Collective action, carried out with the precautions required by the COVID-19 pandemic, is necessary to generate the ‘social protection equipment’ we need to face the coronacrisis, argues this report on the 30 April and 1 May strikes in Italy originally published by #DemandANewNormal

In the occasion of the two-day mobilisation called by ADL Cobas and SI Cobas on 30 April and 1 May 2020, workers and social centres carried out about thirty actions in the Veneto region. The current context is defined by a public debate polarised between the position “let’s open up everything” in the name of profit and productivism and the position “let’s keep everything shut down”, which implies a hyper-repressive risk of crackdowns on individual and collective liberties as an instrument for the containment of struggles. The objective of our mobilisations was thus that of bringing back to centre stage the struggles to win rights for all. In fact, the dominant and over-simplified public debate points to a false dilemma between the satisfaction of material needs and the protection of health, diverting attention from the deep causes of this health, social and economic crisis.

Our platform of demands asks for more investments in public health care and job security, the simplification and extension of social security provisions that must guarantee a decent income for all regardless of one’s employment situation, the regularisation of all “illegal” immigrants, the strengthening of mutual aid networks based on solidarity from below not as charity but as an engine of struggle, and the refusal of debt as the exit strategy from the current emergency, moving towards a redistribution of wealth and investments instead.

In addition to the different initiatives in workplaces [especially in logistics and health care], we deemed it important to bring these demands in the squares, to communicate that collective engagement and actions are the only antidote against the consequences of this emergency (in any case, public sit ins had already been held by shopkeepers supported by city councils in several cities). For what concerns Veneto, on 30 April there were protests in Vicenza, Verona, Treviso and Mestre in front of the state pensions agency, the prefecture and the town hall, with simple and direct watchwords: an income for all and the opening of a new season of struggles as a bulwark against the impacts of the crisis. On 1 May, it was the time for entertainment workers to take action. In fact, theirs is one of the sectors that will suffer the longest from this emergency. In Padua, Venice, and many other Italian cities, entertainment workers – usually invisible to those who assist to shows and events, but nonetheless necessary for these to happen – symbolically occupied cultural landmarks such as the Verdi Theatre in Padua and the Biennale Gardens in Venice.

To face the virus, we cannot settle for face masks and latex gloves, it is necessary to institutionalise mechanisms of collective protection equipment, such as forms of income uncoupled from exploited work, the expansion of rights to the most marginalised in society, and a radical redistribution of wealth, so that no one is left behind. To prevent the huge burdens of this emergency from falling on the workers’ shoulders – especially the most precarious and invisible, and the unemployed – it is necessary to disobey the bans and bring back participation and struggle as the only instruments that can change the current balance of power. Let us open a new season of struggle!