Fiat and Alitalia rocked by strikes

By Fred Kapner, Financial Times, 11 May 2004, 13:51

Production at Fiat Auto plants in Italy came to a virtual standstill for a third consecutive day and Alitalia cancelled dozens of flights as strikers tightened their grip on Wednesday on two of Italy's largest companies.

Labour leaders and political parties also appeared to seize the occasion to increase popular disgruntlement against the centre-right government of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi ahead of European parliamentary elections in June.

Alitalia, planning lay-offs in an attempt to avoid bankruptcy, delayed most morning flights and cancelled most of its afternoon service, blaming labour actions and union meetings.

Unions were preparing a 12-hour strike for today and more stoppages could be held at least until May 3 when the state-controlled airline's management is expected to finalise its restructuring plan.

In February, Mr Berlusconi's government blocked one plan that called for 1,500 lay-offs and the outsourcing of 1,200 more jobs. The government also forced out Alitalia's chief executive and replaced him with Marco Zanichelli, a labour relations expert.

However, Mr Zanichelli was drowned out by protesters yesterday when he attempted to address Alitalia workers at Rome's Fiumicino airport.

Fiat's car plants in Italy were at a standstill again as members of Fiom, the leftist metalworkers union, continued to set up blockades around factories. The union also claimed that a four-hour nationwide strike yesterday in support of Fiat workers was widely followed. Trade unions have sought a review of wage and scheduling conditions at Fiat's plant in Melfi, southern Italy.

Fiat met union leaders last night in Rome and said it was willing to review all labour conditions so long as the blockades were removed.