Some rivalries have deep roots. Especially in Tuscany, where it is difficult to find a town that does not get along with the one next door. This began five centuries ago, just when the Grand Duke, Ferdinand I de Medici, insisted on having a port there to avoid the hegemony of Pisa and decided to promote Livorno in 1593, a few years after its foundation. That year laws were pulled up their sleeves urging citizens from all over Europe to move to the city and obtain citizenship if they participated in commercial and economic life. A bargain: a free port without taxes where the condemned would be free, the debtors would be exonerated and there would be freedom of worship. English, Jews fled from Spain, escaped prisoners in search of a new life … Livorno, the place where the Italian Communist Party (PCI) was founded in 1921, was forever a multicultural city, typically port, where its left-wing trend tended to anarchism and freedom was an uncompromising principle.
Pisa, just 25 kilometers away, managed its progressive leanings from a more intellectual and refined drive, supported by pillars such as the Ecole Normale Supérieure, perhaps the most prestigious academic institution in Italy. Today, victims of the crisis of the traditional left, represent the two responses to that malaise that next Sunday will dispute the control of Tuscany in a historic heads-up between the young and aggressive candidate of the League, Susanna Ceccardi, and the old candidate of the Democratic Party (PD), Eugenio Giani. The polls right now give a technical tie in a place where Matteo Salvini is at stake for his survival and social democracy, to continue being an impregnable fiefdom since voting began in the regions.
The center of Pisa is full of bars, copy shops and student clubs that speak of a progressive and nocturnal city. The university contributes 40,000 residents here, adding to the stable population of about 90,000. It generates its problems, sometimes there is a lack of resources to feed the services. But as pointed out in an interview with this newspaper by the director of the Normal Superior School, Luigi Ambrosio, has also built a clearly open and European identity – although sometimes it is more of an optical effect – on the cobblestones of a city that two years ago passed into the hands of the right for the first time since the 1990s. This was not a place excessively punished by unemployment, nor by the social conflicts of immigration or the adulterated discourse of security. It is not comparable to de-industrialized areas such as Terni or Sesto San Giovanni, where the extreme right built its new story. But the candidate of the League, Michele Conti, took the mayoralty. “Pisa was not always on the left”, clarifies the councilor in his office at City Hall. In the last 10 years the center-left has moved away from the demands of the citizens. The popular classes, the middle classes, the inhabitants of the periphery were left to their fate. In these two years we have tried to fill in those gaps that they left us as an inheritance. “
The transformation began quietly. And it came from the periphery, points out the journalist and author of How to become a league player David Allegranti. His book is a fantastic portrait of the mutation of the left vote towards far-right nationalist options, taking the Tuscan city as an example. “The center-left stopped rolling up their sleeves while the League went every day to popular areas in difficulty. People believed in that alternative. It happened because of the impoverishment of the middle class. Pisa was not as left-wing as Sesto San Giovannni (Lombardy), but it was a progressive city, with a very strong cultural background. In the popular neighborhoods there were people who voted Lotta Continua (a radical left party with a communist and worker orientation), but now they support Matteo Salvini on issues such as immigration. There are trade unionists from the CGL (General Labor Confederation) who vote for the League and who have even been its candidates ”, he points out.
The ultra-right found its way into the popular neighborhoods
The Pisan paradox indicates that the center of the city, where the upper middle classes lived, continued to vote Social Democratic. But on the periphery, in the popular neighborhoods, the League obtained a consensus of up to 40%. The CEP (acronym for Coordinamento d’Edilizia Popolare), the official protection neighborhood that began to be built after World War II when the city center was devastated by Allied bombing, has the answer to a political equation that runs throughout the region these days. “Here people went to bed being communists one day, and the next they got up voting for the League,” jokes the former mayor of the city Sergio Cortopassi sitting at the Tirreno bar, in the heart of this working-class neighborhood. During a ride in your car it is possible to see the transformation of a neighborhood that until not so long ago had a proletarian market where today a huge supermarket of a large chain stands.
The malaise for a left that abandoned its voters and surrendered to the affairs of banks and businessmen runs throughout the region. Siena, the birthplace of Monte Dei Paschi – Europe’s oldest bank – changed hands two years ago for the first time in decades. The bank scandals and the promiscuity of the PD with the goings-on that destroyed it were punished and the city passed into the hands of the League. In other places, such as Livorno (150,000 inhabitants), just 25 kilometers from Pisa, also fed up. But citizens looked the other way to find solutions and bet on recovering the essences of the left. First, he handed over his mayoralty to the 5-Star Movement, which managed to gather the discontent of the workers’ vote and the popular classes. After the failure in the management, he decided to open the doors to a civic list commanded by the sports journalist Luca Salvetti, who found the right key to re-inspire left-wing voters. Before reaching his office, a sticker already warns why he is also very supported by the world of the radical left in the city: “Here is an anti-fascist mayor,” reads the sticker.
The ‘Livorno model’
Salvetti’s victory, the ability to re-forge alliances and win the respect of old Socialist voters —every day, among other things, he walks over to Garibaldi Square to talk to the small drug traffickers to convince them of the inconvenience of his job—, was immediately baptized as the Livorno model. “We returned to the squares, among the people to the popular neighborhoods. Many had to deal with the 2008 crisis, which hit very hard here, and had been abandoned by the left, “he says. The climate of impoverishment, social problems and an immigration rate much higher than that of Pisa were a priori a favorable terrain for the discourse of social rejection of the League. It has happened before in so many similar places. But Salvetti flatly dismisses it. “The PCI was founded here and anti-fascist values have very deep roots. It was more difficult to tear them off than in other places. The project? We don’t have great monuments. But we proposed to restore his identity and pride through the story and the milestones achieved ”.
The communist tradition of the city lives on. In the San Marco neighborhood, next to the canals that give this place a Venetian air, are the remains of the old San Marco theater, today converted into a nursery for children. Here the PCI was founded 99 years ago. “Supported by the ideology of Marx and Engels, Lenin and Stalin, the example of Gramsci and under the guidance of Togliatti”, still reads the tombstone that remembers him. Some principles that represented the “workers vanguard” that today in the city has taken up a new communist party led by the ex-frail Lenny Bottai, known in his days as champion as the Mongoose. Former head of the Livorno Calcio curve -ultras of the city’s soccer team-, political enthusiast and dedicated to the popular gym he runs, where members pay no more than 20 euros a month and immigrants and unaccompanied minors can enjoy it for free , stands for the first time in regional elections.
Bottai, 43, retired two years ago from the ring after becoming international runner-up in Las Vegas, he heads the most radical wing of the Tuscan parliamentary left. He strongly criticizes the drift of the PD and assures that “they are the same as the right” ·. Even so, he gives credit to the current mayor, who he acknowledges the merit of having remained independent from the demands and commitments of the PD. The Livorno formula it works so far and has managed to unite a whole spectrum necessary to confront the center-right coalition that is always united and favored by the electoral law. But the PD’s bet in the region does not seem so determined and the candidate, whom Bottai considers a professional party climber, does not convince. Tuscany could pass to the right for the first time in five decades.