Combative Immigrant Workers Against Repression
Piacenza, Italy: April 13 emergency rally of the S.I. Cobas confronts the police.
Mobilize the Entire Working Class to Defeat All-Sided Attack
No to Dead End of Reformism – Forge a
Revolutionary Workers Party!
APRIL 26 – In this second year of the coronavirus pandemic, Italy is still mired in an unending horror show of this modern plague. Over 119,000 have died of the COVID-19 in the country out of over 3 million worldwide. Moreover, the number of deaths in the second wave from November 2020 on (70,520) is more than double the number in the first wave, from March to May 2020 (33,441), when Italy was the epicenter of the disease worldwide. Hundreds are still dying every day as mass vaccination is delayed. Since those infected with COVID are up to 40% of all patients, and even more in some regions, little preventative care is done. People in dire need of medical attention, including many with tumors, often must wait months to be treated, if they are treated at all. Hospitals are paralyzed, providing little care for other pathologies, while patients are forced to try to turn to private clinics for operations and other essential treatment.
In this ongoing emergency, the Italian bourgeoisie dumped the weak and unstable coalition government of the Democratic Party (PD) and the erratic Cinque Stelle (5S, or Five Stars). When the tiny Italia Viva party of the ex-PD former prime minister Matteo Renzi sparked another parliamentary crisis in mid-January, there followed the usual ritualistic parade of parliamentary parties to consult with President Sergio Mattarella. But rather than another “center-left” or “center-right” coalition, Mattarella handpicked Mario Draghi, the former president of the European bank. The rulers’ hope was to stave off economic disaster and “social unrest” by obtaining loans and subsidies from the Recovery Fund of the European Union (EU). Suddenly, after all their endless squabbling, all the parliamentary parties, from the PD and 5S to the fascistic Lega of Matteo Salvini, the LEU1 and others – with the sole exception of the fascist Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) – rushed to pledge support and lavish praise on the newly enthroned savior of Italy.
The EU and most of the Italian bourgeoisie wanted a reliable supporter of the EU, with international authority, who could obtain and use the Recovery Fund to supposedly “modernize” Italian capitalism and “get it back on its feet.” They believe (or hope) that Draghi will soon be able to start slashing the exploding national debt (now close to 160% of gross domestic product) by enforcing austerity, much like the previous government of “national unity” led by Mario Monti, another Eurocrat, brutally carried out in 2011-13. Draghi certainly has solid credentials as a “wizard” of high finance. He headed the European Bank from 2011-19, presiding over the EU-sponsored ravaging of the Greek economy with savage austerity. Before that he was governor of the Bank of Italy and a leader of the Wall Street Goldman Sachs investment bank.
The first months of the Draghi government have been filled with the rhetoric of how “all Italians are in this together” and must unite and work together to pull out of the present health crisis, after which everything will supposedly be so much better. Contrary to this nationalist nonsense, the first shots of the Draghi government have been to increase repression against the workers movement. In particular, it has taken aim at the S.I. Cobas “rank-and-file” union of mainly immigrant workers in Piacenza, Prato and elsewhere, in a seemingly orchestrated campaign of preparations for all-out class war.
Prato, April 24: more than 2,000 people filled the square in support of the strike by the Texprint workers.
Draghi also declared that so called “zombie firms” – those that are not considered competitive – should not receive subsidies, or continue to exist. One of the larger “zombies” is Alitalia (the former national airline), which could fire up to 8,000 employees. Most of the much-publicized subsidies from the Recovery Fund and taxes are to be given to enterprises and to shore up the banking system. Subsidies for the millions who are truly in need are only a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed, and are not available to part-time and short-contract precarious workers who lost their jobs. The very partial ban on layoffs will end in June or soon after, and will quickly lead to massive job losses, as many businesses are deep in debt and cutting back or closing. Reportedly, even the “Quota 100” pensions – which allow retirement at age 62 with at least 38 years of full contributions to the INPS (Social Security), and for which it is almost impossible to qualify – will be terminated.
