The FIAT plant at Pomigliano d’Arco (Naples) has become the centre of attention for all militant trade unionists in Italy. The bosses are trying to implement new draconian work conditions and in the process have used all kinds of bullying methods. But they can push too far and the workers are reaching the limit and preparing to fight back.
The 22 June ballot at the FIAT plant in Pomigliano d’Arco (Naples) produced an excellent result for the workers, the left and class trade unionism as a whole. Formally speaking it was a defeat, but this has to be put into the context of what has been happening in the plant. Marchionne, the managing director, wanted to see the opposition completely crushed by a massive YES vote. But that didn’t happen, as nearly 40% of the workers (about half the manual workers) said NO to FIAT’s blackmail.
Everyone is aware of the fact that the FIAT bosses could decide to withdraw their investment plans for Pomigliano. The workers were well aware of this also, which is why also among the 60% who voted YES a large number are furious with the company. They voted YES out of fear and for tactical reasons, thinking more or less along the following lines, “meanwhile they’ll set up the production lines, then once the investment’s been made we’ll see”. However, even this layer has never been convinced by the bosses’ propaganda.
Marchionne was fully aware of this, which is why he included last minute clauses that gave “guarantees” as to the so-called applicability of the agreement. It is no surprise that he was not satisfied with getting the signatures of the FIM, UILM, FISMIC and UGL unions, but also wanted the surrender of the FIOM (the most militant of the engineering unions), which he failed to get in spite of the enormous pressures that were brought to bear on this union.
So the bosses staked everything on the ballot, aiming for a 90% YES vote. They wanted to win by a knockout, thus annihilating the FIOM and reducing the workers to slave conditions before bringing the Panda model to Pomigliano. But it went badly for them.
The working class of Pomigliano resisted. On Saturday, June 19 there was an attempt to organise a march of foremen and their families, but this was a complete flop. It was a sordid attempt to repeat the infamous 1980 “march of the 40,000”. That was a closing chapter of the 5-week long strike of the FIAT workers back in 1980. The bosses, to pile on the pressure, had brought out foremen, middle management, technicians, etc., in an attempt to portray a divided workforce with “masses” demanding to go back to work. Even then, in reality there were no more than 5,000 people marching through the streets of Turin, but the media hyped it up to give a distorted picture.
The 1980 march, in spite of the relatively small numbers of participants, marked a defeat opening up a 30-year long process of retreat. Today, we are facing a completely different situation. The Pomigliano struggle today could represent the beginning of a fight-back ending that process and opening up a completely new one.
What is at stake
Rather than “modernity”, as claimed by the clown Sacconi (Minister of Labour in the Berlusconi government) what they wanted was to turn the clock back to the conditions faced by workers in the 1800s. But they got their answer. It is not just a question of dignity, as many on the left have stated. What we are witnessing at Pomigliano is something more, a sharp shift in class consciousness.
The Pomigliano workers feel the responsibility on their shoulders of representing the interests of their class, of giving a reply to the Polish workers from the Tichy FIAT plant (who recently wrote them a letter of sympathy which circulated on the internet), saying that the workers of Pomigliano are not indifferent to them, and are not insensitive to the fact that if the FIAT bosses succeed at Pomigliano, from the very next day that agreement will spread throughout the FIAT group and to all the factories in the country, as is already being attempted at Indesit.
Then there is the question of exhaustion, which was already heavy with the present work speeds and that would become even worse with the proposed work study methods, which have even been condemned by the EU. We would like to see gentlemen like Sacconi, or Veltroni and other Democratic Party (PD) leaders who have been appealing to our “sense of responsibility”, try working in these conditions.
For all these reasons the workers closed ranks around the FIOM, which not only had to resist the pressure of the bosses and the logic of global competition but also had to stand up to the pressures from the CGIL leadership [the FIOM is part of the CGIL union confederation].
One of the worst aspects of the whole affair is not only the declaration by CGIL General Secretary Epifani ‑ “I think the workers will go and vote and will vote Yes” ‑ but the fact that even before the meeting was held with the Pomigliano workers, the regional CGIL secretary, Michele Gravano, and the Provincial secretary Peppe Errico declared for a YES vote in the referendum.
The company was quick to photocopy their communiqué and distribute it to all the workers to let them know that also the CGIL was inviting them to vote for the agreement. The day after the ballot the Manifesto published an interview with Michele Gravano accusing the FIOM of “political infantilism” and arguing that the ballot was “an act of democracy” which should be carefully assessed. Maybe what Gravano should do is to carefully assess the “democratic” context in which the ballot was held.
Bosses’ repressive measures
The ballot was managed by the company in military style. From information that was leaked out by some “progressive” foremen, veritable proscription lists were drawn up with the aim of isolating the most “disruptive” shop stewards and workers.
An atmosphere of terror was organised in the factory, with threats of individual reprisals. The workers received a DVD at home with the terms of the agreement, together with threatening letters. During the ballot itself maxi-screens in the factory broadcast the speeches of FIAT management as to how beneficial the agreement would be. There were phone-calls and text messages sent to the workers, and also the foremen putting constant pressure on those going to vote, threatening the closure of the factory should the NO vote win.
