Francesco Brusa and Paolo Do, Interview with Sergio Bologna: What remains of the 1970s tradition of ‘Medicina democratica’ in today’s protests against the Green Pass?, published in Italian in: DinamoPress (October 25, 2021).
From Trump to anti-vaccinationists, today people caught up in neoliberal ideology claim the concept of ”freedom”. Do you see any contradictions in its widespread use?
The contradictions one can run into when using the term ”freedom” is an issue that has preoccupied me since the late 1980s, when I began thinking about self-employment. Free and independent work, it was said, was far removed from the slavery of wage labor. I tried to clarify and emphasize that the degree of freedom was more ostensible than real. However, this was the first step that became common sense with the volume on second-generation self-employment. The second step, which I think few perceived, was that I tried to deepen the idea of the profession, because it is the attachment to the profession that makes the freelancer prefer the VAT number to the salary, not the idea of freedom. I began an investigation into professionalism, an area almost unknown in Marxist scholarship. And it has been a very fruitful research, because, among other things, it has led me to make a historical judgment about 1968 that is not mainstream, and about whether or not it ended in total defeat.
Let’s move on to today. When I heard those protesters shouting ”freedom, freedom,” I jumped up, remembering my first studies of freelancers in a context completely different from today’s. And I immediately thought of the storming of the Capitol in Washington, because freedom is the theme that Trump’s dogma keeps raising, no matter what. That was the mantra that had led them beyond protesting the election outcome to storming Capitol Hill. So much so, for example, that Republicans are blocking Biden’s Protecting the Right to Organise Act on the grounds that it would restrict freedom to work and has the hidden goal of forcing a return to wage labor, while all of America wants to freelance without unions. Freelancers have become a Republican myth, as heroes of freedom at work.
I think that in this context, the issue of reciprocity, about which many pages should be written, is coming back strongly to the fore. The founder of the Freelancers Union in the U.S., Sara Horowitz, with whom we are partnered at ACTA, the Association of the Self-Employed, recently published a book on mutualism, calling it the coming organization of business. Is it becoming relevant because it is taking the place of a decaying welfare state? No, it becomes necessary because it is the negation of the social state (Sozialstaat) as a welfare state (Wohlfahrtsstaat). The idea of the welfare state, which some politicians are trying to revive (see citizen’s dividend, which I agree with), is that of the person who lives in difficult circumstances and who is helped by the benevolent power of the state because he cannot otherwise get out of that situation. Welfarism is the mirror of individualism. The idea of mutualism is that the solidarity of fellow men, mutual help, the sense of community can compensate for the loneliness of the individual. Solidarity, I stress, not sharing – a term from the usual crap vocabulary of political correctness.
In your article in Il manifesto, you rightly criticize the government’s management of the state of emergency, which is limited exclusively to vaccination campaigns. How could the fields of medicine and health – and the environment – become the terrain for a new movement to fight for public health?
When news of the pandemic broke, I was as shocked as everyone else. So what do we do now? The first public policy measures began, and I reacted with skepticism and suspicion. It was my daughter and her mother, my first wife, a very experienced hospital doctor, who told me: don’t get any ideas, here everyone has to follow certain rules, it’s not a viral flu, it’s not just any disease, it’s the epidemic of a virus that is still little known. Herd immunity? That’s criminal mischief (Boris Johnson teaches it). So I said to myself: the ”epidemic” is a phenomenon with its own logic, which must be approached with a sui generis intellectual framework. Who can help me if not those who have dealt with it systematically? My experience with the group ”Sapere” in the 1970s was an important point of reference that told me only one thing: the problem of the vaccine is only ”one” of the problems, an epidemic must be fought with a complex strategy that contradicts the choices that the health system has made in the last thirty years.
So I do not hold it so much with Conte or Speranza, as the jackals of the Lega and Fratelli d’Italia, nor can I hold it today only with Draghi. Since health policy is the responsibility of the governments of the last decades, the responsibility of the academic environment of the last decades and, above all, the responsibility of the regional governments, it is something in which everyone is involved, the right, the left, Confindustria, the unions, the professional associations. It is the Italy that rejected everything that was innovative in the 1970s, it is the Italy of the repentant, of those who practice ”cultural contamination”, of the cheap ecologists, the Italy of those who spat on the grave of their fathers.
