Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi threatened to call in the police to break up the week-long student demonstrations and protests that have been taking place across Italy in opposition to his conservative government’s planned reforms of primary and university-level education in the country.
According to the Associated Press, “thousands” of students – up to thirty thousand, by one estimate – conducted sit-ins, demonstrations and marches throughout last week. Since the beginning of term, political unrest amongst university students has disrupted classes, with some students skipping class for weeks in protest. Even some teachers have joined the students and begun conducting lectures in the streets and squares, reported AP. Primary school staff plan a general strike next Thursday, while higher education faculty are to strike on November 14.
The main march on Thursday saw secondary school and university students marching from Sapienza University in Rome to the Senate, where members of the government were voting on the reforms.
If passed, universities and secondary schools will see drastic budget and job cuts to conform to the national budget set in August, which called for a €7.8 billion cut in state-run schools over the next four years. In the lower schools, elementary students will have the same teacher over five years, and could fail a grade for poor conduct.
Both the Italian Carabinieri and Rome’s police force had a heavy presence during the demonstration. On Friday morning, PM Berlusconi threatened to order police to break up the sit-ins and demonstrations, stating that he “will not tolerate schools and universities being occupied”.
Organizers of the protests, in particular Italy’s student union (Unione degli Universitari), said that they have no plans to cease the demonstrations until the reforms are voted down by the Senate, stating defiantly in one press release “The mobilisation not only continues, it is growing”.