Italy: Union leaders’ betrayal triggers workers’ protests

The signing last Friday afternoon of a deal with the government and employers by the leaders of the two smaller trade union federations in Italy – the Uil and Cisl – has sparked a new round of angry demonstrations and spontaneous strikes.

In a final sitting of round table talks through the night last Thursday, Pezzotti and Angeletti tried to gain sufficient concessions to ’sell’ what amounts to a betrayal of the massive workers’ movement of the past few months. For a few promises of lower taxes and more jobs for workers, they have agreed to a trial period in which the now famous article 18 of the labour law that gives some protection to workers against ’unfair’ sacking will not apply to companies which expand their workforce to more than the 15 threshold above which the article at present applies.

The biggest and most powerful trade union federation – the Cgil – had refused to participate in the talks and has dubbed the agreement the ’Evil Pact’ .It is still continuing its mass campaign on the issue with a rolling programme of regional and sectoral strikes. On Friday afternoon, large swathes of workers across the country were already on strike and demonstrating, but as they heard the news of the signing, workers in numerous places and in all three unions walked off the job in protest. On Saturday a national strike of the major newspapers meant no publications on the Sunday.

The leader of the Cgil, Sergio Cofferati, who was due to step down from his post this week, was already the object of a campaign to criminalise his union and demonise him personally. He had already agreed to stay on as general secretary for a further two months and prepare for a new general strike in September. Now the clash between the most militant workers and the Berlusconi government could escalate again even before the August holidays arrive.

Government on the ropes

The government itself is on the ropes, with the Interior Minister, Scajola forced to resign and demands that country’s chief police commisioner and the Finace minister should follow suit. Scajola was Berluscon’s right hand man in building his party – Forza Italia. If he had not been forced to resign over insulting remarks he made about a government assistant murdered in March, he may have had to resign over revelations about his role in the Genoa police riots last year. The European Commission is holding the Finance Minister responsible for the reprimand over its budget deficit and its creative accounting (started, incidentally, by the previous centre left Olive Tree coalition government!).

The ‘Left’ is also in disarray and the embattled Cofferati has called a summit of the leaders of the left and centre parties for tomorrow, Tuesday 9 July. The leaders of the Democrats of the Left have tried to play down the gravity of the crisis over the signing of the ‘Evil Pact’. Over the next few days there will be further major strikes called by the Cgil which, in the case of transport workers especially, will semi paralyse the country. Berlusconi is known as the Cavalier, Cofferati is now being dubbed the Warrior. The battle between the classes in Italy symbolised in the press by these two figures and is by no means over.

The crisis of Italian capitalism is encapsulated in the special crisis at Fiat. See separate article

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