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Strikes in Italy
Just The Tip Of The Iceberg
THIS YEAR'S May Day came at a time of heightened tension in Italian society and of some of the most dramatic strike struggles in Europe. CLARE DOYLE reports.
Mounting demands for the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq have been fuelled by the capture of four Italians and the brutal killing of one of them. So strong is the feeling, that centre-left party leaders have been forced to talk about following the example of the new Spanish government and withdrawing troops immediately.
At the same time, 5,000 workers of Fiat Melfi, in the South of Italy, are in the third week of a solid strike against a wage that is 20% lower than that of workers in any other Fiat factories, and against "murderous" shift patterns (which include 15 consecutive nights without a break).
An unprecedented unity in action has been forged in the face of extreme obstinacy on the part of the Fiat management. Workers from a number of different trade union organisations at the plant have taken the conduct of the struggle into their own hands.
Practically every worker is involved in direct elections of the representatives from the shop-floor and a "permanent assembly" at the plant reviews every stage of the struggle. Although the mass pickets have been at least temporarily lifted, the strike continues and is voted on at the beginning of every eight-hour shift.
Workers from other Fiat factories around the country have also been involved in lightning strikes and walkouts in solidarity with the fight at Melfi. Last Monday, after more than a week of mass picketing to stop buses carrying scabs from entering the plant, a vicious police attack was launched, clearly acting on orders from Rome.
The Carabinieri charged in, lashing out with batons left, right and centre. Many were injured. Outrage found its expression in an all-out four-hour general strike of engineering workers on Wednesday 28 April. In the Basilicata region, where the Melfi factory is sited, the strike was for eight hours.
The middle of last week also saw a two day strike at Alitalia - Italy's national airline. Every one of its planes remained on the round. Airports and runways were blocked by hundreds of workers demonstrating their anger at plans to cut 1,100 jobs directly and 'outsource' those of another 2,100.
The response of the minister of welfare, Maroni, was to announce a halving of the subsidy to Alitalia. He also launched a wide-ranging plan to shackle the trade unions, minimise the right to strike and even to resurrect the attack on Clause 18 of the country's labour law.
It was this planned 'reform' which provoked the mass protest movement of general strikes and demonstrations not long into the three year government of Silvio Berlusconi. Giorgio Cremaschi, national secretary of the metal mechanics union, Fiom, told the newspaper, La Repubblica: "If he reopens this question, he will only demonstrate his weakness. He can do this of course, but the government would have to get ready to be overturned".
In the coming weeks and months, there will undoubtedly be a further escalation of workers' struggles - explosions interspersed with pauses for breath and for reflection. The trade union leaders should call for solidarity action in the form of full-blooded general strikes of all workers in Italy for 24 hours as a minimum.
They should link such a call with the battle to defend all pension and other rights, including Clause 18 once more in the firing line.
In the coming weeks, there will also be political battles in connection with the European and provincial elections taking place on June 12. A clear alternative programme of socialist demands is sorely needed in the battle with the parties of big business and the rich.
The largest workers' party in Italy, given the capitalist and reformist nature of the ex-Communist Party, the Democrats of the Left (DS), is Rifondazione Comunista (Rc). Unfortunately, its leadership has decided to go into the coming elections supporting the 'Olive Tree' coalition.
This not only includes the DS but the Margherita (Daisy) party. One of this party's leading lights is head of the Ferrari motor company and a cousin of the Agnellis who have owned Fiat for decades and made their family fortune at the expense of its super-exploited workers!
In relation to Fiat, as well as applauding the determined fight of the workers, the RC leaders are now, correctly, calling for the nationalisation of this flagship company which employs more than than any other private company in Italy (and thousands more worldwide).
The RC should, however, include in its programme a clear call for public ownership under democratic workers' control not only of Fiat but also of Alitalia (at present 63% state-owned) and all the major companies in Italy.
It should link the strike struggles of today with the vital need for a government made up of elected representatives from amongst those involved in confronting the present government and those forced to fight against capitalism and all its ills.
As the leaflet distributed on May Day by members of 'Lotta per il socialismo' (the CWI's group in Italy) explained, the RC should not be afraid to put forward an independent working class and socialist alternative as the only long-term solution to the problems facing workers and young people.
In The Socialist 8 May 2004:
Socialist Party election campaign
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis