Italy: Metal-workers fight for all workers!

One day strike in engineering industry this Friday

This Friday, 28 January, there will be a metal-workers’ one-day strike across Italy called by the most militant union, FIOM, and supported by Italy’s ’unions of the base’. As the article below explains, FIOM opposed an agreement at the Mirafiori (Turin) FIAT car factory which turns the clock back by decades. The new contract at FIAT embodies massive attacks on the rights of workers and sets a terrible precedent for the rest of industry which demands a massive fight back. It eliminates hard-won gains from past battles which workers insisted were inscribed into the country’s laws.

Having opposed the referendum on these measures, FIOM is now excluded from that factory, and fighting for its life and for the rights of all militant workers in Italy. Its appeal for support in the fight to reopen negotiations with FIAT and to re-establish national bargaining is carried on its web-site at: where it is collecting signatures on line from all over the world. Just click on ’uniti ce la possiamo fare’. Press FIRMA to sign. Last weekend in London the National Shop Stewards’ Network conference of around 600 workplace and campaign representatives gave unanimous support to the union’s struggle.

In December, the Italian car company, Fiat, announced that it would set up a new company in the plant at Mirafiori (Turin). This would not belong to the bosses’ association, Confindustria and workers, in order to keep their jobs, would have to sign an individual contract.

The agreement at Fiat imposed on workers through bullying and blackmailing includes a reduction of breaks and an increase in productivity per worker. It allows Fiat not to pay workers for the first few days of sickness. In some cases a worker who goes on strike may be subject to disciplinary action, including dismissal. Workers will no longer have the right to elect their own trade union representatives; these will be appointed directly only by the organisations that have signed the agreement.

The metalworkers’ unions, with the exception of FIOM (CGIL), signed an agreement giving the green light for this, in exchange for a promise of one billion euros investment in the plant. Fiat asked their workers to approve this agreement in a referendum, announcing that – if the agreement was rejected – they would relocate production to Canada or the United States. Despite this threat and the decisive weight of white collar and management workers in the referendum, only 54% of all workers voted in favour of the plan put forward by Marchionne, the managing director.

Fiat bullies workers to give up rights

New political force needed to fight back

Yet another scandal involving Silvio Berlusconi and the unseemly show put up by the Democratic Party (PD) over the referendum at Mirafiori, taken together, tell us that today in Italy there are the conditions for putting an end to the long period of ’Berlusconismo’, but also that there is no mass force able to offer a real alternative to that model at present. The request sent by the Milan prosecutor’s office for a new authorisation to proceed against the prime minister was done with perfect timing, the day after the compromise decision of the Constitutional Court on ‘just impediment’ (with the judge able to decide whether there are really serious reasons which prevent the premier being present at the trial) indicates that the establishment sees the current government as incapable of guaranteeing the political stability needed to deal with the social crisis with sufficient ’rigour’.

Some people think that the government will carry on and that there will be no early elections. But every parliamentarian that Berlusconi ’convinces’ to support him in the chamber is one more that can hold his government to ransom. For a capitalist class that wants to make Italy one big Mirafiori, this is just hardly tolerable.

The idea of a caretaker government of technocrats has waned now. There remain only the options of going on like this, in a state of perpetual instability, or playing the card of a new government, with some form of popular support investiture, that only elections can provide. It is true that the new political arrangements that should ensure stability are uncertain and precarious, but, from the point of view of the Italian (and international) bourgeoisie, it would be difficult to have a more ungovernable situation than the present.

The victory of a coalition of the PD and what is known as the ’Third Pole’ (involving figures like Fini, Casini Rutelli) would lead to a flight of ’Berlusconiani’ MPs onto the cart of the winners and would mean having a government with certain contradictions (for example on ethical issues), but quite solid and consistent on the fundamentals – namely the economy. A possible victory of the centre-right would ratify a Berlusconi government and make it stronger and more stable than the current one. Capitalism is cynical and would be able to return to singing the praises of the Prince of Arcore (Silvio!). The judiciary, which is a pillar of capitalism, could then also decide to put certain issues into storage and the press could turn its gaze away from the keyhole. They managed to put aside the so-called ‘State slaughters’ (the bombs in Piazza Fontana, Bologna Railway Station and so on), therefore they can surely do the same a less important issue like the feasting of Berlusconi and his merry band of lecherous old men.

