Since the news on 20 March that the leadership of Italy’s largest union confederation, CGIL, had voted down acceptance of the proposed abolition by Mario Monti’s government of the job-security provision in Article 18 of the Labour Code, a wave of spontaneous strikes, occupations, mass assemblies and road blocks has burst forth across the whole country.
From Genoa to Palermo, from the largest workplaces to the smallest, thousands have voted with their feet to demonstrate and underline the increasingly uncontainable desperation, anger and frustration felt by the working class as the crisis bites deeper and deeper.
Striking alongside CGIL members were their fellow trade-unionists from CISL and UIL, whose scab leaders had backed Monti’s proposed changes to Article 18.
Those changes explicitly offer the bosses the opportunity to sack any worker with impunity, under the pretext of economic necessity.
Even if it is later established that the sacking was illegitimate, the worker would still lose the right of re-entry to the workplace.
This move is demanded by the European Union authorities as concrete evidence of how serious the Italian bourgeoisie are about “putting their house in order”.
It amounts to a wholesale dismantling of a provision which, while restricted to private-sector businesses of more than 15 employees (and 95% of Italian firms have less than 15!), has represented a precious practical limit to employer writ.
The jobs of around 300,000 more workers are on the line as one company after another faces closure, and there are many among the bosses only too ready to grasp the lifeline thrown to them by Monti!
The decision by Susanna Camusso and her fellow CGIL bureaucrats to oppose Monti on this is to be welcomed, all the more so after the debacle of the three-hour strike that was supposed to embody united “resistance” by the three union confederations to Monti’s assault on the pension system in December!
Camusso announced an eight-hour strike, with a further eight hours of mass assemblies in the workplaces to debate further action. But only an idiot could think that the CGIL bureaucracy had significantly change its spots. Up to 25 March, Camusso announced no dates for the action; then she declared it would take place at the end of May, and after the administrative elections across the regions and provinces!
Having precipitated the spontaneous actions by a declaration of militant posturing, she now intends to apply the brake to mass actions that could spiral beyond her control, opening a threat to both the government and the trade union barons,
The Monti government’s primary base of political support is the Democratic Party, the political point of reference of the CGIL leadership and hitherto an avid supporter of “reform” of Article 18.
The CGIL leadership too has not rejected “reform” of Article 18 out of hand. Its present dilemma stems from the fact that its rank and file is acutely and radically conscious of what is at stake.
Camusso’s rhetorical gesture will have been based on a hope that the government and the parties in parliament might find a way to smoothe over the cracks and allow the CGIL leaders once again to climb down, as they had done previously over pension reform.
After the magnificent response of the workers, first Democratic Party leader Bersani, and then the leaders of CISL and UIL, followed by the boss of the major employers’ organisation, have declared themselves ready to find a compromise in parliament. They may yet do so.
The ball is in the court of the radical leaders of the metalworkers’ union FIOM, the variety of “base” organisations, mainly made up of public sector workers, and the movements of the radical would-be Marxist left.
FIOM is part of the CGIL confederation. Its leaders voted against or abstained on the document passed by the leadership at the 20 March meeting prior to Camusso’s declaration.
Its rank and file are in the van of the present mobilisations, fighting to spread the action which, if it is to grow, must widen the point of attack from Article 18 to the whole panoply of grievances that like open sores disfigure the lives of millions in this country.
A general strike, all-out and indefinite, and a call to bring the government down and force new elections, and a drive for a workers’ government, must be the minimum requirement from the union leaders.