Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Pacta sunt servanda. This is a Latin expression that means ‘agreements must be kept’ and it has been used repeatedly in recent months by many Italians to remind Prime Minister Romano Prodi that his government has not honoured its electoral promises. To win the last election, Prodi’s centre-left coalition, l’Unione, offered a long list of proposals, most of which it has not carried out. During nearly two years in government, Prodi seemed keener on balancing Italy’s financial budget, following rules on competitiveness dictated by the EU and the world market. For low-income families there have been handouts rather than serious reforms of the labour and welfare systems which could have redistributed wealth.
During the five years of Berlusconi’s Casa delle Liberta coalition government, the centre left promised that once in power it would rewrite the labour laws and abolish the so-called Law 30, introduced by Berlusconi. According to the ILO, the UN’s labour agency, ‘under the pretext of modernising the labour market, [Law 30] caused a serious situation of insecurity in employment.’ According to official statistics, casual and fixed-term contracts are the main means for Italian young workers to enter the labour market today, but it is increasingly rare for these to turn into permanent contracts. Labour market distortions are becoming increasingly pronounced, especially in the south of the country, which is experiencing an alarming fall in the employment rate. The Prodi government’s new Labour and Welfare Act left Law 30 almost untouched, protecting a range of benefits to companies. The Minister of Labour, Cesare Damiano (Democratic Party), a former trade unionist, said that this was the first part of a wider reform and workers would benefit more in a ‘second phase’. Even the leftist trade union, the CGIL, backed the act and the government’s two-phases policy, winning support for it through a referendum among workers. This appeared democratic, but actually the referendum left workers with a choice between supporting the measure or making the government fall.
Public services and common resources
Many of Italy’s social movements were also disappointed at how Prodi dealt with common assets, starting with water. L’Unione’s programme stated that all water services and networks would be nationalised or brought back into public hands, meaning regional and municipal governments. This choice would have reversed the process of local privatisation and liberalisation started in the early 1990s, even by centre-left administrations. L’Unione’s commitment was a response to a national petition signed by 406,000 people. And yet, once in power, l’Unione has done nothing except privatise and liberalise all other local public services. ‘How can you still talk about respect for democracy and support for citizen participation?,’ asked the economist and public-water campaigner Riccardo Petrella in an open letter.
Militarism and international policy
‘I had hoped that under your government our country would have been pulled out of war, any war, as the Constitution foresees. Therefore I did not expect your decision to stay in Afghanistan, nor your policy aimed at involving Italy in the world military-industrial system,’ says Father Alex Zanotelli, a missionary in Africa for the Combonians (Verona Fathers in the UK) and the founder of Italian movements against the war. He too wrote an open letter to Prodi, who had promised the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and said he wanted Italy out of any war. Zanotelli expressed his disappointment at the pro-war policy which in 2007 led to an increase in the defence budget of 12 per cent above Berlusconi’s 2006 budget, to the enlargement of US military bases in Vicenza and Nato bases in Sicily and Naples, and to an agreement to join the US administration’s anti-missile programme together with Poland, thus further dividing EU and provoking Russia. Father Zanotelli also notes that Italy’s international solidarity payments are amongst the most paltry of OECD country. The government could not even find 280 million euro that it had promised during the last G8 meeting for the Global Fund against HIV.
The Minister of Social Solidarity, Paolo Ferrero (Rifondazione Comunista), tried to rewrite the former, centre-right immigration law, against a tide of anti-migrant hostility. L’Unione’s programme was based on the principles of ‘welcoming, living together, protection’ and was against any criminalisation and demagogy. But the new bill does little to improve the situation for migrant workers, as a residence permit is still linked to a work contract in the highly casualised labour market. The migrant quota system still regulates the immigration flow – there were 655,000 requests for 170,000 permits in 2007 – but it cannot halt illegal immigration with its concomitant exploitation of immigrants. A new law was introduced to bring Italy in line with the EU Directive on refugees and the 1951 Geneva Convention. According to UNHCR spokesperson Laura Boldrini, ‘the bill will facilitate asylum request procedures and will help refugees that flee from wars and persecutions to have better protection’ by providing asylum seekers with renewable residence permits. Last year, nearly 20,000 people reached Italian coasts from Northern Africa and about 500 died while crossing the Mediterranean. Over 30 per cent of them were asylum seekers but just half of them obtained the refugee status.
Vittorio Longhi is an Italian labour and political journalist. He writes for the Italian leftist daily il manifesto and for the CGIL trade union’s weekly Rassegna Sindacale.
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook