The national coordinator of the Si Cobas trade union was released on bail yesterday after his lawyer stated that the accusations against him are beginning to collapse.
Aldo Milani, the head of Si Cobas was arrested on Friday during negotiations he was conducting. According to Si Cobas: “In the late afternoon (of 26th January 2016) our national coordinator Aldo Milani was taken away by the police, arrested and transferred to jail in Modena and, as of yet (the morning of of January 27th), his legal defense has not been able to contact him.” Milani was charged with extortion relating to industrial action that the union was taking against a food processing company in the province of Modena, Northern Italy.
Si Cobas is a rank and file union which is active in sectors, such as logistics, which are particularly exploitative and have a high presence of migrant workers. The union is known for its militant activism, attracting attention from the media and repression from the authorities, and its struggles in the logistics area are causing particular contention. The logistics sector has great importance for the Italian economy. In a stagnant economy it is one of the few industries that has been growing consistently. In this critical sector, where speed and flexibility are of the utmost importance, profit is drawn by the enforcement of harsh regimes of discipline on its workers. In recent times, therefore, tension between the militant unions on one side, and businesses and state authorities on the other, has been building. The situation reached a head last summer when a militant from another rank and file union, USB, was killed during the picket of a GLS warehouse, after managers of the warehouse ordered a truck to drive through the picket line.
The arrest of Aldo Milani came after a video was handed to authorities in which Milani and another man can be seen discussing the recent laying off of 52 workers with the management of Alcar Uno, a subsidiary of meat processing giant Levoni. The video shows the other man take an envelope from the company management, supposedly containing 90.000 euros. This man was at first reported to be an activist from the union, and the accusation was that the union was taking the money in return for calling off strike action. However, it has since come to light that the man in the video is in fact a labour consultant hired by the company, and has nothing to do with the Si Cobas union. The fact that Milani was sitting next to him was deemed by police to be enough evidence to warrant an arrest.
The video was handed out to the media and was immediately made public, before Milani had had a chance to defend himself or even to speak to his lawyer. It could be said, in fact, that the reaction of the Italian media has been the most worrying aspect of the whole affair. The ferocity with which it conducted its campaign to smear the union and its leader, sparked by the arrest, has been quite shocking. As the Italian journal contropiano.org explained, “attempts to discredit the unions in the eyes of the workers and of the public are no longer episodic but rather form part of a carefully constructed plan.” Over the last few days demonstrations have been held across Italy by workers and activists, who blocked roads and businesses. A large demonstration of support took place in front of the prison in Modena, where Milani was held. It may very well be that the pressure exerted by striking workers contributed to the speed with which the accusations against Milani began to fall away, resulting in his release on Saturday January 28th.
Originally posted at the Struggles in Italy blog.