Since Dec. 9, the Pitchforks Movement has been staging rallies across Italy, blocking highways and rail and subway stations and protesting in front of public buildings. The protests are relatively small, comprising a few thousand people in each city, but they are widespread, stretching from Italy's poor south to its wealthy north. The Pitchforks Movement first gained notoriety in Sicily in January 2012 when a group of agricultural producers and trucking companies blocked highways on the island for nine days to protest rising fuel and fertilizer prices, a result of austerity measures instituted by the government of Prime Minister Mario Monti.
Originally, the Pitchforks Movement had a heavy Sicilian element; it criticized the central government in Rome and sought greater autonomy for the island. Over the past year and a half and for various reasons, the movement has expanded beyond Sicily. The Pitchforks Movement is part of a growing trend in Europe. As the unemployment crisis lingers, the traditional representative institutions -- political parties and trade unions -- are proving incapable of channeling social unrest. In turn, groups that originally represented specific sectors are increasingly receiving support from other parts of the population. In several European countries, such as France and Spain, these groups are gaining popular support and participation from already disgruntled youths, workers, retirees and the unemployed. The emergence of groups like the Pitchforks Movement will likely become more common, since the economic crisis in Italy is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Their biggest challenge is becoming coherent enough to produce a lasting impact.