northern league

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Students to protest against Italy’s new ‘technocratic’ government

Students will lead nationwide protests in Italy today.

In Milan protestors against the new ‘technocratic’ Government will head for the Bocconi University, which is headed by the new prime minister Mario Monti.

In Rome, there will a march through Piazza Cavour to Piazza Santi Apostoli.

The Bank of Italy will be the destination of protests in Florence, while demonstrations are planned in Genoa, Bari, Palermo and Cagliari.

Last month, as part of global action by  the “indignados’ movement, tens of thousands descended onto the  Italian capital.

On October 15, Rome was a sea of red flags and banners bearing slogans denouncing economic policies the protesters say are hurting the poor.

The day decended into chaos as hundreds of hooded, masked demonstrators rampaged in some of the worst violence seen in the Italian capital in years, setting cars ablaze, breaking bank and shop windows and destroying traffic lights and signposts. Police fired volleys of tear gas and used water cannon against people who were hurling rocks, bottles and fireworks with clashes going late on into the evening.

The new government of former European Competition Commissioner of Mario Monti was unveiled yesterday, amid growing speculation that the country, now at the epicentre of the Eurozone crisis, may be forced to default on its debt.

Billionaire media magnate Silvio Berlusconi resigned at the weekend after he was quite nakedly forced out by the fellow European heads of state and the international banking lobby.

The two main political parties, the centre-left Democrats and Berlusconi’s Freedom People party, are running scared of elections and have backed Monti, although they have refused to join his government, fearing any responsibility for policies that would make them highly unpopular. .

The implementation of a neo-liberal programme of austerity and privatisation drawn up by European officials is now being closely supervised by the IMF . Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s boss, has said she would be reporting quarterly, in public documents, on Italy’s progress, detailed in a 15-page document.

Only the communists, a small movement now not represented in parliament, and the xenophobic Northern League –  formerly a member of Berlusconi’s coalition and thus complicit in sustained policies that have hit ordinary Italians’ living standards  - have called for early elections.

This leaves  real opposition to Monti and his ‘technocrat’ ministers in the streets.

Migrant workers stand up for their rights

Last weekend one hundred and fifty tomato pickers in the southern Italian region of Puglia walked off the job.

The workers, African immigrants, had been labouring for 10 hours a day in back breaking conditions for a mere 20 euros (17 pounds) a day.

They were getting paid 3.5 euros a “cassatone”, a 100 kg crate. Out of these takings a cut had to be given to the caporale, a middleman, of 3-5 euros a day, just for luxury of getting picked to do the job, plus another 3 euros to him, for transport to the fields.

And it was all in the black. No social insurance. No contract. No paperwork. No rights.

What’s more many of them had been sleeping rough, outside, as there wasn’t enough tents. There was no hot water. Sanitation was poor. Their situation was positively “prehistoric”, as one local journalist covering the strike puts it.

There is nothing exceptional about this story – it’s not just the labourers, or braccianti of Nardo in the ‘heel’ of Italy, but tens of thousands of legal and illegal immigrants escaping war and poverty in their home countries who work in these conditions every year, picking tomatoes, oranges and other fruit, doing jobs that Italians won’t do.

A 2009 report by the European Network Against Racism found that “90% of migrant workers do not have a labour contract and, 16% have been victims of violence. The living conditions of seasonal workers in Southern Italy are “inhumane”: 65% live in poor housing with no access to water, 62% have no access to toilets and 76% have chronic illness, mostly linked to working conditions.”

It continued: “Workers complained that they were being blackmailed by their employers, that there were delays in payment, that there was no respect for the safety of the workers when using pesticides….

“Seasonal agricultural workers are forced to move from one place to another, living in the countryside where they work with no contact with local services and the local population.

“Their chances of forming a family or integrating are inexistent; on the contrary, their irregular situation in the labour market exposes them to illegal exploitation and conflicts with the local population. “

Conservative estimates put the number of workers in the hands of illegal gangmasters at 550,000 (800,000 in total are working, without any rights, in the black market). And it is the ndraghetta, the Sicilian Mafia and the Camorra of Naples who are the key players. It is impossible that the authorities don’t know about this but there are very few inspections to ensure the law is being upheld and ‘very little interest’ in the matter shown by politicians or institutions, according to the CGIL trade union.

