Since October last year, students from all over Italy have been involved in a wide number of protests against new laws which are aiming to introduce neoliberal reforms in both schools and universities. These new laws, law 133 and law 169, have been put forward by minister of education Mariastella Gelmini who is aiming to balance the government’s books through cutting public expenditure in education. The main thrust of the new laws are:
- cuts to the public expenditure reserved for universities totalling 1,500,000,000 Euros in five years;
- reduction in the number of university teachers (50% in the medium-to-long term) which will also lead to the impossibility of research activities;
- the nature of the university will be transformed – universities will lose their public nature which will lead to a situation where they will be divided into first or second class institutions depending on the expenditure power of the respective region; therefore, the opportunity of studying in university will not be ensured any more for low income students;
- closure of the SSSIS (School for the Specialization of Teachers) justified only on the basis of saving on public expenditure; along the same lines, primary schools will have just one all-purpose teacher per class with unions expecting this to cause the loss of 83,000 jobs
There is also a racial element to the new reforms with “bridge classes” being established for the children of immigrants, separate from Italian students. These had previously been put forward by the Lega Nord, a right wing nationalist party which has also supported the Berlusconi government’s recent attacks on the Roma people in Italy.
In response to these attacks, parents, teachers, staff and students from primary school to university level have staged a number of imaginative protests. High schools and universities have been occupied and lessons have been taking place outdoors; the wearing of plasters has become a symbolic sign of the “cuts”; students disrupted events at the Rome Film Festival and banners have displayed with slogans such as: “No more deaths because of public expenditure cuts: shame on you!” which refers to an incident in a high school near Turin when a roof collapsed and killed a 17 year old student.
In light of the economic crisis the movement has now taken up the slogan “We will not pay for this crisis” and have dubbed themselves “the wave”. This is intended to draw comparisons between the government’s apparent lack of funds for education and, on the other hand, their willingness to bail out the irresponsible bankers and bureaucrats who are behind the current recession. Along the same lines, December 12th saw a general strike called by the General Confederation of Italian workers (CGIL) in response to the state of the economy. This saw the closing of postal services nationwide, transport services, airports in several cities and many automobile manufacturers, in some of which strikers were joined by members of other unions. Tens of thousands marched in Rome while 200,000 workers rallied in Bologna, 30,000 in Turin, 50,000 in Milan, 40,000 in Naples, 10,000 in Genoa and many more gathered elsewhere to demand higher wages, better pensions, more labour rights and lower unemployment.