A million trade unionists marched past Rome’s Colosseum on October 16 in defence of rights that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government and Fiat bosses are trying to water down.
The attacks are part of the government’s “deficit reduction” measures.
Under red flags, and the banners of the metal workers’ union (FIOM-CGTI), workers from metal and other industries, students and opposition politicians shouted: “Strike, strike, strike!”
The protest was mounted amid rising criticism of Berlusconi's neoliberal “cuts first” approach to fixing the public finances. This approach has already resulted in 1.4 billion euros being chopped off the education budget, cutting 70,000 school jobs in the process.
Italian politicians have approved 25 billion euros of budget cuts over the next two years to appease speculators.
However, Italian car maker Fiat sparked widespread anger by seeking to blackmail unions into accepting “flexible” working conditions and contracts at the Pomigliano facility near Naples.
Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne said the factory would benefit from a 20 billion euro investment up until 2014 if unions agreed to curb strikes and accept extra shifts.
Addressing the huge rally in central Rome, FIOM-CGIL head Maurizio Landini said to roars of approval: “Faced with one of the biggest assaults of all times on the rights of workers, we need to defend work contracts, jobs and democracy.
“We have to continue this battle and to continue it we need to start planning a general strike.”
Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) union leader Guglielmo Epifani said the Berlusconi government only cared about public finances. “They are taking advantage of the crisis in order to weaken labour rights”, he said.
“The social situation is very tough, the country is going downhill, unemployment is rising, and the government has no credible recovery plan.”
Epifani called on working people to develop a “new politico-economic strategy, a new plan for a new country”.
“We have to fight together”, Epifani insisted.
If the government failed to address workers’ concerns, he said a general strike could be called after another protest on November 27.
In the lead up to the October 16, interior minister Roberto Maroni tried to scare people away from the union-led rally by warning there could be violence because of infiltration by a shadowy anarchist group.
But Maroni’s comments were dismissed by trade unionists and opposition leaders as scaremongering. No violence was reported.
[Reprinted from www.morningstaronline.co.uk.]