Labelled the ‘Invisibles’, this large group of people has rekindled the lower-class struggle in Italy by clamoring for social justice and the protection of rights.
Remember when we used to fantasize about what the world would be like after the lockdown? About how important it was not to miss this tragic but still unique opportunity to put an end to all those injustices that the health and eventually economic and social emergency due to the Coronavirus has made even more evident?
At a certain point, we realized — or had to realize — that it was precisely the ‘Invisibles’, a group of precarious, discriminated, ill-treated and unheard people, that took Italy forward — during one of the toughest periods in its history — and made us so proud. This group includes supermarket cashiers, call center workers, underpaid nurses and health care workers, precarious researchers, field workers (in Italy they are called braccianti and are mostly migrants) as well as a lot of women.
So we began to denounce the reasons for their condition as invisible. Voices, stifled until before, have acquired authority denouncing lethal turbo-capitalism, unbridled neoliberalism, austerity policies, the role of multinationals; that is all those dynamics that have weakened and drained the resources of our social and welfare system and made the rich increasingly rich and, simultaneously, increased poverty.
There was a moment when it really seemed that we wanted to rebuild our society on a more sustainable basis. We were looking for the guilty parties and we had the firm feeling that everything was ready for a historic turning point. We will all come out better, we said! The mask had fallen and, if it’s not a contradiction, the king was naked.
It didn’t take much to re-dress the king, though
Soon, too soon, the turbulent flow of events brought us back to the usual. The Invisibles have unquestionably been elevated to heroes and yet, without their condition actually improving. While within national borders and beyond, the Black Lives Matter movement has been clamoring for sacrosanct human, social and economic rights and for a historical reworking of colonialist history throughout the West — including through the demolition and smearing of statues — the institutions did not dare speak up.
Practically, political protagonists have silently and opportunistically withdrawn into their palaces, as if nothing happened, re-proposing this typical all-Italian dynamic: on the one hand a hesitant, uncertain, bewildered majority without a unifying political credo but who want to stay in power at all costs, and on the other a cynical, extreme, populist and verbally violent opposition.
The ‘States General of the Economy’
It is precisely in this context that, between June 13 and 21, the States General of the Economy (Gli Stati generali dell’Economia) took place, which was strongly desired by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
The idea is that there is representation of all social classes (originally, in the time before the French Revolution, this meant the clergy, nobility and third state) to limit the power of a monarchy. Creating a space of confrontation and listening in order to redesign the future of the country by overcoming the ongoing harsh economic crisis should be considered a noble attempt. But let’s face it, the States General of the Economy have not exactly been the emblem of a democratic and representative exercise.
The excluded parties — some voluntarily, like the opposition — were many. Suffice it to say that not even journalists had access. In fact, many critics agreed about a fundamental point which was the lack of inclusion.
What happened to our ‘heroes?’
The good news, however, is that in Italy these exclusionary practices of Italian politics towards an entire slice of the population, known as the ‘Invisibles’, have not gone unnoticed.
Among them, there is certainly Aboubakar Soumahoro, a leading player in the trade union struggles in favor of the rights of field workers and lately, particularly concerned about the employment emergency following the coronavirus crisis. In order to be heard by President Conte, Soumahoro had to tie himself to a bench and start a hunger and thirst strike for eight long hours with some colleagues in front of Villa Pamphili — the place where the States-General was held.
The Popular States and their manifesto
It was precisely in this context of the States General that Soumahoro, tired of standing on the sidelines of Italian public debates, decided to call the ‘Popular States’ (Gli Stati Popolari), a demonstration that was held in Rome, in San Giovanni Square on July 5 and in which, like me, many people decided to participate, despite the typical Italian summer heat.
As the name suggests, the association between States General and States Popular exists but not in an antithetical way.
On the contrary, the latter, as Soumahoro pointed out, were a sort of continuation of the former. In fact, the Popular States do not stand in opposition to the process of economic reconstruction of the country. On the contrary, they wanted to make it more democratic and inclusive by proposing concrete ideas that are, so far, lacking political applicability.
At the basis of the union between the Black Lives Matter movement, the trade unions fighting for the rights of the field workers, the riders who brought food to the houses all over Italy during the lockdown, the precarious workers in the schools and in the entertainment industry, the second generation immigrants who still see their right to citizenship denied, the workers of Ilva in Taranto and Whirpool in Naples and the women of Non una di meno, there is an awareness of a single suffocating condition. Namely, it is that of being invisible, unheard and unprotected by the Italian political system.
On top of this, there is an awareness that we are precisely in the middle of a transversal struggle for rights that strengthen the force and therefore the influence that can be exerted on politics.
What has been presented is a program that is radical but above all real, like the problems that have inspired it. In the same square which hosted the funeral of the communist leader Berlinguer, this time it was the workers who wanted to raise a call, sometimes understandably desperate but undoubtedly dignified, for social, gender and environmental justice.
The manifesto, exhibited at the end of the event through the words of Soumahoro, presents six macro-themes among which the most important are certainly the integral reform of the food chain; the need for a national plan for the labour emergency and a sudden change in migration policies. Particularly, the elimination of the Security Decrees signed by the former Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini was requested.
While I was attending the numerous speeches, I was thinking about the fact that, given the tragedy of certain instances, there is a real danger that the bomb of social unease could explode at any moment here in Italy. What makes the situation even more dramatic, I fear, is that on the one hand there is an urgent need to respond to these vital demands but, on the other hand, there is a simultaneous lack of political representation and endorsement of those needs.
At the end of the manifestation, I can say, my fears were somehow cheered up. First, by Soumahoro’s final promise that should politics be unable to accept the demands made, the People’s States are ready to take the field and, “we are the ones who will be the protagonists.”
Finally, on the way to the Roma Termini station, I came across a guy who was talking to a friend about the experience in San Giovanni Square. In particular, he said a phrase that I want to carry in my heart, that I want to believe reflects the thoughts of many other people and that gives me that necessary confidence in the future. Commenting on the event, this young man said, “I thought I was in one of the classic left-wing nostalgic and anachronistic manifestations but, surprisingly, I found myself feeling a political enthusiasm that I had forgotten.”
And if this political fervor has really been triggered in so many of us, then the ‘Popular States’ may be that popular movement that can unite, from below, the many losers of our time and that can, in Aboubakahr’s words, propose a “politics of human sympathy, a politics which is not indifferent but which feels the pain and the need to start again, protecting the human being.”
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