With rosary beads in hand, and flanked by eleven of the leaders of Europe’s most reactionary and racist political parties, Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s La Lega and Minister of the Interior in the country’s coalition government, rounded off his last Euro-election campaign rally in Milan’s Piazza Duomo.
He wound up, as he had begun his campaign, with a war cry against immigrants. “With the support of my government I have replied to the appeal of the pontiff with deeds not words to reduce the deaths in the Mediterranean… A historic moment of liberation of the continent from the abusive occupation organised from Brussels by the Europe of the financiers and uncontrolled immigration is approaching. I trust in the immaculate heart of Mary to carry us to victory”.
The anti-immigrant pitch, in substance, accounts for his meteoric rise, and the support from millions of Italy’s working masses far beyond what, beyond parts of the Veneto and Lombardia provinces, he and his predecessors got in the past.
Even in Salvini’s current government coalition deal with Luigi Di Maio, leader of the self-proclaimed “radically new” Five Star outfit, the nakedly anti-working-class profile of La Lega’s historic core base of support — thousands of small and medium sized businesses — retains priority. His “flat tax” demand is pushed along without a cheep of serious protest from the trade union leaders, or from the PD (Democratic Party), which still describes itself as “left-wing”.
Two decades of centre-left and centre-right regimes effectively gouged out from Italy’s distinctive socioeconomic formation a neo-liberal warren of the most predatory privatisation, and razed one after another rights and conditions etched in the history of working class life and struggle. The scale of that defeat represented by the victory of the Lega-Five-Star coalition and what it has unleashed is still unfolding.
Salvini, like Bolsonaro, has ruthlessly exploited the race card. He has used it as a lens through which large sections of a defeated class, defenceless politically and ideologically, are invited to make sense of conditions in which sense, coherence and horizons shrink in direct proportion as life atomises.
The coalition is now fracturing under pressure of its contradictions, but Salvini from the very first moment grabbed the reins, confident that his rising popularity would win victory in these Euro-elections and promote him as a European leader of the Right.
Calculatingly and successfully he has raised the stakes by ever more extreme anti-migrant measures.
First he took action against the NGO vessels in the Mediterranean, then he closed the ports to them and then his security law removed the humanitarian status of thousands already resident in the country’s reception and care centres. Now he has announced a 3,000 euro entry penalty for every migrant rescued by the NGO vessels. To the cries of “racism”, “fascism”, etc. from the centre-left and their backers in the liberal media, he calmly points to their own record of studied indifference to the thousands dying in the Mediterranean, and their own measures of attempts to criminalise and ban the humanitarian vessels.
But a growing rash of protests has more and more focused on Salvini. His notorious cynical latitude when former public buildings are occupied by the fascist groups Casa Pound and Forza Nuova is well known, at the same time as he (and his predecessors of the centre-left and centre-right) have physically and brutally forced immigrants onto the streets. The countless political meetings and marches of Salvini and his supporters are massively protected, but anyone opposing them with banners or signs is immediately forced to desist. Banners hanging from windows overlooking his rallies have been forcibly seized by the fire service.
The atmosphere of mounting repression reached an even more sinister point in mid-May when a schoolteacher, having set a critical exercise of historical and philosophical evaluation to his senior students on the Minister of the Interior’s latest Security Law and the race laws of the Nazi party in Germany, found herself before the political intelligence squad and suspended for 15 days without pay. The penalty was immediately condemned and opposed by all the unions in education, and strikes have been threatened if the teacher is not reinstated and paid.
A victory on this issue would signal that the flame of working class resistance remains alight and, in the difficult days and weeks ahead, will begin to burn ever more fiercely.