shore up his government. A confidence vote will be taken in parliament this week.

The Prc leaders have signed up to the scandalous anti-working class 12 point neo-liberal programme drawn up by Prodi. This includes attacks on pensions, more privatisation, cuts in public spending, a continuation of the pro-imperialist foreign policy and gives, on paper, sweeping powers to Prodi. If implemented, this is likely to provoke big clashes with the working class.

Before this, the Prodi government had lasted just 281 days but it was a crisis government from day one. When the elections took place on 10 April last year there was a burning desire on the part of millions of ordinary Italians to get rid of the hated Berlusconi government. But at the same time, there was no mass enthusiasm for the 'Unione'.

Many working-class people remembered the cuts, privatisation and attacks on their rights and conditions under the first Prodi government from 1996-1998. Despite a massive anti-Berlusconi mood the government was elected by a margin of just 25,000 votes.

The Prc entered the coalition government, with one of their parliamentarians, Ferrero, becoming minister of welfare and the former Prc leader, Bertinotti, taking up the post of Speaker of the lower house.

When discussions were taking place within the Prc about joining the Prodi coalition and government the CWI explained that it would be a serious mistake to do so. By entering the government it would be lending its support to the neo-liberal attacks which the government was planning and would undermine its position as a party which fights for the rights of the working class.

Confindustria, the main bosses' organisation in Italy, had given its support to Prodi in the election because they hoped that he would be a more reliable tool than Berlusconi for pushing through cuts in social spending, privatisation etc, in order to increase the competitiveness of the Italian economy, overcome the huge deficits at the workers' expense and push up their own profits.

We said, therefore, that the Prc should maintain its independence in parliament as a workers' party, free to vote and, if necessary, mobilise against the government's anti-working class policies.

Within just a few months the government passed a budget - the 'finanziaria' - which burdened the working class and the middle class with tax increases and cuts in spending amounting to 35 billion.

Tens of thousands of workers, pensioners, students and middle-class people took to the streets to protest at the 'finanziaria'. When leaders of the three main trade union federations, Cgil, Cisl and Uil, went to the famous Mirafiori Fiat plant in Turin to try and 'sell' the budget to the workers there, they were heckled by their own members.

Foreign policy

It was against this background that Prodi gave the green light to doubling the size of the US military base at Vicenza, igniting a local revolt which culminated in the huge national demonstration on 17 February.

With the government slashing social spending while increasing military spending and the US announcing that troops would be leaving Vicenza for the spring offensive against the Taliban, it was clear that the two issues of Vicenza and maintaining Italian troops in Afghanistan were inextricably linked.

Throughout all this time the Prc continued to support the Prodi government's anti-working class, pro-imperialist policies. In fact, rather than the Prc holding back Prodi, Prodi has been using the Prc and the leaders of the main trade union federations to hold back the working class from fighting against the government's policies.

Prc fails

The Prc should never have entered this government. It should have been in a position to mobilise the working class against the attacks, to give a lead to the protests which have developed from below, to re-establish its reputation as a radical, fighting organisation and to lay the basis for its development as a mass workers' party offering a real socialist alternative to both the Berlusconi and the Prodi brands of neo-liberalism.

Instead of unifying and expanding the struggles against the 'finanziaria', the Prc leaders and the leaders of the main trade union federations, argued that the budget was the best that could be achieved 'under the circumstances'.

As a consequence, they allowed Berlusconi to take the initiative and organise a demonstration in December 2006 of between one million and two million against it.

Instead of leading a struggle for the re-nationalisation under democratic workers' control and management of the failing airline Alitalia, they maintained that Prodi had no choice but to push ahead with further privatisation. And they did nothing to mobilise workers against the planned 'Phase 2' attacks on pensions, jobs and working conditions.

On Afghanistan, the Prc leaders latched on to the vague promises of an international peace conference in order to justify voting in favour of maintaining troops there.

All the while the Prc leaders have justified their support for the government by saying that if they withdrew it, the right-wing would come back to power. But it has been precisely the neo-liberal and pro-US imperialist policies of the Prodi government, backed by the Prc, which have led to disillusionment and paved the way for a possible new victory of the right in the future.

Vicenza exposed the untenable position of the Prc. Their leaders say that they are "in the struggle and in the government". What this has meant in reality is a completely schizophrenic position, with the party leaders backing a government that agreed to the Vicenza base being built, while ordinary Prc members and some MPs were marching on the streets against that decision!

There has been a haemorrhaging of members from the party and many of those that remain are opposed to the current position taken by the leadership. Prc senator Turigliatto is being expelled from the party for not voting for the government's foreign policy. This must be opposed. If ratified by the party's control commission this could lead to further splits and demoralisation.

If the Prc continues to support neo-liberal and pro-imperialist policies it will become irreparably damaged in the eyes of millions of workers who have supported and voted for it as a fighting class struggle party.

Many young people already consider the Prc to be just another establishment party while others still look to it as a point of reference, hoping for a lead to be given.

If working-class and young people feel disenfranchised, if they feel that there is no party that is prepared to fight for their interests and to represent them it could lead to demoralisation and even support for nihilistic and terroristic ideas.

Future developments

It is clear that the Prc leaders are moving further to the right by participating in a 'Prodi 2' government. It will result in increased anger and disillusionment inside the party and a further exodus of members. They should reverse their decision and oppose the 12 point neo-liberal programme drawn up by Prodi and refuse to enter a 'Prodi 2' government.

They have to make it quite clear that they will vote against neo-liberal and pro-imperialist policies in parliament and mobilise the opposition of workers and the movement outside.

It is vital that links are made between left-wing Prc activists and those outside the party - with former members and supporters, trade unionists, lefts in the Greens and Pdci, members of 'revolutionary' groups and parties, community activists, anti-war campaigners, radicalised youth etc. in order to lay the basis for a real mass, fighting party of workers and youth.

Future class struggles are inevitable, whichever government comes next. Italy still lags behind other European countries in terms of growth and competitiveness. A crisis in the US and world economy would have a devastating effect on Italy which is heavily dependent on exports.

The capitalist class are therefore determined that the government should push ahead with the structural counter-reforms that were left out of the 'finanziaria' - in particular raising the pension age, extending privatisation and attacking the public sector.

This will place it on a collision course with the working class, with the prospect of mass movements from which a mass workers' party and the forces of revolutionary socialism can be built.

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In The Socialist 1 March 2007:

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Italy: Political crisis grips Prodi government

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Protests make council back off

Jobs and services, not cuts and excuses!

Burslem posties stand firm

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