Followers of Cavour dominated Italian politics from 1860 to the mid-1870s, primarily representing the north. In 1874 a new government took power that relied on the support of propertied classes in the south. Political unrest in those years resulted mainly from the poverty and the political exclusion of the masses. Industrial and agricultural workers formed powerful and militant unions, which were banned by law, leading to frequent clashes with the authorities. Anarchism received strong support in the 1870s, and in 1892 the Italian Socialist Party was founded at Genoa. It grew steadily for the rest of the century.
Extreme social and political tension in the 1890s nearly ended parliamentary government in Italy. In response to strikes by peasant farmers and agricultural workers in Sicily, Prime Minister Francesco Crispi decreed a state of emergency in 1894, and placed Sicily (and Lunigiana on the mainland) under military law. In 1898 Crispi’s successor ordered a military occupation of Milan to break a strike. The crisis reached its peak in 1900 with the assassination of King Humbert I, who had succeeded his father, Victor Emmanuel II, in 1878.
A new government headed by Giovanni Giolitti and Giuseppe Zanardelli adopted more conciliatory tactics and attempted to address popular grievances through social welfare and reform measures. Giolitti remained the dominant figure in Italian politics until World War I, during which time Italy experienced political, social, and economic modernization. During his term in office a number of reforms were introduced. The right of workers to strike for higher wages was recognized; changes in electoral law greatly increased male suffrage; Roman Catholics were drawn into Italy’s political life; and the first major legislation on behalf of the economically depressed south was passed.
During the Giolitti era, Italy’s rate of industrial growth was 87 percent, and workers’ wages grew by more than 25 percent despite a shortened workday and the introduction of a guaranteed day of rest.
A downturn in the world economy after 1907 caused heavy unemployment in Italy and brought new waves of labor and political militancy. The moderates who had gained control of the Socialist Party at the turn of the century were ousted by more radical leaders. At the same time a new brand of nationalist politician began to challenge both the government and leftist leaders. The victory of the extremists in the Socialist Party encouraged Giolitti to end the government’s conflict with the papacy, which also wished to combat the growing influence of the socialists. In 1911 Giolitti introduced manhood suffrage, which gave the vote to the mainly Catholic peasantry. At the same time the church instructed Catholics to vote for the government slate. But the government also looked to colonial ventures to appease domestic unrest. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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