By Lucy Clement
Italy’s “moderate” trade unions have scuppered an attempt to extend employment rights to workers in small businesses.
A massive campaign by Rifondazione Comunista and the left-wing trade union CGIL succeeded in forcing a referendum on the extension of Article 18 of Italy’s labour law — which protects workers from unfair dismissal.
But despite an 87% vote in favour of the proposition, the reform will not go ahead because less than 50% of the electorate voted. The turnout was 25.7% — largely a result of a campaign by the major political parties, backed by the unions CISL and UIL, for voters to abstain.
The referendum followed a massive union campaign, including a 13-million strong general strike in April 2002, against the government’s attempt to abolish Article 18 altogether.
That movement split when CISL and UIL subsequently signed a pact with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition, backing the temporary suspension of Article 18 in return for nebulous promises on pensions and social security. CGIL refused to sign up, instead deciding to fight for a referendum, which its activists collected five million signatures to force.
The defeat is undoubtedly a blow for the Italian left. But it shows nonetheless that a very substantial minority of the Italian working class is prepared to defy all the mainstream politicians, all the threats about falling out with the EU, and all the scare stories about more job losses — and vote to extend workers’ rights.