Italians demand state aid in second lockdown

Citizens fear restrictive measures without adequate financial support will leave them more impoverished as the government attempts to contain a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

Protests have broken out across Italy as politicians warn of a second lockdown following a resurgence of Covid-19 infections. Protesters say they have still not received the promised economic assistance approved following the first lockdown in May and will not survive another. 

On 23 October 2020, at a press conference held less than 24 hours after governor Vincenzo De Luca enforced a curfew in the region of Campania, he warned that he would soon put the whole area under lockdown again. 

This statement turned a demonstration already under way in Naples into a more violent protest. Later that night, police cars were damaged and a SkyTG24 crew reporting on the protest was attacked. Afterwards, the media focused only on the violence, ignoring the reasons protesters were out on the street and labelling them football ultras, fascist militants or Camorristas, members of the Camorra, a local, mafia-type criminal organisation. The next day, Luciana Lamorgese, Italy’s interior minister, condemned the protest. 

“Organised acts of violence such as those that took place in Naples are unacceptable and to be condemned with the utmost firmness. I would like to reiterate that such attacks have nothing to do with the forms of civil dissent and with the legitimate concerns of entrepreneurs and workers related to the difficult economic situation,” she told Adnkronos.

But Valerio Nicolosi, a freelance journalist based in Rome, criticised the media reporting on the protest, saying: “The mainstream press has the habit of focusing on the broken shop window or the burnt dumpster instead of giving space to all the other people who protest.” 

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Naples native and political activist Raniero Madonna took part in the protest. He points both to the politicisation and trivialisation of the protesters’ aims in the press and by politicians. “The protest was born online among the many faces of the population worried and exasperated by the management of the pandemic in the Campania region. It wasn’t a no-mask protest. It was rather a protest of men and women frightened by the pandemic and the failure of the political class, and it aimed to avoid more restrictive measures without adequate economic support.

“The violent reaction depended on what the governor De Luca claimed earlier in that afternoon, using a paternalistic and almost vindictive tone towards the population.” 

Madonna adds, “Essentially, the possible new lockdown was presented as a punishment against the citizens who had badly behaved.” 

No concrete monetary support has been mooted for the most vulnerable people in one of the most impoverished regions in the country. The Campania economy is mostly informal and relies heavily on the catering and cultural industries, two of the worst affected sectors. According to the 2020 Eurostat regional yearbook, the poverty rate in the area stands at 41.4%. 

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A new lockdown would disrupt the economic and social fabric of a region where, like most southern regions in Italy, many families don’t have the right to government subsidies. “So interpretations that put the Camorra at the centre of the protest seem short-sighted to me,” Madonna says. “That reconstruction tends to criminalise the protesters and protect the regional governor who keeps behaving beyond logic and fled from Naples to avoid confrontation.”

Two days after the demonstration in Naples, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced all bars and restaurants were to close at 6pm, with cinemas and theatres ordered to stop their activities altogether. More than 350 000 jobs and over 50 000 companies are at risk, according to the Italian Federation of Public Exercises. From Palermo to Milan, protests spread across the country as people screamed, “You lock us down, you pay us,” from the main squares. 

Listening to the people

Since the last week of October, dozens of protests – whether officially authorised or not – have been organised, led mainly by the most affected categories of workers. Most demonstrations have been peaceful, but some have been infiltrated by violent factions, very likely far-right movements agitating for a more securitarian state. Regardless, the nub of the issue remains: people demand a clearer and more solid economic plan to support those in need, with the understanding that this category is growing bigger by the day. 

Back in May, the government promised business owners who could show they lost at least one-third of their income compared to the same period in 2019, state assistance, which would cover between 10% and 20% of these losses, depending on annual revenue. The financial support given to individuals, ranging from 500 to 1 000 euros, depending on the working category, would go to workers who could prove they lost at least one-third of their income. But the newly proposed aid to companies and individuals, along with a freeze of redundancies until 31 March 2021, allocated in the latest decree – nicknamed “Refreshments” – is not enough to keep people afloat. 

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“Blaming citizens is no longer credible. In order to ask for more sacrifices the government should have acquired authority, not be authoritarian,” claims Francesco Rubini, a councillor in Ancona, the capital of the Le Marche region, and head of Altra Idea di Città [Another Idea of City], a Leftist political movement. “They should have given the idea of having done whatever it takes to support the population.” 

As with most economies, the pandemic only exacerbated existing inequalities in Italian society. Now the idea of redistributing wealth among the population is taking hold as the government fails to account for earning disparities. “We need a collective approach to protect the entire population. Still too many people dream of coming back to the same old world, instead of imagining a new one. An increased public health [safety net], a wealth tax and a universal basic income are the necessary measures to take to counter the current crisis,” says Rubini.

Madonna echoes this sentiment: “I believe that we must have the capacity to bring Naples’ claims back to the national level. The mobilisations will go on and much will depend on the state’s ability to listen.”

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