Right-wing winds in Italy: why Meloni can succeed Draghi

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An air of profound change is breathed in Italy. It is felt in the atmosphere, in the unexpected confessions of many voters. These words by Bruno Capello, a retired businessman from Bologna, a stronghold of the left, are no exception: “I have been a communist and always voted for the left. This time I’m going to vote with my whole family for Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy. Before, the PCI (Italian Communist Party) protected the workers, the employees. But now…”. Similarly, Mirafiori, the historic Fiat factory in Turin, has ceased to be the bastion of the left, pushed by the wind from the right, and many workers will vote for Giorgia Meloni. It would have been unthinkable to hear earlier what many say today at the doors of the Mirafiori establishment. An example is Luigi, 57 years old, who assures: «Do you know why I will vote for Meloni, because I will be able to retire in four years, without having to wait until I am 67 years old, as the law that the Democratic Party wants to maintain would oblige me» . Faced with the accusation made against some workers of being neo-fascists, the sociologist and historian Marco Ravelli, from the left, explains to La Stampa: «Whoever votes for Meloni is not a fascist, but he feels disillusioned with the left or resentful». Very clarifying is the opinion of the trade unionist Giorgio Airaudo, general secretary, in the Piedmont region, of the main Italian union, CGIL, aware of the reality of Mirafiori, former sanctuary of the Italian left, which he does not see as an isolated case: «That factory is a faithful mirror of society, but more than the new drives or trends, I am concerned about the disaffection for voting. The left is divided, in permanent dispute, and the workers have been abandoned». The world of work is simply an indication, but a very significant one, of the new climate that exists in Italy, a country considered a political laboratory, because it has been an accelerator of phenomena that are slower and more gradual in other places. Enrico Letta, the leader of the Democratic Party, a leading political force on the left, explains the cause of the change and turn to the right: “Because today the country is scared. The war has created an explosive mix, with the energy problem and the rising cost of living. These fears are once again fertile ground for populists of all stripes. This is, unfortunately, the phenomenon that we are experiencing today,” admits Letta. Terrible campaign evoking the “civil war” Italians will go to vote next Sunday with a mixture of disgust, sadness, fatigue, uncertainty and fear for the future, because they have experienced the worst electoral campaign in decades, full of unrealizable promises, and very bitter to the point of having evoked «the civil war». Of course, also in a part of Italy there is some hope, deposited mainly in Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy. Its electoral growth has been spectacular, until it became the first party in the country, benefiting from the fact that it was in opposition to the national unity government of Mario Draghi. In the last polls before the demoscopic silence (in Italy polls are not allowed during the last 15 days prior to the opening of the polls), Brothers of Italy exceeded 25% in voting intention. Many Italians don’t even know about that party, Fratelli d’Italia, founded in 2012, but they will vote for Giorgia Meloni. Analysts believe that many voters with doubts until the last minute about who to vote for, in the end they will get on the winner’s bandwagon and do it for Meloni. With Matteo Salvini’s League (12%) and Forza Italia (8%), the right would reach a parliamentary majority, because the electoral law favors the coalition with the most votes. Analysts agree that many will vote for Meloni partly because of her merits and her charisma, but above all out of desperation, because they see her as a last resort and would represent a novelty. If Giorgia Meloni wins the elections and becomes the first female head of government in Italy, it would be a kind of ‘revolution’. A glass ceiling would be broken, that is, a taboo would fall in Italy that penalizes women, among other things, with lower wages for equal work. Meloni, more prepared than Salvini, has dedicated herself in recent times to reassuring and convincing the business world about her program, holding continuous conversations with the managers of public companies, with Italian bankers and with the president of Confindustria, the Italian employers’ association. . The change in the left-wing union To the new wind, marked by a probable Meloni government, even a left-wing union such as the CGIL (General Confederation of Italian Workers), the most important in the country, has decided to adapt, always considered as the transmission belt of the socialists. The CGIL always gave indications so that its more than five million affiliates would vote for a leftist political force. Now, for the first time, the leader of the CGIL, Maurizio Landini, has left total freedom to vote, even to union leaders, confirming a new line in a delegate assembly in Bologna: One thing is the union and another is politics. Landini has taken note of the change in political air in the country and supports it, because he knows that many affiliates, especially the older ones, vote for the Brothers of Italy and the League, thinking that they will make retirement easier for them; others vote for the 5-Star Movement, the party that imposed citizenship income (a subsidy for the unemployed), and others for the Democratic Party, although they no longer consider it the political force that protects workers, because it approved a law in 2014 employment that favors free dismissal. “We have never been so divided, shattered and confronted as we are now” – recognized Landini. I say it clearly: we must learn that our problem is not the worker who is next to us, it is