Italy: “Let’s do an INNSE”

Workers’ fightback grows in Italy

“Everyone on the roof” seems to be one of the slogans uniting workers in struggle in Italy. Another is “lets do an INNSE”, referring to the marvellous victory of workers in this factory near Milan after a 15 month struggle and occupation, culminating in 5 workers climbing to the top of a crane and staying there for 8 days.

All over the country, workers have taken encouragement and inspiration from those at INNSE. According to the Italian financial newspaper, ‘Il Sole 24 Ore’, there are at least 30 occupations and struggles taking place at the moment, many of them involving workers climbing onto their factory’s roof to publicise their dispute. Some of the struggles are to stop closures, often involving the transfer of production to China or Eastern Europe. At Disco Verde near Bologna, for example, 82 workers came back from the summer break to find out they were all losing their jobs and the company was moving to Romania.

INNSE victory an inspiration

Other struggles are to stop a section of the workforce being sacked. Despite the victory at INNSE, many do not feel confident that they can stop their factories from closing, but are fighting to improve unemployment benefits or recover unpaid wages.

In the public sector, thousands of unemployed teachers have also been scaling roofs, chaining themselves to buildings and stripping off to their underwear, as well as employing more traditional forms of protest and demonstration. A veritable bloodbath is taking place, with the mass sacking of 42,000 teachers and 15,000 support staff just this year. All are ‘precarious’ workers on short-term contracts. These are not necessarily young teachers and staff. Many are in their forties or fifties and have been ‘precarious’ for twenty years in some cases. They have been used by successive governments as cheap labour and are now being thrown away like a used Kleenex. Mass job losses, of course, will also mean overcrowded classrooms and an inferior education for school students.

Clear demands and strategy needed

All these workers are angry and determined to fight. But as CWI members have pointed out in our material, what is also needed is a strategy to win. The struggles have thus far been very fragmented. The main trade union federation, Cgil, organised a general strike “against the crisis” last December, but with no clear programme or strategy. Workers were mobilised to ‘let off steam’ and then effectively abandoned. Now that the crisis is really starting to hit, with at least 700,000 more jobs at risk, the leaders of the unions are virtually silent.

Unlike the two other main unions, the Cgil has refused to sign a new agreement which will undermine nationally negotiated contracts and worsen workers’ pay and conditions. But the union has made no attempt to mobilise workers against the agreement, resulting in some of the different sectors which make up the Cgil signing the new contracts anyway! One sector which is holding firm is Fiom (the Cgil metal workers’ branch), which represents engineering and other industrial workers who are the most affected by job losses and closures. Their contract is due for renewal at the end of the year and FIOM is threatening strike action to press home its demand for a €130 a month wage increase.

Clear demands will be vital to take the movement forward. After a tenacious and determined struggle, the INNSE workers managed to find a new buyer for their factory who has agreed to keep on the workers and restart production. Other workers in some factories are considering organising themselves as cooperatives. However, neither of these strategies would permanently protect workers from the effects of the economic crisis. What is needed is an alternative to domination by the market. Where an employer refuses to keep open a factory or the other two options are not possible, the demand for a factory or group of factories (94% of companies in Italy have less than 10 workers) to be taken into public ownership could gain support. The INNSE workers who, at first, were able to keep production going for three months without the bosses, also showed that there is an alternative way of organising production under the democratic control and management of the workers’ themselves.

On the ground occupations are gaining the support and solidarity of local workers and activists and there have been some attempts to set up networks of factories where struggles are taking place. The precarious workers in the schools are also coordinating their struggles nationally. It’s vital that they link up with ‘permanent’ teaching staff as well as students and parents in order to create a new ‘wave’ of struggle throughout the education sector which, unlike that of last year, forces the government to reverse the cuts and employ those staff who have been sacked in permanent posts. Pressure will now need to be built from below in the trade unions for a national school strike and the linking up of the public and private sector in a more generalised struggle.

The fightback in Italy is still at an early stage and will not be easy given the severity of the crisis and the weakness of the trade union leadership. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that for the first time in recent history the Italian working class has, since the virtual collapse of Rifondazione Comunista, no political party to organise collectively and to represent its interests. But a new wave of struggle could begin the process of transforming the trade union movement into a fighting force and of building a new workers’ party.

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September 2009