The pitchforks movement in Sicily

A blockade during the Pitchforks protest (via
A blockade during the Pitchforks protest (via

A strike and blockade action has started the 16 by the association representing Sicilian truck drivers (Associazione Imprese Autotrasportatori Siciliani) and soon collected support and spread among fishermen, farmers, builders, unemployed and other categories.

Submitted by StrugglesInItaly on January 22, 2012

The action is now called “Operazione Vespri Siciliani”. Sicilian Vespers was a rebellion that broke out on the Easter of 1282 against the rule of the French/Angevin king Charles I (curiously, “operazione vespri siciliani” was also the name of a years long police operation against the mafia during the Nineties). Its ralling cry is “Fermo Sicilia” (Sicily Blockade). The protest has been organized by the variegated “Movimento dei Forconi” (Pitchforks Movement) and it is intended to last until january 20, and possibly more if their demands won’t be answered.

The Sicilian truck drivers blocked entrances and exits of the ports in Pozzallo and Catania and roads and motorways in Palermo, other groups and citizens have occupied railways and started several parades on the island. The main asset blocked is the fuel traffic from the island refineries: in Sicily is produced the 50% of italian fuel. The 17, second day of protests, fuel shortage is spreading, mostly in the island big towns. In Gela, the blockade gained the solidarity of the refinery workers, who joined the protest demanding jobs and investment. The protest has been mainly non-violent as of now (the 17), although there have been some incidents: in Lentini a stallholder stabbed a protester in an attempt to break a block and in Santa Flavia a train almost caused a massacre at an occupied railstation (luckily, no one was injuried). Fearing goods shortage, supermarket have been overcrowded since days, as with the fuel stations. Some ships had to stop in the ports because of the truckers strike. Latest news report of the protest and blockade spreading to the near Calabria. There are not reported cases of clash with police.

Composition and claims of the protest

The main gripe of truck drivers is the price of fuel which they believe has reached “unsustainable levels”, as the cost to transport goods is greater than the cost of the actual product; the same concern is shared by every other category, and particularly felt by fishermen. The related claim is the lowering of the high fuel taxes. AIAS president Giuseppe Richichi said he’s “satisfied” about how the protest is going and for the “spontaneous” support it obtained. Other unions are not backing the protest: FAI (Federation of Italian road transport) and Cna-Fita (Federation of craftsmen transport) said that they are contrary to a local struggle which risks to isolate and damage the economy of the island, and because of its “political nature” which is not substantial with the category “real problems”. Also the Italian Farmers Confederation (CIA) fears damages for the local economy, but a lot of farmers are supporting and joined the blockade with their tractors.

But protest organization, composition and demands present themselves as much wider than these claims. The Pitchforks Movement was born last summer, during the visit to Sicily of the agricolture ministry. Among its leaders and founders, there are: Martino Morsello, ex-socialist and “unlucky” businessman; Mariano Ferro of MPA (Movement for the Autonomy, a Sicilian center-right party – the Sicilian governor’s party); and Giuseppe Scarlata, ex Christian Democrats supporter, which bravely states “once we were against mafia, now the enemy is the State”. A new grassroots, Forza d’Urto (Shock Force) linked to the truck drivers, is born too a month ago, at the encounter of the Pitchforks with Giuseppe Richichi, and animates the action within the Pitchforks. Among their slogans and bywords we find “Away with this political class, as we made ​​with the French, with Vespers” and “All the Sicilians unite to free Sicily from the bondage of this political class”. Calls for more indipendence from the central government go along with hopes to spread the revolt to the whole Country. The pitchforks, brandished with pride, are the symbols of the protesters determination, against corruption and political deafness, against Monti and ECB politics, and “for dignity”. Requests for the Sicily governor Raffaele Lombardo to resign have been made, as several sit-in beset the institutions buildings. Many of the protesters don’t esitate to call for a revolution, and some already refer to the protest as such. The final phrase of the movement manifesto (in Sicilian dialect) says: “Si’ un omu camina calatu torci la schina, se un populu torci la storia” (If a man walk bended, he folds his back, if the people walks it folds history). Another common grievance is for the initial general media silence on what’s happening.

Political support and backing

The Pitchforks Movement self-declares itself as “non-political” and “against party politcs”, while many observers have denounced the presence of far-right and neo-fascists organizations and parties within or in support of it. After the second day of protest the biggest italian parties, instead, have yet to make statements about it, and are ignoring the events. Among the few exceptions, Italia dei Valori, an ideologically vague political party for “values” and “honesty”, historically allied of the centre-left, which has declared its support to the “peaceful Pitchforks”; and La Padania, newspaper of the xenophobic and north-indipendentist party Lega Nord, is, only apparently unexpected (given its historical hatred for the southies, but also their claims of separatism) the only one major newspaper to show support and report the news on its first page.

But, as mentioned before, lacking others, the worrisome political presence is another one. Forza Nuova (New Force), a neofascist movement and party, has showed full support to the Pitchforks, with the words of its leader Roberto Fiore, claiming that this is only the first stage of a forthcoming Italian “revolution”. A few Forza Nuova representatives have taken part in the parades with their banners and a local leader spoke to the Pitchforks some weeks ago. Moreover, according to some observers, this is not just the classical “fascist infiltration”. Morsello Martino, the Pitchforks spokesperson and somehow “leader” and one of the founders of its inner movement Forza d’Urto (Shock Force), would be a seignioragist and the father of Antonella Morsello, fascist and Forza Nuova affiliate, with whom organized a seignioragist meeting, just in a Forza Nuova centre. Another shifty backing comes from Maurizio Zamparini, president of Palermo soccer club and recently founder of “Movimento per la Gente” (Movement for the People) a populist propaganda organ against Equitalia (the private agency that collects unpayed taxes in Italy, object of widespread hate and Forza Nuova “symbolic” attacks, and also victim of several letter bombs in the last few months).
Also Beppe Grillo, leader of the previously covered Movimento 5 Stelle, stated support for the Pitchforks, not without condescending to some anti-unitarian and south-indipendentist rhetoric. Curiously, he also directed his populism against Equitalia lately, going as far as being apologetic about the letter bombings. At this quite gloomy panorama one should add the myriad of little and minuscule far-right groups, “think-tank”, facebook and twitter clicktivists, crypto-fascist web pages, all of them perkily enthusiastic about the Pitchforks.

The heavy silence of the major left organizations is, on the other hand, broken only by the asks for clarification by many indipendent observers and other political activists. At this need the almost only answer by the Pitchforks is the above mentioned claim of non-political and non-party nature of the movement, which completely ignores the point about the (crypto)fascists’ support. Some of those observers already started to call for boycotting the protest for good, while two Palermo left social centers, which are partecipating in the Pitchfork movement, warned about being high hat and early judgmental: “their [the fascists’] play” they say “is just what they always try to do, nothing new. We stand with the Pitchforks because it’s a legitimate, popular and wide participated struggle, which needs good contents. We’re not afraid of getting our hands dirty doing that.”