not the color of people’s skin, our problem is those who exploit us all together and put us in competition with each other. The electoral result is at stake in the poor South A great problem for Italy is represented by the South, with the poorest regions of the country, where traditionally deep mistrust of the dominant power and institutions. They are the ones who suffer the most from the consequences of the energy crisis and the high cost of living. A large part of the final result of these elections is at stake here, because in the South the issue that has most polarized the electoral campaign has exploded: the so-called citizenship income, approved in 2019, the electoral banner of the 5-Star Movement. About 1.5 million Italian families benefit from this monthly subsidy; of these, two-thirds live in the South. They receive a monthly average of about 600 euros. But it is possible to obtain up to 1,200 euros per month in the case of a family made up of two adults and one adult or two minor children. Many employers blame this subsidy for their difficulties in finding workers. «For small and medium-sized companies it is difficult to hire, because nobody wants to lose the subsidy. For example, in the Molise region [Italia meridional] farmers struggle to find people to pick the grapes. The harvesters earn about 1,200 euros in the twenty days of the harvest, but they ask to be paid in black, to continue receiving the subsidy, which is illegal,” explains Roberto D’Alimonte, professor of Political Science at the Luiss University of Rome. The same problem occurs in other sectors, such as hospitality. Giorgia Meloni has promised to abolish this subsidy, because “welfare must be eliminated and people must be offered decent work”. The leader of the 5 Star Movement, Giuseppe Conte, has warned with the evocation of a “civil war” if the subsidy disappears. Conte’s serious words have not intimidated Meloni, who at his rallies, as he did on Sunday in Caserta, 27 kilometers from Naples, said that the subsidy should be abolished and more effective measures adopted. A 29-year-old man, Francesco, who was a voter for the 5-Star Movement in 2018, applauded Meloni for his “clarity and determination”, believing that it would stop corruption and poverty, but today he confesses disappointedly: “I know many young beneficiaries of citizenship income, who have jobs in the black for which they receive cash, which allows them to earn more than me, with a permanent job and paying taxes». In any case, although support for the 5-Star Movement has collapsed, due to its internal divisions and loss of credibility, reaching even below 10% in voting intentions, after causing the fall of the Draghi Government, it has grown in the electoral campaign up to 14%, defending radical leftist positions, and has taken votes away from the Democratic Party. «The 5 Star Movement is the party of citizenship income and, therefore, its roots are still strong in the South. I have seen polls that give the M5S more than twenty percent in Molise and Naples. It’s a lot, but there they obtained fifty percent four years ago,” says Professor D’Alimonte, the greatest Italian expert on the electoral system. He warns D’Alimonte that if the M5E obtains a good result in the South, “it could deprive the center-right of the absolute majority in the Senate”, greatly complicating an eventual Meloni government. The South, easy terrain for populism To understand the drama that the South is experiencing and why citizenship income has become the outstanding issue of the campaign, we must look at these highly relevant data from the Official Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) : The southern regions lose 130,000 inhabitants every year, half of them are young people between 15 and 34 years old, of whom a fifth are graduates, that is, the best of the population leave, the youngest and the most prepared , It is a migratory phenomenon closely related to the Gross Domestic Product and the lack of work. In 2022, the GDP per capita of the South is almost half that of the North: 20,900 euros compared to 38,600. The unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2022 was 5.7 percent in the North and 15.2 percent in the South. This explains why in the South the populism of the 5-Star Movement found fertile ground, which swept the 2018 elections (33%), thanks to its social welfare plan with the subsidy, becoming the first party in the country. Then that support collapsed, because his utopian promise to eliminate poverty has clearly not been fulfilled. When it came to governing, the M5E showed that it lacked a ruling class. The same is attributed today to the Brothers of Italy. “People want to change. A desire for novelty has prevailed in the campaign. The real danger of Giorgia Meloni if ​​she reaches the Chigi Palace [sede de la jefatura del Gobierno] not represented by fascism [temor expresado por algunos medios internacionales]but because of incompetence”, affirms the professor of Political Science Roberto D’Alimonte, who, like other analysts, does not see in the Brothers of Italy a ruling class equal to the challenges that Italy must face, with an astronomical external debt which exceeds 2.7 billion euros (150% of GDP), while a strong reduction in taxes is promised (the League proposes a single rate of IRPF at 15%) or lowering the retirement age. But the problem of greater or lesser competition is not even raised by the vast majority of its voters. Conversing with a group of four taxi drivers who are waiting their turn to load travelers in front of the Pantheon in Rome, three of them openly confess that they will vote for Giorgia Meloni, the fourth for Salvini, because “the right has better defended our positions against the liberalizations of the Draghi’s law of concurrence. Enrico concludes: “I perceive a lot of uncertainty among clients, doubts about who to vote for or even abstain from. I will vote for Meloni. Let’s see what happens.”



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