On June 1st, Italian industrialists and union confederations reached an agreement limiting the right to strike and rewriting the rules of union representation, ignoring protests from base unions and from left-leaning members of metalworkers union FIOM.
June 1st saw the beginning of a new era in Italian labour policy, with a new agreement about union representation signed by the three union confederations and Confindustria (the national association of industrialists). The agreement came after a long build-up and a few months of informal meetings with industrialists, for instance, taking part in the May Day rally organized by CGIL, CISL and UIL in Bologna.
Despite the general consensus around it, this agreement seems to be a victory only for industrialists and union bureaucrats. It was welcomed by many, including Prime Minister Enrico Letta and Maurizio Landini, national Chair of FIOM (the union representing metalworkers). Ironically, those who would be most harmed by such an agreement are its most fervent supporters – this seems to be, apparently, the case of Landini.
The text of the agreement has not yet been made public; from what is known, it would underwrite the new power balance in labour relations, effectively weakening the right to strike. High-ups in the union confederations now have official recognition and a new and powerful tool in their ongoing struggle against workers’ grievances and against the most active unions – a struggle that so far has been characterized by political immobility and by acquiescence to industrialists’ diktats.
From now on, only those unions that signed this deal will be authorized to represent workers in bargaining. Agreements between unions and employers will need only to be approved by 50%+1 of all unions at the table, regardless of the size of their membership. Consequently, a few small unions (that is, a few among those that signed the deal) could form a majority and approve an agreement, thus deciding matters for all other workers.
Workers will still have some say through a referendum process. However, as the cases of Pomigliano and Turin clearly showed, these consultations often come with heavy pressure: the threat of losing one’s job is so strong that it can often determine the outcome of the vote. Unions, of course, exist precisely to free workers from such threats, through the strength of collective organization.
Once an agreement is signed, unions cannot change it. This rule is enforced through a sanctions mechanism. Workers still have the right to strike, as laid down in the Constitution of the Italian Republic. However, the unions that are supposed to guarantee this right can be fined or sanctioned for it.
Base unions and left-leaning FIOM officers have protested loudly. Among them are Giorgio Cremaschi and Sergio Bellavita, who strongly criticized their chair, Landini. As Bellavita declared: “All power is given to the leadership of union confederations – a leadership that keeps mistaking the protection of their own organization for the protection of workers’ rights.”
This deal is not valid for FIAT. Sergio Marchionne, FIAT’s CEO, withdrew FIAT from Confindustria in order to have “a free hand” with unions. This decision has already brought about the expulsion of FIOM from its plants, and the adoption of a very regressive contract.
Marchionne, with his anti-union behavior, has now opened up a way of operating that is being extended across the whole of Italy. What is worse, this is happening with the complicity of CGIL and FIOM, its metalworkers’ wing.
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