After five days of all-out strikes by Genoa’s public sector transport workers, a ferociously contested four-hour mass assembly on Saturday 23 November resulted in resigned acceptance of a shabby deal cooked up by the local mayor and the bureaucrats of the major unions involved.
The strike had been launched by rank-and-file workers against the “leftwing” Mayor’s plans to privatise the lcoal public owned transport company, against a background of cuts to wages and conditions.
Almost instantaneously the radical momentum of the collective “downing of tools” of nearly 3,000 workers spread across the city, bringing council workers out in solidarity and the mass of the working public in open sympathy.
After workers invaded the council meeting which was due to sanction the privatisation plan, the dynamic of the action changed and the city had an air of revolt. “This is no longer a strike, but a revolution” one of the workers stated.
Transport workers in Torino and Rome announced immediate financial support if there was any attempt to prosecute the workforce (for invading the council meeting).
The prospect of national contagion grew fast, and the local and national union bureaucrats decided to act fast, cynically and ruthlessly.
In Rome they announced a four-hour strike — on the 5 December! — for local transport workers, smothering any independent initiative.
At an enormous mass meeting on Friday 22 November in Genoa, proposals for the setting up of a national strike fund and ideas about spreading the strike were contemptuously dismissed by local officials.
There followed a nine hour meeting in the residence of the Prefect with the Mayor, the President of the region and representatives of the two major unions. All sides were desperate to stitch up a “reasonable compromise” that they might sell to the workers.
The mass assembly the next day was presented with a document which was basically the same plan.
Speaker after speaker railed against the proposal. But when officials taunted them: “what is your alternative?” they were compelled to resort to abstractions and well-intentioned pieties.
When a vote was eventually called, many were outside having a break. A majority for the bureaucrats’ proposal was announced and chaos reigned, as hundreds responded in anger, calling for a proper, organised vote. The bureaucrats stood their ground, at least until tables and chairs were overturned.
Crucial lessons must be learnt from a strike which undoubtedly signalled the still-burning hope and potential of the working class capacity and willingness to fight.
The lack of an independent self-organised strike committee was the achilles heel from the start. The local officials were never forced to cede, let alone surrender, control in any of the negotiations.
Related to this was the overall lack of the necessary awareness of how absolutely imperative a sharp, clear political direction is for any struggle that finds itself on the road to challenging the organs and institutions of local, regional and national power.
In this the workers of Genoa are not alone.