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The Northern Italian Working Class and the Northern League [Mar. 6th, 2009|02:59 pm]
Reviews, Quotes, Bibliographies from Jerry Monaco


[Current Music |Guilt]

The magnitude of the ensuing disaster exceeded all expectations. The centre-right crushed the centre-left by a margin of 9.3 per cent, or some three and half million votes, giving it an overall majority of nearly 100 in the Chamber and 40 in the Senate. Gains within the victorious bloc were made, however, not by the newly minted PdL (into which Forza Italia and AN had merged), which actually ended up with 100,000 votes fewer than the two had secured in 2006. The big winner was the League, whose vote jumped by 1.5 million, accounting for virtually all the total increase in the score of the centre-right. The PD, presenting itself as the party of the progressive centre to which all well-disposed Italians could now rally, proved a complete flop. With just over 33 per cent of the vote, it mustered scarcely more support – on one reckoning, less – than its component parts in 2006. Indeed, even this score was reached only with the voto utile of about a fifth of the former voters of the parties of the left proper, which this time had combined into a rainbow alliance and been wiped out when it fell below the 4 per cent threshold, with a net loss of nearly 2.5 million votes. Overall, the value-added of the Democratic Party, created to reshape the political landscape by attracting voters away from the centre-right, turned out to be zero.

The shock of the election of 2008 has been compared to that of 1948, when the Christian Democrats – this was before opinion polls, so there was little advance warning – triumphed so decisively over the Communists and Socialists that they held power continuously for another 44 years. If no such durable hegemony is in sight for today’s centre-right, the condition of the centre-left, indeed the Italian left as a whole, is in most respects – morale, organisation, ideas, mass support – much worse than that of the PCI or PSI of sixty years ago: it would be more appropriate to speak of a Caporetto of the left. Central to the debacle has been the left’s displacement by the League among the Northern working class. The ability of parties of the right to win workers away from traditional allegiances on the left has become a widespread, if not unbroken pattern. First achieved by Thatcher in Britain, then by Reagan and Bush in America, and most recently by Sarkozy in France, only Germany, among the major Western societies, has so far resisted it. The League could, from this point of view, be regarded simply as the Italian instance of a general trend. But a number of features make it a more striking, special case.

The first, and most fundamental, is that it is not a party of the establishment, but an insurgent movement. There is nothing conservative about the League; its raison d’être is not order, but revolt. Its forte is raucous, hell-raising protest. Typically, movements of protest are short-winded – they come and go. The League, however, is now the oldest political party in Italy, indeed the only one that can look back on 30 years of activity. This is not an accident produced by the random workings of the break to the Second Republic. It reflects the second peculiarity of the League, its dynamism as a mass organisation, possessing cadres and militants that make it, in the words of Roberto Maroni, perhaps Bossi’s closest colleague, ‘the last Leninist party in Italy’. Over much of the North, it now functions somewhat as the PCI once did, as rueful Communist veterans often observe, with big gains in one formerly ‘red’ industrial stronghold after another: the Fiat works in Mirafiori, the big petrochemical plants in Porto Marghera, the famous proletarian suburb of Sesto San Giovanni outside Milan, setting in the 1950s of Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers. This is not to say that it has become a party based on labour. While it has captured much of the working-class vote across the North, the League’s core strength lies, as it has always done, among the small manufacturers, shopkeepers and self-employed in what were once fortresses of the DC: the Catholic provinces of the North-East, now increasingly secularised, where hatred of taxes and of interference by the central state runs especially strong. Here resentment of fiscal transfers to the South, perceived as a swamp of parasitic ne’er-do-wells, powered the League’s take-off in the late 1980s. Immigration from the Balkans, Africa and Asia, which has quadrupled over the last decade, is now the more acute phobia, laced with racism and prejudice against Islam. The shift of emphasis has, as might be expected, been a contributory factor in the spread of the League’s influence into the Northern working class, more exposed to competition in the labour market than to sales taxes.

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