Italy: Students join the fightback

Submitted by Newcastle on 24 September, 2009 - 8:55 Author: By Hugh Edwards

The explosion of spontaneous protests by temporary teachers that swept across Italy at the beginning of September has continued following the opening of the school term on the 14th.

Now the extent of the drastic cuts in teachers, technical and admin staff etc. has become clear to those still fortunate to find themselves in a job. This year 65,000 jobs were scheduled to be cut. There are more cuts to come in 2010. Those affected are part of the 300,000-strong temporary workforce in education.

All types of public sector schools find themselves with a signicant increase in class sizes and reduced teacher numbers. They also face major reorganisation, arbitrarily imposed by the head teachers — many prefer to call themselves “business managers” — on timetables , teaching loads, and material to be taught.

Many institutions find themseves unable to afford elementary amenities like new textbooks, dustbins, and even toilet rolls.

Parents are being asked to cough up for more things, as the public education system slowly begins to disintegrate.

No wonder hundreds of parents and teachers near Napoli gathered in an angry protest outside an army barracks where the dim-witted Minister of Education Mariastella Gelmini had, in secret, appeared to open an infant school. The crowd threatened to overwhelm the place and she was forced to ignominiously scarper through a side entrance.

No wonder some parents and teachers in the mountain schools of Alpine and Appenine Italy — there are 3,000 schools there with 50 and fwer pupils — are on strike, for the cuts and susequent reorganisation means the life of the village will perish. For mountain-dwellers the school remains the centre of daily organisation for families.

And in Rome and in other universities we see the first restirring of the “onda” (wave) — last year’s mass student movement that spearheaded nationwide protests against the same law whose effects we are now witnessing in schools, and which will soon take effect within the Universites.

The student collectives at La Sapienza, Torino, Foggia, Florence, Cagliari, Reggio Calabria, Bari and Catania issued a joint declaration of support for the teacher-led protests and called for the re launching of the mass protests and struggle. The students of La Sapienza occupied the rooftops of the university in what is hoped will be the first of many such actions. There is a mass national demonstration in Rome on 3 October.

But there is one important lesson the teachers can learn from the student actions of a year ago. Notwithstanding the enormity of that movement — which also embraced large sectors of the high -school sector — its leaders arrogantly believed they didn’t need a strategy of fighting to bring the universities to a halt, that is an all-out student led strike. They called that “the tired old politics of the 20th century”!

Fatally, they permitted the life of the universites to continue relatively normally, the result of which permitted the university authorities to mouth opposition to the government reforms while at the same time working “responsibly” to undermine the dynamic of the whole movement. The vast majority of students, initially mobilised by the struggle, became increasingly inert and passive by a perspective of little else but marches and stunts. The present struggle cannot afford to make the same mistake.

Already Gelmini has offered, with the help of regional and local education bureaucracies and several conniving trade union officials from the main teachers unions, to make “concessions” , hoping to sow further divisions among teachers. Yet tens of thousands more face the axe in the period ahead.

The education workers outside the schools need to bring out in solidarity their fellow workers and trade unionists inside the schools. On every protest, march and picket line the call must be “Unity of all school workers against the cuts, secure jobs for all, down with the Berlusconi government”!

This is the right moment to add to the troubles of the degenerate Berlusconi and the gang of criminals around him in goverment.

The sex scandals and his lying attempts to evade the perfectly justified demands of a part of the liberal bourgeois press — the “communist” press considers Berlusconi’s womanising as of no important political interest — have increasingly engulfed Berlusconi in an ever-widening political crisis.

Within his own party Fini, Berlusconi’s number two, and leader of the former Alleanze National as well as Speaker of the Parliament, is threatening to exploit the always-present divisions in a movement led by an unpredictable monomaniac. Could Berlusconi be unseated? Can Berlusconi keep the support of the the Church, who backed him because of rhetoric about the sanctity of family and monogamy as well as support for their reactionary agenda and massive funding of private Catholic education. (That continues to do well.)

Now we see the spectacle of a prime minister driven by his serial lying into a major clash of his government with important sections of the Italian and international press, exposing Italy to even greater unpredictabity and instability at a moment when the European Union is fraught with tension.

Up to now Berlusconi has been able to ride the crisis, even though his opinion poll ratings are dropping significantly. The abject failure of the radical left in the former Prodi government and its continuing inability to relate politically — not moralistically — to the present flow of events, has enabled Berlusconi to pose, like a pintsized Mussolini, as the saviour of the nation with the same admixture of lying propaganda and racism dutifully administered to a deeply demoralised population by his own and the state’s information machine.

It cannot last. Already the teachers’ and other workers’ struggles across Italy demonstrate that resistance is growing. It will continue to do so.

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