On February 29th we (comrades from the CWO and Battaglia Comunista) were at the solidarity demonstration with the warehouse workers of the Italian-Japanese company Peroni in Tor Sapienza, Rome. The workers there are carrying on a bitter struggle for better working conditions which started with a week-long strike.
SiCobas1 got in touch with these workers and discovered that they were not even guaranteed the minimum conditions of the national logistics contract.2 Hired by the “Master Jobs” cooperative3 , these workers worked for lower hourly wages than expected, communication of work shifts via text message with maximum 12/24 hours notice, no guarantee of employment, no accident insurance, etc. Following the confrontation between trade unionists and workers, the dispute began in order to obtain the same conditions of exploitation as those guaranteed by the national contract. With the opening of the dispute SiCobas was not even called to the negotiating table, while instead Peroni and the cooperative each immediately began to deny their responsibility for the underpayment and threatened redundancies.4
The Peroni workers are very divided, whilst the most qualified Italian workers are mostly directly employed, the rest are employed via a series of cooperatives. There are at least four of them, two of them just for logistics workers.
Of these, only the workers of the “Master Jobs” cooperative were on strike, with more or less total indifference and lack of solidarity from the others.
The march of about two hundred demonstrators accompanied the logistics workers to the gates of their company, marking an important moment of solidarity. At the parade were present, in addition to various political groups, other SiCobas workers from other companies and some squatter members of the housing struggle movement.
The slogans of the parade were the typical SiCobas slogans ("SiCobas, SiCobas!", "touch one, touch all", "strike today, strike tomorrow”). It struck us that there were no slogans directly related to the claims of the current struggle, let alone political ones.
It then became abundantly clear that these workers had nothing but SiCobas to defend them and, therefore, they clung to it with determination.
In general, the march was very silent, just a march, and the political forces present did not attempt to influence it in any way with chants or slogans of any kind.
As we had already stated in the assembly against the security decrees, there was no anti-capitalist message in either the slogans or the speeches during and at the end of the march, speeches that instead focused on the immediate demands and on the need to support this battle that will end, as the SiCobas leaders said "only with the victory of the workers". No workers spoke at the march5 ...
The struggle will therefore continue throughout the coming days and weeks.
A political reflection: the only ones to give a broader perspective, but all completely within a capitalist framework, were those of the movement fighting homelessness with their banner: "we want everything, a house, a wage, freedom of movement".
An internationalist communist intervention must, necessarily, try to do what SiCobas, and other movements like it, do not and cannot do because of their nature as trade unions, that is movements which operate entirely within the system. This means we have to link immediate demands directly with the perspective of class struggle against capitalism. In short, it must be said that the dispute (in this case, better wages, at least in line with those of the national agreement, the fight against them being used as a bargaining chip between the company and the cooperative, etc.) is an immediate struggle that must be supported by the whole class, beyond the boundaries of sector or this or that trade union acronym — up to this point some of the speeches we heard would agree — but since the cause of workers' exploitation is capitalism itself, and since the crisis of capital — the crisis, a great theme totally absent from any of the interventions we witnessed — is a structural crisis, then it is necessary, while fighting for the immediate demand, to emphasise that we cannot stop there at any struggle. Never.
- 1SiCobas = Sindacato Intercategoriale di Base (intersectional rank and file union). There are a number of these rank and file unions in Italy many of them originating as splits from each other. See leftcom.org
- 2Throughout Italy many of the “logistics” workers are migrants who work in the warehouses of large enterprises. Most of the workers in this strike came originally from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. At least a few had political asylum. Some spoke three languages.
- 3To Anglo-Saxon ears “cooperative” has a collectivist kind of sound but in fact these are the worst employers in Italy. They act in Peroni as employment agencies who pay the workers (thus allowing Peroni to deny responsibility for them). They operate in many other sectors from education to cleaners, as well as the health service and even gardeners. The way they operate via texts about shifts, etc., will be familiar to many comrades in the UK.
- 4In the UK striking workers can be sacked (unlike in the EU where the right to keep your job when on strike is even written into some state constitutions). Presumably the cooperative acting as an agency can simply just forget to employ the workers. It could also explain why the workers employed by the other 3 cooperatives have not dared to join the strike so far.
- 5Despite the fact that the SiCobas banner carries on the bottom the motto “for the self-organised” it was clear that the SiCobas “officials” were in charge of everything. One worker referred to the leader of the SiCobas for the Rome region as “our lawyer”.