‘Health not profit’ strike wave sweeps Italy

The Colosseum, Rome, in late February - days before the Italian government shut down all major tourist sites

Italy is in lock-down in the fight against coronavirus. Bars, restaurants and shops are closed, with the exception of supermarkets, pharmacies and newsagents. And yet, under pressure from the bosses’ organisation, Confindustria, workers are still expected to go to work elsewhere, often on overcrowded public transport. It is a clear case of putting profit before health.

But workers have responded with a rash of spontaneous strikes across Italy. At Fiat, in Pomigliano, Toyota, in Bologna, the shipyards in Liguria, and numerous other factories and workplaces, workers have taken strike action over health and safety. In some cases, there has been a lack of protective equipment – such as at the Ilva steelworks in Puglia where workers are striking for ten days – in others health and safety measures have not been implemented at all or have been totally inadequate.

The head of Confindustria, in Lombardy, has called the strikes “irresponsible” and accused workers of “exploiting” the coronavirus! However, action from below, has forced the government to draw up a safety protocol together with the three main trade union federations.

But on its own this will not be enough. “What applies in the street must apply in the factory,” has been one of the slogans of the strike wave. Only workers in essential sectors should be expected to work, and the trade unions should be involved in decisions about what constitutes essential work. All workers at home should be on full pay. Workers will need to continue to organise on the ground in the factories and workplaces, and strike, if necessary, to make sure that the bosses adhere to the protocol.

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March 2020