PCmI: Coronavirus and Class Struggle in Italy

Report – No official translation

In Italy we now find ourselves at more than one and half months of full emergency for the pandemic. It began in the second largest city in our country, Milan, Lombardy, where there are two of the largests industrial concentrations in our country: Bergamo, the most affected, and Brescia.

The pandemic has affected other areas, also with a high level of industrial concentration, such as in the Northwest in Piedmont, and in the Northeast in Veneto. Neighboring this northern belt there is Emilia-Romagna, full of small and medium-sized industries of various sectors and large concentrations of logistics, and some cities such as Piacenza, Modena that were hit hard by pandemic.

Apart from these areas, the expansion of the contagion was at much lower level in the central part of the country and the capital itself, Rome, and has had even impact in southern Italy, from Naples to Puglia and Taranto and to Sicily.

Our Party and its mass organizations immediately tried to give a class orientation to the working class and the masses, initially opposing the terrorist and alarmist information that was pushing the masses into a sort of blind fear and immobilizing them, unable to understand what was happening and how to deal with it.

March 8th (International Women’s Day) fell in this very first phase, and the forces of the petit and medium-bourgeois feminist movement in Italy, grouped under “Not One Less” (from “Ni Una Menos” in Argentina and Spain), soon backtracked on the plans for mobilization and women’s strike scheduled in those days. At that moment, the bourgeoisie had not yet declared the “state of emergency,” except in some areas of Northern Italy. Therefore, in the rest of the country the situation allowed strikes and demonstrations, but the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois feminist movement beat a retreat immediately, clearly in line with what the base unions had already done.

The Revolutionary Proletarian Feminist Movement (MFPR), strongly supported by the SLAI Cobas for the Class Union, which is the class and combative organization led by the PCm, instead firmly maintained both the strike of some workers and the planned demonstrations, giving suggestions to concentrate them mainly in southern Italy where there were better conditions of political and social viability. The day before March 8th, the government extended the state of emergency to the whole country, making pressure to withdraw strike and demonstrations.

Particularly in Palermo, pressure was exerted directly by the police and its political office, but the comrades firmly withstood the pressure, and both the strike in some situations of precarious workers, and the gathering in front the Palaces of power were observed. Mass participation was less than usual but still significant.

In Taranto the day was linked to the mobilization of trade female workers against layoffs and in the gathering in the street, although with the significant absence of all the groups of petit bourgeois feminists, and saw the participation of the communist youth organization associated to one of the small new-revisionist parties.

In the North and especially in the city that was not yet the epicenter of the pandemic, Bergamo, the workers challenged the prohibitions and experienced aggressive reaction from a whole front made up of bosses, government and official unions.

However, the flag of the revolutionary struggle of the proletarian women was held high on International Women’s Day and continued to be very present and active in the following weeks when, with the pandemic and the state of emergency, the condition of women worsened, not only on the job, but in the neighborhoods, the home, where women had to deal with vital problems, with the children at home because of schools closures, and family oppression which transforms houses into prisons and potential places of femicide due to the impact of the eternal presence of patriarchy. The MFPR continued this truly hand-to-hand struggle to feed the women’s spirit of rebellion and help it emerge.

Meanwhile, the pandemic expansion was spreading and met the immediate reaction of workers in the main industrial centers of northern Italy: strikes and abstention from work, spontaneous or organized by the Cobas, reached a number of 50,000 workers. On numerous occasions there has been police pressure and intimidation of all kinds, but this has not prevented strikes and massive abstentions from work.

A part of the official unions in Lombardy was also forced to declare a strike in the metalworking factories.

These strikes were very important for various reasons: they showed that the workers did not agree to be “meat for slaughter”; they rejected the blatant attempt of the bosses to say that “everything was fine,” “everything was safe” and that production had to be saved at any cost; they showed that no emergency state could prevent workers from struggling for their own health and safety; they exposed bare the hypocrisy of the bosses and the government who on the one hand wanted the whole population locked up in their houses and on the other hand the factories full of workers, the large centers of commercial logistics running with workers exploited to the bone and without personal protective equipment.

We can say with certainty that worker strikes prevented the massive spread of COVID-19 in factories.

Not only that, but this reaction of workers, in which the Cobas were decisive, in the various organizations in which they are structured, including the class and combative organization led by our Party, forced the government and the bosses to take a first step back. Safety protocols were signed which, although insufficient, strengthened the workers protection structures and above all allowed workers to continue to escape, if the protocol was not applied, any dangerous work.

The spread of the pandemic, precisely in some of the areas with the greatest worker concentration, gave strength to the resistance of workers and forced the government to take a further step back, that of indicating which factories that could stay open because they produced essential goods and services and those that were to be closed. But the government and bosses, with the complicity of the official unions, included among the factories to remain open, the plants of the imperialist multinational war industry, the iron and steel plants and other productive units that certainly do not produce “essential services.” So the conflict and resistance in the factories, now explicit now in facts, continued.

Meanwhile, other major events were taking place outside the factories and jobs.