Draghi’s first foreign state visit was to Libya in early April, soon followed by visits by top ministers Luigi Di Maio and Luciana Lamorgese. While Draghi spoke of “reconstructing the longstanding friendship and closeness of the two countries,” the actual history is of atrocious crimes by Italian imperialism in its brutal colonization of Libya. On his visit, Draghi sought construction contracts, to safeguard the interests of Enel (Italy’s state energy company) and to continue financing the Libyan regime to stop immigration to Italy. Italy and the EU have given hundreds of millions of euros to Libya to block immigration, building nightmarish concentration camps. Meanwhile, the military budget in Italy has grown by over 6% this year. Repression abroad in the service of Italian imperialism goes hand in hand with increased repression of the workers movement in Italy.
Health Care Disaster
The stage was set for the health care disaster as 37 billion euros were cut from health care budgets over the past decade, 70,000 hospital beds eliminated, 359 hospital departments eliminated and more than 200 hospitals closed (see “ Coronavirus Pandemic Ravages Italy, Overwhelms Capitalist Medical System” in The Internationalist No. 59, March-April 2020). The worsening health care crisis has hit the south especially hard, which is now in dire need of medical personnel and structures. The fact is that Italy did not have an emergency plan for the pandemic at all. Family doctors were left alone with no instructions or protective equipment, while patients were only identified after they had symptoms and sent to hospital emergency rooms. Government measures to limit the pandemic have failed miserably.
While the first wave of the pandemic in the spring peaked and then fell sharply, the second wave in late autumn reached a high plateau by late November and has stayed high. The capitalist rulers, avidly seeking to safeguard their profits, never wanted to close down industry. Workers continue to travel in packed public transportation and have had to fight for the most minimal sanitary conditions at work. Now the rollout of the vaccines has been painfully, criminally slow. Barely 20% of the Italian population has received even a first dose of vaccine for COVID-19, compared to 41% in the U.S., 50% in Britain and 51% in tiny San Marino. Why? Because EU vaccination efforts have been run by Eurobankers who have haggled over price while the U.S. and U.K. funneled billions in government funds to Big Pharma drug companies, and got the vaccines. So naturally the Italian bourgeoisie picks a Eurobanker as its prime minister!
Impoverishment amid the coronavirus pandemic: food distribution in Milan in January 2021.
The pandemic has greatly worsened what was already a staggering economy. There are 945,000 fewer jobs than a year ago (Istat, February 2021) and hundreds of thousands of small businesses have already closed or are at serious risk of closing, leaving employees jobless. The lines at Caritas (the Catholic relief agency) to obtain food are now much longer, and many who previously had precarious jobs now have nothing. The large number of unemployed who lacked a regular contract are ineligible for any government subsidies. Meanwhile, limits on the opening of shops, hotels, restaurants, public events and public services have been marked by a confusing array of yellow, orange and red zones with ever- changing rules that continually force these businesses to open and close. Facing economic disaster and massive bankruptcy, enraged petty bourgeois have taken to the streets in protest, often together with fascistic and outright fascist forces.
Instead of mobilizing vast resources with central planning and a socialized economy to ensure medical treatment, income and supplies of food and basic necessities for all, as China did, effectively containing the deadly virus soon after the initial outbreak, Italy and the other capitalist-imperialist countries, lacking adequate hospital capacity, sent symptomatic patients home to infect others. Since then, on-again, off-again containment measures have been ineffective, while vaccine development has been controlled by the pharmaceutical monopolies. Meanwhile, in the COVID-induced economic crisis, the rich have gotten richer while the working class and oppressed have become poorer. In a document, Power, Profits and the Pandemic (September 2020), Oxfam writes that 32 multinational made US$109 billion in extra profits in 2020, but 88% will go to pay the shareholders, while 400 million jobs have been lost and 430 million businesses are at risk of closing.
Women have been hit the hardest in the economic crisis. With the closing of schools and childcare facilities due to COVID, working women have nowhere to place their children. Three-quarters of job losses in 2020 were of women, according to Istat. As an immigrant working mother at a S.I. Cobas meeting exclaimed: “This country has no future, it can’t even provide for the children.” Today, less than half of working-age women have a job and those that do are more concentrated in lower paying, part-time and, especially now, dangerous work. Although rates of infection are higher among men, women are much more exposed to contagion with jobs caring for the sick, the elderly and those in need of assistance. And then there is the impact on women’s lives of the increased family workload. It is even more urgent to call for free, 24 hour child care.
