ITALY: Civil disobedience targets US military
BY STEPHEN BENNETS
ROME — Italian peace activists have been blockading US military convoys along northern Italy's rail routes since February 21. It is further evidence of the rising tide of opposition to the right-wing Italian government's support for a US attack on Iraq.
Under the NATO treaty, Italy hosts a network of 12 US military bases, including Camp Darby near Pisa, the largest American weapons dump outside the US. On February 14, the Italian government agreed to, without a parliamentary debate, Washington's requests for military access to rail, road, port and airport facilities for the redeployment of war materiel to Turkey, via Camp Darby and the port of Livorno.
The "Stop that train; disobey global war" campaign has attempted to block 27 special trains en route to Livorno laden with US troops, tanks, rocket launchers, jeeps and bulldozers. Members of the railworkers' union are providing activists with detailed information on rail movements and, in a rerun of events in 1969 during the Vietnam War, dock workers are refusing to load military cargo in Livorno.
"No ships carrying weapons or war material destined for the Gulf will sail from the Italian ports", Guido Abbadessa, general secretary of FILT-CGIL, Italy's biggest transport union, told the February 22 La Stampa. More than 85% of Italy's dock workers are members of FILT-CGIL. The union is not considered a militant union.
Following the union bans, civilian train drivers have been replaced by Italian military engineers. Many of the trains have been delayed for hours and forced to re-route along minor branch lines, although most have finally reached Camp Darby following intervention by Italian riot police to clear the rails.
The drama is being played out mainly in Tuscany, a historic stronghold of the Italian Communist Party and also the cradle of the Italian Resistance movement during World War II. In the current spate of railway "sabotage", there is an echo of the tactics used along these same railway lines by the Partisans during the German occupation.
The blockade is being co-ordinated via SMS mobile phone messages, the internet and alternative radio stations, such as Radio Sherwood, which are providing up to the minute information on the latest military train movements.
On the Italian Indymedia web site, a technician explained how to stop a train by activating red train signals. A wide range of groups are involved in the blockade, including the Italian Greens, the Party of Communist Refoundation, trade union groups, the uncompromising anarchist "Disobedient ones" and Catholic peace groups, including several Catholic priests.
The government appears to be trying to deal with the militant protests carefully, aware that the issue could easily become a flashpoint in a country where the majority of people, including the pope, is opposed to the war on Iraq. A peace rally in Rome on February 15 attracted almost 3 million people, perhaps the biggest rally held anywhere in the world on that day of international protests. Even some members of the ruling coalition have openly questioned Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's support for Bush's Iraq policy.
According to a survey published on February 25 by the Rome daily La Repubblica, 34% of Italians support the campaign against the military convoys.
The leader of one peace group has called on activists to "stop the war machine" by putting sand in the petrol tanks of US military vehicles. Train stations all over Italy were occupied on February 26 in a national day of protest against what the "trains of death".
The metal workers' union, FIOM-CGIL, has stated that it will call a general strike the day the war starts. On February 18, Italy's main trade union federation, the 5-million-strong Confederation of Italian Trade Unions, decided it would launch a general strike if Iraq is attacked, even if the war is backed by the United Nations.
From Green Left Weekly, March 5, 2003.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.