ITALY: Quarter of a million march against capitalism

August 1, 2001



GENOA — It was like a rumbling thunder: chanting "Assassini" and "Genoa Li-be-ra", hundreds of thousands marched through the streets here on July 21 in an historic expression of people's power against capitalism.

The revolt in Genoa is a turning point in the struggle for global justice: by far the largest ever such protest against corporate globalisation, it will without doubt deepen the radicalisation that is sweeping the world.

Liberazione, the daily newspaper of Rifondazione Comunista, and L'Unita, the paper associated with the social-democratic Olive Tree alliance, estimated the crowd to be 300,000. Il Secolo XIX, a local Genovese paper, and the leftist Il Manifesto estimated the crowd to be 200,000. And it surely would have been larger if groups like Christian Aid and Drop the Debt had not pulled out at the last minute for fear of violence. Picture

The protesters not only had the numbers on the streets — they also had public opinion on their side.

A poll commissioned by the centre-left La Republica found that 66% of Italians surveyed agreed with the call to shut down the G8 summit. Another poll by the conservative Corriere Della Serra found that 40% oppose "globalisation" and 40% have no opinion on the issue.

Even an hour before the march was set to begin, you could tell this was going to be an enormous display of people's power. Even then, tens of thousands were marching from the convergence centre at Piazzola Kennedy east towards the starting point at Piazza Sturla.

There was anger at the G8 countries' domination of the world's economy, at the corporations who pull their strings, at Third World debt, environmental destruction and the inaction over the AIDS epidemic sweeping Africa.

We stood 20 metres above the protest and watched the contingents stroll by, led by a banner: "You 8, we 6,000,000,000". Picture

Then came members of Italy's largest environmental group, Legambiente, then scores of people carrying placards with the slogan "Resist, revolt, fuck capitalism", then a 100-strong contingent from Workers' Power chanting "No justice, no peace".

Kurdish flags with the red star and splashes of yellow and green flew in the air. T-shirts and flags of Che were everywhere, closely followed in popularity by those of the Mexican Zapatistas. Some anarchist contigents were also on the march.

Then followed contingents from ATTAC, the group campaigning for a tax on speculative capital flows. Contingents from about six countries, most prominently Italy and France, carried white banners with a large percentage sign in red.

Rifondazione Comunista unfurled its red flags: perhaps as many as one-third of the march were members or supporters of Italy's largest communist party.

Many of the protesters were young, under 25 years of age, but there were many from other generations. Contingents from 50 nations were present: Italians, Greeks, French, Germans, Americans, English, Irish, Argentinians, Brazilians, Jamaicans, Indonesians, Norwegians, Kurds and Basques.

"Hey, hey, G8 — how many kids did you kill today?" echoed out from a megaphone in the International Socialist Tendency contingent of about 1500.

By this stage 40,000 people had marched by, and still it continued.

Human solidarity is evidently contagious. There was yelling, there was dancing, there was singing, and kissing. We were in this together: "tous assemble".

Contingents of Greeks marched by: about 5000. Many were from movements such as the Greek Committee for Genoa, but there were also Greek far left groups: from the Socialist Workers Party, from the International Workers Left. The Stalinist Greek Communist Party mobilised 1000, including sizeable numbers of youth.

Then in the distance we saw the first tear gas fired at the protesters, perhaps 1.5 kilometres down the road. The canisters spiralled into the convergence centre — but the march continued.

The Lilliput Network, with hands painted white and fingers thrust into the air, marched by, chanting "No Violence". The paint symbolises that they were clean, that they did not blood on their hands.

Some young people with helmets and sticks were running through the rally eager to get to the front, but many protesters yelled at them to stop and even sought to hold them down so they wouldn't be provoked into smashing and burning cars.

We went to where the trouble was occurring. Most people were just marching past, but a few hundred were smashing banks, overturning cars, even ripping up gelato shops and bus stops.

A huge funnel of black smoke twisted and twirled towards the heavens. Many of those smashing windows wore black clothes and black balaclavas. As the paramilitary carabinieri approached, the youths ran and others got tear-gassed.

It was hard to know how the carabinieri assault began. One report from a member of the Globalise Resistance contingent near the front of the rally said some marchers had accidentally marched too close to the forbidden red zone (which was still two kilometres away). The cops completely overreacted and started firing tear gas at them.

A couple of blocks of downtown Genoa were damaged in the subsequent clashes, which one Rifondazione leader, Aurelio Crippa, described simply as "police charged the peaceful demonstration".

There has since been a backlash against the police violence, particularly following the July 20 killing of a young activist, Carlo Giuliani. Amnesty International has said it will investigate police operations in Genoa and parliamentarians have called for the resignation of interior minister Claudio Scajola. The 20-year-old conscript who pulled the trigger on Giuliani has been charged with manslaughter.

The backlash goes even into the ranks of those who carried out the repression. The union of financial police, the MFD, has criticised its members' use against demonstrators, the head of the police union has attacked Scajola and parents of carabinieri conscripts have said they should never have been used in such a way.

PM Silvio Berlusconi has sought to distance himself from the killing, saying that the preparations were the responsibility of the previous social-democratic government.

Still, even as the clashes broke out, the march carried on. There were rainbow colours, scarlet-red flags and bandanas. The mood was festive. A 30-piece brass band with trumpets, clarinets and saxophones got people jumping, dancing, sweating, clapping and smiling. Almost every protester carried the trademark 1.5-litre bottle of water.

Unions also mobilised for the action. The radical federation Cobas mobilised perhaps 10,000. There were workers from the Fiat plants in Turin. One of the largest federations, the CGIL, had a few thousand present.

The march then turned up the Corso Torino, which is full of five-storey residential apartments.

In the open window of one first floor apartment stood an elderly couple and their 10-year-old grandchild wearing a Che t-shirt. They got a roar of approval from the crowd when they started chanting "El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido" ("The people united, will never be defeated") — the kid was punching his fist into their air as if punching Bush or Berlusconi.

The police helicopter again hovered overhead. And again thousands spontaneously raised their middle finger, shouting "Assassini, murderers".

There were very few social democrats visible at the protest, although there were a few thousand members of the Democratic Left, the former communist party, now a main force in the Olive Tree alliance. Then came a smallish contingent of the Verdi, the greens.

Next came the contingent from the French LCR, the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, 500-strong, very youthful, their arms locked together in an unbreakable chain. They sang revolutionary French songs as they marched.

Graffiti lined the streets. One of the most popular is "G8 — dangerous animals behind fences".

The march proceeded towards the centre of town and towards the Statione Brignole. More and more Genovese cheerfully threw water at the protesters and unleashed hoses to cool us down in the sweltering heat.

Most residents are welcoming, but not all. One old man, wearing a white t-shirt, threatens to throw a flower pot on the protesters. "No! No! No!", the protesters scream. It might feel like a revolution, but it's not one yet: Berlusconi's coalition won elections barely two months ago.

At the end of the march it is announced, to jubilant roars, that the G8 summit had ended early — and a day of world-changing came to an end.

Before any of the protests had begun, police had confiscated a banner from one group which bore a quote from William Shakespeare: "We live to tread on kings". The G8 would not even let Shakespeare protest, the popular joke went, but it's going to take more than ripping up banners to save the heads of the world's rulers.

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