Issue 253 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review
|Berlusconi claims victory|
Italy's general election on 13 May was marked by chaos, anger and drama. The decision to cut the number of polling booths by a third, a high turnout (81 percent) and a number of concurrent local elections led to long queues of voters. Some people were still waiting to cast their ballots at 4am, well after some results had already been announced on television. In Naples angry voters invaded a polling booth and overthrew a ballot box.
As expected, Silvio Berlusconi won the election, although the results themselves were less predictable. The personalisation of the campaign (for or against Berlusconi) led to a massive vote for the media tycoon's own (personal) party, which gained 30 percent of the vote, easily beating the next highest 'party', the DS (ex Communist Party, 16 percent) and a loose coalition of Catholics and centre-left groupings (the so-called Margherita at 14 percent). The ex post-fascists gained around 12 percent (less than in 1996). Big losers from the election were the Northern Leagues, whose vote plummeted from 10 percent nationally (although the Lega only stands candidates in the north) to 3.9 percent. Left party Rifondazione Comunista did well, standing on its own, with 5 percent. Most of the other minor parties, meanwhile, all but disappeared. The Greens did so badly that there is talk of them dissolving altogether. Berlusconi's House of Liberty (sic) alliance won a comfortable majority in both houses.
Politically, the centre-left coalition which has governed Italy for five years was rejected by the voters, gaining only 38 percent of the popular vote. Its stringent economic policies have not been popular. A big privatisation programme has begun which threatens the jobs of many state sector workers. However, the political reason for the centre-left's defeat lay in the disintegration of the alliance with Rifondazione, which pulled the plug on Prodi's government in 1998. This division was cemented by debates over the bombing of Yugoslavia.
The decision to stand alone penalised Rifondazione in terms of seats, and some argue that unity was required in the face of the dangers to democracy presented by the racist Northern Leagues, Berlusconi's immense media power (and possible Mafia links--his party swept the board in Sicily, bringing the anti-Mafia movements of the 1980s and 1990s to an abrupt halt) and the post-fascist revisionism of Alleanza Nazionale. Rifondazione, however, claims that it was impossible to do a deal with such a weak and Blairite collection of parties (led this time by former mayor of Rome Francesco Rutelli) and that it was time to organise a proper fightback against austerity economics in Italy. This bitter debate has only just begun.
The immediate fixture is worrying to say the least. Berlusconi is now in control of all six major television channels. His promises to deal with this 'conflict of interests' are unlikely to be fulfilled, and the centre-left did nothing about this problem during its five years in power. The Lega, although weakened, is already making threatening noises about even tougher measures against immigrants. Bossi recently warned that 'in the US they shoot at illegal immigrants' and has called for troops to be deployed at Italy's frontiers!
Swingeing (and regressive) tax cuts are certain. In fact, Berlusconi has promised to abolish inheritance tax altogether in his first cabinet. The biggest beneficiary of this measure would be his own children, as he is the richest man in all of Italy, in the unlikely (but happy) event of his own death. Meanwhile, the rewriting of Italy's history will continue, with censorship of text books and the further exaltation of the 'achievements' of Mussolini.
Nonetheless, the last time Berlusconi was in power he was brought down by two enormous demonstrations. This time his majority is much more secure, but it seems unlikely that he will want to take on the still strong Italian union movement (when compared to the TUC, for example) which is able to organise strikes and protests in ways not seen in Britain since the 1980s. Berlusconi is essentially a populist, not a Thatcherite, making promises nobody can deliver (tax cuts, pension rises and massive public works projects).
Finally, we all have an opportunity to demonstrate against the man and his administration with the G8 in Genoa in July. The police have already started to impose absurd security measures in the city. This is a city with a proud tradition of antifascist rioting. In July 1960 a government was brought down by days of protest in Genoa. The first task for all socialists is to mobilise for this moment.
