Eyewitness report: Italian students occupy

2 12 2008

“Noi la crisi non la paghiamo” (We won’t pay for your crisis) chanted hundreds of thousands of Italian students attending a mass demonstration in Rome on Friday 14 November against €1.5 billion cuts in the education sector.

By Sarah Wrack, Sussex Socialist Students
Proposed attacks include 140,000 job cuts, that is 20% of the education workforce. Students travelled from all over Italy to show their anger at the Berlusconi government.

In the two days following the demonstration, there was a national assembly held at Sapienza, the biggest university in Rome, which has been occupied by students for over a month. Students are sleeping in lecture halls and say they won’t leave until the movement is successful.

Speakers pointed out the need to unite the student movement with the trade unions and with demands for more than just preventing the current reforms being enacted. They raised demands for a student wage, a national minimum wage, decent affordable housing and transport and an end to the privatisation of utilities.

Several speakers highlighted the social inequality existing in Italy, most notably between the north and south of the county, and the lack of a decent welfare state.

Despite the positive achievements of the movement so far, the need for political and organisational leadership became more and more evident as events unfolded. There was confusion about when and where Friday’s demonstration was starting and finishing which led to it breaking up early and the final rally being cancelled.

The students had also decided to march separately from the trade union demonstration on the same issues, resulting in the two groups marching past each other in opposite directions at one point. At the assembly, the proposal to elect representatives from each region to a steering committee was opposed by the anarchist elements of the movement leading to a threat of a split in the assembly.

The mass participation in the movement shows the militant mood of students, workers and young people across Italy which will only grow as further attacks on living standards are launched in an attempt to make the working class bear the burden of the economic crisis.

International support
150 socialist papers were sold over the weekend by Lotta, the Socialist Party’s sister group in Italy, and 60 people asked for more information about joining. Students were impressed by the fact that the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), the socialist international to which the Socialist Party and Lotta are affiliated, is active in over 40 countries, linking up similar struggles from around the world. Members from England, Ireland and Germany assisted Lotta.

A member of Sozialistische Alternative, the CWI in Germany, who spoke at Saturday’s assembly about the strike of German school students was enthusiastically received. Many agreed that real progress can only be made through a mass political movement, linking the struggles of students to those of workers and to the need for a change in the way society is run.

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