[By Sarah Wrack, Brighton Wednesday branch]
Photographs: Outside the Sapienzia University and marching through the streets of Rome by Sarah Wrack
“Noi la crisi non la paghiamo” (We won’t pay for your crisis) chanted hundreds of thousands of Italian students attending a mass demonstration in Rome on Friday against €1.5 billion cuts in the education sector. This will include 140,000 job cuts, amounting to 20 per cent of the education workforce facing unemployment. Students travelled from all over Italy to show their anger at the Berlusconi government. Lotta, the CWI group in Italy, with the help of comrades from England, Ireland and Germany, distributed material calling for a general strike of all sectors in response to the attacks - a demand the students themselves have been pushing on the trade unions.
In the two days following the demonstration there was a national assembly held at Sapienza, the biggest university in Rome, which has been occupied by students for over a month. The walls of the hallways of Sapienza are lined with cuttings of the press coverage received by the occupation and photos of previous protests. Students sleep in lecture halls and say they won’t leave until the movement is successful. Speakers at the assembly pointed out the need to unite the student movement with the trade unions and with demands for more than just preventing the current reforms being enacted. They raised demands for a student wage, a national minimum wage, decent affordable housing and transport and an end to the privatisation of utilities. Several speakers highlighted the social inequality existing in Italy, most notably between the north and south of the county, and the complete lack of a welfare state to address this.
150 papers were sold over the weekend and 60 people asked for more information about Lotta. Students were impressed by the fact that the CWI is active in over 40 countries, linking up similar struggles from around the world. This was echoed by the enthusiastic reception for a member of Sozialistische Alternative who spoke at Saturday’s assembly about organising 100,000 German students who went on strike last Wednesday. Many spoke of their surprise that the same problems were being faced across Europe and agreed that real progress can only be made through a mass political movement, linking the struggles of students to those of workers and to the need for a change in the way society is run.
Despite the positive achievements of the movement so far, the need for political and organisational leadership became more and more evident as events unfolded. There was confusion about when and where Friday’s demo was starting and finishing which led to it breaking up early and the final rally being cancelled. The students had also decided to march separately from the trade union demonstration on the same issues, resulting in the two groups marching past each other in opposite directions at one point. At the assembly, the proposition to elect representatives from each region to a steering committee was fiercely opposed by the anarchist elements of the movement leading to a severe threat of a split of the assembly.
The mass participation in the movement represents the militant mood of students, workers and young people across Italy, Europe and the world which will only strengthen as further attacks on living standards are launched in an attempt to make the working class bear the burden of the economic crisis. There is a need for political organisations capable of representing ordinary people and leading the fight back. In Italy, the left party Rifondazione Comunista lost all legitimacy when it allowed the Prodi government to carry out a series of cuts. Therefore, there is the need for this movement to produce a new mass party of the working class to fill this vacuum.