This story originally appeared in Peoples Dispatch on May 30, 2023. It is shared here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-SA) license.
Peoples Dispatch (PD) speaks to Maurizio Coppola from the Italian leftist political party Potere al Popolo (Power to the People) regarding the policies of the far-right government in Italy led by Giorgia Meloni and the campaigns undertaken by the Italian working class to resist the anti-worker, anti-refugee, and misogynist policies of the ruling coalition .
Peoples Dispatch (PD): Can you tell us about Potere al Popolo’s campaign to ensure a minimum wage of 10 euros (US$ 10.72 USD) per hour in Italy. What has been the government’s response to instituting a minimum wage in the country?
Maurizio Coppola (MC): Italy is one of a few countries in the European Union without a legal minimum wage; 21 out of 27 EU countries have instituted minimum wages. In Italy, minimum wages are only determined in collective labor agreements, but these salaries are often very low — around four to six euros per hour. In addition, Italy is the only country in the continent where since 1990, real wages are not growing — they even diminished by 3% in the last 30 years. Thus, one out of 10 people in Italy are working poor, among the youth, this number increases to one out of six.
Already a year ago, Potere al Popolo started a political campaign seeking the introduction of a legal minimum wage. At the end of May, together with the alliance Unione Popolare, we submitted a legislative proposal to institute a minimum wage of at least 10 euros (US$ 10.72) per hour, which will also be automatically inflation-linked. On June 2, all over Italy, we will start collecting signatures. It is a way to respond to a concrete need of the people whose working and living conditions are under severe attack today, and at the same time, organize them at the workplaces, in the neighborhoods, and in local committees.
Despite the urgency of the demand, the government of Giorgia Meloni continues to say there is no need to regulate wages. Her opposition to a legal minimum wage is in continuity with the neoliberal politics of her predecessor and former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi. Today, the government prefers intervening with some one-time cuts in the labor tax wedge which temporarily brings some crumbs in the wallet of the workers, rather than introducing a systematic redistribution of the produced wealth. This confirms that the Giorgia Meloni government is a regime of private corporations and not of the working class.
PD: What has been the impact of the recent floods in the Emilia Romagna region? How effective is the government’s attempt to provide relief to the flood-affected people?
MC: What we are facing in the Emilia Romagna region today is not simply a natural catastrophe. It is the result of years and years of cementification of the country, misguided urban development, lack of maintenance of the hydrogeological basin of the territory, and the dismantling of public civil protection.
In Italy, the artificial covering of the soil has risen to 7.13% of the whole territory, the EU average is 4.2%. Every second, Italy loses 2 meters square through cementification, that is 19 hectares per day. As the ecological association Legambiente highlights, 16% of the Italian territory—where around 7.5 million people live—is at high hydrogeological risk.
Earthquakes, wildfires, floods: Italy was never ready to respond in a proper way and with a long-term perspective to any of these catastrophes. That’s why we are not talking about natural disasters but about the failure of all the governments over the previous decades — center-left, center-right, and ultra-right-led governments.
Giorgia Meloni has now promised an emergency financial intervention of 2 billion euros (US$ 2.14 billion), which she presented as “the highest emergency intervention in the history of Italy.” But, of course, the problems are deeper: How much money will be invested in the long term to strengthen the maintenance of the whole territory and the public institutions working on that aspect (civil, forest, hydrogeological protection, etc.) and how will the government get this money? Will it implement laws to protect the territory, for example, a radical stop to cementification? It is highly improbable that such steps will be taken.
PD: How do you evaluate the policies of the current government in Italy, especially towards the working class? On the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Italy from fascism, how do you view the fact that right-wing forces are still in mainstream Italian politics?
MC: The first eight months of the ultra-right government in Italy were characterized by at least four important aspects. First, the dismantling of social assistance payments for poor people that permitted around one million people to step out of absolute poverty in the last four years. Ironically, Giorgia Meloni used Workers’ Day on May 1 to present the reform which increases the obstacles to accessing public help for the working poor.
Second, the government has been accelerating attacks against migrants and refugees. Of course, the anti-migrant discourses and policies didn’t start with Giorgia Meloni, but we are witnessing an incredible acceleration on a number of different levels. The ultra-right government is limiting, once again, access to political and humanitarian asylum for those coming from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran. But the anti-migrant policies are also recognizable in the ultra-right family policies: facing falling birth rates and an extremely aging society, the government proposed introducing tax exemptions for families with more than one child. But the migrant population is mostly excluded from this measure, as migrants often earn too little to pay taxes and thus profit from tax exemption.
Third, there is also an acceleration in criminalizing social and political activism. In the aftermath of protest actions by Ultima Generazione—an ecologist movement composed of young people coloring walls of institutional buildings, museums, etc. in order to alert the population that we are headed to human extinction—the government presented a law that increases the punishment for activism to a 60,000 euro fine and the possibility of six years in prison. Of course, the aim of defining these activists as “terrorists” is not simply to punish the ecologist movement, but also and above all to scare off all sorts of social and political dissent.
Fourth, the treatment of memory and history has changed radically with the ultra-right government. Representatives of the Italian government are specifically working to erase anti-fascism from Italian history. Whether it be the significance of April 25 (the liberation day of Italy from Nazi-fascism thanks to the resistance led by partisans), the massacres of fascism, or the nature of the Italian Constitution, there is a conscious attempt to obscure the anti-fascist character of Italy’s past. This has two objectives: first, it’s a way to shift public attention away from the incapacity of the government to respond to the real needs of the working class; second, it’s a way to normalize authoritarianism and fascism in Italy again.
PD: What has been the popular opinion about the Italian government’s support for the war efforts in Ukraine? In what ways does the government collaborate in the escalation of the war and what has been the reaction from the Italian working class?
MC: Since the beginning of the war, Italy supported the militarization of the conflict led by the US and NATO (sending weapons, and logistical support to NATO bases in Italy), the political and economic marginalization through sanctions, and the cultural demonization through Russophobia (exclusion of Russian participants from cultural events, for example). These measures were initiated by Mario Draghi and continued by Giorgia Meloni.
During the past few years, different surveys and polls have confirmed that a majority of Italians are against sending weapons to Ukraine and against war. But, unfortunately, this social majority does not lead to a political majority; on the contrary, today, the entire Italian political-institutional spectrum supports the government’s position (with some exceptions in the government’s coalition parties Lega and Forza Italia). In addition, 15 months of one-sided reporting on the war has led to a change in public opinion: more and more people think that the only way to end the war is the military defeat of Russia.
The Italian government is contributing to the escalation of the war by preventing any peace negotiation efforts. In mid-May for example, when Ukrainian President Zelensky was touring Europe, he first stopped in Italy where he met Pope Francis who insisted on peace negotiations, and Giorgia Meloni who assured him additional military support. Why didn’t she back the peace efforts of the Pope? Because economic and political interests linked to the military-industrial complex and post-war reconstruction of Ukraine still dominate her positions, and not the people’s need for peace.
But there is also another side of Italy: On February 24, 2023, the Genoa dock workers organized a major demonstration against militarism at the port. The Italian peace movement seems to be reviving and is bringing thousands of people to the streets. It is our task now to join these forces in order to build political power and challenge not only the government’s support to the ongoing war in Ukraine but also the entire ultra-right regime of Giorgia Meloni.