In response to new educational reforms from the Berlusconi government, staff and students at Italy's schools and universities have risen in revolt. What follows is an overview of what's been going on.
2.5 million people gathered last Saturday, October 25th, in Circo Massimo in Rome. The demonstration had been called by the Italian party PD (the Democratic Party, centre-left) whose leader Walter Veltroni was defeated by Berlusconi in the last election (Spring 2008).
The main reasons behind the demonstration were the last proposals put forward by the Italian government, among them the law designed by the minister of education Mariastella Gelmini who, in attempt to help restoring the financial balance of the country, plans significant cuts to the public expenditure reserved to schools and universities.
However, Rome was not the only city where people demonstrated, all around Italy, students, teachers and families walked into squares to express their disagreement against the recent government policies which put economic reasons in front of any social and equality issue. During the last week, students have occupied universities and secondary schools despite the threats advanced by Berlusconi who wanted to send the police “to restore the order”. In fact, the leader of Forza Italia has stated that “squares are not the place where to discuss political issues which should be discussed only in the Parliament”. But students and teachers’ protests have arisen against “a school where education is not a right but a service and students are clients instead of actors”. But according to Il Cavaliere, what is occurring in the Italian universities “is not a matter of democracy but just an act of violence against the other students who would like to study” and “the demonstrators are from the extreme left and just guys from social centres”.
However, educational activities have not stopped and instead have moved to the square, outside the academic buildings; they are public like the knowledge that has being defended. Open air lectures held by university professors have taken place in the main squares of cities like Milan, Bologna, Naples, Turin, Rome, Bari etc. Among the most emotional ones has been the one held by the physics of La Sapienza in Montecitorio square who have pointed out how, under the current Italian government, “Einstein would be a precarious worker, maybe considered a wasted man who enjoys himself in formulating theories instead of working”.
But the crucial day will be October 28th when the government will present the Decreto Gelmini to the Senate for the final and decisive vote, for that day the union of teachers is planning a big demonstration again. The following are the main contents of the law:
1) Cut to the public expenditure reserved to the universities (1,500 million in five years);
2) Reduction in the number of university teachers (fifty percent in the medium-long term) which will also lead to the impossibility of research activities;
3) The nature of the university will be transformed in Foundation which implies the lost of its public nature and will lead to a situation where universities will be divided into institutions of class A and class B depending on the expenditure power of the respective region; therefore, the right of studying will be ruled out and the opportunity of studying in university will not be ensured any more for the low-income students;
4) Closure of the SSSIS (School for the Specialization of Teachers) justified only on the basis of saving on public expenditure. Along the same lines, the introduction of the “unique teacher” in primary school is dictated by financial reasons (like the proscription of not changing the content of the books for 5 years) and the unions expect that to cause the loss of 83 thousands jobs.
The proposals put forward by the Italian government also include clear racist policies like the one supported by Lega Nord that would like to establish the “bridge class” for the children of immigrants (Lega Nord had previously strongly supported the introduction of fingerprinting for the identification Roma gypsy children). This, better-defined, “ghetto-class” would lead a situation of even less social integration.
Talks between student representatives and Minister Gelmini failed to make progress Friday. She said in a newspaper interview published Monday that the general strike called by union confederations for Thursday would go ahead, calling it the usual ritual of those seeking to defend the indefensible.