For Really Serious Politics Take a Trip to Italy

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), November 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

For Really Serious Politics Take a Trip to Italy


Byline: Mario Basini

A WEEK in Italy has just given me the sort of social experience I am unlikely to encounter in Britain again.

I was in Bergamo, the elegant, welcoming northern Italian city which is a two-hour flight away from Cardiff.

The heart of Bergamo is a breathtakingly-beautiful mediaeval walled city perched on a hill. At its feet are the broad streets and sophisticated shops of a more modern urban development. It is an ideal place for a break once the heat of summer has cooled into autumn.

We were due to fly back on Friday, the last flight we could get to Cardiff that week. But the intervention of a general strike meant that our flight was put back until Saturday.

The strike was called to protest against the Berlusconi government's plans to radically alter Italy's pension system. A protest march through the lower part of the city was called to coincide with the strike. And we went down from the upper city to watch it. It was an impressive event. Thousands of workers travelled from the surrounding towns and villages to march.

Organisers suggested as many as 12,000 had taken part. The police estimate of 5,000 was probably closer to the mark. But the protest, repeated in dozens of similar cities - with a population of 120,000 Bergamo is smaller than Swansea - amounted to a considerable proportion of the working population.

Nor were their numbers limited to steelworkers, engineering employees, airport workers or train or bus drivers. Schools, universities, government offices, banks and some shops closed for the day. Many of their employees took part in the demonstration.

As they marched the mile or so from the central station to the lower city's main square the protesters waved a forest of red, white, yellow and green banners representing the three main unions, CGIL, CISL and UNIL. They blew whistles, sang songs and showed a political cohesion British trade unionists spend their lives only dreaming about.

At the end of the march, the workers, many of them accompanied by their spouses and their children, gathered in the square to listen to rousing speeches from their leaders. …

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