Are the movements weaker or stronger after the experience of the left in government? Could you comment especially on the trade union movement?
We wouldn’t be telling the truth if we blamed simply the Prodi government for the current weakness of social movements. These movements are facing a crisis all over the world, with the exception, perhaps, of Latin America. Moreover, the weakness of Prodi’s government was in part an outcome of a more general social and cultural regression. It is evident, for example, in the emergence of racism, in indifference in the face of war, in widespread everyday violence, especially towards women, in the defeat of the referendum on abortion and in the weakening of social rights including workers rights. The decline in workers rights has meant a high rate of accidents in the workplace which culminated recently in the deaths of seven employees in a fire at Thyssen Krupp.
Prior to the Prodi government, leftist social and trade union movements were growing, with positive programmes for change. But we needed some tangible results from the government for these to have a real social impact. This did not materialise. The internal political dynamics of this fractious and heterogeneous government rendered it incapable of making the most of the potential of the movements to achieve change. In particular, the divisions which constantly freeze up the left (a characteristic of the left even prior to the Prodi government) meant that no political support was offered to social struggles, including those around improving employment conditions or opposing the war.
Even the most influential confederation of trade unions, the Cgil – which had fought and won a significant battle to preserve ‘L’articolo 18’ (which protects workers against unfair dismissal) and which participated massively to the anti-war movements – was quick to back down on its commitment to social movements. Recently, it has even stopped mentioning movements in its internal debates. At its Congress earlier this year, to which Prodi was invited, the Cgil clearly gave up on maintaining its autonomy. Other movement actors followed the Cgil’s attitude: both those supporting (and at least not opposing) the government and those openly against them. The autonomy of the movements has been undermined by a mistaken instinct to judge everything according to the actions of the government. This reactive approach – whether pro or anti government – and the failure to develop an autonomous perspective on the actual issues facing society has been a very damaging, stopping everyone from analysing the real situation.
Were the movements prepared for the experience of the radical left in government? Looking back with the wisdom of hindsight, how should you/the movements have prepared better?
The first lesson to be learnt is that the autonomy of the movements is an essential principle necessary for their continued existence (the same is true for trade unions who wish to keep their connections with the movements). In no circumstances should this be compromised. A lesson here is that the movements should have put more thought into distinguishing themselves from the political left (even if radical) during the Berlusconi government. This would have put them in a stronger position vis a vis the Prodi government. The latter government would even have benefited from more powerful movements. Had the movements been stronger, the parties which dominated this coalition in parliament would not prevail.
For example, the main priority of the Prodi government was to eradicate Italy’s financial deficit, which was surely an important goal, but it became an excuse to forget other important social objectives that needed to be addressed. Stronger, more autonomous, movements would have been a counter pressure to this. The left had not prepared itself – through a careful and shared analysis – for the consequences of its participation in government. Perhaps some form of preparation drawing on those principles that made the European Social Forum in Florence – autonomy, unity and radicalism – might have been led to some successes.
What now? What lessons from the last two years need to be borne in mind in from a movement point of view, for the future of the Archebolena? At present it is dominated by political parties. What needs to be done/what conditions need to exist for it be more rooted in movements and social conflicts?
Some of the movements (which had already been weakened by years of conflict and bickering without reaching any tangible solutions) invested all of their hopes and expectations in the Prodi government. This in turn disappointed them. The government’s initial survival was more a consequence of “social peace” than (as it should have been) the result of social conflict combined with the government’s potential capacity to deliver solutions. In fact, the Government only delivered its promise to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq. It failed to deliver its other manifesto were not delivered, including withdrawal of our military presence in Afghanistan and also legislation to protect the rights of civil union. What is more, the military budget was increased and Prodi persisted in the expansion of the American military base in Vicenza. Other laws from the previous legislation, including the ‘legge 30′ on precarious employment, the Bossi-Fini law on immigration and the building of TAV all remained unchallenged, in spite of many protests and alternative proposals. (See Vittorio Longhi on the record of the Prodi government).
The Cgil, the other two trade union federations, Cisl and Uil, supported government policies on welfare without any prior consultation, that penalized the most active and socially rooted section of workers and unions. My union FIOM, the metalworkers union voted against these policies. Meanwhile the attack on the national contract on employment continues. This contract has been a fundamental means of defending workers’ interests. The employers want to bring all negotiations back to the company level, exchanging a rise in salaries with more flexibility, hence worsening employment conditions by increasing productivity at the expense of the workers’ freedom and health. The trade union federations do not seem to be resisting this call of the employers.
For these reasons, the centre-left Government that has just fallen has not been a good experience for the movements. Today, we find ourselves weakened and without a strategy. We should, however, be capable of facing up to our responsibilities. We should be able to work – and already we are starting to – reconstruct alliances and develop shared perspectives. The work of the unions – and increasing the social movements – has become, more than ever, a labour of Sisyphus – as Rosa Luxembourg once pointed out . But perhaps we can learn from this and recognise that we must restart by treasuring past experiences and take action to construct and re-construct.
The Italian paradox is that vibrant movements do exist but they are incapable of developing their own solutions, or where they do, they have unable to gain the political support to build on such solutions. It need not always be like this. It only the movements and the left parties could learn to recognise each other’s significance yet keep a mutual distance and act upon their respective ideas, we would already be taking a step forward in the right direction. However in the dynamics of politics and parties, a mimickery seems to prevail, whereby ‘differences’ never truly emerge and parties seem reluctant to distinguish themselves from one another (evidence of the political caste!).
Unless movements learn culturally to let go of government and institutional reference points, they will fail. They risk loosing their connections with society. Without these social roots they will be unable to act as necessary connecting points between society and institutions. Those trade unions who wish to maintain a relationship with the movements, because of a shared outlook, need to safeguard a strong and democratic relationship with the workers that they represent – ensuring that it is the workers who have the final say in the decision-making process. At the same time, we as trade unions must try to build widespread relationships and initiatives with all those who are trying to oppose war, racism and liberalism, in order to come up with alternatives and taking the best from each movement.
Even at the best of times this is very demanding cultural and practical endeavour. This is why it would have been very useful to have created a solid forum at the national level both before and after the Prodi government. It would have meant a real positive change in the Italian political, social, and cultural landscape. Novelties in this scene are emerging from ‘La Sinistra Arcobaleno’/ ‘Cosa Rossa’, from whom everyone expects, at least, clear objectives. An alternative determined against war, militarism, Vatican fundamentalism, environmental degradation, and instability in the workplace. The party is also expected to protect civil rights, support the interests of the working class, the unemployed, and propose more environmentally conscious policies. We shall see.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace