From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Sun Jul 8 06:20:37 2001
Date: Sat, 7 Jul 2001 23:25:51 -0400
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Jim Jaszewski <grok@SPRINT.CA>
Subject: Workers Paralyze Italy's City Streets And Skies

Workers Paralyze Italy's City Streets And Skies

By Luke Baker, Reuters, 7 July 2001

ROME (Reuters)—More than 100,000 workers staged strikes throughout Italy on Friday with metalworkers marching through the streets and pilots, flight attendants and air traffic controllers causing chaos in the skies.

The biggest protests were in Milan where an estimated 60,000 members of the FIOM metalworkers' union paraded through the streets carrying banners demanding larger pay increases in negotiations now under way with their employers.

Metalworkers are Italy's most powerful labor group with more than 1.5 million workers organized into several unions.

“The goal of the contract renegotiations has not been reached and that's why (the unions) are on strike,” Sergio Cofferati, the head of CGIL, Italy's largest union confederation with around 5.3 million members, told Italian radio.

“As soon as we reach a positive conclusion, as we have done with other employers, there won’t be a strike,” he said.

In Turin, the headquarters of many of Italy's largest manufacturers, more than 30,000 workers downed tools, disrupting production at several major plants including the Fiat automobile group.

Similar marches were held in Rome, Bologna, Florence, Genoa and several southern cities including Palermo in Sicily.

As city centers ground to a halt to make way for marches, Italy was also suffering air traffic paralysis as a series of overlapping pay strikes by air traffic controllers, pilots and flight attendants hit the country.

Foreign airlines, including British Airways and Air France—which had just struck a deal to form a global alliance with Alitalia—were forced to cancel some flights into Italy.

Air traffic controllers from CILA-AV and other unions were striking for 10 hours—from 0800 GMT to 1600 GMT—and some Alitalia flight attendants and pilots for eight hours, causing the cancellation of around 200 flights.

A number of journalists flying into the country for a meeting on Saturday of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations had to find other forms of transport.

But there were no immediate signs that the strikes would affect the meeting itself, as most of the ministers were due to arrive late on Friday or on Saturday morning.


The metalworkers' stoppages follow strikes in May when some 50,000 held a half-day protest over employers' failure to offer further concessions in the current round of wage negotiations.

Metalworkers form the largest group among 5.5 million Italian workers —46 percent of all wage contracts negotiated at the national level — who have yet to strike pay deals for this year.

They are also expected to pose the greatest challenge to employers, having asked for inflation-busting gross wage rises.

Italian wage inflation has kept level with or below consumer price inflation for nearly two years, largely because of a 1993 wage moderation labor accord which was renewed in 1998.

Economists say this year's wage deals are likely to push up inflation moderately.

But they are also likely to produce an early headache for the new center-right government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who during the election campaign promised to create 1.5 million jobs over five years.

He also pledged to increase minimum pensions, a promise the CGIL confederation, half of whose members are pensioners, is determined to make the billionaire tycoon keep.

Business-friendly Berlusconi is keen to avoid the kind of worker unrest that disrupted his first stint in office in 1994, when more than three million people took to the streets to protest against planned pension reform.

His government fell after just seven months.