Italy: Mass strike and demonstration

Public and private sector unite in angry mood

National strike action and a mass demonstration in Rome took place last Friday, 13 February. It was not a general strike but hundreds of thousands of strikers were involved in coordinated action called by the metalworkers’ union Fiom (part of the Cgil, Italy’s biggest trade union federation) and the section of the Cgil which organises public sector workers. In Rome 700,000 blue and white collar workers marched side by side, in a unity that has not been seen in Italy for some time.

a fighting mood

They were in a fighting mood. The public sector workers were protesting against the latest wage deal which was scandalously signed by the two other main trade union federations – Cisl and Uil. Together with the metalworkers, they were also opposing the new agreement, again signed by Cisl and Uil, which will weaken national contracts and strengthen the bosses’ offensive against pay and conditions. All were demanding that workers should not be the ones to pay the price of the economic crisis.

many workers are up for a fight

The growing unrest has forced the tops of the Cgil to break ranks with Cisl and Uil and mount some opposition to the attacks from the bosses and the Berlusconi government. In addition to undermining national contracts, the government is planning to raise the retirement age of women from 60 to 65. It is clear that the employers’ federation sees this move, which is being sold as establishing ‘equality’ between men and women, as a prelude for a more generalised increase in the retirement age for all workers. At the same time, the government is proposing to make it harder for public sector workers to take strike action.

All this against the background of a relentless economic crisis. In December there was a 500% increase in the number of workers laid off (in ‘cassa integrazione’ – temporary unemployment with benefit paid by the state). For metal (engineering) workers the increase was 1,000%! The situation is dire for tens of thousands of ‘precarious’ workers who have simply not had their contracts renewed and will not be entitled in most cases to any benefits at all.

While it is positive that the Cgil has organised action, its response is inadequate. It is clear that many workers are up for a fight. The general strike of 12 December last year, called by the Cgil against the economic crisis, mobilised over a million on demonstrations in cities around the country. But there were no clear plans about what to do next.

On the contrary, the Cgil seems to be leading the movement backwards. Another general strike should have been the obvious next move with a national demonstration in Rome. But their ‘strategy’ of mobilisation will involve further sectoral strikes (including in the schools) ‘culminating’ in a national demonstration on 4 April. But that will be minus the strike since this is a Saturday!

Like others on the left, we in Lotta and Controcorrente campaigned for generalised strike action on 13 February. Now it is important to mobilise in the workplaces for 4 April, which is likely to be very big, whilst at the same time calling for a 24 hour general strike.

A clear strategy and programme to take the movement forward would not only include demands to scrap the national contract agreement, reverse public sector attacks, and extend benefits to all workers; it would include the demand for nationalisation under workers’ control and management of all companies threatening job losses and closures. A battle is being waged inside the Cgil and the Prc (Party of communist refoundation) for such a programme to be adopted.

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February 2009