Italy continues to be one of the worst COVID-19-hit regions in the world. As of April 11, over 156,000 people had contracted the disease, with close to 20,000 deaths. Peoples Dispatch (PD) talks to Vincenzo Colaprice from the Giovani Comunisti (Young Communists) regarding the impact of the raging pandemic on Italian society and the effectiveness of the measures taken by the government to tackle the crisis. Giovani Comunisti (GC) was formed in 1994 and is one of the major leftist youth organizations in the country.
Peoples Dispatch (PD): Could you tell us a bit about what led to the current situation?
Vincenzo Colaprice (VC): This situation was due to two big errors by the Italian government. The first two cases, a Chinese couple, were registered in Rome on January 31st. The same day, the government decided to suspend all flights to and from China in order to prevent the arrival of Chinese people potentially affected by the virus. This was a fatal error. Many Italian companies, especially in the textile sector, work with Chinese firms and businessmen. Italian technicians and workers come and go from China in order to export the know-how.
The Italian companies decided to bypass this measure by opting for flights with intermediate stops. The flights were not traceable and the authorities couldn’t control the inflow of passengers. The province of Bergamo in Lombardy is one of the most affected by the coronavirus in Italy, and in that province, many companies work with Chinese firms.
The second error concerns the delay in adopting the lockdown in the most affected areas of northern Italy. It was declared just at the end of February and preceded by several leaks of the news that pushed workers and students from southern Italy to flee the red zone in order to reach their families. This contributed to spreading the virus along the country. So we have two levels of responsibility: governmental and on the part of the employers.
PD: How effective was the government in responding to the crisis?
VC: The government was clumsy initially. It took the first measures only three weeks after the beginning of the epidemic. Even the regional governments, especially in northern Italy where the infection started, tried to ignore the effects of the virus and kept factories and shops open. In order to guarantee profits, the local administrations ended up taking measures that led to the spread of the virus. These days, there is a debate in newspapers about the errors made in the northern Italian regions and the pressure from employers’ associations to avoid forced closure.
The actions of the Italian government in facing the epidemic are generally adequate but much influenced by the pressure from employers. Some days ago, the government presented a huge plan of 400 billion euros, about half of our GDP, in order to tackle the impact of the economic crisis. But the measures in favor of the working class are limited and not satisfying.
PD: What has been the impact of the crisis on the working class in the country?
VC: The impact on the working class has been terrible. For weeks, the workers were forced to go to their workplaces using overcrowded public transport, or were working without the necessary personal protective equipment. Non-essential activities closed as late as March 23rd but employers are already asking for a stage-by-stage re-opening. The three largest trade unions didn’t go for a national strike, just the independent trade unions. But after the first cases of infection in the factories, the workers organized several spontaneous strikes.
PD: What has been the international solidarity like for Italy in tackling the crisis?
VC: The solidarity that we received from Cuba is impressive. 52 doctors and nurses from the Medical Brigade “Henry Reeve” reached Italy weeks ago and now they are working in Crema, near Milan. This is a beautiful example of international solidarity that once more shows how unfair the embargo against Cuba is. China sent us doctors and other material, providing us the necessary know-how to fight the virus. Albania, Poland and the Czech Republic sent their doctors to help us.
PD: What are the proposals put forth by the Italian left, especially the communists, to deal with the crisis?
VC: This crisis offers us the chance to say that our 10-year battle against austerity and neoliberalism was right. But this is not enough. Now we must state the right way to overcome this crisis. We need more of the State and less private profit. We need to defend and improve our National Health System. We need a wealth tax on the richest 10% because the workers can’t pay the for consequences of the next crisis. This could be the right occasion to organize a strong social movement that could subvert the economic policies followed in Italy for the past 30 years.