Italy: student movement returns, opposition to the government grows

Tens of thousands of Italian students took to the streets on 18th of November to demonstrate against the Meloni government, the war, the cost of living crisis and the current education model. Rome, Milan, Turin, Catania and many other cities saw students and students marching under the slogan “No to Meloni Government, No to the School of the Masters”.

Electoral victory of the right wing has not left indifferent all those students who, at the turn of January and February, already mobilized after the deaths of Lorenzo Parelli (18) and Giuseppe Lenoci (16). Both of them died during the compulsory internship, which is a part of school-to-work, or scuola-lavoro programme.

Nicola Fratoianni, leader of the Sinistra Italiana said: “We need to say enough with a model of alternating school-work that does not work, and that too often has had dramatic outcomes.” The CGIL was also supporting the students’ demonstration. Meanwhile, the leaders of Fratelli d’Italia factions in the House and Senate, Tommaso Foti and Lucio Malan, called for demonstrating “without inciting hatred and violence.”

In Milan, young people approached the headquarters of Assolombarda, where they unfurled a banner that read “Stop scuola-lavoro: business out of schools.”

The demonstration in Naples stopped in front of a bank, with some young people simulating death of victims of the economic crisis. Then the students stopped again in front of the Federico II University to denounce expensive housing and transportation, but also, as it was stressed over the megaphone several times, to recall the episode of the University employee arrested on charges of sexual assault against six female students. Safety, on the other hand, was at the center of the demonstration in Cagliari after the collapse of Sa Duchessa in the humanities hub of the city’s university in mid-October. 

“No credit to this government” was written on banners in marches in Genoa, Bologna, Verona. It is no shock that the opposition to the government is at the center of the protests, together with anger directed at business associations. In Turin, where some eggs filled with red paint were thrown at the Palazzo della Regione, some young people set fire to a cardboard model with the logo of Confindustria, the association of the big Italian industry. 

It is not only because Meloni’s government is one of the most openly reactionary governments in the history of republican Italy. It is also because the current executive has already demonstrated a willingness to pose as the best guarantor for the interests and needs of Italian big business.

The students sent a clear message what they think about this government. According to the banners carried in the squares, the names of ministries – “Food Sovereignty,” “Made in Italy,” “Education and Merit,” “Sea Policies” – are not reduced to being mere lexical choices, but clearly express the orientation of the new executive: to do everything possible to continue to protect, domestically and abroad, banks and businesses, continuing Draghi’s policies, to unload the costs of the economic crisis exacerbated by the war on the popular strata. 

The battle against scuola-lavoro – unpaid internships during the school year – remains a crucial point on which the student movement is not willing to compromise. But demonstrations also embraced broader issues, such as the war in Ukraine.

Rallies and sit-ins were held in more than thirty cities, and the slogan that united the different squares was “No to the school of the masters.” According to the Network of Middle Students and the Union of University Students, one hundred thousand male and female students took to the streets.

The anti-war approach was posed by the students in close connection to the struggle against the cost of living and for the refinancing of public education. While the cost of having access to study is growing ever higher, up to social exclusion figures, and school dropout rates are rising, the new government has already confirmed the increase in military spending wanted by Draghi and Italy’s involvement in supporting the conflict in Ukraine.

“We want the government to allocate funds for public schools not for war,” is the call that has united student protests throughout Italy; an important datum that confirms the political nature of student opposition to the Meloni government.

The banner with words Giuliano vive (Giuliano is alive) refers to the tragic death of a student during a non-paid internship

Some of the protesters in Rome spoke with representatives of the Ministry of Education and Merit, and Giuseppe Valditara said he was “always open to dialogue”, but in the appropriate forms.

“It is always good for students to express their ideas and put forward their proposals, it is one of the fundamental elements of free societies,” the minister said, adding, “The confrontation with girls and boys plays a fundamental role and I will be happy to deepen the dialogue as soon as possible in the appropriate institutional venues with the democratically elected representatives of students.”

But this just seems like a hoax compared to the events from the last month. 

“In the last few weeks there has been a resurgence of student mobilization in various universities around the country: in Turin for the increase in canteen prices, in Cagliari for the collapse of the ceiling of the main lecture hall, in Catania against various changes to the didactic regulations such as the introduction of “roll call jumping.” At Sapienza University, in particular, a few weeks ago an initiative in which Simone Pillon, a former congressman and well-known “pro-life” and anti-abortionist was invited, was protested. More recently, about 100 students wanted to contest a conference on “good capitalism,” sponsored by a right-wing university association and featuring a member of Fratelli d’Italia, Giorgia Meloni’s party” – says Matteo from the Communist Youth Front (FGC). For years, this organization has been in the forefront of organizing the struggles of the student movement.. 

November 18 marked a key moment. It sent a crystal clear message to the new government: the student movement exists. 

“Students do not want to stop here, and we will see what mobilization initiatives will be built in the coming weeks. It should also be said that the Sapienza mobilizations were also attended by students from other Roman universities, such as myself, and delegations of workers, such as the GKN Factory Collective and various precarious researchers. The goal is to broaden this mobilization and participation of male and female students starting with immediate and concrete demands and then uniting the voices of university students with those of school students and workers” – says Matteo. 

What’s more, the student movement exists both as a street force, which in recent years has demonstrated a real capacity for mobilization, and as a force that wants to contribute actively to the construction of a class opposition to the restructuring process that capital is implementing, justifying it as a necessity in the face of the current situation of crisis and war.

In the current context, after the intensification of repressive measures against those who struggle which the students experienced last February, it is necessary, however, to strive for an overall qualitative leap. The goal must be higher than just demonstrating. The students ought to aim at building an organized response starting from the places of study and work, passing through the suburbs and provincial localities. Not just a resistance front, but a political subject capable of representing all the exploited and being a real actor of the struggle.

“I think that a real political alternative can only be born if we succeed in rebuilding the real movement of the organized working class that gives voice to its weight and strength and responds to years of antipopular policies and attacks on the popular sections of our country and from the fire of the struggle a party that is its vanguard, composed of the most combative and conscious workers, capable of questioning this model of society starting from the real struggle in the workplaces, in working-class neighborhoods, in the squares and also, secondarily, on the electoral ground” – Matteo, the FGC activist, sums up.

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