Protest and electoral campaigns
The hybridization of CPI’s external mobilization is well illustrated by the main campaigns that the group promotes in both the protest and electoral arenas. A first set of campaigns focuses on CPI’s core themes: the economy and welfare. A second set, instead, deals with issues that CPI has addressed only more recently: the European Union and migration.
Early campaigns: housing, welfare and austerity
As already noted, CPI’s early activism responded to a need to answer traditional questions in far-right politics, while also building a distinctive recognizability within this political and cultural milieu (see Chapter 2). These incentives motivated the choice to promote the campaign ‘Occupation for Housing Purposes’ (Occupazioni a Scope Abitativo), which addressed a traditional concern of the Italian extreme right (housing) with methods and practices (such as squatting) that had seldom been pursued by extreme-right activists. CPI’s Miittto Sociale project (‘Social Mortgage’) follows a similar rationale. Campaigning on housing rights not only enabled CPI to become easily recognizable on the Italian far right, but this specific ‘brand’ also provided visibility for the other themes on CPI’s political agenda. Housing has in fact been a key theme in CasaPound’s politics since its origins, with the concept of ‘home’ defining and shaping the very identity of the group, its name and its official symbol (see Chapter 3).
CPI’s ‘Social Mortgage’ campaign calls attention to the housing crisis in Italy and claims the right to home ownership for every Italian family. It calls for a proposal for a law to create a ‘Regional Institute for Social Mortgages’ tasked with ‘building new neighbourhoods according to traditional bio-architectural models, with a low housing density and innovative techniques in terms of renewable energy’ (CPI 2018b). Housing blocks built with public funds would then be sold at cost price to Italian families that do not own a house. The social mortgage model would bypass the mediation of (private) banks, in older to allow a zero interest rate, a limit on payments to one-fifth of the total family income and the freezing of payments in case of unemployment (CPI 2018b).
While ‘Social Mortgage’ campaigns often imply the collection of signatures to call local referendums on public housing, CPI activists also use the idea of ‘home’ to justify the occupation of vacant buildings. CPI leaders in fact distinguish between ‘Occupation for Housing Purposes’ (OHP) - namely the spaces destined primarily to provide the occupants with a home — from the ‘Non-Compliant Occupations’ (NCO) - which instead have leisure purposes, and host political, cultural, sport and community activities. If the OHP reflect CPI’s attention to social issues, the NCO reflect its innovative understanding of political activism. While occupations account for only a small part of Casa- Pound’s presence on the ground (most local branches are regularly rented), they represent considerable symbolic capital for the ‘Social Mortgage’ campaign and the group’s public image. CasaPound’s notoriety owes much to its appropriation of part of the action repertoire of left-wing movements, and the establishment of what the media labelled ‘right-wing social centres’. At the same time, the OHP also play an important identity function, as demonstrated by the fact that many of the group’s leaders and their families live, or have lived, in occupied spaces.
With regards to social welfare, the campaign Tempo di Essere Madri (‘Time to be Mothers’) deals more closely with the sphere of labour rights for Italian women. Its aim is to ‘tackle all labour issues linked to maternity and fight situations of social injustice that characterise the workplace, in particular temporary employment’ (CPI 2018d). More specifically, the project calls on regional refer- endums to introduce part-time employment with full-time remuneration for Italian working mothers (85 per cent of the full-time salary would be paid by the employer, while the remaining 15 per cent would be covered by the State). While the same benefits would be extended to fathers, the motivations for action focus on children, who ‘deserve love and attention, and need to be taken care of by the family during their growth’, and on ‘the role of the woman in its entirety and completeness, in its most beautiful essence, its great human and social potential’ (CPI 2018d).
CPI’s campaign on welfare and social housing link to another key campaign, more directly connected to the implementation of austerity measures in the aftermath of the sovereign debt crisis in Italy: Stop Equitalia.3 The campaign consists of a regular law proposal, suggesting a change in the norms on tax collection by the State. The proposal calls for a limitation in Equitalia’s ability to mortgage first homes, forbidding the seizure of assets that are essential for businesses. The proposal also includes repealing the agency’s ability to conduct financial investigations, and forces it to apply the legal interest rate when dividing credits into instalments. Its stated aim is to encourage oversight over big tax evaders rather than on small creditors. The campaign exemplifies CPI’s understanding of blame and responsibility in the Italian debt crisis: it depicts tax collectors as vampires who suck blood out of employees, retirees, small businesspersons and self-employed professionals. The rationale is that the Italian State prefers to oppress ‘those who maybe have little money but possess a few assets that can be seized’, rather than targeting ‘the real criminals and owners of business, real estate, boats, planes, luxury cars which are cleverly registered under the name of a figurehead, a relative, or Italian and foreign limited companies’ (CPI 2018c).
In the early years, this logic allowed CPI to broaden its political agenda beyond the restricted area of the housing emergency, without however losing a connection with its primary issue of interest. Furthermore, it is thanks to similar campaigns that CPI extended its reach beyond Rome, setting up chapters across the country and engaging with local contexts in which the housing problem was felt less intensely than in the capital (see Chapter 2). The interviews conducted with some of CPI’s leaders in the north-east confirm CPI’s need to give voice to the grievances of small and medium businesses, thus intercepting the sensibilities of different contexts in Italy:
Here, our political action does not address the housing crisis, like in Rome. Here that problem simply does not exist. Instead, we offer a response to the economic crisis, because the crisis does not only affect the banks and the world systems. For us, here, it is a crisis of small and medium-sized businesses, which produce and invest locally and are suffocated by Equitalia.4