CGIL fails to reorient

Submitted by AWL on 13 May, 2014 - 4:13

The details of the latest scandal surrounding the contracts worth billions for the 2015 "Expo Exhibition" in Milan — revealing a network of many of the same individuals and forces at the heart of the "Bribesville" scandal that brought the first post-war Republic to ignominious collapse in 1994 — have underlined once again the squalid depths of corruption defining the Italy's economic and political system and state in its entirety.

The news could only have rubbed salt in the wounds of the tens of millions left defenceless before the unending scorched-earth austerity. The political parties and forces of the country's bourgeoisie are now, as before, exposed in an elaborate, cynical, gigantic division of the spoils - proof, if anyone needed it, that nothing has changed. “It's Capitalism, Stupid!”

One might have hoped that the facts would have produced a sea of red faces among the leaders and delegates of CGIL, Italy's largest trade union confederation, meeting in Rimini for its 17th annual conference.

But from the results of the leadership elections, there was precious little to indicate that any sea-change had taken place among the 1000 or so delegates, let alone among the narrow-minded functionaries of its leadership.

Susanna Camusso was comfortably returned for a second term as leader. Yet the CGIL, an organisation of five or six million members, in five years of the worst crisis facing the Italian working masses, has abjectly capitulated on every front without even the pretence of a fight.

And the CGIL, compared to the two other major confederations of the workers' movement, CISL and UIL, considers itself radical!

In fact, of its members, nearly 3 million are pensioners, given full voting rights in the daily life of the organiation. They inevitably form a secure and profoundly conservative sump of caution and timidity, exploited for decades by a bureaucracy whose caste interest weds it to class collaboration.

Little wonder, then, that the bourgeoisie considers itself to have got an easy ride so far, and able to embark on widespread privatisation on a scale unimaginable a short time ago.

There was some opposition in Rimini - that of the once-radical metalworkers union, FIOM, led by Maurizio Landini.

His programmatic alternative to the confederation's leadership criticised not just its passivity but also the bureaucratic, undemocratic nature of the organisation. It called for reform and for uniting its membership in struggle, instead of handcuffing itself to the pro-“company” UIL and CISL.

Landini's 15 minute speech at least woke the conference from its torpor, emotionally spelling out the consequences for a movement increasingly seen as impotent while the powerful and the rich engorge themselves.

He argued that prime minister Renzi's attack on the unions as "conservative" was increasingly finding listeners among growing sections of the most defenceless, desperate victims of the crisis. "We are preparing the same fate as the dominant political parties, as the rise of the Five Star movement of Grillo shows”.

The significant, although still slight, increase in FIOM presence on the national executive indicated that a point had been made.

In Camusso's final day speech she admitted errors, without saying either what they were or why. She promised that the 3 confederations would discuss agreement and action on a number of fronts - unemployment, precarious workers, pensions. The masses would be well advised not to hold their breath!

Landini could feel satisfied. But under the rhetoric he offered absolutely no concrete proposals or attempt to set out a strategy of resistance to the ruling class offensive.

He never mentioned the Democratic party of Renzi, nor even hinted that the record of impotence criticised by him is due to the bureaucrats' unholy terror of compromising it in government, and opening a wider political crisis and which might threaten their own privileged role.

FIOM's fame as a radically militant union belongs to the past, and Landini's leadership has largely been responsible for that decline. Unlike his predecessors - ideologically committed left reformists - he abjures "ideological labels" or political parties. His only "political" tack is a fanatical adherence to the most ludicrous “ideological” credo, that all can be resolved if only the Italian constitution can be "defended".

The predictable and almost immediate collapse of the campaign to "defend the constitution" by him and sundry liberals has taught him nothing. Nor the disastrous decision in 2004 to go the courts, despite having won the support of a near-majority of the best fighters in the FIAT plants of Milan and Naples against FIAT boss Marchione's plan to deny them the right to choose their plant leaders.

Ten years later, thousands of these workers are without work, living off derisory state and trade union funds in the hope of one day returning.

In Landini's speech he mentioned how on the train journey to the conference he encountered some young immigrants. They had told him they believed that the trade unions were paid by the State. “What can we do for them to make them realise who we are?”, he asked.

Ironically, not so far away in the city of Piacenza he would have found a part of the answer: a strike of some of the most underpaid workers in the country: Italians, immigrants from the Balkan countries, India, Bangladesh etc. Their pickets, outside the largest commercial depository in the country, that of IKEA, had brought the plant to a halt as drivers refused to cross the picket lines.

Attacked by state thugs they had repelled them, and called for solidarity from other unions. From the rank and file it has come - from their leaders, not so far.

None of this, of course is a novelty to Landini, but his rhetorical game-playing underlines the profound political bankruptcy of those whose traditional routine, answers, methods and organisations have been rendered sterile by a global reality of crisis.

As Trotsky emphasised regarding the crisis in France in the 1930s, the traditional “misleaders”of the masses can survive indefinitely as long as the political weather remains “normal”. But in a storm of capitalist crisis, they are increasingly rendered rudderless, as if in a rowing boat.

So too the philistine “left opportunists” who bear a major responsibility for two decades of defeat and setback among millions of once-active militants, and a corresponding ideological blight.

As Italy's crisis remains unresolved and the fortunes of its latest would-be "Bonapartist", Mario Renzi, hang increasingly in the balance, the working masses will continue to resist as in Piacenza.

The creation of a mass workers' democratic revolutionary organisation to get rid of capitalism remains the principal task of those who believe that every day the survival of capitalism provides the most valid evidence for the cause of international socialism.

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