In early February, over one million people rallied across Italy asking “se non ora quando?” (if not now, when?), demanding an end to the rampant sexism characterising Italian politics and media and the worsening conditions for women and workers under the Berlusconi government.
Rallies were held in over 200 cities across the country including Rome, Milan, Naples, Turin, Venice and Bari. Solidarity protests were also organised in Brussels, Lisbon, Lyon, Paris, Toulouse, London, Madrid and Tokyo.
In Rome, over 40,000 protesters flowed into the Piazza di Popolo (The People’s Square) waving flags and banners denouncing the controversial prime minister and calling for his resignation (and some, his incarceration). Berlusconi’s sex parties—that he has referred to as his “bunga bunga” parties—have outraged Italians. The latest sex scandal, involving an underage sex worker, was the impetus for the demonstrations.
The mobilisations were spontaneously called by Italian actresses Francesca and Cristina Comencini. They were not without conservatism and contradictions. The rally in Rome was addressed by Giulia Bongiorno, prominent right-wing politician from a party in coalition with Berlusconi.
But significantly, the rallies were widely-endorsed and promoted by women’s rights organisations, students, leftists groups and major Italian unions.
The Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL), the oldest union in Italy with strong historical ties to the Italian Communist Party (PCI), played a significant role in promoting the rallies and sent sizeable delegations bearing flags.
CGIL National Secretary, Susanna Camusso, addressed the protest in Rome expressing solidarity with all women “struggling against precariousness and who want to work [free from sexism and sexual harassment]”. She denounced legislation eliminating maternity benefits for precarious workers who form 55 per cent of the workforce aged under 30.
Students and immigrant workers gave personal testimonies of their struggles against increasing insecurity, racism and sexism in the workplace. From the platform, a young Egyptian woman described the central role of women on the frontline in Egypt and Tunisia, calling for solidarity and illustrating the global nature of the struggle against sexism.
Rising unemployment, now at 30 per cent, was another target of people’s anger.
Some outrage at Berlusconi’s sexism manifested itself in blaming and scapegoating sex workers themselves—but people driven into sex work are not to blame for the sexism that forces them there.
The movement against Berlusconi’s “bunga bunga” antics, linked up with the working class fight against austerity measures, has the power to shatter Berlusconi’s whole agenda. A general strike planned for May 6 against new anti-union laws that undermine collective bargaining can deal the first blow.
Olivia Nigro, in Italy