The Nucleo Internazionalista also calls for free abortion on demand in safe, high quality medical facilities. Together with the dismantling of local women’s health services, there has been pervasive anti-abortion propaganda from reactionary forces, including Fratelli d’Italia, the Lega and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which in Piedmont, Veneto, Marche, Umbria, Abruzzo and Friuli have been sabotaging Law 194 that legalized abortion, imposing “conscientious objection” restrictions and closing down counseling centers. Overall, the pandemic is being used to try to reinforce traditional roles assigned to women by the bourgeoisie, including responsibility for care of children, the elderly and disabled. Women are consigned to the capitalist trinity of “casa, cucina e chiesa” (home, kitchen and church), while the strain on family income has also led to a rise in domestic violence.
Class Battles in the Logistics Industry
Prato, April 24: Texprint workers are striking to win a 40-hour workweek (“8 hours for 5 days”).
Driven to fight back by brutal work conditions, some of the most deeply exploited sectors of the working class have undertaken trade-union and solidarity actions, centered on logistics, Amazon workers and “riders” (food home delivery workers). In logistics, the norm is miserably low wages, 12-hour work shifts (often seven days a week), no sick pay, no overtime pay, no food service, dangerous work conditions, heavy labor at a breakneck pace often resulting in injury such as hernias, and precarious work with no job stability, combined with out-sourcing to contractors and subcontractors.
The S.I. Cobas union, which has been in the forefront of many of these battles, is centered in logistics and has won some significant gains in some workplaces over the last decade. In January, FedEx-TNT announced 6,500 layoffs across Europe, 850 of them in Italy, including the entire hub of Piacenza. FedEx-TNT chose to shut down the Piacenza hub because of the presence of S.I. Cobas with higher pay and better working conditions gained in past struggles. After a 13-day strike of the 300 workers, an agreement was signed on February 8 to keep the hub open.
But the agreement was violated by FedEx-TNT in March as it began a lockout and prepared to use other sites to move goods. This sparked a strike with picket lines of the Piacenza workers that is still continuing, along with solidarity strikes all over Italy, often causing long lines of trucks outside warehouses and effectively disrupting the entire network of movement of goods. The picket lines of solidarity strikes of FedEx-TNT, SDA and other logistics and courier workers at Peschiera Borromeo (Milan), Crespellano (Bologna), Rome, Parma, Orbassano (Turin), Teverola (Naples), Fiano Romano and other places have been repeatedly attacked by the police.
Meanwhile, workers at the Texprint textile plant in Prato, who were fired for fighting to unionize, have been on strike since January 18 and established a permanent 24-hour presence at the front entrance in February. Their main demand is for an “8 x 5” (40-hour) workweek instead of the present “7 x 12” (84 hour) week.
On International Women’s Day, March 8, there was a rally of 1,500 workers and supporters in front of an Amazon facility. Two weeks later, on March 22, there was a 24-hour national strike of the 40,000 Amazon workers in Italy that effectively shut down the company. This strike included transport workers who supply and deliver from Amazon facilities. The strike was called by the CGIL union federation, which undoubtedly felt rising pressure from the ranks and feared losing control. Any effort to unionize this viciously anti-union international distribution giant, whose enormous and increasing profits are based on brutal working conditions, is considered a serious threat by the bosses.
On March 9, police viciously attacked striking workers in front of the gates of Texprint in Prato, leaving two on the ground requiring emergency care and injuring many others. Then on March 10, two days after the initial unionization rally at Amazon, police and judicial repression against S.I. Cobas and entire workers movement escalated. In Piacenza, police arrested S.I. Cobas coordinators Carlo and Arafat, searched the homes of 21 FedEx-TNT workers, seized their computers and levied fines, as well as initiating the procedure to revoke six fogli di soggiorno (residency permits) of immigrant workers. We demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants and call for workers actions against deportations.
