From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Wed Jul 18 19:21:49 2001
Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2001 11:09:13 -0700
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: radman <resist@BEST.COM>
Subject: Strikes hit Italy, 1000s of striking workers chant ‘we're going to Genoa’

Strikes hit Italy, 1000s of striking workers chant ‘we're going to Genoa’, Tuesday 17 July 2001

Italian Workers Prepare for Genoa

Last week it was not the tute bianchi (white overalls) but the tute blu (blue overalls) who made the headlines in Italy

A wave of industrial action swept the country on July 6. 300,000 metalworkers marched through the streets while pilots, flight attendants and air traffic controllers caused chaos in the skies. In Milan, an estimated 60,000 members of the metalworkers' union FIOM joined the demonstrations.

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.

The marches—dominated by young workers— were incredibly lively and militant. Genoa Social Forum representatives spoke at the rallies, inviting the strikers to come to Genoa. The spontaneous response was thousands of strikers chanting “we're going to Genoa!”.

The three major unions which organise metal workers—FIOM, FIM, UILM—are demanding pay increases to make up for the decline in real wages caused by inflation over the last three years. But at the heart of the dispute is the employers attempt to break up national bargaining and force the unions to accept a plant-by-plant system which would immensely weaken them.

The metalworkers are the vanguard of the Italian labour movement with more than 1.5 million belonging to the three major unions. They form the largest group from among 5.5 million unionised workers who have yet to strike pay deals this year. The latest stoppage follows strikes in May when some 50,000 workers held a half-day action over the employers' failure to make any concessions in the current round of wage negotiations.

As city centres ground to a halt to make way for marchers, 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. Air traffic controllers from CILA-AV and other unions stopped work for 10 hours and some Alitalia flight attendants and pilots struck for eight hours, causing the cancellation of more than 200 flights and the re-scheduling of many others.

This is the first direct challenge to the new centre-right government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi—whose private fortune is estimated at over $13bn— has bragged that he is the Italian Margaret Thatcher and intends to carry out major neoliberal “reforms”, including major attacks on the public sector.

Yet Berlusconi has to be careful to avoid a head on clash such as that which ignominiously drove him from office in 1994. Then two one day general strikes and a huge one and a half million strong demonstration in Rome on November 12 helped bring him down after only seven months in office.

In Genoa the G7 leaders will have to face the fast developing recession in the global economy. With Argentina facing default on its enormous foreign debt— and causing other currencies and stock exchanges to tumble as far away as Poland— the vulnerability of globalised capitalism is becoming clear to millions.

The Argentine government is now trying to impose a 10 percent cut in wages for all government employees— but the unions have refused to accept this: and in fact Argentina has been wracked by militant protest by workers and the unemployed for over a year. A social explosion is likely to greet any attempt to force through the IMF's diktats.

The G7 leaders have plenty to discuss, if the over 100,000 demonstrators give them any peace to do so. The leaders will also be plotting a putting the neoliberal free trade talks —derailed in Seattle—back on the tracks at the meeting of the World Trade Organisation to be held in the Arabian desert autocracy of Qatar in November.

Tens of thousands of young anticapitalist demonstrators from all over Europe—including from Russia and the Ukraine—will merge on the streets with tens of thousands—perhaps a hundred thousand Italian workers—like the young metal workers. Genoa promises to offer the real opportunity to merge the anticapitalist movement with the militant working class. If it does so it will be a historic event indeed.

The demonstrators can make their anticapitalism and anti-imperialism concrete by expressing their militant solidarity with the Argentine workers and unemployed who are facing a savage new austerity package (10% cut in wages for all public sector workers), dictated by the IMF in order to continue to pay the external debt.

In Genoa we must not only call on the G7 governments to cancel the debt but encourage the workers, like those in Argentina, to demand its renunciation. Of course calls alone will not make the G7 vultures change their minds. We have to use this mobilisation to mobilise international working class anticapitalist direct action to enforce our demands.

We also have to use it to build organised international links of a permanent character right across our continent and to other continents too. A whole new chapter in the history of the European workers movement can begin in Genoa.