But now for the first time the people who are treated no better than slaves to satisfy our appetites for pizza and pasta have said enough is enough. And they are standing up for their rights.

Their demands? No more illegal gangmasters – instead regular employment relations with the landowner or via the local employment office. Adherence to the provincial agricultural contract, which requires 5.92 euros an hour and 38.49 euros for a six and a half hour day. And accommodation and sanitary facilities fit for human beings.

It’s a brave stand. One of the leading strikers has received death threats from one gangmaster and his sidekicks. Many without the right papers fear the wrath of the authorities who can impose hefty fines on illegal migrants.

Fortunately they are not alone. The CGIL and local voluntary groups have been giving the workers practical help – and trying to get the authorities to live up to their responsibilities.

Last month the CGIL published a report, Immigrazione, Sfruttamento, Conflitto Sociale (Immigration, exploitation and social conflict) on the conditions faced by migrant workers in the south and looked at the social, economic make-up of the areas where they work. It concluded that some areas in the South, in Scility, Campani, Puglia and Calabria, were “powder kegs” just waiting to go off.

The CGIL has been long pressing for tougher legislation – in particular a law has been proposed by an Apulian opposition senator that would make gang-mastering a criminal offence. This must form part of a concerted push against the black economy, backed up by a tough inspection regime, severe penalties and the removal of tax breaks and public financing for offenders, says the CGIL.

This is the kind of action that left-wing Puglia Governor Nichi Vendola has taken in his region since he was first elected in 2006, legalizing the position of 44,000 workers in agriculture and construction. But he argues he can only do so much and that the problem will not be solved until national action backed by sufficient funding for enforcement is taken.

The strike of the braccianti of Nardo is holding. On Thursday they took their demands to the provincial capital of Lecce. They have secured a commitment from the provincial administrators to discuss their working conditions.

Here’s hoping their stand might start a real fight back against this modern day slavery.


That conditions the braccianti of Nardo find themselves in is appalling but should not surprise in a country with a government including the Northern League and led by Silvio Berlusconi.

The Northern League’s core supporters are tax-dodging small businesses in Italy’s north who see all state regulation as red tape. Cowed, unorganised illegal immigrants are the source of a good proportion of their profits too.

Since it first emerged in the early 1990s under the leadership of Umberto Bossi the party has addressed the issue of immigration purely in terms of a security problem, and at a national and local level, it has been feeding Italians with a relentless stream of racist propaganda. More recently it has been getting even greater traction by preying on the growing economic insecurity felt among Italians.

But the Northern League wouldn’t have made such an impact without billionaire Berlusconi. The media magnate has declared repeated tax amnesties in the three governments he’s led since 1994, has an ongoing trial for tax fraud and faced trials in the past on mafia collusion.

As to his attitude to race, the prime minister once commented on President Obama’s “suntan”. He also said: “Reducing the number of immigrants in Italy means less labour for criminality.” And his monopoly of the TV ensures such views dominate the airwaves.

The public discourse has been matched by legislation that includes making undocumented entry and stay in Italy a crime punishable by a hefty fine.

Furthermore, Human Rights Watch in a report published earlier this year, documented serious law enforcement abuses against Roma, during camp evictions and in the custody of police or Carabinieri, a Defense Ministry force that shares responsibility for civilian policing in Italy.

As HRW points out “political rhetoric, government policies, and media coverage linking immigrants and Roma to crime have fueled an environment of intolerance.”

One Italian anti-racism organization found 398 media reports of hate crimes in 2009, with 186 physical assaults, 18 of which led to death.

Clearly the actual number of incidents must be higher, but official statistics completely underestimate the problem, partly because of the way the crime figures are collected (no disaggregated statistics on crime reports or prosecutions) and partly because victims fear reporting crimes.

