Italy: Walk-outs and battles with police

After FIAT, now the shipyard workers’ struggle

Protests have erupted across Italy over plans to cut a quarter of the country’s ship-building work-force. In the context of half a million jobs already destroyed in the recession, union leaders are quoted as saying that, “Discontent at the government’s austerity measures is simmering dangerously”.

At Castellamare di Stabia, near Naples, workers trapped local officials in their offices. They also vented some of their anger by cutting the head off a statue of Garibaldi, ouster of the Bourbon kings who founded the ancient shipyard!

Socialistworld.net

On Monday, 22 May, the Fincantieri Group (the shipyards owned by the Italian Treasury), presented the unions with their new industrial plan: closure of the Genoa and Castellamare (Naples) shipyards and the partial closure of Sestri Levante (near Genoa). This means a total of 2,500 job losses – one in four workers, three out of eight yards. The greater part of those affected are in Liguria and Campania, the rest in various other establishments. That is without taking account of the job losses of workers who are not directly employed by Fincantieri but are dependent on it for work. In addition there are attacks similar to those made by Marchionne, the managing director of Fiat, on breaks, shifts, bonuses and the right to strike, which will affect those yards which (for the moment) are not part of the ‘slimming cure’.

In Genoa the workers are shocked and angry. As soon as they heard the news they walked out and blocked the roads for five hours in Sestri Ponente, where most of the factories in Genoa are situated. The following day a huge demonstration left the shipyard, with workers directly and indirectly employed by Fincantieri (760 and 1,500). They were joined by delegations of workers from other engineering factories (Ansaldo, Piaggio, ILVA), workers from other sectors and a delegation of students.

They marched to the prefecture to demand a meeting with the government. – the owner of Fincantieri. In front of the prefecture, there were moments of high tension when the police barred the entrance. Three workers were wounded. Meanwhile, a few kilometres from Genoa, at Riva Trigoso, the motorway was ‘occupied’ and a school was peacefully ‘invaded’ to get solidarity from the students.

The workers were expecting to be hit hard by restructuring, but they were not expecting closure. There is anger against the government and the minister, Romani, who, at the beginning, did not even want to meet the trade unions and told them, “stay calm, no shipyard is going to be closed”. The Lega Nord (Northern League, part of the governing coalition with Berlusconi) gave lessons in federalism. In Liguria it demanded the resignation of Fincantieri’s managing director, Bono, while the previous day in Genoa, the under-secretary Castelli (also LN) was explaining that the redundancies are ‘the fault of the market’! In fact, the vice-president of Fincantieri, Belsito, is a leader of the Northern League and actually went to the shipyard to “express solidarity with the workers”. Everyone is defending their own electoral base and everyone is against everyone.

But the workers are demanding a serious intervention from the establishment. A few days before the announcement of the closure, mayor Vincenzi (a member of the opposition Democratic Party, PD) announced that an agreement with Fincantieri to re-launch Sestri was already in the bag, thanks to government money. Is it really possible that nobody got a whiff of Bono’s plan? The workers themselves had occupied their workplace for five days in December 2009, not only to protest at the cancellation of a production bonus in some cities but also because they understood that it was a warning of future attacks. The President of Liguria (the region which includes Genoa), who is also from the PD, announced that he had contacted the shipbuilding company. Aponte (MSC Crociere), to obtain new orders. But the solution to the problem is not to be found pulling on the coattails of managing directors and shipbuilders.

The world’s shipyards are functioning at only 65% of productive capacity and are only resisting the crisis where there is public intervention. Sarkozy has financed an MSC order for the STX-France shipyard. Merkel has made huge structural investments in the Meyer Werft yard. Obama offers to build ships for Fincantieri in American shipyards with a local workforce. But a Carnival order at Fincantieri is marking time because of financial problems.

As far as Liguria is concerned, while Ferrero, the national secretary of Rifondazione Comunista (Party of Communist Refoundation) merely calls for the withdrawal of the plan, Controcorrente (CWI Italy) has also called for orders and public investment to re-launch the yards, within an economic plan in which the state uses its own companies to defend jobs and economic development, including through alternative production if necessary.

The government, with the agreement of the opposition (and the CGIL union), has privatised the shipping company Tirenia, which manages the crossings between the Italian mainland and Sardinia, including those which are less profitable and where tickets have been cheaper. Now everyone is scandalised that many lines have been cut and prices have hit the roof. If Tirrenia had still been in public hands, the renewal of the fleet would have guaranteed Fincantieri substantial orders. The energy company, ENI, could guarantee other work (gas tanker ships, oil and gas platforms). But that would require an economic programme which broke with privatisation, liberalisation and the idea of abandoning fundamental sectors of the economy to the market.

We have challenged the PD to coordinate at a national level the local councils (city, provincial and regional) in the eight areas where there are Fincantieri sites, to ensure that workers in the different cities are not pitted against each other. Finally, we have said that the disasters caused by Fincantieri managers and politicians show clearly one very simple thing: if companies and governments were in the hands of the workers, things would definitely be much better.

Struggle to defend the shipyards

The next important date is 3 June, after the run-offs in the local and mayoral elections in Milan and Naples of this coming week-end. There will be a meeting between the government and the trade unions.

The main slogan on the demonstrations has been: “Il cantiere non si tocca, lo difenderemo con la lotta” (Hands off the shipyards, we will defend them through struggle). In the trade unions we are preparing to continue the struggle, knowing that only the engineering union, FIOM, is determined to fight to the end. We are also preparing to defeat the government and to expose the ‘centre-left’ parties. Today they are shouting loudly, yet four years ago, at the time of the second Prodi (centre left) government, they were ready to throw Fincantieri onto the stock exchange roulette wheel. This was only opposed by the FIOM and resulted in Controcorrente coming into collision with the majority leadership of Rifondazione Comunista, which was prepared to sacrifice the workers’ interests in favour of those of the government.

Above all it is essential to ensure maximum solidarity amongst workers. In Genoa we have said that if the workers in the shipyard here lose, all workers lose and also a part of the city which relies economically on the 2,000 Fincantieri workers. We have tried to involve students in the struggle, workers from other workplaces in crisis, and small businesses which depend on workers’ spending. This is all happening at a time of maximum weakness for Berlusconi’s government and this means that it is possible to win.