You ask me how a struggle for public health can be resumed. Certainly in part in the tradition of this movement that began especially in the 1970s, a movement of scientists, health workers, union representatives, experienced technicians, lawyers, teachers and information workers. Then it makes sense, otherwise we protest individual government measures and lose ourselves behind the nonsense of ”infiltration”, but also ”of the general struggle”, led and hegemonized by those who play big on a world chessboard (an article of mine in the ”Fatto Quotidiano” of October 19 was already distorted in the title).
In the ”No Green Pass” mobilizations, there seems to be a convergence between different social blocs and different political sectors, but this is in danger of dissolving (given the recent developments in Trieste). What do you think the future scenarios look like?
I had already written two articles on this subject before the end of this cycle of protests, but in both of them I had already mentioned the point that I think is most important: the ”no-vax movement” as an instrument of strategies with goals such as the presidency of the United States, the papacy of Rome, control over the natural resources of the planet, and the like.
Some friends who had read my writings asked me if I wasn’t losing my mind, too. In Trieste, protesters listened to Monsignor Carlo Maria Viganò’s speech and applauded; people even fell to their knees. This Viganò, former Vatican apostolic nuncio to the U.S., brings us back not only to Opus Dei – an entity that has had some weight in determining Italian health and hospital policy – but also to Steve Bannon and, by extension, Trump. How did he come to deliver a message to the people of Trieste? Who made the call to him?
As for the social composition of the No Green Pass protests, we know very well that such a movement is the product of the fragmentation of two classes, the middle class and the working class, and can only express itself in undefined forms of collective action within which the various movements or the various more ”labeled” fringe groups can play their games. These include the neo-fascists and neo-Nazis, who represent a very small danger, paltry compared to that emanating from the chain that leads to Trump via Monsignor Viganò and perhaps the repentant no-vax Boris Johnson. But it is precisely the indeterminacy of these forms that makes the glue, even the so-called ”hyper-partisanship” is not that of those who do not vote, but of those who programmatically reject identity features.
That of the Forzanovista , who shouts ”Now and always resist”, and that of the reader of ”Il Manifesto”, who shouts ”Who gives up is an executioner!”. Therefore, in this confusion of infiltrations, of distinctions (I am not a fascist, I am a vegan, I drink only from glass bottles), there is no time to find anything. In it, everyone renounces their identity markers, except for the ”No Vax”, who thus remain and will remain hegemonic. And when I speak of the ”worldwide No Vax movement”, I mean not only this anti-pope priest, but also a certain Bolsonaro, whose anti-vaccination policies threaten to wipe out the only people who represent a safeguard against the imminent destruction of the planet’s oxygen lungs.
In the events in Trieste and, more generally, in the developments of the No Green Pass movement, the trade unions in our country and their weight in the current power relations in our society play a major role. What could be the lines of action of the trade union world in the current phase, also considering the growing influence of the grassroots and self-organized initiatives?
What you say is only partially correct. Both in the unions and in COBAS , there has been an awareness that by participating in the demonstrations against the Green Pass, one only risks getting hurt. The idea of taking them over is even more illusory than the idea of using them. These are demonstrations where the union form doesn’t fit because they represent a class composition that rejects identity-based, ideological, cultural, behavioral, and therefore also or especially class-based characteristics.
I think that the trade union struggle and the problem of representation of interests, the consciousness of expropriation or denial of certain rights have been on the agenda of collective action for a long time. In Italy, the conflict caused by the labor situation has been at a high level for several years, and the processes of recomposition are evident. Especially in the field of the self-employed and the liberal professions, the pandemic has made a great leap forward. For example, an organization like ACTA , which is staffed by young people for the first time, benefits from this. And how could it be otherwise when faced with non-existent or disastrous industrial policies (think Operation Stellantis) , a proliferation of the gig economy, and a lack of statutory minimum wages? However, it is time for these figures to play a role in the management of the common good.
High levels of conflict are not possible (which always implies some degree of alternative thinking about the social order), and when it comes to managing public resources, the usual zombies are lining up to grab them. The result is public services at the local level managed by subcontracting at the lowest price, with all kinds of companies running around. Either we begin to find connections between union struggles and struggles for the common good, or we risk giving away a great potential for innovation. I believe that the experience and example of the health movement can give us some ideas in this regard as well (think of the question of professional ethics to bring the discussion back to the professions). And it is precisely here that we see how wrong it is to call ourselves ”non-partisan.” I’m not interested in whether people vote or don’t vote, whether they think parties are a bunch of freeloaders and elections are a legalized fraud. I care whether or not they accept the idea of public service (and perhaps have some idea of how it should work).
