Nearly 70 percent of eligible voters in Italy turned out to vote on a referendum on changes to the constitution on Dec. 5 that would strengthen the executive office and the larger parties. Nearly 60 percent voted “No,” which both rejected the proposed changes and forced the young Democratic Party Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to resign.
Workers’ organizations and reactionary parties had urged a “No” vote during the campaign. The big bosses’ organizations, bankers and pro-European Union politicians, including Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama, urged a “Yes” vote.
Most left and communist organizations in Italy agree that the “No” vote was better than a “Yes.” They also agree that while this prevented a defeat, it is only the beginning of a struggle to defend workers’ rights.
While the referendum has some surface similarities to last June’s Brexit vote, it has a different political content. In Britain, a major focus of the Brexit victory was a reactionary, anti-immigrant appeal. Not so in Italy.
Renzi is a politician similar to Bill Clinton in the 1990s in the U.S. and the Labor Party’s Tony Blair in the 2000s in Britain. These three politicians all chipped away at gains that the working class had made when unions and other working-class organizations were relatively stronger. Also, Renzi was cooperating with NATO militarization in Italy.
When Renzi introduced the referendum last year, he staked his own political survival on its approval. At that point, all of Renzi’s opponents — especially those from the right — seized on the referendum as a way to attack Renzi and the Democratic Party. These included the anti-immigrant Northern League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. The anti-corruption and eurosceptic Five-Star Movement — which can’t be called right or left at this point — played a leading role.
It was only with a general strike and a national demonstration on Oct. 21 and 22, called by the United Rank-and-File Union, that the working class began to show some independent leadership rejecting Renzi’s proposals. Some grass-roots organizations continued working for a “No” in the referendum.
This resulted in the large working-class rejection of Renzi’s changes. Especially large rejections came from young people and the poorer regions of the country, such as the islands of Sardinia and Sicily.
The Italian pro-communist organization Fronte Popolare reported in the Nov. 4 Workers World on the October strike and demonstration. This group draws the following positive but sober conclusion regarding how to proceed after the “No” vote:
“The Italian working classes, youth, the more conscious sectors of our society have given a clear message at the polls of the urgent need for a radical change of the present state of things.
“To live up to their expectations and avoid a new qualitative leap in the reactionary drift –- which with a ‘Yes’ victory would have been certain, but that the ‘No’ does not in itself stop — is the responsibility that the moment hands us. Let us be up to the task ahead!” (frontepopolare.net, Dec. 5)