While the numbers of workers across the world thrown on the scrapheap of global capitalism’s current crisis continues to rise, and those responsible sing along with their house trained professional “canaries” about “green shoots” of recovery, spasms of defiance and resistance continue to be seen everywhere. The latest in Italy?
Following a successful 14 month occupation and work-in by 240 workers in a machine-tool plant outside Milan against closure and removal of the machinery, teachers are occupying education offices in protest against cuts of 65,000 teaching, ancillary and admin jobs. The government wants to cut 130,000 by 2011. Thousands of education workers will retire this year but 25,000 people will remain without jobs.
Teachers have been protesting, organising and occupying in over 100 cities and towns: Palermo and Trapani in Sicily, as well as in Venice, Turin, Napoli, Benevento, Milan…
These workers are part of a 300,000-strong temporary workforce in education. Their jobs are permanently precarious, since every September they are forced to subject to a shameful public selection process, a points-based classification system, little better than a hiring-fair. Disgracefully underpaid — they are not paid for the 4-5 month school holidays — the majority of them will work for years in the school system but never obtain a settled and permanent fixed post.
They are forced to move at their own expense across regions, at the capricious whim of a bureaucratic educational establishment.
But this year on hiring and firing day teachers chose to take action. In Napoli teachers interrupted the proceedings for several hours, meeting with a heavy handed response from the local cops, all turned out in their fashionable anti-riot gear.
At Benevento six women teachers have occupied the roof of the local Education office since Saturday 29 August and a local committee of protesting teachers has called for spreading the action. Occupations are also taking place in Milan Bergamo, Sardegna.
In Bari a local committee of teachers along with local parent committees, supported by the governor of Puglia, Nicky Vendola, former leader of Rifondazione Comunista, have announced they will extend the protests and have called for action from workers and their families against the drastically deteriorating conditions of the school system.
Dario Franchesini, leader of the main opposition party in the Italian parliament, the Democratic Party, appeared opportunistically on the roof of one of the protests only to be told unceremoniously that teachers wanted action not empty phrases!
In Rome the “hiring fair” was blocked by protesting teachers until once more a police thug squad intervened
In Turin the three main union confederations (i.e. not COBAS) organised a demonstraion along with the local family committees. The local trade union bureaucrats here, unlike anywhere else in Italy are actively involved, largely because their area is less affected and they intend to cut a local deal with the authorities.
The education system in Italy is as grotesquely inefficient as it is indifferent to the quality of education offered to working class children.
Ramshackle education-on-the-cheap-Italy spends less than any other industrialised country Europe; only half the population receive any kind of post-compulsory education.
While the government finds money to subsidise private schools, it regards funding teachers in public schools as a subsidy for layabout good-for-nothing graduates, as the Minister for Education Maria Stella Gelmini put it recently: “It is intolerable that in Italy the public school is used as a social welfare network.”
The government has little respect for public school students. They will be left with crowded classrooms. Afternoon school and many courses will be cancelled.
Such a system can only survive with the connivance of the myriad teachers unions whose leaders have derailed again and again any serious, united campaign to resist both the cutbacks by successive governments and the chronic inefficiency of the whole system. The creditable exception to this is COBAS — the “Base” union confederation. COBAS has called for one day strike of all its teachers and public sector workers for 25 October.
These protests are long overdue and come at a crucial moment when the conditioned reflex of the leaders of the main confederation unions will be annually activated against the government of the day, with the “threat” of “a hot autumn”. This year the verbiage and the rhetoric are thinner and shabbier than usual. No wonder.
Last winter, as soon as the crisis hit sectors of the “real” economy, the leaders of the three main unions set aside their apparently sharp tactical differences about how best to live with the government’s announced assaults on public services, education, wage contracts, etc., and fell over themselves to assure the government and the business world of their readiness to accept the “collective sacrifices” necessary to put things right. But this is something they and their predecessors have repeatedly done for the system when things get rough.
In practice, what this has meant in Italy is that the rich and wealthy enjoy generous taxbreaks, investment incentives, and the end of Berlusconi’s “crusade” against tax evasion and irregular cheap labour — things that have always seemed to be a natural right to Italy’s business class. Is it any surprise that in an economy that has been stagnant for nearly 15 years the possessing classes have exponentially increased their share of the national cake?
The economic situation deteriorated dramatically in 2009 — GNP declined by nearly 5%.
For the workers, union passivity meant an end to any illusion about resistance to government attacks being organised. This is especially so in education, where last autumn the bureaucrats had organised a mass demonstration, announcing a campaign!
We have seen the unions collaborate with the plans to offer an improved social security cushion to workers laid off in struggling plants, with the promise that when good times return they would be rehired. As the crisis deepens, the “redundancy money” offered diminishes — and, in fact, millions of workers are not covered by the scheme.
The poisonous effect has been to further isolate and atomise workers, rendering them passive and vulnerable to the lying racist propaganda of the Berlusconi mass media.
A central tactic of the Berlusconi regime has been to deepen the divisions among the working masses in order to restructure the labour market in the interests of greater capitalist productivity, the long-time weakness of Italian capitalism.
Both the pre- and post-election carnival of hate-filled and lying racist propaganda has shifted millions to the Berlusconi camp — or more accurately to the odious vanguard of his campaign, the Northern League. This noxious exercise has culminated in a piece of draconian racist anti-immigrant legislation whose vindictive essence is grimly captured in the recent news that the four half-dead Eritrean survivors of 21 days adrift amidst the luxury yacht infested waters of the Sicilian canal, are to be prosecuted for illegal presence in Italy! People whose 74 compatriots perished on the journey!
The criminal silence and inaction of the union leaders, among whose members there are tens of thousands of immigrants, after such events is and will remain a blot on the Italian labour and working-class movement. Such shame can only be removed by the actions of those workers who have started to resist in the only way they can.
Every struggle and every victory, big or small, can begin to embolden both themselves and others and help bring the workers’ movement closer to the realisation that the increasing political and social nightmare in Italy will only be brought to an end by mass united working class-led action.
Ultimately it is a battle for a workers’ revolutionary government. The Italian left should set itself such a task and be judged accordingly.
• messages of support: