April 16: class against class

April 16 saw some 13 million workers take part in a one-day general strike across Italy. Not only did workers stay away from work; they also took to the streets in a mass show of opposition to the frontal assault on the working class by the Berlusconi government. Organisers claimed over two million participated in demonstrations - not just in the industrial north, where mobilisations included 350,000 in Bologna and 200,000 in Milan, but also 300,000 in Rome and 400,000 in Florence, while in the south 100,000 came out in Palermo and 30,000 in Ancona. Though Confindustria, Italy's employers' federation, and the Italian police tried to dismiss the unions' claim, closed factories, airports, offices and media pictures of a seething red sea of workers carrying banners tell their own story. The strike was called in opposition to government plans to alter article 18 of Italy's workers' statutes. As currently constituted, this empowers judges to reinstate a sacked worker who has been unjustly dismissed. Berlusconi wants to remove that right and replace it with a system of financial compensation as part of a broader package of labour market 'reforms'. However, as even most commentators from the bourgeois press acknowledge, this strike was about much more. It is set within the context of a strategic confrontation between the government and the working class. Rifondazione Comunista has responded to the need for a bold approach by calling for a raft of referendums, not just in defence of the existing workers' statute, but to extend post-World War II gains even further. A move that, with its emphasis on democracy, is to be welcomed. It could transform the struggle from one of defence to an offensive against the system. Rifondazione has also signed a 'pact of opposition' with the former 'official communist', now social-democratic Olive Tree coalition. This commits their deputies to joint work in a campaign of "parliamentary obstructionism" and to promote the idea of referendums, although stopping short of any more concrete alliance - a true united front from above. Though the Olive Tree is posing left under the pressure of the mass movement below, it also championed an openly anti-working class agenda when it formed the previous governmentl James Mallory * Lessons for left * Build the ESF movement * Vittorio Agnoletto * 'Contaminated' by the movement