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Italian general election: Opposition scrapes home but workers must stop the return of Berlusconi
"IF THAT clown comes back to power, it will be a disgrace and Italy won't be worth living in!" This was the response of a former teacher and mother of two young children in Rome on election night.
Exit polls on the afternoon of 10 April had given a clear 5% lead to the 'Unione' alliance - the centre-left opposition with Romano Prodi as its (non-party) leader and prospective Prime Minister.
This would have finally unseated Berlusconi - the richest man in Italy, the business tycoon and media magnate who as Prime Minister has ridden roughshod over the rights and living standards of workers, young people and immigrants for nearly five years.
But as actual results came through, victory celebrations were postponed. At three in the morning, however, on the basis of official figures, Romano Prodi finally declared "We have won!". His coalition had gained the tiniest of majorities - less than one tenth of one per cent or just 25,000 votes!
Under the new election laws, pushed through by Berlusconi's government towards the end of its life, any majority gives the winning coalition 55% of the seats in the lower house or Chamber of Deputies.
In the upper house - the Senate - which has equal powers but is elected on a regional basis, the majority was also in the balance between Berlusconi's 'House of Liberties' and Prodi's 'Unione'. Finally Prodi got a majority of the last seven seats to be allocated - those voted on by the more than two and a half million Italians living abroad (and registered to vote for the first time in history).
Italy now seems more polarised than ever on political and class lines. The turn-out of 84% was high, even by Italian standards. In 'red' Bologna it was 90%. Emilia Romagna and Tuscany went solidly for the 'left' and traditional right-wing areas like Lombardy and Veneto came out in force. Berlusconi's own party - Forza Italia - fared much worse than in the last election, but the centre left parties failed to capitalise on his unpopularity. Unless workers and young people take things into their own hands, Italy is confronted with a period of weak, unstable governments and political and economic crises.
THE PRODI alliance - with its Catholic democrats, Greens, ex-'communists' and Refoundation communists (PRC) - has failed to garner the massive potential support of the workers and young people involved in the mass demonstrations and general strikes against the Berlusconi government.
The wafer-thin majority must be blamed partly on the lack-lustre figure of Romano Prodi himself but mainly on the failure to put forward convincing policies to stop privatisations and to make the bosses pay for the crisis in their system.
Prodi has studiously avoided making promises to workers and the new generation of students and youth who feel they have been left to rot in a sea of precarious jobs, scant public welfare benefits and major threats to pension rights. They must draw conclusions about the weak showing of the centre left and prepare to follow the example of France's students and trade unions by backing up their demands with strikes and mass demonstrations.
Big business, in Italy and abroad, is bemoaning the fact that the centre-left government will not have the strength to carry through the 'reforms' they have promised - including a 5% cut in labour costs and a 'social contract' to hold back on wage rises and strikes. Standard and Poor's credit rating agency down-graded Italy almost at the very minute that polling booths closed.
Italy is the seventh largest economy in the world (fourth largest in Europe) but has been suffering the worst growth of any of the Euro countries in the last five years. Its productivity and competitivity are declining and inflation growing. It has an above-the-limits budget deficit and the third worst national debt in the world.
The nearly 300-page programme of the 'Unione', had little to offer the workers and young people of Italy in terms of any fundamental change. The left workers' party PRC, led by Fausto Bertinotti, campaigned on the anodyne slogan of 'You bet Italy can really change!' without any bold anti-capitalist policies or any mention of mobilising around a socialist alternative set of demands.
If this had been done earlier in the life of the Berlusconi government, the party could have grown into a major force. As it is, promising loyalty to the centre-left has meant a certain stagnation in support in the electorate (around 6%) and in membership. Over 40% of Prc members were in opposition to the position of Bertinotti in entering the alliance with openly capitalist parties.
A clear anti-capitalist and socialist programme for replacing the Berlusconi government would have prevented Berlusconi from maintaining power for so long and from even threatening now to come back into power after a recount.
A Prodi government, with whatever majority, should push ahead with bringing the scoundrel Berlusconi to justice - removing him from his entrenched position in the media and changing back the laws which have kept him out of prison.
PRC must go further and mobilise pressure from below. It should be calling for immediate street demonstrations to stop any return to power of Berlusconi.
This means fighting on clear anti-capitalist and socialist demands, and refusing support to anti-working class measures that a Prodi government will inevitably try to introduce.
In The Socialist 13 April 2006:
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