‘THE forces of law and order should massacre the demonstrators without pity’ was the ruling class response from former Italian Prime Minister and president Francesco Cossiga to the revolutionary eruption of millions of students and workers that for over a month have held general strikes, mass demonstrations and occupations against the privatisation of education.
Last Friday saw over 500,000 university and high school students, teachers and lecturers from across Italy take part in a national demonstration through Rome against government spending cuts in the higher education sector.
They were joined by thousands of workers after the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) union had called for a ‘mass mobilisation’.
Sure to send shock waves that resonate throughout Europe, is the Italian students’ call for international support from students and workers abroad who will positively warm to the bold declaration from youth given to the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government: ‘we won’t pay for your crisis’.
This powerful movement of Italian workers and youth to defend state education has, however, not only rocked the Italian government but has also exposed the Italian trade union bureaucracy with its reformist outlook to be incapable of leading a fight. The CGIL, Italy’s largest trade union, could only manage to call a four-hour general strike for December 12.
Students, on the other hand, were clearly not put off by the news that three trade unions – the Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori (Cisl), The General Labour Union (UGL) & The National Autonomous School Workers’ Trade Union (SNALS) – had withdrawn from of Friday’s university strike after holding ‘talks’ with the government, which was accused by the CGIL of dividing the unions.
The day before, Roma Tre students launched a ‘counter-inauguration’ of the academic year and later in the evening held a party of the ‘wave’ at the occupied faculty of arts of Roma Tre.
On the same day, Milanese students gathered at the central railway station in order to pressure Trenitalia to allow hundreds of students to travel with reduced prices to Rome to participate in the demonstration on Friday.
After police blocked the students from entering the platform, CGIL and left-wing party Rifondazione got their fares reduced to ‘market prices’ so students could attend on Friday.
There were at least three marches of students last Friday. One started at Piazzale Aldo Moro, the main entrance of the occupied Sapienza University, which was swelled by students who arrived from outside of Rome by special trains and buses.
Another march started at Piazzale dei Partigiani, near Piramide, composed of students of Roma Tre University, while secondary school students protesting against school reforms already passed by parliament assembled at Piazza della Repubblica.
At Piazza dei Cinquecento, near Termini station, students from other Italian universities joined the demonstration. At Piazza Venezia the parades joined together and headed towards Montecitorio, the location of the Italian Parliament.
Traffic was paralysed as students marched through the streets towards Piazza Navona where they joined CGIL and Italian Labour Union (UIL) members for the main rally.
What has sparked this explosion of anger and revolt are proposals put forward by the Italian government, among them Law 133, which is an attempt by the minister of education Mariastella Gelmini to dump the country’s economic crisis onto the working class by making drastic cuts to public expenditure on schools and universities.
On October 28th the government presented the Decreto Gelmini to the Senate for the final and decisive vote, on the day the union of teachers planned yet another big demonstration. By the weekend of November 7th students had been demonstrating nationally against the measures for more than three weeks.
The so-called Gelmini decree will lead to at least 87,000 teaching jobs and 44,500 administrative posts being lost at state schools over the next three academic years to 2012.
Many smaller schools are to be closed as part of eight billion euros in cuts. Universities also face the threat of privatisation by being allowed to have ‘Foundation’ status. They will be divided into institutions of class A and class B depending on the expenditure power of the respective region.
Able to benefit from private funding as a precursor to privatisation, ‘Foundations’ will rule out the opportunity of studying in university for many low-income students.
In primary schools the number of school teachers per class will be reduced from two to one. The school working week is also being reduced from 40 to 24 hours.
The government’s reform of the public university system has yet to be finalised but guidelines outlining further attacks were presented by Gelmini on November 6. These include a reduction in teaching hours, a rationalisation of the number of degree courses offered and plans to distribute 30 per cent of public funding on a performance-related basis.
Article 66 calls for the rationalisation of staff at universities. Only one in five vacancies amongst lecturers will be filled in the next few years.
The proposals also include clear racist policies like establishing ‘bridge classes’ for the children of immigrants. This is supported by Lega Nord which previously relished the introduction of fingerprinting for the identification Roma gypsy children.
This has led students to declare that they are building an anti-racist movement and expressed solidarity with immigrants under attack.
From October 1, there have been 300 recorded demonstrations against the reforms with 150 schools and 20 university departments occupied. Students claim 60 high schools have been occupied in Naples and 120 in the region of Campania, in southern Italy alone.