There have been numerous recent examples of mob violence and individual attacks targeting migrants, Roma, and Italians of foreign descent. But the grimmest incident of all was in Rosarno, in the ’toe’ of Italy, a centre of orange picking, largely controlled by the ‘ndragheta, the Calabrian crime syndicate.

In January 2010 African seasonal migrant workers were victims of acts of extreme violence, including drive-by shootings and three days of mob violence which left at least 11 migrants hospitalized with serious injuries. Local residents and law enforcement officers also suffered injuries, some of them caused by migrants during riots against the mob attacks. Workers found to be illegal were transported off to detention centres.

However, in line with the practice of prosecutors and the courts to take a restrictive view of the law on racial hatred (ie it must be the sole motivation), the events in Rosarno did not lead to prosecutions and convictions for racially-motivated crimes. Only three Italians were prosecuted and convicted in connection with the violence.

The Italian left is being remade

by Tom Gill
There has been a festive mood in the air in Italy after voters delivered a real beating to premier Silvio Berlusconi in the second-round local elections.

Tens of thousands filled Milan’s cathedral square sporting orange T-shirts and balloons to celebrate the victory of the left-wing lawyer Guiliano Pisapia as their new mayor.

Crowds were letting rip in the streets and squares of Naples and Cagliari where left candidates had triumphed too.

The media magnate had declared the municipal and mayoral elections, which ended with run-offs in 90 Italian towns and cities, a “national test” of his power.

The message from the voters was a most definite “arrivederci.”

Voters have had no shortage of reasons to reject Berlusconi and his allies.

Scandals linked to relations with an underage prostitute and investigations into tax fraud and an abuse of his official position that are playing out in court. His iron grip over the country’s TV and naked use of it.

His strident attacks on the judiciary and very public debasement of women.

His use of the law to serve his own interests and keep him out of jail.

And an economy that has been virtually stagnant for years, with rising unemployment and poverty.

In the past his personal intervention has managed to turn around his personal misfortunes. But the Midas touch has evidently gone.

Berlusconi’s greatest loss was Milan, the heart of the billionaire’s business empire and political strength.

Incumbent Letizia Moratti, from one of Milan’s most powerful business families, was knocked from her perch as the left took 55 per cent of the vote and ended a 20-year reign by the right.

The campaign was marked instead by a new low level in political discourse, overt racism and unprecedented dirty tricks.

Berlusconi, who decided to have himself listed as the main name on the party list vote for the financial capital, claimed Pisapia would form an “extremist” administration that would turn Milan into a “city of Gypsies,” Islamists and communists.

There were even reports of Romany people being paid to go out into the streets begging and declaring they were supporters of the left-wing lawyer.

Meanwhile, the diatribes continue against “dictatorial” magistrates – aimed both to delegitimise his ongoing trials and his public challenger in Naples, a former public prosecutor.

Earlier in the campaign posters appeared – disowned by mayor Moratti and allies – depicting members of the state prosecution service as terrorists.

The man who deals with every issue, however serious, with a battuta (joke) even declared the opposition as “brainless.”

The premier had also staked a lot of political capital on winning back Naples from the left, whose reputation was in tatters after 18 years of rule marked by poor administration and corruption.

Instead he suffered a humiliating defeat as the opposition took 65 per cent of the vote.

This was thanks in part to the latest in a string of headline-grabbing political gimmicks to save the locals from their rubbish – promises of salvation not kept by Il Cavaliere (The Knight), as the premier has been mockingly dubbed.

Nor did it help that two local members of his party had just been arrested on charges of links to organised crime.

Overall, the run-offs were a disaster for Berlusconi and his allies in the Northern League, which lost control of the north-eastern city stronghold of Novara – and they confirmed the rout in the first round of local elections a fortnight earlier.

The post-Berlusconi debate, which has had many a false start, has begun again in earnest.

Berlusconi himself, with general elections still two years away, is showing no hurry to leave the scene.

But governor of Lombardy Roberto Formigoni said last week that he’d be ready to take over the helm, although only if and when Berlusconi goes for the top job – president of the republic.

