The London-based publication The Economist announced on December 18 that Italy is their “country of the year for 2021″. According to the prestigious magazine, 2021 was the “year Italy changed” after two decades of political and economic crisis in part due to leaders such as Silivio Berlusconi.
The Economist notes three reasons for this change: First, a new prime minister Mario Draghi who is described as responsible and confident; second, a rapid economic recovery from the COVID crisis compared to other European countries; third, Italy’s management of the pandemic and its vaccination campaign. However, a closer look at these three points calls the magazine’s analysis into question.
Did Mario Draghi really bring stability?
Regarding former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, the Economist writes that Italy “acquired a competent, internationally respected prime minister. For once, a broad majority of its politicians buried their differences to back a program of thoroughgoing reform that should mean Italy gets the funds to which it is entitled under the EU’s post-pandemic recovery plan.”
In February 2021, when Mario Draghi took over the official functions as prime minister, he opened his inauguration with the following words: “This government will be firmly pro-European and Atlanticist, in line with Italy’s historical anchors: the European Union, the North Atlantic Alliance, and the United Nations.” Since the beginning, there was no doubt at all about which side Draghi was on, namely Italy’s internationally-oriented and US-backed capital.
Mario Draghi was not elected by the Italian people in general elections; he was chosen in February 2021 by President Sergio Matarella after then Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned due to internal government conflicts. Almost all the parties in parliament—from the center-left Democratic Party PD to the conservative right Lega—voted in his favor. This produced an increasing detachment of ordinary people from the political-institutional process: In the local elections of September 2021, almost 50% of the people didn’t participate in the voting process; abstentionism reached even 60% in the second round in Italy’s capital Rome.
Intensifying class struggle
There was already a great gap between the functioning of Italy’s political institutions and the social needs of the people. Mario Draghi deepened this gap. A few months after his designation, Draghi ended the prohibition of COVID-19 crisis related layoffs. Shortly after, mass layoffs, factory closures, and relocations skyrocketed. In a particularly shocking example in June 2021, 422 GKN workers in Campi Bisenzio (Tuscany) were fired via email. This catalyzed an important worker-led struggle. GKN workers occupied their factory, organized mass mobilizations (the most important one in September 18, 2021, with 40,000 people taking the streets of Florence) and wrote a legislative proposal against relocations together with allied lawyers. The proposal was presented in the Senate by MP Matteo Mantero (Potere al Popolo) but rejected by parliament.
On December 16, 2021, the two major unions CGIL and UIL called for a general strike against Draghi’s 2022 budget plan. Draghi’s government plan provides for a fiscal reform which lowers taxes on the rich and a pension reform which increases the retirement age. His political program is clear: benefiting private companies and the rich while increasing the exploitation of working people. In response, unions and the extra-parliamentary left criticized the government for leaving out wealth redistribution measures and took to the streets.
The only form of stability Mario Draghi brought was stability to the ruling class. In no way does he improve the living and working conditions of the people.
Economic recovery for whom?
The Economist wrote: “After a difficult 2020, its economy is recovering more speedily than those of France or Germany.” Indeed, after a crash of -8.2% of the GDP in 2020, the European Commission is predicting +6.2% growth for 2021 (for Germany only +2.7% is predicted). But what lies beyond these numbers?
Every single year, Italy is first in all of Europe for the number of people dying in workplace accidents. In the first ten months of 2021, 1,017 workers have already died, which is three workers per day. Despite this social tragedy, the national labor inspectorate has been continuously deprived of the power to penalize companies for not respecting security measures.
Italy is the only OECD country where wages didn’t rise in the last 30 years (1990-2020); in fact, it’s the only country where they dropped (-2.9%). In Lithuania, wages rose 276.3%, in Germany, 33.7%, in Greece, 30.5% and in Spain, 6.2%. A cause of lower wages in Italy is involuntary part-time work that increased from 10 to 30%. As a result, the share of the working poor in Italy increased by 7% to 33% (30 years ago, they were 26%).
The labor situation remain unchanged with Mario Draghi. In the context of greater international competition due to the COVID-19 crisis, these tendencies will only increase in the next few years.
Italy’s real pandemic response
It’s true that Italy has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe. Today, 73.6% of its adult population is fully vaccinated, which puts Italy behind only Portugal and Spain. However, it is important to not only look at vaccination rates, but to also put Italy’s entire pandemic response under scrutiny.
Italy has a much higher number of COVID-19 fatalities compared to other European countries. According to data from Worldometer, there have been 136,000 deaths in Italy (with a population of almost 60 million) compared to 108,000 in Germany (83 million), 121,000 in France (68 million), 89,000 in Spain (47 million) and only 18,000 in Portugal (11 million).
Furthermore, today’s vaccination campaign is shortsighted. Even though the vaccination of children is already underway, only 15,000 out of 3.6 million children aged 5 to 18 have been vaccinated, which corresponds to only 0.42%.
Draghi’s government didn’t learn from the lessons of the pandemic. Draghi’s recovery plan does not provide a radical change of course from the failed public health policies of the recent past. In the last 20 years, the public healthcare system was restructured towards commodification and privatization. The high numbers of COVID-19 fatalities in Italy are the consequence of a stressed healthcare system. In fact, Italy is in need of 4,000 doctors and 10,000 first aid nurses. 54,000 healthcare workers have no stable work contract (so called precarious workers). Public healthcare spending was reduced from 7% to less than 6.5% of the GDP between 2010 and 2020, and in those ten years, over 200 health institutions were closed all over the country.
In view of those developments, Italy is decidedly not our country of the year.