On March 26, the S.I. Cobas called a 24-hour general strike that effectively closed down logistics. The eager participation of the “riders” (home food delivery workers), local transport and port workers in Genoa, Naples and elsewhere, along with others, shows the potential to mobilize larger sections of the working class, including, significantly, broader participation of Italian non-immigrant workers. There were also demonstrations of students, youth and others in support of the strike. S.I. Cobas then called an emergency rally in Piacenza on April 13, in defense of all comrades against the repression. The speeches and mood of the 3,000 participants at the rally were defiant and determined. Slogans included “We are all Arafat, we are all Carlo,” “an attack on one is an attack on all” and “repression won’t stop the struggle.”
The police presence has been beefed up at picket lines and elsewhere, sometimes massively, with cops in full riot gear. While Carlo and Arafat have been released, there are now multiple judicial proceedings against hundreds of comrades. There are legal proceedings against 300 S.I. Cobas workers in Modena for various strikes. Similar legal action is pending against workers in Genoa and Tortona. The provincial S.I. Cobas coordinator in Bologna, Simone Carpeggiani, was sentenced to nine months in prison because of a picket line in 2014. In addition, police sequestered the homes and are threatening judicial action against Genoa port workers of the CALP (Collettivo Autonomo Lavoratori Portuali), because of their successful boycot of military weapons to Saudi Arabia in its dirty war against Yemen in May 2019 (see The Internationalist No. 56, May-June 2019). The list of acts of judicial repression goes on.
Trade-union activity is not a crime. It is the elemental duty of all class-conscious workers and supporters of the cause of the working class and oppressed to fight to mobilize protests, strikes and other actions in defense of all those under attack by the bourgeois state. The Draghi government and the bosses are going after the S.I. Cobas in particular, and others in the workers movement who are in the forefront of the struggle for trade-union rights and the rights of all. The fight to defend them is urgently necessary: as the S.I. Cobas workers in Piacenza chanted, an attack on one is an attack on all. We demand: drop all charges against our class brothers and sisters at FedEx-TNT in Piacenza, at Texprint in Prato, in Modena and elsewhere.
On the evening of April 22, some 50 thugs paid by FedEx-TNT tried to intimidate the picket line outside of the TNT San Giuliano (Milan) terminal. The picketers successfully faced them down. This is not the first time that these company thugs have been used. They are sent by SKP, the same company that supplies anti-pirate services for the state on commercial ships traveling in the waters off the Horn of Africa. They are trained and chosen selectively and include ultras of the Inter soccer team who are pro-Nazi and close to the Ndrangheta (Calabrian mafia). Some are white supremacist Hammerskins, and their leader was in charge of Berlusconi’s personal body guards. These thugs are given free rein and work in coordination with the police. We call for workers defense guards for defense against right-wing and company goons and the police.
Not a Reformist “Anti-Capitalist” Bloc, But a Leninist-Trotskyist Workers Party
Piacenza, Marzo 8: a demonstration of 1,500 people in front of the Amazon facility of Castel San Giovanni, protesting against repression and in defense of the rights of women on International Women’s Day.
The response of much of the ostensibly socialist left has been to form an Action Pact, the Patto d’Azione, with political supporters of the S.I. Cobas trade union. The Pact describes itself as “Hundreds of People, Dozens of Organizations, One Program of Struggle). It talks of creating a “united class front.” In reality, the Action Pact is not a united front, which is a temporary convergence for specific actions under the watchword “march separately, strike together,” but rather an ongoing political coalition of heterogeneous forces based on a reformist 15-point political program.
What is striking about this program is that it consists overwhelmingly of appeals for the capitalist government to take action, rather than for workers themselves to enforce their demands. In L’internazionalista N. 5, we printed the call for workers action in the COVID-19 crisis issued by our comrades of Class Struggle Workers – Portland in the U.S. This included the provision that “A mass, militant workers movement with a class-struggle leadership would establish workers commissions at workplaces to decide appropriate measures, including shutting down where necessary, with no loss in pay, or continuing production with needed safeguards.” The 15-point Action Pact instead calls only for “committees of workers to monitor compliance with the [safety] protocols” established by the government.