Finance and Economy Minister Guilio Tremonti has also been widely tipped as a successor.

Both are members of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, although Tremonti is also close to the Northern League.

Whether these are realistic scenarios remains to be seen.

A number of commentators are now saying Berlusconi is a spent force and that the xenophobic Northern League, for many years happily hanging onto the premier’s coat-tails, needs to cut loose if it is to survive.

Leader Umberto Bossi has form – he brought Berlusconi’s first government in 1994 down after just seven months.

Unlike Berlusconi’s party, which is glued together by his huge wealth and private TV monopoly, the Northern League, with around 8 per cent of the vote, has a genuine mass bass.

It will be much more likely to survive opposition.

Also a worry for Berlusconi are the ambitions among a former ally, the “post-fascist” Gianfranco Fini, and others in the so-called “third pole” consisting of former Christian Democrats, to supplant Berlusconi and his party too.

Things obviously look different from the perspective of the centre-left opposition – or, better put, oppositions.

The main beneficiaries of these elections have been the Democrats, who made big gains in these local elections.

In Turin, birthplace of Italian communism and historically the heart of the industrial working class, voters gave Democrat Piero Fassino the thumbs up.

Coming shortly after Fassino took sides with Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne in a showdown with the unions over steps to slash terms and conditions, this was claimed by some as a vote of confidence with the “modernising” right wing of the party.

In Bologna, also a traditional stronghold of the left, the Democrats’ preferred choice came out on top too, although there was also a strong showing (10 per cent) from the Five Star Movement of anti-Berlusconi blogger Beppe Grillo.

But in the game-changing mayoral run-offs it was not the Democrats, the largest party on the left, but more radical parties and candidates that won the day.

In Milan, 62-year-old Pisapia was until recently a card-carrying member of Communist Refoundation, representing it in parliament for two terms ending in 2006.

In Cagliari, victor 35-year-old Massimo Zedda was, like Pisapia, backed by the radical Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) party led by Puglia governor Nichi Vendola – a former member of Communist Refoundation.

The son of a historic Sardinian leader of the Italian Communist Party, Zedda fought an impressive campaign against the right and its backers in the powerful “cement” lobby that has privatised and ruined large parts of the island with uncontrolled development.

In Naples, the biggest city in the south, 42-year-old Luigi de Magistris was another newcomer, taking his first position in politics as an MEP in 2009.

From a distinguished and fearless family of anti-corruption prosecutors, de Magistris learned about politics via his investigations into links between the local mob and politicians.

In his bid for mayor, he was backed by his Italy of Values party (IDV), which is lead by Cleans Hands judge Antonio di Pietro, and the Left Federation (comprising Italy’s two communist parties).

Common to these three local contests was the fact that the victors had to go through bruising battles against the dominant – and most right-wing – party of the centre left, the Democrats, either through internal centre left primaries or at the ballot box.

A second common thread was the fact that they were all “new faces.”

This is significant in a political system that endlessly recycles politicians.

Futhermore, after years of being on the back foot by the salesman Berlusconi, they showed that the left can produce leaders with something to say and an ability to communicate.

They also made good use of new means of communication and organisation such as Facebook and Twitter to circumvent and compensate for Berlusconi’s hold over the media – a grip only equalled by the likes of Berlusconi’s friend Muammar Gadaffi and other Arab dictators.

Furthermore, their campaigns involved a real mobilisation of people from or close to newer smaller parties or who were new to “party” politics.

And many of these new activists were young.

Against a long-term disengagement and disenchantment with politics, symbolised by the disappearance of the two mass parties of the post-war period – Christian Democrat and the Italian Communist Party – and declining party membership, this is something to be welcomed.

This upswing in political engagement didn’t come out of thin air.

Over the past 12 to 18 months there has been a seemingly endless stream of national and – mostly – local strikes and protests involving unions, civil society organisations and men and women from all walks of life, including students, workers, the unemployed and pensioners.

