Italy: Protest Against Monti Government Is a Failure, Here's the Evidence

Italiano: Sciopero generale contro la manovra ...The way protests looked in Italy at the time of Berlusconi (September 2011) Image via Wikipedia
Everyone expected social tensions to rise in Italy, following  on the austerity measures the Monti government had to adopt to address the catastrophic debt situation.

Yesterday, 9 March, was meant to be a major protest accompanied by a general strike of the "metal-mechanics". The first BIG mass protest since the Italian trade unions had planned on a general strike two months ago. It involved one of the three big unions, CGIL, the leftist union (Italian General Confederation of Labor) plus a smaller union, FIOM, the trade union that recently walked out of the FIAT auto industry contracts offered by CEO Marchionne.

FIOM has always wanted to become the 4th big union in Italy but so far hasn't made it. Now that it's out of FIAT, it finds it has problems financing itself (FIAT has traditionally provided funding to the unions it is involved with). And yesterday, as it turned out, the big leftist party in Italy, the PD (it is in fact supporting the Monti government measures) did not participate. The only politicians who turned up were small fry: Di Pietro, a maverick leading the small, inconsequential IDV party (Italia dei Valori) and Vendola, an ambitious extremist on the Left that most people shun.

FIOM claimed its general strike at FIAT was adhered to by 70% of workers while FIAT itself reported only 5 to 7%. I leave you to imagine who's right.

What about Piazza San Giovanni in Rome, where the major meeting of all the protesters had been organized?

Italian newspapers this morning (as I write this post) show pictures of streams of people filling the streets and walking to Piazza San Giovanni, waving red flags and chanting.

Fine. Streets are narrow, they're filled much more easily than a big open Piazza  like San Giovanni. I was curious because the amount of noise I could hear from my flat sounded subdued. I walked over around 2 pm as the concluding speech was delivered.

Small wonder the noise was contained: very few people had actually turned up.

Here's the photographic evidence - something you will not see in Italian newspapers (they were careful to photograph streets filled with people walking together and agitating red flags). Look at this photograph I took while walking up to San Giovanni:

This is hardly a packed piazza with standing-room-only the way I remembered it when people protested against Berlusconi a couple of years ago. That time I hadn't even been able to cross the avenue and walk up to the Church, it had been a wall of people! And it has nothing to do with the turnout on September 6, 2011 when Berlusconi tried a "manovra finanziaria" to impose austerity measures (see picture at top of post).

Yesterday there was so much space nearer to the podium (right side of pix) and in front of the Church that people walked about and laid on the grass, soaking up the sun:

Feels like a Sunday outing... It was nice and warm, a perfect day for a chat with girl friends:

People certainly had fun preparing for it, some even did a purple octopus  holding onto puppets of politicians (Monti is on the right):

There were the usual t-shirt vendors - this one doesn't seem to have done much business:

And a lone, bearded beggar as people were leaving the piazza (but he seemed by-passed by most people in a hurry to grab lunch - it was already 2:30 pm at that point):

 No doubt this kid had a whale of a good time, beating the drum:

But children were in a minority - so were young people. My impression was that most people there middle-aged or old:

The few young all seemed to belong to extremist groupings, like the No TAV people (those who want to stop the construction of a High Speed train linking Northern Italy directly to France):

There's a pile of garbage dumped in the forefront of this picture, see it? Admittedly, this time the mess was relatively contained (as the noise was) but still...Everytime there's a mass protest organized in Piazza San Giovanni I feel sad.

Very sad.

It seems like such a shame to reduce to shambles with garbage (and worse - there are never enough public toilets) a lovely piazza, surely one of the high points in the city for tourists. Perhaps more importantly, San Giovanni is the Church of the Bishop of Rome, and the Bishop is none other than the Pope - hardly an appropriate place for mass protests (considering a hospital is near-by and the noise can be deafening).

There are many other places in Rome that would be more appropriate (ranging from the Circo Massimo to places outside the Raccordo Annulare, including the one Pope John Paul II used). Yet politicians on the Italian Left have traditionally considered Piazza San Giovanni as theirs to do with what they please...and if the traffic in town grinds to a halt because of a mass protest in San Giovanni, politicians certainly don't care. They've got their "auto blu" (blue official cars) and bodyguards and go anywhere they please. It's us, poor citizens, that have to pay: we get the noise and the dirt; we have to pay the extra police to maintain order and street cleaners to clean up the mess.

That's democracy for you!
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