"The Revolt of the Pitchforks" and the Southern Proletariat

The so-called “revolt of the pitchforks” broke out in the second half of January in Sicily. This movement has now brought the island to a standstill for a week, and is now beginning to extend to other regions.

The revolt is supported by Sicilian farmers, fishermen and roadhauliers, and thus can be coupled with the simultaneous mobilisation of taxi drivers in Rome and other major cities. In both cases, it is the “middling sort” either in the process of proletarianisation, or who have seen their conditions deteriorate dramatically under the blows of an international economic crisis which the various governments, whether "technical" or not, continue to heap on workers and also partly, as in this case, on the weakest fringes of the petty bourgeoisie.But compared to that of taxi drivers, the revolt of the pitchforks has unique characteristics that make it, for better or for worse, worthy of special attention from those who would like to give a shot in the arm to the class struggle as a whole.

The first fact is the breadth of the territory which the struggle involves. It is not just a single city but an entire region, and in the days ahead it could also extend beyond the Straits of Messina and up the peninsula.

The second fact is that it is in Sicily, a region where, as in the rest of the South, the unemployment rate is very high and where the chances for the young to find a decent job, or just any job, are really minimal. These are regions from where, for 150 years, many workers have continued to migrate to the North in order to build a life. Not surprisingly then, that at the present time many school students have gone on strike to show solidarity with the revolt: the discontent is expressed where there is conflict and vice versa, and right now, in Sicily, "the pitchforks" are blocking roads and motorways.

The third, very dangerous, fact is the hegemony that Forza Nuova (New Force) and other names in the galaxy of the neo-fascist right, such as the "Movement for the People" of the industrialist, Zamparini, have at the moment within the revolt. A fact that closely resembles the events of Reggio Calabria in 1970 ( leftcom.org ), when a fierce revolt, which lasted more than a year and involved not only the middle class but also large parts of the proletariat and sub-proletariat, was guided by fascist extremism and was found everywhere on the ground in the struggle for the provincial capital. Its the same today as it was back then. If the proletariat doesn’t mobilise as a class, dragging along with it the sectors of the petty bourgeoisie which are most affected, the risk is that the opposite happens; namely that the middle class take the lead in the conflict, pulling the younger generation with no future and proletarians into the trap of local corporatism and regionalism.

When Sicilian Confindustria speaks of "mafia infiltration" in the movement of the pitchforks it makes you smile, as if the Mafia in Sicily and the state institutions were not part of the same patronage system based on fear and very deep social inequalities. Its the same in the rest of the South. Those who live in the South in mafia-dominated areas know perfectly well that, with rare exceptions, buying votes on both left and right is the norm. To have recommendations, protection, connections, that’s the slogan. Otherwise, if you do not have capital to invest, or inherit a company, you also have to pack up and leave. The mafia will put workers on both sides of the barricades to control the situation and to prevent protests from becoming too "spontaneously" against the system. That’s just a little of what the politicians get up to.

But let’s leave Confindustria to play its part in this little theatre and get back to the revolt. In essence, the point where we have to start is that the South is not the North. In the South, capitalism throws off its disguise: it is brazen and brutal. Social divisions run particularly deep and the poor are really poor. In the South there is no widespread manufacturing base as in the northern regions so that the factory-based working class is numerically weaker than workers employed in the services, the underemployed, the unemployed and farm labourers.

And now we come to the farm labourers. The latter, in Sicily and elsewhere in the South, are almost all immigrants and represent perhaps the key to shifting a struggle, like that of the pitchforks, from a corporatist and regionalist terrain to a class and internationalist one. And there is no point in trying to oppose the fascistic hegemony in the revolt on purely ideological level. It is necessary to clearly show our difference in its content. If this crisis also affects the farm owner, it affects the immigrant labourers even more – mostly taken on illegally – they are brutally exploited today, and tomorrow will be likely to be out of work and their residence permit revoked. This is what we must insist on two years after the great revolt of Rosarno. However, it is proletarians, and in particular immigrants, the most vulnerable part of the class, who are paying the highest price.

We workers must begin to break down the many barriers that still divide us: the worker of Termini Imerese, , the unemployed youth in Palermo, the farm labourer of the plain of Catania... it is they who should join in a united front and block the roads of Sicily, and not just to lower this or that tax or to oppose this or that governor, but to claim a legitimate guarantee of a “decent” job, a “decent” pension... If these goals are absolutely incompatible with an international capitalist system in crisis, it means that we have to go further. This is why is is not enough just to brandish pitchforks: we must also know how to point them in the right direction.

And even in Sicily, this direction must move beyond struggle for a single demand and start to question the foundations of capitalism, proposing finally a new kind of society without bosses, sponsors ... and owners.



As the crisis deepens and forces more workers into poverty then we can expect to see more struggles arise which break out of the constraints of bourgeosie legality. Just looking at a few reports on the pitchforks seems that the struggle is constituted by militantcy of sectors of the petite bourgeosie who while fearing growing impoverishment are also angry at being proletarianised. In conditions such as these it's no surprise to see forces of reaction moving in to benefit from the discontent.

However reaction can offer no way out of the current crisis and as the report mentions it's the working class which is the key to moving the struggle into a progressive internationalist direction. The problem is that as far as I know due to the economic underdevelopment of Sicily the urban working class is weak and dispersed which makes it more difficult to launch a militant fightback. Also isn't it true that any left communist presence is difficult to maintain, unlike Italy, due to the intensity of the right wing forces and the low level of class confidence?

Still one more report of the wave of struggles makes me think 2012 is going to be a year of surprises, some good and some not so good.

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