BLAIR AND BERLOSCUNI
I was in Turin at the Book Fair recently participating in a round-table to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the left-wing daily paper Il Manifesto, when I read that while the French and German governments were maintaining a certain cool, Tony Blair was the first European leader to ring Berloscuni to congratulate him on his victory. Did he ring his friends in the Olive Tree and offer condolences on the miserable death of the ‘third way'. After all their candidate, Rutelli, modelled himself on Blair.
Berloscuni is the man who The Economist put on their cover a few weeks ago below the headline: ‘This Man is Not Fit to Run Italy'. Leaving aside Berloscuni's own links to the Mafia, his conflict of interests (he owns two television stations and is threatening to bring the state TV network into line), his shady business practices (bribery, tax-evasion, money-laundering) etc., there is the additional fact that fascists are part of his coalition. Remember the EU boycott of Austria? Well what about Italy? Another case of double-standarditis. And yet one should not fault Blair's instincts. He knows that Berloscuni is going to ‘reform' Italy just as Thatcher ‘reformed' Britain.
The Economist, too, has shifted gear. In the face of Berloscuni's electoral triumph it has sounded the retreat:
“Italy's economy….is burdened by bureaucracy, a sclerotic labour market and an unsustainable pension system With his strong majority, Mr Berloscuni stands a better chance of tackling them than any predecessor. So good luck to him if he can reduce the country's 09.9% rate of unemployment and help its small firms by cutting taxes and red tape. Better still if he will risk a fight with the trade unions to fillet the labour laws and thus encourage the employers to hire more workers.”
This is the hocus-pocus logic of free-market zealotry of which Blair and Brown are the leading practitioners in Britain. The Labour Manifesto says it all. They will, in effect, move towards a privatisation of the NHS and education. Those voting for them will have no cause to complain . This is not a hidden agenda. There is no artifice. These are the core values of New Labour, now openly proclaimed without the cover of a ‘third way'. Many New Labour voters will, no doubt, scream ‘betrayal' in the years ahead, but all that will have been betrayed is their illusions.
Both Berloscuni and Blair believe that neo-liberal capitalism is an ideal state and something that is achievable provided all irrational impediments are removed. Thus deregulation is always equated with competition. Regulation is regarded as ineffective and corrupt ‘red-tape'. The private sector is worshipped for its efficiency and purity. The only reality is the individual. Each for himself. If we say that the market economy creates misery on a world scale, the Ayatollahs of the market reply that this is because there are too many obstacles in the path of the free-market heaven, such as ‘welfare culture'. It is this culture that Blair and Berloscuni are targeting to achieve their brave, new world. Theirs is a bankrupt conceit, which will lead to a social explosion sooner or later.
The subject of the Il Manifesto forum in Turin was ‘Democracy and Capitalism'. The day before sixty-five thousand steel workers (trade union membership: 1.5 million) had marched in the streets of Turin, Milan, Florence and Perugia to protest against the below-inflation wage rises and as an early warning to Berloscuni: touch us at your peril. The difference between Anglo-Saxon neo-liberalism and that in continental Europe is that the workers movement in the latter has not suffered the crushing defeats inflicted by Reagan and Thatcher. In Italy, France and Germany the unions have collaborated with centre-left governments, but prevented them from going all the way. The capitalists in these countries believe that this hinders competition with the de-regulated United States and Britain. So the logic is clear. A clash will take place. Neither side can be sure of victory.
In the last century capitalism was on the defensive and social-democracy was on the offensive. That situation has now been reversed. With the disappearance of a global enemy, capital can now concentrate on the ‘enemy within' and all the concessions it was forced to concede can be clawed back. In other words social and democratic rights will have to be fought for once again (as in the 19th century) against the might of a triumphal capitalism. Neither Blair nor Berloscuni are part of the solution.