The revolt of the detainees exploded angrily in the prisons with some of the biggest riots in the prisons in the last decades in our country. The prisoners immediately understood that no defense was possible against the virus and rebelled, starting from the prison in Modena. The reaction of the State immediately was violent; inside and outside the prisons hard clashes took place, with the prisoners who took over some of the prison wings, and set fire to and devastated parts of the facilities to make them instruments of resistance and face the murderous violence of the State. In few days the revolt reached all the prisons of our country, from north to south, also pushing family members and solidarity organizations to mobilize in support. The massacre inside the prisons left 16 inmates dead, and a number of prisoners injured, tortured, deported and subjected to the harshest measures already implemented in prisons, those which were affecting the political prisoners belonging to the Red Brigades. In front of the prison in Milan and other cities, the police assaulted the demonstrations of the family members and solidarity organizations.

Proletarian Red Relief (Soccorso Rosso Proletario) tirelessly bore its voice of support to prisoners, condemnation and unmasking of the lies by the State that claimed that the prisoners killed had actually died of an overdose. At the same time, it gave voice to every statement coming from prisons and family members on the whole national territory.

The revolt brought concrete results with the decision to release prisoners with minor penalties, but the State excluded the prisoners who had participated in the revolt. The result is clear: compared to the 10,000 prisoners eligible for released as assessed by democratic associations, even the pro-institutional ones, a maximum of two thousand have come out so far. So the struggle goes on.

The prisoners were right to rebel. In the immediate days following, there were cases of COVID-19 in prisons, even if news of deaths, except one, and the real extent of the contagion are kept hidden.

The workers in struggle did not fail to make their solidarity felt through the Cobas and they added the claim for an amnesty to their platform.

But at the front line in all these weeks there were the doctors and health workers who, in the face of the rampant outbreak of COVID-19, which has made Italy a “second China” for several weeks, were thrown into the fray bare-handed, deprived of the necessary protection and taking advantage of their unselfish, sometimes heroic, self-sacrifice for the salvation of the sick. This has so far led to 126 doctor deaths and numerous other deaths among nurses and healthcare workers in general, mainly in the pandemic epicenter, Lombardy.

The very core of this epicenter was the city of Bergamo, where there is one factory for every 50 inhabitants, which for a few days became a hospital and an open-air cemetery: the “Italian Wuhan.”

Here also, militants and activists of our Party and union saw their parents die. The intertwining between incapacity of the local authorities and a privatized healthcare built as service for the rich, marked by corruption, led to the explosion of the pandemic in the retirement homes for the elderly, with thousands of deaths and the real data still hidden, which even the bourgeois press is forced to report, speaking of cases ten times and deaths three times greater than those declared.

In this situation, the reaction of health workers and working-class contingents was not long in coming. Without leaving their jobs they began to condemn, to claim and shout: “hit those responsible who transformed the pandemic into a massacre!”

Still in the area of highest impact of the pandemic, other younger workers have been exposed to the infection, and only thanks their young age there was not a greater massacre. The mail carriers, the riders, the workers of the infamous Amazon tried to resist daily, asking for reduction of their work to the essential services and effective personal protection.

In the central and southern parts of the country the situation is different. The struggles in the factories reached only some automotive plants and the ArcelorMittal steel plant of Taranto. Also in these factories the workers responded by being absent from work, in some days in massive forms and trying to organize strikes, partially successful and boycotted by the official unions. The government’s ad hoc Acts offered the necessary cover for the bosses to impose continued work in the factories with several thousand workers inside. This, albeit at still a slow pace, led the virus to the factories, to the ArcelorMittal in Taranto for example, and probably the game has not even really started yet.

In the center-south, from the suburbs of Rome to the large concentrations of undocumented workers, from street vendors in Campania to the migrant field laborers, to the poor in Sicily, along with the virus came the end of work, the lack of income, the difficulty of housing, rooted into precariousness and unemployment.

But even here, the fabric of organizations, social centers, housing committees, base unions structures have tried to respond by claiming incomes and houses, to a much larger extent than the alms given by government Acts.

In Palermo, Naples and Rome there have also been initiatives of open uprising, criminalized, repressed and attacked by the State and the mass media.

This is the general portrait of what has made Italy not only the European epicenter of the COVID-19 for several weeks, but also the site of an intense proletarian struggle, significant for quality and quantity, which spread another contagion throughout Europe, the contagion of the class struggle.
Now we are at the eve of the “Phase 2” in which the bosses and the government want to make profits again based on exploitation, despite the pandemic still being fully active. But proletarians and people’s masses and their organizations, some born by spontaneity, some already organized, including the Maoists—their structures and their generated organizations work to promote a general strike that can have a revolutionary character if it will be able to build a mass dimension in an increasingly accentuated state of emergency.

The experience our Party has drawn this situation has been important. How to maintain its structure and work in spite of the confinement to houses and maximum control imposed. And the response it is giving is very positive; activity has not stopped a single minute and has not been limited to the websites. The comrades have violated the state of siege by going to the factories; they have strengthened their theoretical work using the internet with the help of Marxist intellectuals; and they are growing theoretically and politically. This is not a stereotyped and doctrinaire education, but a high and profound effort to arm ourselves with Marxism to give a strategic and programmatic response to the international situation of crisis of imperialism that produced the pandemic and the current scenario.

The determined action of the Party in all conditions has allowed the growth of its influence and recognition throughout the field of revolutionaries of other tendencies, of class and combative unionism, of the women’s movement and of organizations supporting the fight against prisons.

Of course, a difficult qualitative leap awaits us, but our links with the vanguard and the masses that make the Italian Maoists different and advanced are a great factor of strength and endurance which gives us hope

Maoist Communist Party Italy
Partito Comunista maoista Italia (PCmI)
21 April 2020

C. Kistler

Also editor of Nouvelle Turquie.