The General Strike in Italy

La Forge
May 2002

Thirteen million people responded to the strike appeal of the trade unions and left-wing political parties last April 16.

For weeks, reaction rattled its arms. Antonio Martino, the Defence Minister, declared that he saw in the earlier trade union demonstration of March 23 ‘an enormous danger to the free institutions of our democracy; the trade unions have overstepped their role to the point of threatening the constitutional order, preventing the legally elected executive from governing the country…. Sooner or later, it will be necessary for us to reestablish constitutional legality.’ After the assassination on March 19 of the economist Marco Biagi, adviser to the government on social matters, Umberto Bossi, the fascistic leader of the Northern League, went even further. He said: ‘I do not think that the terrorists could have been foreigners; rather on the contrary, they are the offspring of an exasperated trade union protest which spread a heap of lies in the factories, in newspapers and on television.’

Berlusconi had minimized the appeal for the general strike, denying ‘veto rights’ to the unions and claiming himself to be for Europe and the slogans of the recent European summit in Barcelona, to defend the correctness of his policies. Beforehand, he had called together all the leaders of his coalition in order to weld together the ranks of his majority. The theme of immigration was as usual very useful for them. Berlusconi also assured the congress of the National Alliance, regarding the immigrants without documentation, that ‘20% of the crimes committed in Italy are committed by them, they are an easy prey for the criminal organizations.’ The underground immigrants are the targets of the Bossi-Fini law submitted to Parliament.

It was in response to this reactionary offensive that 3.5 million people went into the streets: all together, Italian and foreign workers, together with the anti-globalization organizations and students, as well as retirees, demonstrated on April 16 against the programme of the Berlusconi government, the same programme that the previous centre-left government tried to impose little by little. Its policies are as follows:

1. Flexibilization and instability of work relations to the benefit of the bosses, elimination of article 18 (see La Forge 418) of the labour code, which ‘liberalized’ layoffs (legalization of layoffs by the boss without any cause), as well as the elimination of layoff bonuses.

2. Attacks on pensions and retirees, elimination of the gains won regarding health, social and school assistance, through privatization of schools, hospitals and other social institutions. This would mean the creation of first-class school and health facilities for the rich, and second-class ones for everyone else, as well as subsidies by the State for religious schools.

3. Well-planned attack on civil servants, privatization and instability of work relations, the ending of promotions, the non-renewal of work contracts, etc.

4. Attack on the political liberties of the workers and the masses of people: new special laws regarding the ‘struggle against terrorism,’ for ‘public order,’ for ‘justice.’ This would free the police forces, the secret services, as well as the various legal and illegal gangs from any legal restriction (remember the ‘Genoa days’ [the anti-globalization protests in Genoa in July, 2001 – translator’s note]. It would introduce the right to kill, commit aggression and provocation under cover of law (the Frattini Reform of the secret services, giving Italian spies unprecedented powers, in the higher interest of National Security, of course). It would provide new racist laws against immigrants for their greater exploitation by the bosses, the persecution and criminalization of the immigrant workers and popular masses (the use of the army)…

5. Active participation, in the defence of the interests of the Italian and foreign monopolies, in the policies of imperialist aggression against the popular masses of the colonies. The Berlusconi government, in violation of the Constitution, has also placed the Italian army at the service of the U.S. imperialists in the ‘coalition’ against terrorism.

The list is not complete, and every one of the Italian and immigrant workers and popular masses found enough reason to come out in the streets this April 16 under the slogan of the national strike.

New segregationist legislation

The term ‘segregationist’ expresses well the spirit of the Bossi-Fini law, founded on legal apartheid and destined to produce the effects of terror that push the immigrants into an underground existence.

The new law, promulgated by the Council of Ministers last October 12, will soon be discussed in the Parliament and the Senate.

The country is running the risk of a sharp rupture not only with the constitutional guarantees but with civil society and the contractual power in the sphere of social and labour rights.

The law indicates the subordination of the right of free movement of people to the needs of the market. It introduces the so-called ‘contract of residence between employer and worker,’ which means that the right to reside in Italy does not exist apart from a work relation.

The Bossi-Fini law also gives an enormous power to the employers, who hold in their hands the destiny of the immigrant workers who are at their mercy. If they are laid-off and if they do not find a new job in the next six months, they lose their residency permit, even if they have lived in Italy for many years.

The duration of work permits has been fixed for one year. After two years of seasonal work, the immigrants have the chance to obtain a three-year permit for seasonal work (the visa would be issued every year).

The new law treats underground immigration as a criminal offence. The immigrant who is arrested the first time without a residency permit is expelled, and is immediately sent back across the border. If the immigrant returns before the term of his ban, he is arrested and punished by imprisonment for 6 months to one year, with immediate expulsion at the end of his sentence. If he again violates the ban, the law calls for imprisonment of 1 to 4 years, with an immediate decision.

The most serious aspect of this new law concerns the political refugees, those who request the right to asylum in Italy. People who flee their country because of the risk of death or imprisonment find themselves in a Detention Centre upon their arrival in Italy. 

This law conceals the real desire of the government, which is to strongly limit the right of asylum.

To conclude, this law puts in danger all positive experiments put into effect these last few years by numerous local institutions and benevolent organizations and replaces them with Detention Centres (even for asylum seekers) to the detriment of welcome and social integration services.

Source: Observation of the state of democracy in Italy (

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