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“The Central Bank Is Behaving In An Absolutely New Manner”


Translated Saturday 3 September 2011, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Dino Greco, the director of Liberazione, the daily paper of Communist Refoundation, and long-time figure in the Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL), the country’s main trade union, analyzes the maneuvers of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Italy.

For him, the Italian bosses are taking advantage of the weakness of Silvio Berlusconi, who has generally been discredited by the scandals, in order to continue their undermining of the remnants of the welfare state.

A decisive turning point or a banal exercise? What do you think of the European Central Bank’s letter to the Italian government?

Dino Greco: There’s absolutely no doubt, the European Central Bank is behaving in an absolutely new manner. What it’s proposing to the Italian government isn’t an indication of a general policy, it’s a veritable kit of the interventions that must be made: cuts in the welfare state, in social protection, in health care, an attack on the status of workers, the status that sets fundamental social relations; an attack on labor market guarantees, on retirement pensions… It’s a kit that is perfectly inspired by free market ideology and which is akin to the social butchery that’s already been tried in Greece! And, in passing, let’s point out that what this neo-con broth produces is so disastrous that it should incite us to the greatest prudence, given that none of us can guarantee that Greece will succeed in paying her debts with such an austerity program!

What’s blindingly clear is that the financial technocracy is taking power these days. Finance is governing. Finance dominates and dictates its unconditional measures to governments and politicians. It’s vampirizing assets that are held in common. It’s imposing its free trade dogma without any limits or perimeter. That’s the fundamental political given in this period. In Italy, this is encountering a particular context, that of the extraordinary weakness of the Italian government. The Italian government’s a corrupt clique. I say this, not just as an observer from the point of view of this newspaper and the political movement that publishes it, but also as a citizen. The abyss is really impressive – it’s hypocrisy, cynicism and political inconsistency that characterize the country’s rulers today! I think that you have to go way, way back in Italian history to find a situation that’s as catastrophic as the one we’re experiencing today.

The bosses and business circles are applauding the intervention of the ECB and lambasting Berlusconi’s “weakness.” What does this domestic confrontation signify?

Dino Greco: Within financial powers like the Confindustria (the Italian bosses’ confederation – editor’s note), there is presently a lot of agitation. For them, it’s a question of getting rid of Berlusconi and his court. But in terms of an alternative, it’s a shell game. They’re envisaging substituting a free trade alternative to this character. And what they’re trying to do is to catch the ball on the rebound to dismantle everything that remains of the welfare state in Italy. They want to get their hands on the remnants of labor protection in this country. They’ve never accepted the status of workers, which guarantees a certain number of rights in companies… They’re trying to push flexibility, which has already been obtained on the labor market through 48 atypical labor contracts – you get into a company by going through this difficult and humiliating trial, practically on your knees – to the extent that employers are free to lay off workers without any obligation on the employer’s part. They’re trying to do what Sergio Marchionne is doing in Italy’s biggest factories, the Fiat factories… It’s an operation that’s using the economic crisis to make the workers, the citizens pay – and they’re already paying a high price.

Who’s governing Italy today?

Dino Greco: There’s been a lot of very hypocritical talk these days about a “government of national solidarity.” Names are going around to run it. It might be Mario Monti, the former European Commissioner for Internal Market, Financial Services and Financial Integration, Customs, and Taxation, rather than Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the former head of the bosses’ confederation and the director of Ferrari… Be that as it may, this “government of national solidarity” will undertake exactly the recipe demanded by the ECB, that is to say a perfect free trade catalogue. Today, they’re talking about raising the retirement age – all pensions beginning at age 65 – increasing indirect taxes like value added tax, which are, as you know, the most unfair taxes, reducing budgetary transfers to local government – which means an attack on public services and social protection…

Those who, in business circles, are envisaging replacing Berlusconi, have absolutely no intention of adopting measures that would be very useful, such as, for example, going after tax evasion (over 230 billion euros vanish every year) or instituting a tax on property holdings – all that’s needed is a 0.1% tax on property holdings worth over a million euros to reap over 15 billion euros. Obviously, as they’re not going to do that, our problem today is to promote and to produce a radical change! And to do that, all forces will have to come out on the playing field. Alas, today we have a dramatically failing trade union movement. A fiercer conflict is needed. The biggest of the trade union confederations, the one which has continually been targeted by Berlusconi these past few years, is in an absolute wait-and-see mode, it’s incapable of envisaging effective action.

Are you talking about the CGIL?

Dino Greco: Yes. What surprises me on the part of the CGIL, and I’m saying this with a certain amount of bitterness, is that it hasn’t got its own position in this situation. It’s been boxed into a scenario in which it backs up the proposals put forward by the Italian bosses.

In this somewhat morose context, how can the left, which seems to still be every bit as fragmented, put forward an alternative?

Dino Greco: The left needs a proposal and it needs to make it come to life in a mass relationship. It’s a sure thing that our forces have been marginalized, that they’re still limited and shaken by the splits, which have not helped to reinforce the left in Italy. But there are also big movements which have succeeded in meeting together in the last few months. I’m thinking of the precarious workers, of the students, of the workers who, with the FIOM-CGIL, the metalworkers trade union, have had very strong mobilizations. I’m thinking of the militants of the movement for assets that are held in common, who, by winning an overwhelming victory in the referenda on nuclear power and on water, have made a deep impression on people. To my mind, all this shows that in society there is more reason, more of a sense of reality, more consciousness that we cannot continue on this deleterious route, than there is in the field of political representation, even, obviously, on the center-left. What we can do with our forces, which aren’t extraordinary, is to produce counter-information as a newspaper and to share with the citizens the certainty that it is possible to do otherwise, that this is not a passing fancy; that it is not the expression of an ideological thought that is cut off from reality. There are possible alternatives. Of course, those who hold power today naturally can also dictate the agenda, but I have the impression that in September, when the accounts are going to have to be presented and when the balance sheet of this new, oh-so-cruel free trade acceleration is going to have to be drawn up, the renewal of social struggles will be absolutely necessary. I don’t want to conclude with a slogan, but all the same – for a Greek-style recipe, a Greek-style answer is needed!

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