And yet in spite of everything 1,673 workers voted No! In spite of the threats of the company, the hostile media campaign, the positions adopted by the Democratic Party and the CGIL declaring themselves for a YES vote, along with a sizeable part of the Italia dei Valori party – Italy of Values ‑ a supposedly “clean”, ultra-democratic centre party, and also with the spectre of losing their jobs, they still voted No.
On the side of the FIOM
Such an imposing No vote opens up a new scenario that must be analysed in all its aspects and that puts the FIOM at the centre of attention, as it could very soon find itself in a new dispute with the company at a qualitatively higher level. The FIOM’s strategy up to now has been not to influence the vote in the factory. It simply declared the ballot illegal, advising the workers to go and vote in order to avoid reprisals, but without giving a clear indication as to how to vote. This makes the result of the referendum even more extraordinary.
Now Marchionne could open up a new offensive, pressurising and blackmailing the FIOM leaders with the threat of pulling out of Pomigliano altogether, which would oblige the FIOM to radically change its own trade union activity and methods of mobilisation, starting from the recent general strike of 25 June.
Certain hesitations should be avoided such as those that we witnessed last year after the local strike of 27 February, which was an extraordinary success. But it did take as long as 80 days of demonstrations before the entire FIAT group was eventually called out. Today the mobilization must be much better organized and above all it must be effective. What also has to be taken into account is that the mood among the FIAT workers is much more militant now.
The FIOM has been complaining for years ‑ and justifiably so ‑ about the lack of political support from the official left and it is therefore in a difficult position when it comes to launching this decisive battle, against everything and everyone and without an official political left capable of giving backing.
This means that a big responsibility has been placed on the shoulders of the FIOM leaders. This may lead to some uncertainties and wavering, which are understandable but it can in no way be justified. That is because it is highly likely that things will now come to the crucial stage.
The FIOM has opposed the agreement and this gives it an enormous authority throughout the movement, but also some responsibilities. At Pomigliano we are seeing a layer of new militants emerging who are leaving the other unions who have adopted a position of compromise and have been asking to join the FIOM. At Melfi, another FIAT plant, the FIOM has regained the position of coming first in the shop stewards’ elections.
This is all positive, very positive, but at the same time it will intensify the conflicts with the CGIL leadership and in particular will alarm the bosses even more, who will attempt to put into practice their counter-measures. It is not by chance that one of the leaders who organized the demonstration in support of the company on Saturday, 19 June has declared on TV that they were concerned at the mood of radicalization that they can see growing inside the factory.
Marchionne may decide in the coming period on a strategy of forcing the FIOM out into the open. Even if he decides to maintain production at Pomigliano ‑ which we are absolutely sure he will do ‑ he will still not be satisfied with the outcome of the ballot. For him a 62% YES vote is insufficient and he may try a bluff, calling on the FIOM to sign the agreement in exchange for bringing production of the Panda to the factory.
In such a scenario the FIOM cannot just limit itself to talking about the illegitimacy of the ballot. It will have to organise mobilisations, and bring the dispute to a higher level, with the aim of generalising it. Needless to say, the CGIL leaders will not support it and therefore problems of union “discipline” would also be posed. This would lead once again an open conflict between the leadership of the CGIL confederation and its most militant section, the metalworkers’ of the FIOM.
The debate within the left and the trade union movement
In this context, it is worth noting the position of the Democratic Party [the party formed out of a fusion of the, ex-Communist, Democratic Left and a number of smaller bourgeois parties]. It is sufficient to report that a group of Democratic Party MPs recently sent a letter to Zavoli (the president of the Parliamentary Control Commission over the State TV) with the amazing allegation that “in this conflict, the media have been giving too much coverage to the FIOM and not enough to the other unions”. This is a clear indication that the leaders of the Democratic Party fully back the conditions demanded by the FIAT bosses and wish to isolate the FIOM.
The FIOM leaders are thus caught between a rock and a hard place, i.e. they will either be accused of being responsible for pushing FIAT out of Pomigliano if they adopt a militant stance or they will be forced to sign an agreement which essentially destroys the national bargaining system and the very right to strike, thus disappointing their own ranks.
In a situation such as this, the only force which the FIOM can really rely on comes from within the movement itself. It must make use of the huge authority that the metalworkers’ union has built up throughout all these years and that maybe it has used with too much caution in the past.
The anger and the frustration which has been building up can be organised. This can be transformed into a point of strength but only if we do not look at the tops of the unions for points of support, but we seek them out among the rank and file. We must seek to base ourselves on the strength that comes from the movement itself, that strength that will express itself if only someone offers it a channel.
Regarding this, we think that in the press conference given by Maurizio Landini, the present general secretary of the FIOM, the day after the ballot, he was too much on the defensive. He kept insisting that the FIOM was ready to negotiate and that if the “unconstitutional” parts in the agreement were removed, the union would be ready to accept the big increases in productivity (read exploitation) included in the rest of the agreement. By issuing such statements, the struggle against the new 18-shift system, against the limitation of breaks, against the methods of Earned Value Management (i.e. a method which is based on making sure that every second of a worker’s labour is spent producing value, of working almost like a robot, Editor’s note), is presented as being secondary, while all the emphasis is placed on what is unconstitutional.
