On Friday, February 18, tens of thousands of students hit the streets in over 40 cities across Italy to protest against the country’s public education system and the institutional neglect of Italian youth. The central focus of the protest was the mandatory internship program for high school students imposed in 2015. In the past month two students, 18-year-old Lorenzo Parelli and 16-year-old Giuseppe Lenoci, died in work-related accidents during these internships.
Their deaths sparked outrage among students who had already been pushed to a breaking point by the devastating COVID-19 crisis and for the past several months have been protesting across the country demanding safer schools, higher investments in public education, schools, free public transport, and other guarantees to a dignified life and education. The pandemic and the flawed policies of the government in containing the crisis have severely impacted the physical, mental and financial health of students.
Students have also voiced opposition to the policies on public education being implemented under the influence of big business led by the General Confederation of Italian Industry (CONFINDUSTRIA). In several cities on February 18, students marched to the offices of the government, incumbent political parties, and CONFINDUSTRIA to mark their protest.
Meanwhile, the response of the state to the recent wave of protests and demands raised by students has been repression and in many places, security forces resorted to violent tactics to crush the student protests. Students have called for the abolition of compulsory internships and resignations of Prime Minister Draghi, Education Minister Patrizio Bianchi and Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese.
According to the school reforms of 2015, in order to graduate, high-school students in Italy must do a mandatory internship and spend a minimum number of education hours (from 200 to 400 a year) working, without salary, in private companies. Experts have noted that even after seven years of implementing these mandatory internships – intended to increase work experience and probability of finding a job after graduation – nothing has changed for students and young workers. At the end of 2021, unemployment rate for those aged under 25 increased to almost 30%, which is double compared to other EU-27 countries.
Lorenzo Lang, national secretary of the Communist Youth Front (FGC), stated that “this student movement raises a very clear political issue: the system of alternative school work is made of exploitation, lack of rights and security. It has to end, did it have to wait for the deaths to understand this? You can’t fold the teaching skills to the needs of companies, you can’t continue with the model of the school-business. We demand the immediate resignation of Bianchi and Lamorgese.”
Following Friday’s mobilization, Alternative Students Opposition (OSA) said, “today the squares have expressed the anger that no longer seeks compromises with this model of school and society that expresses an overall malaise that we students have been experiencing for too long now. In a climate of uncertainty and lack of prospects, there are also the winds of war blowing in Europe, demonstrating that our governments do not take any account of our needs but rather have a prospect of worsening our condition.”
“We know that nothing can change by itself, today’s is just another stage of a path of struggle that continues and that will not stop with repression or crumbs,” OSA added.
Various groups including the Potere al Popolo, Communist Youth Front (FGC), Alternative Students Opposition (OSA), Self-organized Students from Campania (SAC), Italian Communist Youth Federation (FGCI), USB Italia and Young Communists (GC) joined the mobilizations. Several political parties and trade unions also extended support and solidarity to the protesting students.