By Hugh Edwards
The sharp fall in the interest rate demanded of Italian debt on Monday 5 December signalled a malignant spirit of celebration in the international markets. Prime Minister Mario Monti’s government of “neutral technocrats” — some of them in tears just to prove it! — had done what they were asked to do: unload upon the backs of the Italian masses further massive cuts and reforms of 63 billion between now and 2014.
Such is the price for the survival of both Italian capitalism, and the wider economic and financial community of the eurozone whose possible collapse would threaten the established global system.
Now Monti hopes his country’s ruling class will be permitted to rejoin their German and French buddies at the helm of the European order of things after Berlusconi's buffoonery failed to stop Italy’s chronic decline and saw it demoted in the capitalist powers league table.
From January 2012 2.5 million workers reaching pension age will now have to work between another three (for women) and six (for men) years. Eventually both sexes will be compelled to work to 70.
Above a minimum level pensions will no longer be indexed. An already derisory pension scheme wil add more misery to the eight million or so families in poverty.
The grotesque spectacle of hearing obscenely rich University professors, among them not a few one-time feminists, and leading journalists of the liberal press, saluting the reforms as both a victory for women and a boon to the health and paypackets of the workers as a whole says much about the political quality of the opposition!
There will also be a hike of 2% on the Italian equivalent of VAT, the reintroduction of a swingeing house tax — this for a population with the largest percentage of home ownership in Europe.
A raft of communal and regional taxes will further hollow-out and dismantle what remains of the “local state” as the public, social and welfare areas life are eroded or handed over to private enterprise.
Naturally, given that Monti and his government of ex-admirals, businessmen and Church worthies have declared that the” Save Italy” crusade means sacrifices for all, the rich and powerful have been hit hard. Their yachts, limousines and big houses come under the axe — to the tune of 500 million in new taxes on capital and other assets.
That is nothing! Their enormous incomes, swollen by the billion pound industry of tax-evasion will be hardly noticed; and widespread endemic corruption among business, public administration politicians and the mafia, leeching billions from the public purse, will continue to be ignored.
Given that Monti’s accession to office had been supported by all but the Northern League party the official opposition of the Democratic Party and Italy of Values had, as Oscar Wilde put it, “nothing to say and they said it “. The former, effectively the political referent of the largest union confederation CGIL, is relying on the latter, and the other unions, to do what they have done for decades — divert, diffuse and derail the anger and protests of their members.
Having welcomed the arrival of Monti the opposition anticipated a better display of window-dressing from him. Offended by the lack of enough “equity” to sell to their members, the unions announced a three hour (sic) strike for 12 December, with the intention of getting negotiations up and running.
But the metalworkers of FIOM, the most militant section of CGIL, are opposed to the whole exercise of bailing out the bosses’ system. They struck for the day, simultaneously against the FIAT bosses’ campaign to destroy FIOM as the champion of democratic trade unionism in Italy.
With the metalworkers are the Base unions, mainly drawn from the public sector and the bulk of the radical left parties and groups. But the largest of those groups — SEL, formerly the Bertinotti wing of Communist Refoundation and led by Nicky Vendola — has found itself stranded by the same opportunism towards the Democratic Party that split CR after its disastrous role in the last Prodi government.
The forces that are up for a fight and real resistance cannot be faulted for lack of will or good intentions —more strikes are posted for later in December. But we have been here before, where rhetoric and gesture promise much, but deliver little, other than disappointment.
The leaders of the Italian radical left need to learn the lessons from the fact that Berlusconi was turfed out by his own class, not his victims, and this underlines the impotence of the left. They bear a major responsibility for the fact that those masses find themselves in a worsening situation; a condition that urgently cries out for precise, concrete political answers.
These must start starting from the imperative to build unity in struggle against the attack, while simultaneously posing the need for a life or death challenge to all and every aspect of bourgeois rule, crowned, above all in the demand and fight for a workers’ government.