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Biggest Demo In History Engulfs Rome
SATURDAY 23 March will be one of the most memorable days in the history of Italy. Three million people, young and old, made their way towards the heart of the ancient city of Rome.
The message this mighty demonstration gives to the Berlusconi government and to many governments beyond the borders of Italy is: "Watch out! The people will have their way and it will not fit in with your plans!"
The dramatic aerial photographs bear witness to the sea of red that invaded the city. There were the flags of the unions, of the Rifondazione Communista, of the Democrats of the Left and even of Cobas, the radical 'rank-and-file' union whose leaders had unadvisedly decided not to support this particular protest.
There were six feeder marches, each of which lasted for hours on end. Many reached the roads and squares near to the rally only when the vast crowd there was beginning to disperse!
One of the most impressive elements of the protest was the high level of participation of immigrants of European, African, Asian and even Latin American origin. Speakers from lorries got rapturous applause for their demands for an end to all racist attacks and immigration laws.
Youth came from the schools, universities and social centres - swaying to the music of the sound systems, singing the songs of the Italian resistance and revolutionary movements.
This magnificent show of strength surpassed all expectations. If anything, the numbers were probably swelled in response to Berlusconi's attempt to use the assassination of one of his economic advisers to intimidate the movement.
He had talked of the strike struggles providing the water in which the terrorists could swim.
The world's press deliberately tried to give the impression that Saturday's demonstration was a protest at the murder of Biagi and terrorism in general. But the march itself was totally united, determined to say 'No' to the plans of the Berlusconi government to attack workers' rights.
Build For The 16 April General Strike
It's too soon to know if the hated Berlusconi government will fall or the tycoon Prime Minister himself be removed. The struggle over article 18 of the labour law is of vital importance in the context of a worsening economic situation in Italy and world-wide. If it is amended in any way, let alone abolished, it will give the green light to employers to sack workers and continue the process of deregulating the whole of the Italian economy.
As it is there have been widespread incursions of short-term contracts, flexibility and precarious employment into both private and public employment. On top of this are swingeing attacks on welfare, public education and transport.
The Rome protest was called by the largest of the trade union federations - the Cgil - as a part of its preparations for a one-day strike. Its conference decided on action in spite of opposition from the other 'traditional' unions - the Cisl and the Uil.
Pressure from below, encouraged by the militant campaign of the 'unions of the base' such as Cobas, and Cub, pushed the Uil and Cisl leaders into supporting the idea.
After the magnificent show of united protest on Saturday, the government could make at least a temporary retreat on article 18. If not, it looks as if the general strike call will go out for 16 April and will receive overwhelming support.
The trade union leaders may hope that the strike will act as a safety valve to let off the steam of anger that has built up in Italian society - in the middle as well as the working class. They prefer to sit at the negotiating table rather than organise mass action.
The best way to show the feeling that has accumulated against this government and, in reality, against the bosses' system, would be to have pickets and mass demos in every town and city. This would need to be prepared for by committees of action elected in the factories offices and schools and linking up on a local and national scale. If the one day stoppage did not achieve the goal of getting the attacks withdrawn, it would be necessary to propose and prepare for more determined action.
In the revolutionary events of 1968 in France a one day strike called by the biggest trade union federation, the CGT, was just the beginning of a movement that, with correct leadership, could have finished off de Gaulle and French capitalism for good.
Such an eventuality would have inspired workers worldwide to take similar action and genuine socialism could have been the system chosen by the working and poor people throughout the globe.
Today, such is the anger against the rich and powerful, that a workers' movement of the proportions being reached in Italy can galvanise the energies of the youth in the anti-globalisation and other movements into one big push to replace capitalism with something 'much nicer'.
It is the task of trade union and labour movement militants in Italy, especially those who look to the Rifondazione Communista, to put forward this aim as a realisable task of the socialist/communist movement.
There are many in Italy today who will be wanting a return of the Olive Tree (centre left) coalition as an alternative to Berlusconi and his right wing cronies in power. They seem to be the only viable opposition and will be enormously strengthened by last Saturday's massive demonstration. Cgil leader, Cofferati - the man of the moment - is expected to move into the leading position of the Democrats of the Left (DS) when he 'retires' from the union position in a couple of months' time. He could well lead the centre left coalition to power in a short space of time.
But, it was the last Olive Tree government, operating on the basis of capitalism rather than challenging it, that paved the way, through quite vicious neo-liberal policies, for the victory of Berlusconi at the last general election in May 2001.
Communists and socialists need to see the possibility, in the present climate in Italy, of convincing a majority of an aroused population that ridding society of capitalism is the best way of ensuring all the basic necessities of workers' existence.
It is also the only way of ending pollution and destruction of the environment, poverty and war world-wide and bringing about a harmonious society without classes and without any form of state oppression.
In The Socialist 29 March 2002: