July 28, 2010

Polacchizzati? On Fiat & globalisation

m8185050c.jpgToday's Gazeta Wyborcza (left) opens with a new Italian word, which I did not know yet myself: Polacchizzati, or Polonized, or zpolonizowani. It's an article about the ongoing protests in Italy against Fiat's threats to transfer production to Poland [background: Fiat made investment in the Italian plant, and apparently its survival, conditional on accepting a much worse working time regime, plus a sort of "no-strike" agreement; in a referendum, 63% of employees accepted this "deal", labelled as blackmail by the FIOM-CGIL union - but FIAT expected and wanted near-unanimity]. The Polish journalist, after describing with some amusement Italians' attachment to siesta, collects the voices of Italian workers in the Southern Italian plant of Pomigliano condemning Polonization as imposition of not just ever worsening working conditions, but also a mentality of self-exploitation: "why you Poles want to work that hard? what's wrong with you?". Which may remind of English voices such as "those fucking Poles, all coming over here, with their fucking work ethic", but has a point - as many Polish commentators on Wyborcza's website admit.

20100723primapagina.gifMedia love turning issues of global work restructuring into national jokes - last year's strike at Lindsley refinery "against the Italians" was a spectacular case I described in a union magazine( iur.pdf). Maybe this is a good thing: at least issues are raised and noticed, even if in a distorted way. Mainstream media are unlikely to put collective bargaining, restructuring plans, working time systems or supply chains in the main news - or they would condemn themselves to audiences as narrows as this blog's. But things are always much more complicated. I can't resist the temptation of moaning 'I had said it...'. My thesis comparing Italian and Polish Fiat factories in 1999 (and later book) and pointing that Poland was not the cheap crap place Italians imagined, but a laboratory for the future, and that Italian and Polish unions should start speak to each other, was read by about five people and - also because in the meanwhile I was sent to Coventry - I did not manage to disseminate much to it to the people concerned.

I stopped following Fiat time ago - I tried, with some colleagues and friends such as Valeria Pulignano, to suggest a book on Fiat and globalisation in 2004, but all Italian publishers I contacted were sure that nobody, ever, would be interested in reading about Fiat's foreign factories - how foreward-looking from them. So I can't say much about the recent developments, but I have two impressions. First, what's happening at Fiat is a massive speed change in the aggressive use of relocation threats that multinational companies have been making for about two decades (Hoover swapping France for Scotland in 1993 is usually mentioned as the first case). This is the first case where 'coercive comparisons' have become 'total': everybody against everybody, at all times, in all directions. Southern Italy against Poland, Poland against Turkey, Northern Italy against Serbia... Only last year the Polish workers of Bielsko-Biala were still being threatened with relocations to Italy, unless they accepted different working time arrangements - no interest from Italy then. A permanent 'liquidity' of employment relations is imposed, whereby there are no guarantees and offers are made and withdrawn "a capriccio". Second, in no major car company is international union response as weak as in Fiat, which is therefore free to direct the dances at its own will: Fiat's European Works Council is said to be made inoperational by internal conflicts amongst Italian trade unions, and to an extent amongst Polish trade unions. Marchionne (FIAT's CEO) must have fun, sitting and watching the unions fight each other to exhaustion.

And Marchionne himself is often in the front pages, with his famous sweaters even in the middle of the Italian summer. In last Friday's Il Manifesto, in relation to relocations from Turin to Kragujevac, he is turned into another national stereotype, il cecchino Sergio (the Sergio sniper, playing on words with il cecchino serbo, the Serbian sniper).

So if this is the only game in town I'll add my contribution: isn't Sergio Marchionne (who spent most of his life in Northern America) just a typical yankee, as demonstrated by the fact that he didn't even let workers watch the football (soccer) World Cup?

PS: In its own way, the "Polacchizzati" article was still an enjoyable piece of journalism. Two days later Gazeta Wyborcza (the former Solidarity daily paper, still the best East of Berlin, and amongst the best in the world, for both journalism and commentary) reached much lower standards with a reportage on the Polish Fiat workers in Tychy. This was mostly based on the story of a happy family where both mum and dad work for Fiat and are ever so grateful to their magnanimous employer, who has made all their dreams true. Its style would have fit well in 1970s' Trybuna Ludu (the official organ of the United Polish Worker Party), when Tychy workers were reported to be equally grateful for their opportunity to contribute to the radiant communist dream.


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