The focus of Italy’s new left mayors now will be to combine honest government with a genuine concern for and interest in their constituents, rather than breeding and feeding prejudice and serving narrow business interests.

This will build confidence in the left’s ability to govern nationally.

More importantly, if promises of a new inclusive approach are kept, there is hope of building on the participation in the elections to create the kind of mass national movement needed to mount a challenge to Berlusconi – and then maintain a progressive government in power.

There is still plenty to be done.

There are clearly ideological divisions within the left and there is also much damaging personal rivalry between overinflated egos.

And the left certainly hasn’t yet articulated a convincing alternative to Italy’s serious social and economic problems, although a referendum later this month to abrogate a law to privatise water may at least help to clarify positions on key issues such as public ownership.

Nor does the left have a clear view on the disastrous austerity-driven politics of the EU which condition so much of the decision-making in Rome.

For decades after the second world war Italy was a crucible for progress and innovation in politics and in culture.

Then, after the fall of the Berlin wall and the dissolution of the Italian Communist Party, it became a laboratory for a new European right where a tradition of corruption merged with new authoritarian, socially regressive and racist ideologies.

Now the wheel may be turning again.

The Italian left is being remade.

Here’s hoping that the peninsula may once again be a place to look to for inspiration.

Link to Morning Star newspaper

Berlusconi’s big bust-up

By Tom Gill Printable

Is it the beginning of the end for Silvio Berlusconi? Reports of his political death have been much exaggerated before. But this time the odds have decidedly shortened.

A string of sex and corruption scandals, attacks on press freedom and a disastrous economy have plagued the billionaire premiere for months. But Berlusconi’s biggest headache has been the falling out with his long-time ally Gianfranco Fini.

This saga has played across the newspapers and TV screens, hitting his poll ratings and confidence in the government, and now potentially threatens his 16-year political career.

Last week the Berlusconi-Fini match reached its climax when the prime minister moved to expel him and three of his allies from the People of Liberty party, which Fini co-founded. In response, 33 of Fini’s supporters in the lower house set up a breakaway faction, in theory depriving the government of its majority. Ten members of the upper house are planning to do the same.

Fini said the faction would continue to support Berlusconi but only if, among other measures, his coalition drops legislation tailored to the prime minister’s personal requirements, such as attempts to extend his immunity from prosecution in the courts.

Fini has further raised the stakes by deciding on Monday, in his capacity as the speaker of the lower house, that parliament should vote on whether the government should sack a junior minister involved in a corruption inquiry. The vote, due today, could trigger a full-blown government crisis.

At the centre of this political storm is Giacomo Caliendo, a junior justice minister who was told last month that he was formally under investigation on suspicion of belonging to a secret cabal that is alleged to have acted as the prime minister’s dirty tricks unit. The claim is that it tried to influence judges involved in cases vital to Berlusconi and dug the dirt on his opponents.

Caliendo has refused to resign and he is backed by the premier.

The significance of the split with Fini shouldn’t be underestimated. Fini has stuck by Berlusconi since his entry into politics in 1994, including through an endless stream of investigations into the media magnate’s affairs. But, along with his reincarnation as a liberal after once leading the neofascist National Alliance, Fini is now a champion of clean government

In recent months he has repeatedly attacked Berlusconi’s tolerance of graft allegations that have been spreading about senior ministers. In July, he said that any member of the government who was put under investigation should resign immediately.

Berlusconi has dismissed talk of a crisis, expressing confidence that his centre-right coalition with the xenophobic Northern League – Italy’s third largest party – could still command a majority in parliament. And with this mind he has apparently embarked on a “shopping expedition” in an attempt to woo wavering independent right-wing parliamentarians with promises of government posts.

It is still possible that some of Fini’s followers will seek refuge in abstention today. That would deal a severe blow to Fini. On the other hand, if the vote goes against the prime minister he would effectively be a lame duck.

In this case Giorgio Napolitano, head of state, may be faced with the choice of dissolving parliament and calling elections or entrusting someone to form a caretaker administration.

Should it come to a snap election it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for Berlusconi.

