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What links here Same old stories? Trade unions and protest in Italy in 2011


The demand for politics over markets, a key message in the Occupy and Indignados movements, is also key here. A considerable drop in trust is clear: trust in all national institutions and political actors (parliament, parties, and trade unions).


The history of Italian protest is certainly a rich one – this is the country that produced one of the largest Communist parties in western Europe, along with a strong and politicized labour movement, often ready to join forces with other social movements. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Italian ‘long autumn’ was compared to the ‘short French May’ as the student movement was accompanied by a widespread cycle of protest. In the 1980s and, especially, the 1990s, the collapse of ‘real socialism’ and the gradual strengthening of neoliberal views had obvious repercussions on the Italian Left, but in the 2000s Italy harboured an extremely vital movement for global justice - the strength and influence of those mobilizations culminated in the hosting of the first European Social Forum (ESF) in Italy. Since 2010, students have protested frequently and intensively against what they consider as attacks on public education, including budget cuts and fees increases. On several occasions, especially during innovative ‘lessons on the street’ they were joined by concerned parents and teachers as well as by the population at large.


Notwithstanding all this, the most visible protests to sweep the global North, in the forms of what have been labelled the ‘Occupy’ movement and the ‘Indignados’ in Southern Europe, saw only a weak following in Italy. Some camps were set up in Italy’s main cities, but they usually remained small in proportion. The Global Day of Action on October 15 saw hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Rome, but the day ended in violent outbursts that neither the protest organizers nor the police were able to control. So what was going on with protest in Italy in 2011? Were things really as quiet as they seemed? In our study we surveyed all the protests reported in Italy in 2011 in the centre-left newspaper La Repubblica, looked at documents and websites from social movement organizations and also drew on information from surveys administered during annual protest marches throughout the year.