BETWEEN THE LINES
President Bush's first 100 days were truly awful. He reneged on his campaign promise to require power plants to control carbon dioxide emissions, pushed a plan to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration and drilling, tossed aside the 1997 Kyoto global warming agreement, refused to toughen standards for arsenic in drinking water, and advocated oil and gas drilling in the northern Rocky Mountains. Using California's energy crisis as his backdrop, the plan calls for a rise in the output of oil, coal and nuclear power.
A recent Los Angeles Times survey showed that, by a margin of two to one, Americans said they believed businesses would cut corners on environmental protection without government regulation, said protecting plants and animals should take priority over property rights, and said improving the environment should take priority over economic growth.
As governor of Texas, Bush allowed the big oil companies to draft the state's Clean Air Act after they pumped $1.5 million into his 1998 campaign.
In the run-up to Earth Day Bush announced he would sign a treaty reducing releases of a dozen dangerous chemicals, most of which had not been produced or used in the US in years. He has surrounded himself with some vile anti-environmentalists. His cabinet includes Gale Norton, the Interior Secretary, who is a longstanding proponent of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She served as Attorney General in Colorado, and busied herself there demolishing pollution laws. Later she was a lobbyist for the highly toxic National Lead Company.
Christine Todd Whitman is also part of Bush's team. The former New Jersey governor's past includes cutting the state's budget for environmental protection by 30 percent. Under her administration fines for air and water pollution dropped by nearly 75 percent. Some of Bush's biggest campaign backers were Texaco and Exxon-Mobil. His ties to Enron, the country's biggest buyer and seller of natural gas, for example, run right from the $575,000 it has donated through his political career to placing Kenneth Lay, Enron's CEO, on his energy advisory committee.
Oil rich vice-president and ex-CEO of Halliburton Dick Cheney recently stated the US would continue its reliance on fossil fuels well into the future and that conservation was 'not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy'. He further claimed that new technologies would provide ways we could save energy without sacrifice. However, he did not mention that the Department of Energy funding for energy efficiency research and development would be cut by $180 million, or 29 percent. The corporate connections also include the vice-president's wife, Lynn Cheney, formerly on the board of directors of Lockheed Martin.
The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) will likely do for the rest of the Americas what NAFTA has done for Mexico. With the increased manufacturing along the US/Mexico border, that region has become a massive environmental wasteland.
According to Global Exchange, 44 tons of hazardous waste are improperly discharged from the region every day. Birth defects have risen dramatically and hepatitis has increased to two to three times the national average due to lack of sewage treatment and safe drinking water. Massive clearcutting has laid waste 40 percent of Guerrero's forests.
The FTAA will also mean the likely expanded use of genetically modified crops throughout the region. Yet Bush's war on the environment can provide a focus for activists opposed to his regressive policies and the corporations he serves.
Blockades are our weapons
More than 200 people blockaded the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston on 14 May and 50 arrests were made. Organised by Trident Ploughshares, it was part of a week of activity aimed to 'Stop it at Source', another thread in the campaign against Trident missiles and the Faslane nuclear sub base.
On the previous Saturday a march went through the neighbouring town of Reading, distributing leaflets highlighting the dangers posed by the weapons factory. Two peace camps were set up for the week, and numerous attempts to break into the site to disrupt production were made.
Trident Ploughshares has been campaigning through non-violent direct action against nuclear weapons and has two activists in court as Socialist Review goes to press. They are charged with damaging a nuclear missile.
A brilliant mix of young and older activists were present, notably from Trident Ploughshares, CND and Globalise Resistance. Seasoned campaigners were delighted to be joined by students fresh from the previous day's Globalise Resistance conference. One activist said that it was the best influx of young campaigners she had seen for years. Many had been inspired to protest by scenes from the recent train blockades in Germany, and in response to the election of George W Bush in the US.
The anti nuclear weapons movement faces a huge struggle over the coming months--opposition to the proposed National Missile Defence project of Bush, backed by Blair. Signs are, from May's protests and the CND action on Easter Saturday, that the campaign is growing and has every chance of rising to the challenge.