By Giorgio Cremaschi*
A few months ago all the Italian media reported with great sympathy the struggle of the Greek state television journalists against the cuts decided by the government in the name of austerity. Now they point the finger at the strike at Italy’s state broadcaster Rai, characterising it as a revolt of bureaucracy and privilege, and PM Matteo Renzi speaks on this issue like opposition leader and thrice premier Silvio Berlusconi: go ahead, it will only win me more votes.
Paradoxically, this strike underlines the whole crisis of the CGIL, CISL and UIL trade union confederations. They allowed the horrendous counter-reform of the pension system and labour market and austerity policies, and now rebel against cuts to Rai. Consistent with its total capitulation over the years, the UIL is also sidestepping this protest, but is not that the others come out well either.
In Greece, the unions have opposed the policies of the Troika at each step by step, and even if have not yet obtained results, they are still fighting and for this reason the struggle of the TV workers has garnered general solidarity. CGIL, CISL and UIL have not even tried, in the name of concertazione [social partnership] and the search for the least worst outcome.
But they did not secure anything and now have lost broad support in the country, making the government arrogant. The Alitalia disaster is about to become a new symbol of trade union defeat. The company was sold off to the sheikhs by bankrupt Italian entrepreneurs; there will be thousands of new layoffs, and the only objection comes from the European Commission, which despite its neo-liberalism considers this a step too far. But this is the Italian economic and social context in which Renzi triumphed.
The vote in the European awards delivered 1950s-style consent to a party and a leader who are benefiting from a system of power and support that is unprecedented in the history of the Republic.
Backing the PD and Renzi are both US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and especially Goldman Sachs and Bilderberg. The credit rating agencies reward him and international finance praises him. In Italy, the support of the establishment is total. At no time in the history of the republic, not even in the short period of national unity at the end of the 70s, there was such broad support for the government from the banks, Confindustria, CGIL, CISL and UIL, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the third sector, local authorities, the world of sport and entertainment, newspapers, television, everything.
Renzi, in turn, has been able to mix the once great communicative capacity of Berlusconi, the financial reliability of former PM and Bilderberg member Mario Monti, Beppe Grillo’s revolt against Italy’s political and institutional ‘caste’ system, and to make all this a message of hope with no concrete commitments, in a country democratically exhausted. Here there is really nothing that looks like a victory for the Left, which is rather based on participation and on the expansion of struggles and social movements. The consensus around Renzi comes from the end of illusions, and from resignation.
Renzi’s strength is in inertia and passivity among people massacred by the crisis, aggravated by the absence of social and trade union action, while all the elites put their faith in him. In order to do what? To build a consensus with the neoliberal management of the crisis in Europe. We could actually export our Gattopardo* across the continent. When European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said that so far the EU has defended businessmen and now it must deal with the needs of the people, he was talking like Renzi. And of course, he acts like him, since he continues to carry on negotiations with the US and Canada to secure that shocking green light to corporations with the transatlantic free trade agreement (TTIP) and wants to strengthen EU’s budgetary straight jacket, the fiscal compact.
Greece has been a guinea pig in every sense, not only for the testing of the most brutal austerity policies, but also for understanding the limits of the most nakedly brutal exercise of power by the banks and finance. For this reason, Ms. Merkel and Renzi admire each other. Because we need to change the doses and methods of administration, but the medicine must always remain the same.
This is what Renzi’s recent tax cut, worth 80 euros in monthly pay checks, is. As Greek opposition leader and the European Left candidate for the EU Commission Alex Tsipras said, it is a measure agreed with Merkel to make acceptable the continuation of austerity.
The three pillars of which – not coincidentally – are endlessly repeated: labour flexibility, namely the reduction of wages and rights, privatisation and the reduction of public spending in the name of balancing the budget (Italy, by the way, is the only euro country to have inserted this balanced budget requirement in the Constitution). The European Commission is asking us for more rigor while the true number of unemployed is 6 million, the official figures showing half that amount.
No real change
But there is no real change in economic policy. Renzi has never called into question the European link, indeed he has increasingly argued that the problems lie with us and that you change Europe by changing Italy, neo-liberal reforms. The Monti’s old slogan that we have to do get our house in order first becomes the goal of being the first in the EU class.
We are the second guinea pig in Europe after Greece. There they have only used the stick, here we try Renzi. The future of our democracy depends on whether and how to build an opposition to all this from the Left.
The opposition Five Star Movement is a given and continues to gather a broad consensus that in my opinion is not destined to collapse, but which defines itself as neither right nor left. It brings together critical anti-capitalist and ultra-liberal positions, which allow it to ally with UKIP’s Nigel Farage, the leader in Europe who interprets the anarcho-capitalism of America’s right-wing Tea Party. Then there is Italy’s right-wing opposition that is fragmented, but that which could reorganise around the politics of France’s Marine Le Pen; we hope that it does not succeed.
Then there are movements like Notav, the protest movement against Italy’s high speed rail project, environmental and social struggles such as those around housing or super exploited logistics workers. There is a continuous mobilization of the youth and the precariat. Against all these movements a strategy of tension, of repression, has been launched largely in big cities, led by forces of the Democratic Party.
But unfortunately this has not led to a crisis in the Renzi regime, which rests on the passivity and sense of defeat among workers.
Where’s the opposition?
What is missing in Italy is an opposition to the Renzi regime from the Left, as we see growing quickly in Greece, Spain and Portugal . The 4.03% secured by the list Tsipras in Italy is a signal, but cannot be called a success. In order to this to happen, the Left must make a clean break with Renzi. It must be accompanied by the relaunching of struggle, ie a radical critique of the CGIL, CISL and UIL confederations in the name of rebuilding strong trade unions that are on the offensive.
We must work towards defeating Renzi’s policies and those who supports them, otherwise we will lose another twenty years rediscovering here in Italy New Labour’s Tony Blair and America’s Bill Clinton, when everywhere else their policies have been discredited for being one of the underlying causes of the global crisis.
Renzi must fail in order to start on the path of democracy and social equality. On June 28, on the eve of the Italian Presidency of the European Union in Rome, trade unions, the left, the movements which consider themselves opponents of Renzi and Europe’s fiscal compact will take to the streets. To inaugurate the Italian counter-semester in Europe.
* Giorgio Cremaschi is the former president of the FIOM metalworkers union
** a reference to The Leopard by Guiseppe Tomasi and the phrase, ‘For things to remain the same, everything must change.‘
Translation/edit by Revolting Europe