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January 07, 2012

End of an era? "Goodbye Gramsci" in the Mirafiori FIAT factory

Even though Italy is the slowest changing country in Europe I know of (for good and bad reasons), something deeper is now changing and some images are emblematic. This week, after more than six decades, the FIOM-CGIL union has been expelled from the Turin Mirafiori FIAT factory, the largest factory in Italy and, when it was built in 1936, the largest factory in the world (up to 60,000 workers, now ten times less).

FIOM-CGIL is the largest trade union in the factory and has a heroic tradition as a pillar of the Italian labour movement – and of its communist component. Turin is where Gramsci’s workers' councils started after World War I, where antifascist strikes started in 1943, where the Hot Autumn of 1968 was at its hottest and in 1980 a month-long strike was one of the most significant ‘heroic defeats’ of the unionism worldwide. FIOM-CGIL is expelled because it refused to sign the last collective agreement, marking FIAT exit from the Italian industrial relations system (until then based on sector agreements and on eleted worker representatives), on which I wrote this blog last year.

Having spent months around Mirafiori interviewing FIOM activists for my PhD in the 1990s, the pictures of militants emptying their offices and removing decades of materials and historical pictures is heartbreaking – but even for who has not been there, the image of Gramsci’s portraits being removed has a strong ‘Goodbye Lenin’ reminiscence:

http://torino.repubblica.it/cronaca/2012/01/04/foto/mirafiori_i_delegati_fiom_sgomberano_la_sede-27593221/1/

An international campaign has started to restore FIOM union rights in Mirafiori. I had written my reactions to the FIAT developments last year, and I feel FIOM, whose unhelpful nostalgia I had already highlighted in my PhD and my "Trade Union Activists, East and West" book twelve years ago, has some fault in scaling up the issue excessively. Their appeal says that FIOM refuse to sign the agreement because “it violated workers’ rights (including the right to strike)”: this is not technically true, as the agreement only introduced a peace clause, which although a novelty in Italian industrial relations, it is not as such as right violation and is commonplace in many countries. Nevertheless, the appeal is worth signing to remind of union rights at a time of upheaval in Italian industrial relations:

http://www.labourstart.org/cgi-bin/solidarityforever/show_campaign.cgi?c=1201


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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