And while the Action Pact calls for “complete reorganization of the single public health service, universal, free, with a widespread territorial network, with the focus on the prevention of diseases and the protection of health in the workplace,” a supportable demand, this still leaves the public health system in the hands of the government responsible for the disastrous COVID pandemic response. In contrast, our comrades of the Lega Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil called, in the program of their Workers Power Candidacy in November 2020 elections in the steel city of Volta Redonda, not only to “end the privatization of health care” but also for the “immediate expansion of the public health system to provide high-quality hospital care to all the sick, under workers control and led by medical professionals.”
Point 3 of the 15-point program calls for a “millionaires tax” and a “10% tax on the wealth of the richest 10% of the population whose proceeds would go to wages and social expenditures.” This and other “tax the rich” schemes are hardly radical, much less “anti-capitalist” demands. Various European capitalist countries have “wealth taxes,” including Luxemburg and Switzerland, and to a much smaller degree France and Germany. But the idea that one could return to the “social state” capitalism of yesteryear, that the bourgeoisie would meekly go along with laws to extract substantially more from their fortunes and profits in order to pay for useful social programs, is a reformist illusion. The current “neoliberal” policies are a reflection of the bankruptcy of decaying capitalism.
Some supporters of the Action Pact justify this demand by saying that the call for “a heavy or graduated income tax” is raised in the 1848 Communist Manifesto. But that is hardly incompatible with capitalism. In Italy, graduated income taxes go back to 1877, were reaffirmed in the 1947 Constitution, and implemented by Christian Democratic governments in 1958 and 1973, with top rates of 59%, since reduced to 43% in the upper brackets. In the United States under the Republican Eisenhower government in the 1950s, the marginal tax rate on the super-rich (annual family incomes above $3.4 million in 2015 dollars) was 91%. Eisenhower was hardly a socialist. We are certainly not against raising taxes on the rich, but it is not the task of the communists to tell the imperialists how to finance their state: our fight is to defend the interests of the workers and oppressed, and to expropriate the bourgeoisie.
Point 9 of the program calls for a “drastic cut in military expenditures (an F35 [fighter jet] costs as much as 7,113 lung ventilators).” This and similar calls for “money for jobs/schools/hospitals, not for war” are an updated version of age-old populist calls for “butter vs. guns.” What’s at stake is not a matter of budget priorities. The idea that the bourgeoisie would slash its military spending, which it considers absolutely essential for its class rule and imperialist interests, in order to pay for social programs for the same working class that it brutally exploits and represses, is another typically social-democratic reformist illusion. The communist attitude towards the bourgeois military was well stated by the German revolutionary Karl Liebknecht during the inter-imperialist slaughter of World War I, “Not one man not one cent for the bourgeois army”.
What genuine communists must say to the masses in the harrowing coronavirus crisis is the basic truth that the working class must establish its revolutionary class rule, seizing and collectivizing the means of production and organizing production to satisfy human need, not the profits of the few. The program of the Action Pact does not call for establishing workers power – it is nothing more than a wish list of reforms.
Moreover, almost all, if not all, of the components of the Action Pact claim that China is capitalist or even imperialist, refuse to defend it against imperialism and counterrevolution, and generally parrot imperialist anti-Chinese propaganda to one extent or another. They do not and cannot explain why China with a population of 1.5 billion people has had less than 4,800 deaths from the coronavirus, while the pandemic continues to rage out of control throughout the capitalist world. China, with its socialized planned economy, even if bureaucratically deformed, effectively contained the virus by mobilizing tens of thousands for mass testing, instituting strict quarantine with isolation and treatment for all infected persons, delivered them food and built two hospitals within two weeks. China and Cuba also sent medical personnel and equipment to Italy and other countries to help them fight the virus. The coronavirus crisis proves it: capitalism kills. We need to fight for revolution.
This fight requires above all the forging of a revolutionary workers party. That party of proletarian revolutionaries, like the one the Russian Bolsheviks built, must be based on a solid Leninist-Trotskyist program of international socialist revolution. We of the Nucleo Internazionalista d’Italia, section of the League for the Fourth International, are dedicated to the forging of this party. ■
- 1. Free and Equal, a bourgeois parliamentary bloc of former members of the PD.