“Enough. We can not wait any longer.” This was slogan behind which tens of thousands of workers, students, pensioners and radical left activists were marching in Rome Saturday in the first major protest against Italy’s new centre-left-right government.
Led by metalworkers’ union Fiom, thousands of people marched to the beat of drums and whistles in a demonstration and rally that demanded an end to austerity policies that are creating a deepening recession and rising unemployment.
Women workers from crisis-hit firms in northern city of Bologna headed the national demonstration that was swelled by people who had travelled to the capital in some 40 buses Saturday morning.
The Fiom union, led by the popular Maurizio Landini, launched a series of demands that some hope will act as a rallying point for those on the Left who reject the ‘grand coalition’ government between the centre-left Democrats and Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing PDL party:
- Restoration of rights at work undermined by labour reforms, and the right to a job
- An ‘ecological’ reconversion of the industrial system that has produced such disasters as the southern Taranto steelworks blamed for causing cancer among the local population, and a push to protect the environment more generally
- A defence of public ownership in water and other ‘public’ goods, under threat from cuts and privatisation
- A special plan of public investment
- A stop to layoffs and a funded reduction in working hours
- An extension of unemployment benefits
- A national contract that protects rights of all workers including those in ‘precarious’ jobs
- A law on workplace democracy guaranteeing workers decide who represents them – a response to Fiat’s draconian exclusion of the Fiom from its factories
- A ‘citizenship’ income for the unemployed and students
- Public schools, universities and health care for all
- A fight against the mafia and organized crime that have infiltrated both finance that the real economy
- Increases in pensions
Austerity measures implemented by the previous governments of Silvio Berlusconi and Mario Monti have been calamitous for Italy’s economy – this week the country’s recession extended to seven straight quarters, making it the longest since quarterly records began in 1970.
Unemployment is now at 11.5%, with the youth jobless total at over 38%.
And yet Italy’s huge public debt will rise to a new record of 131.5% of output this year, the OECD has said, and climb further to 134.2% , rather than fall to 129% as forecast by Rome.
Confidence in the government headed by Prime Minister Enrico Letta, nephew of one of Silvio Berlusconi’s most trusted henchmen, and a member of the center-left Democrats, is already falling, with one poll on Friday by the SWG institute showing its approval rating had dropped to 34% from 43% at the start of the month.
Participating in the rally Saturday were Nichi Vendola’s Left Ecology Freedom Party, a left-wing former ally of the Democrats that was unceremoniously dumped after inconclusive elections in February for an alliance with the billionaire media magnate and convicted tax fraudster, Berlusconi.
Also present, waving their red flags, were the country’s two small communist parties, as well as a range of NGOs.
Some representatives of Beppe Grillo’s upstart Five Star Movement – now Italy’s largest party but in opposition – were also expected, reported La Repubblica newspaper.