The main opposition party, the Democrat Party – which evolved out of the right-wing of the Italian Communist Party in the early 1990s – have been caught on the hop by events.

They are still reeling from a humiliation in regional elections in March and lag in the opinion polls – the most recent putting Berlusconi at 33 per cent compared to the Democrat Party’s 27 per cent.

So not for the first time they are hoping to get back into government without an election, perhaps by forming an alliance with the same right-wing Christian democrats courted by Berlusconi, and/or with Fini. Worryingly, the main justification for avoiding elections is to “stabilise” the economy through deficit-reducing public spending cuts.

The communists, who disastrously lost all their seats in the April 2008 parliamentary elections, challenge this view.

The leader of the Party of Italian Communists Oliviero Diliberto says that “only elections can restore confidence and dignity to politics and the institutions, which have reached their lowest point with this government.” Communist Refoundation leader Paolo Ferrero concurs, calling on the opposition to unite at the elections to “finally deal with the country’s social problems.”

These social problems, as Ferrero puts it, are serious – starting with unemployment that is already at a six-year high. And things will be only get worse as a result of a draconian austerity package pushed through last week. This includes a three-year wage freeze for public-sector workers, plans to raise the retirement age of public and private workers by more than three years by 2050, a 10 per cent reduction to ministry budgets and big cuts to local authority funding, which will lead to a sharp reduction in state health and education provision.

These measures have provoked protests and strikes by a cross-section of Italian society, including judges, diplomats, civil servants, public-sector doctors and museum curators. Italy’s largest union, the CGIL, staged a general strike on June 25 with hundreds of thousands of people taking part.

Trade unionists, workers, students and others from all walks of life are increasingly challenging Berlusconi in the streets and in the virtual world, via blogs and social networking sites.

But this opposition will need to be transformed into a co-ordinated political movement if there are to be any prospects of a progressive democratic alternative in Italy. And this is a huge challenge, not least because of the prime minister’s continued stranglehold over private and state TV.

For now, Berlusconi may be down, but he is most certainly not out.


Elections crown Bossi ‘Re Umberto’

By Tom Gill

Despite all his troubles, Italy’s media magnate and premier Silvio Berlusconi pulled off another decisive victory against the opposition in the March local elections. Of the 13 contested regions Berlusconi’s right-wing People of Freedom (PdL) movement won six, a gain of four from the centre-left.

The result came as a surprise to some political pundits as the Democratic Party-led opposition appeared to have plenty in its favour. There had been a string of sex scandals involving Berlusconi, the PdL somehow failed to present its list of candidates on time in Lazio, the region that includes Rome, and the country is amid an economic crisis that saw GDP fall by over 5 per cent in 2009 costing more than 400,000 jobs. Two weeks before the election, one poll had predicted that the left might end up with all of the 11 regions it won in 2005.

The Democratic Party rightly pointed out that it closed the gap with the PdL in total votes, but the gap between the two biggest parties is four percentage points – close to the figure in the 2008 general election.

Overall the left lost four of its 11 governorships and was close to losing another, Apulia, had the right-wing parties there not fallen out. In Campania, the region around Naples, the left’s share of the vote fell from 62 per cent to 43 per cent ending 10 years in charge of the local administration. It also failed to keep hold of Lazio.

So why the rout? Apart from examples like Campania, where it was judged on its local record, the Democratic Party’s key failing was the absence of any real campaign against Berlusconi. Many Italians are deeply worried and angry about the premier’s continuing attacks on the judicial system and changes to legislation designed to protect him from prosecution. They are furious at the continuing conflict of interest between his premiership, his huge wealth and his ownership of large and strategic parts of the Italian economy. The most serious concern of all, however, is Berlusconi’s continued stranglehold over terrestrial TV – the main source of political information.

This is also the other explanation for the left’s defeat. In every election since his entry into politics in 1994 Berlusconi’s virtual monopoly of TV was a significant, if not decisive, factor.