On October 23, an estimated 30,000 university students took over Rome’s streets. Marching to the chant of ‘Berlusconi is a piece of shit’, students passed the train station, receiving cheers from young Kurdish immigrants.
The students then joined up with young people from the Horus social centre, which was brutally cleared out by the police a few days earlier. The students were met with a large police presence.
On October 27, some 10,000 students occupied La Sapienza University in Rome before moving away and blockading several main roads and the central railway station Roma Termini. Protests continued with students finally surrounding the Senate building in the city.
On October 29, the government passed Law 133 by 162 votes to 134. The Senate was forced to suspend the sitting twice due to the building being besieged by thousands of students demanding the withdrawal of the decree.
On the same day fascist youth attacked student demonstrations. The students and their supporters had arrived in the square after taking part in seven marches departing from various points of the city.
As the law was passed, students staged a sit-in outside the Senate’s Palazzo Madama building in Rome shouting, ‘Clowns, Clowns!’ referring to the politicians inside.
On October 30, an estimated one million teachers, university and high school students demonstrated in Rome following the ratification of the Gelmini reform. The demonstration was called by several unions led by the CGIL.
A number of students expressed their disgust at the government by throwing eggs and other objects at the ministry of education building in Trastevere. The demonstration was part of a one-day general strike by teachers.
During the day, 90 per cent of schools were closed nationally. In Milan, at least 5,000 students occupied the Milan Stock Exchange in the Piazza Affari while chanting, ‘We won’t pay for your crisis’.
In Turin, an estimated 50,000 people protested and were accompanied by the city’s theatre orchestra. In Venice, the causeway linking the lagoon city to the mainland was occupied by several thousand young people.
On November 7, demonstrations and protests were held nationally in all the main cities and towns including Rome, Torino, Bari Bologna, Cagliari, Florence, Milan, Naples, Pisa, Lecce, Padua and Turin as well as in Palermo, Sicily.
Some 1,000 students attempted to occupy the Ostiense railway station in Rome when they were attacked by riot police. One student suffered a head wound during the clashes while others were also hurt by police batons.
In Naples, students marched in the thousands chanting, ‘If they block our future, we’ll block the city’. In Pisa, students staged sit-ins on several platforms at the railway station, while on November 10, students in Florence announced that they would hold a further protest and teach-in.
Berlusconi branded the protesters as ‘violent’ and Gelmini spoke of a ‘terrorist threat, comparing the protests to the Red Brigades in the 1970s.
As the demonstrations began, Berlusconi warned, ‘I want to give a weather warning: We won’t allow schools and universities to be occupied. . . I will call the interior minister and give him detailed instructions on how to intervene with the police forces to stop these things happening.’
Following the October 30 demonstrations he added: ‘I regret that young people have been manipulated by the left. . . I see a scandalous left wing which has the ability to reverse the truth and speak the contrary.’
But his condemnation was already overshadowed by Cossiga’s comments on October 28, in an interview with the far-right newspaper Quotidiano Nazional. Cossiga is a former Christian Democrat Prime Minister and President of Italy from 1985 to 1992. He is a now a lifetime member of the Senate.
When asked whether Berlusconi had, ‘gone too far in threatening the use of State force against the students,’ he replied, ‘I’m afraid that his words will not be followed by action’.
He then advised current Home Secretary Roberto Maroni of the Lega Nord, to ‘do what I did when I was Home Secretary. Withdraw the police from the streets and the universities, infiltrate the movement with agent provocateurs ready for anything and allow the demonstrators to run loose for a week or so, devastating shops, setting cars on fire and causing havoc in the streets. . .
‘Then, with public opinion on your side, the sound of ambulance sirens should drown out the sirens of police and carabinieri cars. . . the forces of law and order should massacre the demonstrators without pity and send them all to hospital.
‘Not arrest them – the magistrates would set them free straight away in any event – beat them bloody and beat the teachers stirring them up, bloody too.’
To the question, ‘The teachers, too?’ he replied, ‘The teachers above all. Not the older ones, of course. . . the young girls. Have you any idea of the seriousness of what’s happening? There are teachers indoctrinating children and encouraging them to demonstrate—that’s criminal behaviour!’
The interviewer replied, ‘But you realise what they would say in Europe after something like you suggest? “Fascism returns to Italy”, they’d say.’
Cossiga replied, ‘Rubbish, it’s the democratic way – put out the flame before the fire spreads.’
Such comments make clear that the Italian revolution is developing apace.
A section of the International Committee of the Fourth International must be built in Italy without delay.