MELFI IS a Fiat car factory in the deep south of Italy. About 10,000 people work there.
This is one of the poorest parts of the country and there is a new, young working class there, and a desperate need for jobs.
People want work, but when they get into the factory they find a harsh regime.
They’ve experienced thousands of disciplinaries—an incredible 9,000 in the last three years. Workers also get paid less than at Fiat factories in the north. They’re treated as second class.
In April workers at the component suppliers to the factory began a dispute.
Management tried to set Fiat workers against the components workers. But this tactic rebounded on them spectacularly.
We had a united meeting of components workers and Fiat workers. And, instead of dividing, everyone agreed on a common platform of demands. The message came out loud and clear: “We’ve had enough.”
We started the industrial action, and there was mass picketing day and night. From the beginning it was a very popular strike. There were delegations from other unions and other FIOM branches.
When the police attacked the picket line we called a national engineering strike. It was 100 percent effective.
Some workers did not even wait for the official call to show solidarity. At Arese they walked out spontaneously as soon as they heard of the strike.
Workers went and sat on the motorway.
At every turning point of the Melfi struggle there were mass meetings with real involvement and democracy.
This enabled us to work out the next steps. The company offered negotiations, but only if we lifted the mass picket.
We had a four-hour mass meeting, and at the end agreed to lift the picket, but to continue an indefinite strike at Melfi, which had huge knock-on effects for the rest of Fiat.
Production halted at the plants in Mirafiori (Turin), Termini Imerese (Palermo), Cassino (Rome), Pomigliano d’Arco (Rome) and Pratola Serra (Avellino).
The company was forced to make concessions. We won. We eliminated the double night shift system—where some people worked 13 consecutive nights.
Melfi also got significant wage rises to bring them in line with the northern factories.
Before we signed the agreement we had a referendum, and 78 percent of the workers voted for it.
At our last FIOM conference we agreed a new statute that no agreement should be signed without a referendum.
We believe the future of the trade union movement revolves around this question of democracy. Democracy is central to the wider social movement, and you can’t just have a few individuals in smoke-filled rooms making decisions.