Reports on struggle railway cleaners in Italy, 2002

Submitted by Steven. on November 13, 2006

Reports and leaflets on a strike of thousands of cleaning at the state-owned railway in Italy in 2002 which involved rail blockades, slowdowns and strikes.

1st report / 18th of february 2002
(This is based on a discussion with one of the workers who is involved in the base union CUB and on some newspaper articles.)

On Monday and Tuesday last week cleaning-workers have organised actions on the railway stations in Rome, Palermo, Milano, Florence, Bologna, Naples... in order to prevent the announced dismissals, wage cuts and deterioration of working conditions. The state-owned railway trust FS - meanwhile divided in several companies - has put the cleaning contracts out for tender. The cleaning itself is being done by several private companies. End of December should have been the dicision on the new contracts. The FS had announced that it would cut the budget for cleaning by about 40 percent. The dicision was then postponed till end of February. The actions of the workers aimed at forcing the private companies to take back the reduction of the budget and the announced dismissals.

The workers, who usually do not meet centrally but in different places all over town before they clean trains and railway stations, started a slow-down-strike, which means that they turn up at work but then do not do much all day. On Thursday the railway stations in Milano were covered in waste. Monday and Tuesday the workers also blocked the rails for hours. A few hundred workers were involved in some cities. Many trains were stopped. The passengers had to take the subway in order to get to other trains. The railway company also organised busses.

Altogether 13,000 workers work for the private cleaning companies, in Lombardy alone 5,000, in Milano 2,000. If the plans of the FS - part of a bigger restructuring program - get throught about 5,000 workers will be dismissed. The rest is waiting for wage cuts of about 150 to 200 Euro (in one report they even spoke about 350 Euro; the wage ranges below 1,000 Euro a month - also depending on the length of service). In Milano about half of the workers are over 40 years old and mostly Italians. Many of the younger workers are immigrants, many from Asia and Northern Africa. The majority of the cleaning workers here are men.

The atmosphere is tense, because the conditions have deteriorated for years. Now the workers want to wait before they block the rails again until the decision on the cleaning contract has been made. There were more negotiations about that at the end of last week. The ultimate decision is due this week.

A worker has said in an interview that so far they had not blocked commuter trains because they did not want to create problems for other workers. But if nothing changes in the near future they would make sure that everybody could hear and understand them, even if that meant criminal charges and arrests.

Let's see...

2nd report / 23rd of february 2002
This report is again based on meetings with CUB-workers and newspaper articles: On Thursday the 14th of February representatives of the FS (railways), the government and the official unions CGIL, CSIL and UIL met in order to break the strike of the workers. They decided to postpone the decision on the tender on the cleaning-contracts till May. Without any guarantees or promises regarding the dismissals and cuts the unions cancelled the strike that was planned for the 18th and 19th of February. Furthermore, a committee was set up that will investigate the traffic-blocking during the strike and impose fines on the participating workers.

The FS argued, that it cannot oversee the planned cuts and dismissals because there are about 70 contracts out for negotiation (with different private companies). Still, the government talked about 3,000 workers who will be made redundant.
At the moment there is no open struggle, but the situation has not really changed and the decisions on the dismissals will be made by early April. Meanwhile some activists of the base union CUB and supporters of the strike try to set up more links between the workers in different towns. There will be a meeting of railway-workers from base unions and other initiatives mid-March. In Milano there are also plans to organise public local assemblies of the cleaning-workers.

Questions remain, for example:
- Why did the workers allow the cancellation of the strike for the 18th and 19th of February?
- What is the relation between the immigrant and the "Italian" workers? Did it change during the strike?
- What forms of communication and coordination already exist among the workers?
- What is the role of the unions, the "official" ones as well as the base unions?

We'll stay on track...

leaflet, 23rd of february 2002
(This was written by some militants in Milano and is being given out to workers and commuters at the railway stations there)

The struggle of the workers of the railways' cleaning crews
is the struggle of all workers

This is just the beginning...

