Italy: Important victories of Genoa shipyard and transport workers

Reports from February edition of Resistenze, paper of the CWI in Italy

1. Fincantieri shipyard workers’ sustained struggle – “Even with small forces it’s possible to fight and win”

The struggle of Fincantieri shipbuilding workers began some time ago, in 2007, when the centre-left government of Romano Prodi tried to float the company on the Stock Exchange. Within a few years this would have lead to the closure of several shipyards. The workers immediately took to the streets and after many demonstrations and strikes, the plan was withdrawn.

In 2009 the managing director of the state-owned company said that the production bonus would not be paid to three shipyards (Genoa Sestri Ponente, Castellammare di Stabia and Ancona), hitting those which, as we saw later, were at risk of being closed down. We replied with an occupation in the week before Christmas which lasted for five days and forced the company to make a partial U-turn. They realised that at Sestri Ponente, with a strong and organised opposition to the company’s policies, things wouldn’t be easy.

We should remember that some of our comrades in Genoa have been taken to court. On the last day of the occupation, temperatures were rising at the factory gates. After four days of peaceful occupation with no problems, we decided to enter the factory to hold a mass meeting to which the President of the Ligurian Region and the mayor of Genoa had been invited. But the entrance to the shipyard was blocked and in the melee, the bars of the gates were bent. For this, 19 workers were called before the judge and charged with causing damage to the tune of 1100 euros.

In May 2011, a plan was submitted which called for the closure of three shipyards, Sestri Ponente, Castellamare and Riva Trigoso. Our response was to once again take to the streets in protest. We organised strong demonstrations, including the blocking of several roads, bringing the whole city of Genoa to a halt. But despite this disruption, we received strong solidarity from the local population. On 3 June we went en masse to Rome and the managing director was forced to withdraw the closure plan due to public order issues.

The Finantieri struggle in Genoa involved other factories, as well as taxi-drivers, small businesses and ordinary Sestri Ponente citizens who understand that if the shipyards close, an area of the city and the entire city closes. In fact, the Sestri yard provides work for more than 2,000 workers. In addition there are all those who rely economically on the yard and the families of all those affected. Not forgetting the huge number of immigrant workers involved in preparing the ships.

Now the company does not say that it wants to close the yard but instead it proposes two years of cassa integrazione, with workers sent home on a proportion of their normal wages. For us this simply means slow suffocation. So in order to get a response to our demand for guaranteed work, we once again occupied the yard and blocked stations, roads and motorways several times. We also occupied Genoa airport for six hours in order to get a meeting with the Minister of Labour, Passera – the only Fincantieri shareholder??. If in the next few weeks no order arrives which will guarantee work, we are ready to block the Oceania Riviera, the ship currently being built at Sestri Ponente.

We have had to fight against governments of the centre-left (2007-8), centre-right (2009 and 2011) and now against the ‘technocratic’ government of Mario Monti. Our struggle has shown that if there is a group of comrades, even a small group, ready to mobilise the workers, and a decisive union like the FIOM (metalworkers), we can wage a determined fight, deciding the form of struggle, when to put the foot on the accelerator and when to take it off, and this is definitely a sign of strength. However, we have also learnt that there are trade unions which, instead of helping us, have criticised us and signed separate agreements which divide the workers and create more difficulties.

The situation in the whole of Italy would probably change if we were all able to fight together: workers in the factories, the NO TAV movement, the taxi drivers and lorry drivers, the fishermen and all the unions. We could stop them from making us pay for the crisis.

2. AMT transport workers invade regional council – Determined strike action gets results!

On 7 January unions organising transport workers in the Liguria region, faced with a worrying situation due to insufficient funding from the regional council, called a four hour strike. In Genoa tension amongst workers had been high due to rumours about a 38 million euro shortfall and the possible bankruptcy of the AMT transport company. In addition to this, there was the anger over the fact that our national contract, which expired three years ago, has not been renewed.

For many workers a strike of only four hours made little sense. Many wouldn’t have been able to take part in the demonstration outside the regional council and then get back to start work again. And it seemed very little, given the seriousness of the situation. The unions decided to call a mass meeting the night before to decide how to organise the strike the next day. As soon as I arrived at the square in front of where the meeting was to take place, I realised just how many of us there were!

At the beginning of the meeting, a taxi driver representative spoke about their struggle against ‘liberalisation’ and expressed their solidarity with the transport workers. The trade union proposed a protest outside the regional council from 10 am. A trade union delegation would be received by the council, we would outline our problems, and wait for their reply. But…and here comes the good bit – we were told by council representatives, “Nobody must think of behaving like the Fincantieri workers who blocked the airport until they got what they wanted. Because these workers have got to pay big fines and also we have to respect the legal restrictions on the hours that public service workers can strike”.

After several interventions expressing the anger of the workers, but without putting forward any concrete proposals, I decided to say what many of my colleagues were thinking but didn’t dare say. “Tomorrow, as long as the Region doesn’t give us any firm undertakings, the buses don’t leave the garage”. The workers applauded and this confirmed that everyone felt the same.

The next morning we met as planned at the protest and there were so many of us! When the trade union delegation went into the council building the mass of workers followed them and there wasn’t an inch of space in the corridors and nearby rooms. It was a real occupation! With those workers putting on the pressure, the secretary of the FAISA, an autonomous union which organises the majority of ATM workers, put forward the workers demands. He concluded by calling on the Regional President, the Mayor of Genoa, the Provincial President and the President of ATM to address the workers, “If not, we are not leaving”. All four soon came.

The union called for a ‘crisis roundtable’ to find, within a definite time, the necessary funding and also to pass the necessary legislation and avoid cutting services, wages and jobs. This was immediately convened, but after an hour we were told that there was no agreement.

The workers decided to march out and occupy the central square in Genoa until the situation was resolved. The strike had by now lasted the planned four hours but the workers showed no sign of giving up and others, hearing about the road being blocked, came to support us. In the evening we were ‘called back’ into the council because it seemed they had managed to square the circle!

Piazza Di Ferrari was occupied by hundreds of taxi drivers striking against the government. They met us with applause shouting “Let’s all fight together”. We in turn applauded them and went back into the council.

The agreement reached reflected most of our demands but many workers were understandably mistrustful of the politicians and the union. We organised another mass meeting which eventually approved the agreement and the workers decided to go back to work the next day after being on strike for almost 24 hours. A few weeks later the Region told us that the money that at first wasn’t there had now been found.

Of course, the problems have not all been solved. We are not that naïve and we know that they want to dismantle public transport. But we showed that struggle pays and that the pressure from workers can push politicians into backing down.

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February 2012