On the other hand this is not just about changing the government. We are in a period of historic transition. Sacconi (minister of labour) said that at the Mirafiori plant the era which opened in July of ’93 is at an end – the so-called ‘concertazione’ (consultation and agreement). The political translation of this is the end of the Second Republic, born in the ’90s with the introduction of the two-sided, majority system. That is a total restructuring of the Italian political system, starting from the ’geography’ of the parties at the time. Even in the 90s, the collapse came suddenly, under the pressure of national and international events, such as the ’ Clean Hands’ (campaign of lawyers against bribery and corruption in high places) and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The ruling classes know that sometimes the motor of history accelerates in an unexpected manner and it must be ready to go on a long trip without having the oil changed and the tyre pressures checked.

After the ruling Party of Freedom (PDL), the PD also is destined to be overwhelmed. The impact of the Fiat issue and the clash of Berlusconi-Fini on it, has mercilessly shed light on its nature as a federation of lobbies involved in fights to the last blood amongst themselves rather than a party. The effect is tragi-comic. D’Alema (PD leader) says that anyone who refuses to ally himself with a splinter of the centre-right (Fini) to beat the centre-right (Berlusconi-Bossi) is a ’blockhead’. On Mirafiori, Bersani (PD general secretary) brings the masterpiece to perfection by saying that ’if the agreement will have positive consequences, it means that it is positive, otherwise it will be negative’! Fassino, Democratic Party candidate for mayor of Turin, and all the top leaders of the PD (with the exception of ex-CGIL leader, Cofferati) lined up for a Yes vote at Mirafiori.

In the end , Bersani welcomed the 54% victory of the ’Yes’ – obtained through FIAT’ blackmailing workers – as the fruit of ’democratic choice’. On the other hand it is not surprising. The referendums of Marchionne are like the primaries of the centre-left. They hold them only when they think they can win. The difference is that no candidate of the Democratic Party has ever promised, in the case of defeat, to move to Canada.

On the other hand, the Left parties, which in recent years could have put themselves forward as the real alternative to the neoliberal policies carried out by the centre-right and centre-left, chose the path of subservience to the PD. We were told that to save democracy we must ally ourselves with a party that looks favourably on making workers renounce, under the pressure of blackmail, some fundamental rights.

Vendola (the leader of SEL (Left Ecology and Freedom), and the new superstar of the Left) has staked everything on his candidacy in the primaries of the centre-left, seen as the key to ’reform from within the PD’. Today, after the about-turn of Bersani to Fini and Casini and the probable cancellation of the primaries, Vendola is like a child with his new toy in pieces. The Party of Communist Refoundation (PRC) and the PdCI (Party of Italian Communists) tail-ended him, promising to support his candidacy. Now they find themselves like him without any prospects, possibly condemned to run alone in the forthcoming elections, not by choice but by necessity. Unlike Vendola, they will be put in the shade on the political scene because of the proven incapacity of their leaders.

So while the result at Mirafiori speeds up the discussion on the building of a party to focus on the struggle of the metalworkers, the bulk of the left is – as always – looking the other way. Meanwhile the untested partnership – Bertinotti (ex-PRC leader) and Cofferati – launch ’Work and Freedom’ and take pole position as a political point of reference for FIOM, of the trade union left, the student movement. Vendola is likely to be yet another pupil of Bertinotti off-loaded overnight.

With difficulty, a process of reconstruction of Italian politics will be set off before it is known if there will be early elections or if, on the contrary, there will be no voting for quite a long period. No one is interested in measure his support through elections in the middle of a transformation phase. However, this restructuring appears inevitable and requires of all of us to decide now where we want to orient ourselves.

A movement of the current left-wing parties in the direction of a new formation in which various currents and forces come together and unite and which can provide a unified political representation for workers, students and those who fight against neoliberal policies, is possible and desirable. The platform of the demonstration of October 16 (called by FIOM) could be a good starting point to provide an adequate programme for the new formation.

ControCorrente will be involved in this debate, ready to debate with anyone, but with two iron convictions. The first is that Mirafiori is a dividing line: whoever wants to represent workers is politically incompatible with the parties who backed FIAT. The second is that we call this new entity a ’party of workers’ and not a ’labour party’. It must be a party of, for, and under the control of workers, not a party of ’friends of the workers’ parachuted in over their heads and recruited just a minute before the final whistle from the jet-set of political and trade union bureaucracies.

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January 2011