All entries for Wednesday 29 December 2010

December 29, 2010

The Christmas agreement at Fiat: A Very Big Trojan Horse

Follow-up to Polacchizzati? On Fiat & globalisation from Around Europe 2010-12

Christmas should be holiday time, and possibly inspire some peace. Not so at Fiat Mirafiori in Turin (a factory built by Mussolini and Agnelli to be the largest in the world), where the separate 'Christmas agreement' signed by Fim-Cisl and Uilm-Uil is the biggest disruption yet to post-war Italian industrial relations.

As I had written in my blog "Polacchizzati", and more extensively in academic papers, Fiat is using with an unprecedented consistency the threat of "coercive comparisons" amongst all its locations to achieve not just some wage concessions (we are used to that), but a strategic advantage through a radical change of the rules of the game. Specifically, Fiat's comparisons tend to be with Poland, and Polish factories are used as something I had called myself Trojan Horse for the Americanization of Europe (in the small industrial relations circles I am occasionally referred to as somebody who invented the Trojan Horse, but I must say somebody else had - a long time ago).

This is particularly true for Fiat as its CEO Marchionne, an Italo-American manager, is using the threats to implement an American style of industrial relations. The core of the dispute, to put it simply, is the exit of Fiat from all national and sector-level agreements, and the implementation of its own representation rules whereby only unions that sign company agreements have representation rights. The largest union, Fiom-Cgil, having not signed, would suddenly disappear from the company. Even in the bleakest cold-war times of anti-unionism and Cgil marginalisation, in the 1950s, the Fiom had its representation within the Commissione Interna (works council). Now it would not.

Important lawyers such as Pietro Ichino repeat that this is perfectly legal in Italy, consistent with the Italian constitution, and the Statute of Worker Rights of 1970 (the Italian equivalent of the German Betriebsverfassung, workplace constitution) as modified by a referendum in 1995. Unlike in France, multi-employer collective agreements in Italy have no erga-omnes validity, except for minimum wages, so Fiat is free to opt out from the 1993 national agreement that reformed employee representation through the creation of works councils called RSU. And after the law was modified by a referendum in 1995, workplace union rights are only for the unions that signed agreements - regardless of their representativity.

While this interpretation may be technically correct, it appears to me that excluding the largest union from recognition is against the spirit, if not the letter, of the Italian constitution of 1948, strongly rooted in the principle of democracy: at the time it was self-evident that unions signing any collective agreements would include the largest and most representative unions - otherwise, even fascist-era agreements, in Ichino's thought, should be considered as 'constitutional'... Moreover, the exclusion also goes against the often-forgotten European Directive on the Information and Consultation of Employees of 2001: something Italy initially even neglected to transpose, believing that Italian rules were already sufficient.... but we now see that it was enough for an outsider to arrive to disrupt all the Italian rules. The Trojan Horse has entred the constitutional walls of Italian industrial relations.

In theory a reformist solution is possible: new legal regulations to face the changed situation. France, against the odds, recently changed its regulations and introduced a principle of representativeness. In Germany, a country whose industrial relations in the 1990s and 2000s were seen as unstoppably eroding, I have recently witnessed a number of 'fixes', from the joint attempt of the employer association and the largest union confederation DGB to defend Tarifeinheit (bargaining unity) through a criterion of representativeness, to the introduction of legal minimum wages and the limitation of Ohne-Tarif, i.e. company opt-out from national agreements. American-style disruption does not suit well European societies, as even French and German employers have admitted. Will also Italy find a fix, defending representativeness as a core democratic principle? Or will industrial relations erosion symbolyse a broader erosion of Italian democracy? Interesting times ahead.

(PS: I have returned safely from Berlin, but not before being stuck overnight in Paris by the after-effects of the snow disruptions. Air France put me in a hotel in Disneyland, a place I had sworn never to put my feet in. Merde, why not on the Champs Elisées?)


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