Tens of thousands of students blocked the Italian Senate in 2008 to protest cuts in university spending in a student movement called the “anomalous wave.” Large protests occurred in Rome on October 15, 2011, but otherwise Italians didn’t join in the 2011 uprisings. In 2012 huge mass protests continued against austerity programs designed to reduce national debts by reducing government services. Eleven politicians who campaigned to return to funding social support programs and to fight recession and high unemployment unseated politicians who advocated austerity.[i] For example, in France socialist Francois Hollande replaced President Nicolas Sarkozy, close ally of austerity advocate German Chancellor Angela Merkel, by advocating growth policies and government spending. Hollande said his enemy was the world of finance.
Difficult to categorize, an Italian youth response to current troubles and austerity measures is the Five Stars Movement (M5S) in Italy, supported by anti-establishment young people who were ignored by the Democratic Party. The year before it was founded in 2009, tens of thousands of students in the “Anomalous Wave” blocked the Italian Senate to protest reduced government funding for universities as part of the Bologna Process. Comedian Beppe Grillo founded M5S; it became the largest party in the Lower House and second largest in the Senate in 2013. The five starts are public water, ecological transportation, development, connectivity, and environmentalism, as well as being anti-austerity and anti-corruption. The party is supported by the unemployed “lost generation.”[ii] The M5S mayor of Parma, age 39, rides a bicycle to work and the official car runs on natural gas. Many believe that austerity measures were dictated to the Italian government by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Women also became more active in politics; the center-left Democratic party reserved 40% of their candidate list for women.
The young M5S legislators came to work by public transport, one wanted childcare for her toddler, and they refused the plastic water bottles available to legislators as environmentally damaging. They advocated direct democracy, posting government debates on the Internet, and attacked corruption. They sought a minimum monthly income of a thousand euros to be funded by reducing pensions and government salaries, funded by reducing public-sector salaries and pensions. Grillo’s blog is the most widely read in Italy, commenting on his mistrust of the political system, shaking up the old right-wing and left-wing factions. A high school teacher from Florence who doesn’t approve of M5S told me, “You can’t rule by protesting only. They will hammer down what is left of Italy.”
They protested the government spending 26 billion euros on construction of a high-speed tail line when people are suffering. Matteo Renzi, 39, was a young political outsider who wears jeans and a black leather jacket who became prime minister in 2014. His only political experience was as mayor of Florence. He has to deal with youth unemployment of 40%, one in four youth are NEETs, and other economic problems. He stated, “I want a Left that governs Italy rather than a Left that prides itself on its defeats.” Half of his cabinet members were women. He (and the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls) proposed cutting taxes for low wage workers and their employers, but had to cut spending as public debt is 90% of eurozone GDP.[iii] Thousands marched in protest.
Tens of thousands marched in Rome in April 2014 to protest Renzi’s austerity measures but these protests were smaller than in previous years. Jerome Roos attributes the reduced activism to anxiety about precarious work under neoliberalism, police repression, and lack of hope and fatigue caused by “unsustainable forms of activism.”[iv] Roos points to Italy’s unifying theme as the way to activate people and unite various groups, the goal of “only one big endeavor: housing and income for all,” universal benefits independent of wage earnings, with neoliberal capitalism as the common enemy. The theme resonates with the 40% of youth who are unemployed and the 68,000 families who received eviction notices in 2013. Working for a common goal would correct the failure of the 2011 uprisings to “construct an alternative political imaginary and long-term revolutionary strategy.” He doesn’t advocate forming a political party as the vehicle to achieve the goal.
[i] Joris Leverink, “Today We Resist,” ROAR Magazine, May 31, 2014.
[ii] “Europe’s Lost Generation Finds a Voice in the Five Star Movement, Occupy.com, March 8, 2013.
[iii] Barry Eichengreen, “Europe’s Crisis Treadmill,” Project Syndicate, May 12, 2014.
[iv] Jerome Roos, “Mobilizing for the Common: Some Lessons from Italy,” ROAR Magazine, April 14, 2014.