As of May 19, Italy is reporting 225,886 coronavirus infections and 32,007 Covid-19 deaths, suffering a per capita mortality rate twice that of the United States. The Italian government, led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, has announced it will reopen the economy and the border, “We’re facing a calculated risk in the knowledge that the contagion curve may rise again,” Conte said. “We have to accept it otherwise we will never be able to start up again.” Conte leads a bizarre left/right government in which he acts as a technocratic administrator with weak popular support and little backing among European Union states. In recent years, the far right has grown dangerously, placing second in the 2018 general elections and landing its leader Matteo Salvini the post of Deputy Prime Minister in 2018 and 2019 on a wave of anti-immigrant racism.
What will the government’s push to enter “phase 2” and the loosening of social distancing bring? Here, veteran Italian socialist Franco Turigliatto explains the capitalist forces behind the push to reopen and how the left, trade unions, and social movements can resist. Turigliatto was elected to the Italian Senate as part of the Communist Refoundation Party (PRC) in 2006, but was expelled from the party after he refused to support the government’s support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan. He is a member of the leadership of Sinistra Anticapitalista (Anticapitalist Left). Originally published by Sinistra Anticapitalista and translated by International Viewpoint, republished by No Borders News as part of our ongoing international coronavirus coverage.
After seven days of “phase 2,” which began in early May, the dynamics of the coronavirus epidemic are still very uncertain in Italy. On the one hand, there appears to be a moderate decline in cases nationwide (although deaths are now over 30,000), on the other, some regions remain exceptions to this to trend, including Lombardy, where the vast majority of infections have been recorded.
At the end of the week, we will be able to analyse the effects of the resumption of all productive activities, which started on May 4. It is only then that it will be possible to know if a new total lockdown will be necessary — a possibility not excluded by the official in charge of Civil Protection — or if the bars and restaurants can be reopened along with other social structures, such as sports clubs and centers. Schools will remain closed until the autumn.
A critical situation on several grounds
Beyond the announcements and the promises of several public agencies, the material resources necessary for phase 2 to guarantee control of the epidemic, remain insufficient. There are still millions of masks, gloves, and serological tests lacking and there are few swab tests because there is a shortage of chemical reagents to check their results.
Three months after the start of the epidemic, neither Italian capitalism nor its state have been able to do what they had proclaimed: “Resume safely.” Workplaces are not “safe.” On May 4, the National Employment Institute (INAIL) stated that there were more than 37,000 people infected in their workplaces, with an increase of 10 percent in deaths in the past few weeks. Every day 300 workers fall ill and ten die, the most affected are health and social care workers.
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And we are also seeing wages move in the wrong direction because a large number of workers affected by layoffs (there were almost 7 million), in particular those in commerce and small enterprises, have not yet received a single euro in benefits.
This situation gives rise to strong tensions between the central government and some regions which want to proceed immediately with wider openings, but also within the government itself, so much so that the economic relief package of 55 billion euros announced was postponed for days. There are many points of difference, the center-left Democratic Party (PD) and Matteo Renzi’s centrist Italia Viva are requesting the intervention of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – to which the right-wing populist Five Stars Movement (M5S) is opposed. The M5S wants to extend a form of basic income to the weakest sectors of the population and small businesses, while the other party will only accept only a minimum and temporary support measure for just 2 or 3 months. The PD and Italia Viva are convinced of the need to regularize migrants’ legal status, while the M5S opposes this, maintaining a reactionary position.
The Chamber of Commerce wants it all
The employer class, on the other hand, is getting straight to the point and has decided that the best defense is a good offense. A platform of demands put forward by the employers’ organisation, Confindustria, laid out by its new president Carlo Bonomi, is very clear: it proposes to precisely adjust government policy to serve big business.
Layoff subsidies, unemployment benefits, support for the weakest sectors, public intervention, all this, for Bonomi, is just a waste of money. Instead, this money must be used to provide “immediate liquidity” for companies, exempting them from any form of control regarding subcontractors and environmental impacts.
The bosses’ targets:
- Deregulate as far as possible the use of the labour force to achieve the bosses’ long-desired goal, the abolition of national contracts;
- Obtain large non-repayable grants to companies, without conditions and without state control;
- Suspension of corporate taxes, including the abolition of IRAP, the tax on productive activities created to finance public health;
- Elimination of all regulations that hinder the deployment of their business and entrepreneurial aims,
- Exemption from, or perhaps even definitive revision of, Art. 2087 of the Civil Code, which holds companies responsible for accidents occurring or illnesses contracted in the workplace.
Organizing a response
This is an open declaration of war against the working classes to which the unions should counterpose a platform in defense of public health, workers’ rights, a reduction of working hours and taxation that makes the capitalists pay the costs of the crisis. They should call on the entire working class to mobilize to confront the looming conflict.
But instead of denouncing the attack by Confindustria, they continue to dream of a new global social pact, contenting themselves with the crumbs that the government concedes to the popular classes to placate (for the moment) social tensions. Unfortunately, the unions are not questioning the huge new gifts bestowed upon the bosses by the government.
In the coming days, we will see exactly what measures will be implemented under the government’s decree. However, the most important thing to watch will be the reactions of the most combative trade union and social sectors and what they are willing to do to defend the health, jobs, and wages of all the exploited and oppressed. And we must find a way to resume full political and union activity and a presence on the streets in the context of safety measures that the epidemic necessitates.
[For international coronavirus coverage and analysis from working-class and socialist perspectives, read No Borders News.]