It is clear that we support the FIOM leaders in the militant stance they have adopted in the recent period. In the last few months in the debate taking place inside the PRC we have supported the decisions of the FIOM in coming out against the systematic attacks organised by that wing of the party linked to “Lavoro e Società” [Labour and Society, the former left wing current in the CGIL that has now moved very far to the right]. It is one of the main reasons why we also came out against the “Federazione della Sinistra” ‑ “Federation of the Left” ‑ project. The “Federation of the Left” is an electoral front set up by the PRC with the PDCI ‑ the Party of Italian Communists, a former right-wing split off from the PRC ‑ and other small groups in the most recent regional elections. The proposal now is to turn this into a new political organisation. “Lavoro e Società” were one of the promoters of this idea.
We are of the opinion that this alliance has tied the PRC to those trade union leaders who are the least “dynamic” and the most bureaucratized, and thus the party has alienated a lot of potential support inside the FIOM and also within the “rank and file trade unions” (like the Cobas).
If “Lavoro e società” does not break with Epifani, the General Secretary of the CGIL (something that we know he is not prepared to do), then Ferrero, the General Secretary of the PRC, must break with this wing of the CGIL, both inside the party and within the Federation of the Left. By doing so, the party would be able to support a clear turn to the left and also support without any ambiguity the struggle of the FIOM and of the left-wing current within the CGIL, known as “La Cgil che vogliamo”. “La CGIL che vogliamo” – the kind of CGIL we want – is the title of the opposition document presented at the last congress of the union, and which has become the name of the left wing inside the CGIL. This opposition current recently held its founding conference on July 6, led by Gianni Rinaldini, the former, and very popular, general secretary of the FIOM.
On the need to take such a step we have no doubt, and the comrades of the FIAT Pomigliano PRC factory branch also share the same view. In this struggle the comrades of the factory branch have played a magnificent role. On our website we have published an appeal written by the PRC branch and addressed to all the members of the party and to the whole movement, to continue the struggle and to build around it the solidarity of the whole labour movement.
The level of solidarity has been growing stronger in the last few weeks. Action is being prepared in other plants of the FIAT group, from the big Mirafiori plant in Turin to the plant in Melfi in the South, from the Val di Sangro plant to the Ferrari factory in Modena. Hundreds of solidarity resolutions have been voted by shop stewards’ committees and by union assemblies in factories throughout Italy. Even the 14,000 fans of the “Pomigliano non si piega” [Pomigliano will not give in] Facebook page are a clear sign of the mood of confidence of workers in their own strength that it is building up around the Pomigliano dispute.
The comrades of the PRC branch at the Pomigliano FIAT plant have played a key role in all of this and we can be proud of the work they have done during the last two years in very difficult conditions, putting forward a militant and alternative point of view inside the factory, and building up support for such a position.
Militant mood at July 1st national meeting
At the July 1st FIOM national meeting, which brought all the shop stewards of the FIAT factories together with the main factories of southern Italy (800 workers were present in all), there was a militant mood and a kind of “proud-to-be-FIOM” was on display. However, there was no official proposal for concrete action apart from some sit-ins. The struggle was postponed until September and there was no plan of action drawn up by the leadership.
Matteo Parlati, a shop steward at the Ferrari plant, and Laura Serra, shop steward at the Lasme plant in Melfi, called for a general strike of all the metalworkers. Domenico Loffredo raised the need to take up the struggle for all workers’ rights (starting with opposition to the introduction of the 18-shift system) and to say no to any retreat on this. Unfortunately, from the platform there was no answer to any of these calls for concrete action.
The FIOM is now at a crossroads, and its leaders cannot count on the FIAT bosses pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for them, especially now that FIAT has just confirmed that the Panda model is going to be assembled at Pomigliano. They will want to implement all the measures included in the agreement, and although there was a big NO vote, they will base themselves on the fact that the majority voted YES. Thus, conditions in the Pomigliano FIAT plant are destined to get worse. This means a big challenge is opening up.
The bosses are on the offensive. They have become accustomed to a trade union leadership getting workers to accept rotten deals. But this also means they can make mistakes and misread the real situation that has developed among the workers. The shop steward from the Ferrari plant, in fact, ironically thanked Marchionne because of the “many mistakes he has made”. His aggressive approach helped make the mobilisation the June 25 general strike a success. On the demonstrations of June 25 there was a militant mood not seen for some years.
Now there are no excuses for holding back the struggle. The workers have shown their willingness to fight. What is now required is to harness this in the best manner possible. Any hesitation on the part of the FIOM leaders would invite further aggression from the bosses and could lead to a further worsening of conditions for the workers, for the movement and for militant class trade unionism.
The workers of Pomigliano have indicated the road that must be taken. Now what is required is that the labour movement as a whole goes down that road, and stay on it until the bosses are defeated.