The premier still controls state broadcaster RAI and three of the four main national private TV channels. Not content with the huge inbuilt bias in his favour, Berlusconi ensured there was a media black-out of all political parties. Ironically, it was only Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia satellite TV platform that provided election coverage.

Unsurprisingly, instead of backing the Democratic Party or the smaller, high-profile Italy of Principles movement led by former anti-corruption magistrate Antonio di Pietro, many voters just stayed at home. Only 64 per cent of Italians voted, almost eight points less than five years ago. The right and left suffered from the low turnout.

The most disturbing result of the election was the success of the premier’s ally Umberto Bossi whose racist law-and-order party, the Northern League, won 13 per cent of the vote – up from 8 per cent at the general election – confirming its rise from the margins into a national force in politics. The Northern League now controls two rich and populous northern regions – Veneto and Piedmont. It is also well established in the “red” regions of Emilia Romagna, 14 per cent, and Tuscany, 6 per cent, and in run-off voting on Sunday confirmed its encroachment on traditional left strongholds by taking the Lombardy town of Mantua.

The Northern League’s core support are small and medium-sized businesses which support Bossi’s low-tax agenda and demands for “fiscal federalism” – wealthy northerners paying less for public works and other assistance to poorer southerners. But the Northern League now has strong working-class support through a growing base in trade unions and the high profile it gives to issues such as jobs and housing – for Italians and not immigrants. And unlike Berlusconi’s power, built on his enormous wealth and domination of the small screen, the party’s odious politics are spread by a growing number of young activists known as “green shirts.” The grim truth is that the Northern League is now the only real mass political party in the country. Clearly no fightback can start until the left gets its own army of activists out on the streets making the case against racism and for jobs, social justice and the respect of basic democratic norms.

What does the Northern League’s rise mean for Berlusconi? The press dubbed Bossi “Re Umberto” – after an Italian king – and made much of the problems posed for the premier as he exercises his new-found power. In fact, the Northern League already has significant influence on government policies. And not only on immigration, where policy has become decidedly tougher. Aided by Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti, a close political ally, he has secured an amnesty and other measures that forgive and encourage the already massive tax evasion by small and medium-size businesses.

Berlusconi, who is being pursued in the courts over tax evasion, had no problems meeting these demands. But he will likely find Bossi’s renewed calls for cuts to north-south fiscal transfers problematic with elements of his PdL movement with power bases in the south, including those from a nationalist-fascist tradition. Berlusconi still harbours hopes of a French-style, presidential form of government for Italy that will place him as president above all, including the magistrates. For that he will need as much suppport as can muster.


Twitter Updates

  • The rise of the #Greek extremes. 'Three hard-left parties collectively account for 42.5% of the vote' FT http://t.co/KGQC9Yg7 3 hours ago
  • The #Greek #Left Strikes Back. Wall St Journal. http://t.co/TKsyNGzO 3 hours ago
  • Democracy postponed or abolished? Italys unelected plutocrat premier forever! RT @Reuters http://t.co/LW9ulg5l 6 hours ago
  • “The people must not allow themselves to be flayed alive" #Greek #Communist Party. #quoteoftheday (well yesterday) " http://t.co/BSp9hzbO 1 day ago
  • #Europe can learn from Japan’s #austerity endgame. FT (free initial sub ) http://t.co/T8Nx2s9h 1 day ago
  • Video. #Greece RT @euronews Athens ablaze as protesters say 'no' to more cuts http://t.co/7C3kSVM8 1 day ago
  • Today first of 5 days of #strikes this month by #pilots of #Spain's Iberia. Dispute over creation of low-cost carrier. http://t.co/e5OkbUzw 1 day ago
  • #Greece’s new #austerity measures are ‘authoritarian, illegitimate’ says #European Left Party. http://t.co/GT0xPqF1 2 days ago
  • Quote of the day: These measures of annihilation will not pass - 89-year-old Manolis Glezos from Athens' Syntagma Square & cloud of teargas 2 days ago
  • Growing acceptance by Germany that Greece may have to leave eurozone growing. German ministers pressure Athens...http://t.co/kDhOiFA9 2 days ago
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