New Italian government to tackle social, economic woes

One of the few encouraging factors of Italy's new government is that its broadened parliamentary base may give it a relatively long life span to deal with the country's seemingly endless social and economic problems.

Italy's 40th postwar government, a four-party coalition formed by Christian Democratic Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani on Oct. 18, ended the country's 21-day government crisis. But now it will have to tackle the nation's soaring economic woes -- unemployment, labor unrest, and a swelling balance-of-payments deficit.

Italy's chaotic economic problems of 21 percent annual inflation and 18 percent unemployment were underscored by 36 days of tense strikes that brought the giant Fiat auto works -- Italy's largest employer -- to a standstill and tested the ability of the country's three labor federations to control their members.

The strikes flared last month when Fiat announced that the only way it could deal with drastically slumping sales was by firing 14,000 workers from its plants around Turin

On Oct. 18, after heated negotiations and nationwide general strikes called by the Communist Party, the company agreed not to fire the workers if it would be allowed to lay off 23,000 employees for various periods until August 1983, and force some early retirements.

When the labor federation leaders announced the agree ment outside the Fiat plants, picketing workers heckled them and assaulted one of them. It was the latest in a series of similar incidents that have put the power of the unions in doubt.

The Fiat accord was signed on the same day Mr. Forlani presented his new government to President Sandro Pertini. The new prime minister could not have risked subjecting his fledgling coalition to the highly emotional and political debates that brewed while the Fiat issue was unresolved. Nor could he have let his government be directly associated with an agreement seen as a victory of industry over labor. In a mere three weeks, short by Italian standards, Mr. Forlani, who was president of his party, managed to put together one of the broadest Cabinet coalitions in postwar history, a coalition of Christian Democrats, Socialists, Republicans, and Social Democrats that controls 360 seats in the 630-member chamber of the Chamber of Deputies.

The 45-seat edge, due mostly to the inclusion of the social Democrats, will probably let the tactful Mr. Forlani and his government avoid the kind of spiteful parliamentary independence that felled the government of former Prime Minister Francesco Cossiga Sept. 27.

Mr. Cossiga resigned when the lower house of Parliament defeated his crucial economic program by one vote in a secret ballot minutes after giving him an impressive 329-264 vote of confidence in an open roll call vote that was televised nationally.

The voting that collapsed Mr. Cossiga's government came under sharp attack by the leaders of the parties that formed the former prime minister's coalition -- the Christian Democrats, Socialists, and Republicans -- who accused some of their own member of hypocrisy and cowardice because at least 33 of them secretly defied party lines.

Without the addition of the Social Democrats, Italy's fifth-largest party, any other likely coalition Mr. Forlani could have formed would have been subjected to the same secret parliamentary threat.

The retaining of Emilio Colombo as foreign minister and the exclusion of the Communists from Cabinets seats insures that the new government will continue Italy's pro-American and pro-Europe foreign policy.

In 1974 former Premier Mariano Rumor headed a similar four-party coalition government that lasted eight months, but the increased strength of the three smaller parties since then virtually insures that Mr. Forlani's government will last longer.

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