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Norah Carlin

Mass Strikes and Marches Hit Italy

(14 December 1968)

From Socialist Worker, No. 101, 14 December 1968, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

EVEN THE BRITISH press, for which Italy is normally a land of comic opera and holidays, has been forced to turn its attention to events there in the last two weeks.

A nationwide wave of strikes and mass demonstrations followed the shooting of two agricultural labourers, striking for higher wages, at Avola in Sicily on Monday, December 2.

Is Italy on the verge of a crisis like the one which shook France in May and June?

The events are not isolated or sudden. In the last year Italy has had a wave of strikes and demonstrations with roots in both working-class and student discontent.

The national economy is prospering, with a high export growth rate and a favourable balance of trade, which builds up currency reserves and benefits speculators and financiers.


But wages have been firmly held down to enable this to take place, the social services are in a state of neglect, corruption and inefficiency in government are as widespread as ever, and the still-promised educational reforms have failed to materialise.

One-day general strikes, as on November 14, have been called by the three trade union federations (Communist, Catholic and social-democrat) against the inadequacy of the social services, particularly the miserable pension schemes.

More significantly, strikes in particular industries and factories throughout the country have been becoming more militant, such as the northern textile workers’ strike which occupied a factory last summer, or the link-up between Pirelli tyre workers in Milan and Turin who have cut productivity to a third in support of their wage claim.


The strikers have also been becoming more violent. Avola was the second occasion in a week that the Sicilian police clashed with demonstrating workers. At Palermo on November 26 they broke up 400 metalworkers striking for higher pay.

The armed police (carabinieri) have also been used freely against the student movement, which has grown in size and militancy since the occupation of Turin university a year ago and the wide spread demonstrations before and during the crisis in France.

Increasingly disillusioned with the parliamentary politics of the Socialist and Communist parties, the students have as yet no clear Left-wing leadership. There are many Maoist and anarchist groups, and a hippy tendency of recent growth – enough for the Communist Party to dissociate itself firmly from ‘student extremism’.

The most important recent development is the attraction of high school pupils into the movement. Their city-wide strike in Rome on December 3 followed the surrounding of an occupied school by armed police on November 19, and only incidentally coincided with the protests over the deaths at Avola.

Last week’s protests were, however, an important step forward. They united, for the first time, students and workers in demonstrations all over the country.

The biggest was in Rome, where 50,000 students and workers took part in the second demonstration, on Thursday and the university was occupied.

There were similar protests in most big cities. The unions’ tactic of calling only a few hours’ general strike outside Rome was defied by workers in Pavia.

In Milan and Bologna students and workers marched together, while in Genoa the police used teargas against demonstrators said to have been mainly students. The wealthy audience at a premiere at La Scala, the Milan opera house, was pelted with fruit and ink.


Parliamentary politics have reached a high point of farce and irrelevance. The centre-left coalition of Socialists, Christian Democrats and Republicans is back in office.

Months of argument between the veteran right-wing Nenni (who never wanted to leave the government) and the other four factions of the Socialist Party culminated in a fist-fight at the close of the party congress in October.

The Christian Democrats, also split several ways, refused to carry on with a minority government. So the coalition has been re-formed and the promises begin all over again.

The Communist Party, which holds 27 per cent of the seats in the Chamber and 30 per cent in the Senate, cannot win power by negotiation in a country where the Vatican does not hesitate to intervene to keep it out.

The party is nevertheless devoted to its parliamentary perspective, and even now appears co be reluctant to use its large working-class support in any form of direct action apart from one-day or half-day strikes.


There are other discontents and frustrations in Italian society. The Church has provoked protest demonstrations not only over birth control, but also its immense wealth, the Vatican’s refusal to pay investment tax, and its interference in national and local politics.

Disastrous floods have again caused death and unemployment in northern Italy this autumn – while two-thirds of the money allotted to flood prevention measures remains in the Treasury.

Italy is in crisis, but it is a long-term crisis. It seems unlikely that events will follow the course they took in May.

There is no single political focus for protest, such as de Gaulle provided in France, in fact, last week there was no actual government to protest against.

The Communist Party, itself divided, is unwilling to play even the role that its sister party played at the start of the general strike in France – perhaps by the very force of the French example, which struck fear into the hearts of party bureaucrats hoping for a peaceful access to power.

The Left is weak and disunited. Students and workers have come together in action (it is interesting to note that the ‘detonator’ in this case was a workers’ and not a students’ clash with police), and this may be a valuable beginning, but where it will lead to remains to be seen.

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