The meeting of the FS, the government and the united unions (sindacati confederali: CGIL, CSIL, UIL) that took place on the 14th of February in Rome has not at all changed the conditions for the cleaning-workers of the railways. On one hand the final decisions on the tender were again postponed to the 6th of May, but without taking back dismissals and the once again considered cuts. On the other hand the strikes on the 18th and 19th of February were cancelled which only prolongs the agony of the workers and takes away the only instrument that could really have an impact on the bosses' restructuring: the struggle.

Furthermore, the setting-up of a committee that is supposed to investigate the "irregularities" committed by the strikers during the struggle and will impose very high fines, is not only meant to intimidate those who might again use forms of efficient agitation but also to express the determination to punish the workers who were the most active and dedicated during that struggle.

The opening of negotiations, which the united unions would not open if they changed in any way the problems of employment, income and social guarantees of those workers, blocks the initiative and tries to prevent it in the future and is a warning to all workers to not delegate to nobody your own fate! At the moment the most active workers are trying to get together and to set up connections on the local and country-wide level in order to be able to coordinate their struggle independently against the plans of the government, the bosses and the state-unions.

What has happened?
In the major cities in Italy the cleaning-workers of trains and railway stations are struggling in order to keep their jobs and to avoid wage cuts and the abolishment of the already few legal rights and guarantees.

There is something wrong with the FS and the disinformation of the press and TV-stations!

The FS has, in fact, put incredible conditions onto the companies who want to get the cleaning-contract, regarding the total funds they are offering for the cleaning service. The FS has cut the funds by almost half forcing the cleaning-companies into a fierce competition for the lowest price. And it is obvious that already under the current conditions the "service" is insufficient - something the workers have clearly denounced. In the Lombardy for instance, the FS has promised one company, Mazzoni, that it will win the race and get the contract. Mazzoni has announced that it will provide the same service with costs 40 percent under the previous ones.

Where is the trick?
This chain of lousy decisions has direct effects on the workers, and indirectly also on the passengers. On one hand the jobs are cut and therefore the workforce, while it is obvious that it would be necessary to increase it by at least 20 percent. On the other hand the exploitation gets intensified while the number of paid working hours gets reduced. The same work has to be done in less time, meanwhile the supplements for older workers are getting reduced drastically. They are talking about 3 to 400.000 Lire less a month! In the trains for commuters you will pay more for a "service" that is worse!

How much is a fucking wage in Euro?
Meanwhile, the letter of dismissal has been delivered to all and the postponing of the decision on the contracts - which was due on December 21st but will now take place on February 21st - was only meant to cool down the anger, to avoid problems during the usual rail traffic disturbances during the Christmas period and to weaken further the position of the workers.

All this is only a small part of the wave of restructuring which the bosses want to use to make the workers pay for the crisis, and it mirrors the general social insecurity that is asking for a straight response - as the cleaning workers have given:

Who has nothing to lose, fights!
They have chosen an effective form of struggle. In Milano they did work-to-rule (sciopero bianco: white strike) for six days and blocked the traffic for twelve consecutive hours. That way they have prevented the company from using scabs and have asked for a clear solution for a concrete problem. They do not believe the blathering of the politicians and the calls for peace by the big heads of the unions.

Their struggle is our struggle, that of the railway workers who have to learn how to get together and coordinate their efforts in order to increase their social power and improve the efficiency of their actions!

Their struggle is our struggle, that of the workers/commuters who get hit by the increased traffic fares, which they want us to swallow, dazing us with the euphoric Euro-dullness while robbing our purses!

Their struggle is our struggle, that of all workers who are really fighting against the possibility of getting fired, against the social casualisation, the intensification of exploitation!

Only by hitting the open nerves of the social organisation, in this case the system of the flow of traffic and commuting, only by developing forms of regional connections, directly in the hands of us workers, and corresponding instruments of direct communication, only by coordinating our efforts to improve the impact of our actions and increase the bosses' costs for our struggles, can we create a real alternative to the deterioration of our living conditions!

Let's make the bosses pay for the crisis!
For the development of our social power!
Let's use direct action and sabotage the plans for restructuring!

Collective of workers of CUB (base union) in struggle, Viale Lombardia 27, Milano, Tel.: 706 31 804

For the workers' network there is a meeting every Tuesday at 9.30 p.m., Via Conterosso N.17, Panetteria Occupata, Milano email: [[email protected]]