However, the ”No Green Pass” movement in Trieste has the characteristic features of a trade union struggle led by a clearly defined section of the working class….
In order to understand the recent events in Trieste, it is perhaps necessary to recall some elements of the labor policy of the port. Most of the goods arriving in Trieste do not need much labor; they are crude oil brought by tankers from the Gulf or the Black Sea. However, this traffic gives the port an international weight that can partly explain certain media and political phenomena. Most of Austria’s energy needs and 35/40% of Germany’s energy needs are routed through the pipeline that starts in Trieste. This is an element that cannot be neglected. The rest of the transport is divided into two types, container and RoRo , and here labor is indispensable.
RoRo is a transport stream that comes mainly from Turkey and arrives there thanks to special conditions that go back to the special status that Trieste enjoyed after the end of the war. This is a great advantage, as it gives the port a monopoly position in the North Adriatic, which it already holds for crude oil. In the container sector, things are different. Since the 1990s, Trieste has always suffered from competition from Koper, mainly due to the difference in labor costs. This explains why a wild deregulation has taken place in Trieste, leading to precarious situations, working conditions and labor relations that are ranked among the worst in Italy.
In this way, the cost difference with Koper was to be compensated. With zero results. When D’Agostino arrived, he decided to put an end to this “Wild West” by taking advantage of a legal instrument that had recently come into force: the Labor Agency controlled by the Port Authority. In this way, he stabilized a number of workers by putting an end to precarity and illegality. In other port situations, some have thought of doing the same thing, perhaps forgetting the most important thing, which is that if you give stability to workers, you must also give them work. With the revival of traffic, due in large part to rail intermodality, the Port of Trieste has created work and employment, while in other port labor agencies it can happen that people are laid off for months at a time.
This situation has created a kind of implicit pact of cooperation between the Port System Authority and the agency’s labor representatives, a very anomalous situation in which employers and employees go hand in hand.
A pact that is now broken, or at least cracked…
I wouldn’t take that for granted. For some time now, a representative group, the CLPT , has been established in the port, becoming more and more visible and gradually appearing on the stage of urban politics, becoming – precisely because of the symbolic power inherent in the port unit – a kind of flag for the entire working class. In what way? By joining the spontaneous movements that arose in the city, first of all the independence movement, which has a long history in Trieste. However, it retained its autonomy and full freedom of action.
Here Stefano Puzzer has shown his undisputed sense of “what is going on in the people”. When the ”No Green Pass, No Vax” movement emerged in April of this year, another condition was created for the CLPT to exercise its role in general and not only in the ports. We know what happened then: the blockade of the gates, the fight to the bitter end, the arrival of thousands of people from outside, the split within the CLPT, the transfer of the protest to the Prefecture, the creation of the October 15 Movement, the hasty cancellation of the announced demonstrations, the meeting with Minister Patuanelli and the demonstrations throughout Italy on Sunday, October 24, 2021.
Along the way, day by day, the ”distinctions” grew, the demarcation from neo-fascist groups, the influx of people seeking publicity to enter politics, and an increasingly threatening tower of languages and slogans emerged. One cannot help feeling that behind the ”No to the Green Passport” there are increasingly other goals, other projects, and above all an explicit rejection of one’s own identity markers, which I imagined as people from Casa Pound  shouting ”Now and Always Resist” and others with ”Il Manifesto” in their pockets shouting ”an executioner who gives up.” The only ones who do not give up their identity profile, it seems to me, are the no-vax people who reaffirm their supremacy.
 Supporters of the ‘Forza nuova’ party (translator’s note).
 Conitati di Base (Base Committees; translator’s note).
 Associazione Consulenti Terziario Avanzato (translator’s note).
 Merger of the Fiat Chrysler and Groupe PSA automotive groups to form Stellantis N.V. in 2019 (translator’s note).
 Roll on Roll off. The cargoes are moved directly by truck to and from the ship (translator’s note).
 Coordinamento dei lavoratori del porto di Trieste (translator’s note).
 Casa Pound Italia (CPI) – neo-fascist movement in Italy that refers to Mussolini supporter Ezra Pound. It currently has about 20,000 members and propagates a ‘fascism of the third millennium’. (Translator’s note).