Tens of thousands of students marched and protested in more than 40 cities across Italy on Friday, February 18, continuing the outbreak of angry mobilizations after the January death of 18-year-old Lorenzo Parelli, who died while working for free — as so many other students find themselves forced to work. Another student, Giuseppe Lenoci, died in Fermo on Monday, February 14, under similar circumstances.
With the tragic death of Parelli, the profound injustice of the precarious free work that Italian students have been forced to do since the Renzi government’s 2015 education reform known as La buona scuola [Good School] has finally triggered a wave of indignation that goes far beyond the student body, becoming once again a topic of debate among the masses and in the mainstream media. That there was even real journalistic coverage of Friday’s demonstrations — the mainstream media cited a figure of 200,000 participants — testifies to the fact that the state has perhaps dragged its feet on this front. The billions promised for schools as part of Europe’s Recovery Plan for Italy (PNRR) clashes with the real situation of the Italian school system: the much-needed plan for ensuring the structural integrity of buildings, most of which are more or less unsafe, has never been launched; there are still too many overcrowded “chicken coop” classrooms; too few teachers are hired, and those hired are given poorly paid, precarious jobs; and measures aimed at controlling the pandemic have proved to be insufficient and contradictory, to say the least.
The central demands in the streets were for the resignation of Minister of Public Education Patrizio Bianchi, who didn’t lift a finger after Parelli’s death, and the abolition of the PCTO, the renamed work-based “learning” program (formerly “School-Work Alternation”), the unpaid “training” work imposed on all students. The PCTO is part of an entire cycle of insecurity and impoverishment for the youth, making permanent jobs with contract guarantees a “privilege” limited to a small minority of young workers who have become accustomed to years of unpaid work as a normal, ordinary stage of their working lives.
The largest, most fiery demonstrations took place in Turin, Milan, Bologna, Rome, Naples, Palermo, and Cosenza. In the Calabrian city of Cosenza, the ongoing occupation against the sexist harassment of a female student at Valentini-Majorana high school was joined by more than a thousand students in Friday’s march. Turin and Bologna saw the tensest moments between demonstrators and police, and seven cops were injured in Turin.
It should be noted that as mobilizations in Italy have abated overall, the students are finding themselves relatively isolated. For the most part, even striking school workers did not participate in Friday’s demonstration in any substantial way, nor did the working class in general. Even if the day was rather isolated from workers’ organizations, it could have been stronger had the two main national student organizations participated. That could have resulted in an even stronger mass response to the Draghi government’s “Confindustria Cure” [Confindustria is the Italian employers’ association].
This situation is even more serious given how far away Italy remains from a unity of demands and mobilization by students and teachers. That could directly involve a large segment of precarious workers and graduates who are waiting to be able to participate in the national exams to qualify for teaching. These scheduled exams have been subjected to appalling delays.
We must respond to the capitalists — who make students work for free, who make education a tool of the corporations, and who unload the costs of their crisis on the working class, with government complicity — with a united political struggle against their system, which is destroying any possibility of a decent future for the vast majority!
First published in Italian on February 18 in La Voce delle Lotte.
Translation and adaptation by Scott Cooper