By Gianni Del Panta
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Italian worker says ‘we are ready to fight’ for coronavirus action

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Issue 2696
GKN workers walked out and picketed, while maintaining two metres between them
GKN workers walked out and picketed, while maintaining two metres between them (Pic: Potere al Popolo on Facebook)

On 11 March Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte addressed the country for the third time in just five days.

The spread of coronavirus in Italy had already forced the government to shut down schools, universities, libraries, museums, pubs and the like, whereas bars, restaurants and shops had to close at 6pm.

There were huge expectations now that all productive activities not directly linked to basic products could come to a complete halt. In sharp contrast Conte, capitulating under the pressures of the employers’ association (Confindustria), announced in a television message in late evening that the closures would cover only commercial activities, but not productive ones.

As soon as factories reopened the day after, an unprecedented wave of strikes hit the whole country.

Italian socialist Gianni Del Panta talked to a leading member of the rank and file union at GKN, a factory employing 450 people that produces car components near Florence.

What happened after Conte’s third televised speech?

Tension had been on the rise for several days. While all activities gradually came to a halt, factories were not mentioned and everything kept going as if nothing happened in the workplaces.

The PM’s speech outraged workers, who felt a tremendous contradiction between the official use of the slogan #stayathome and the idea that production should not be stopped.

It was clear that private profits were more important than public health. Workers were used as cannon fodder to produce. Against this, there was a huge and reaction of rank and file workers who started protesting and striking.

Trade unions were forced to follow workers. In GKN, we struck for an hour on 12 March and two hours the day after.     

What are the main demands of workers?

The first demand is the immediate closure of all productive activities. For obvious reasons, shops and factories that produce foodstuff, medicines, technical equipment that can be used in hospitals have to carry on.

There is also another aspect, however, that is particularly relevant. That is, the attempt by the bourgeoisie to put the costs of the crisis on to workers. This will certainly emerge as a critical factor in the coming months.

We demand therefore no job losses and the state’s payment of workers’ salaries.      

In the night between March 13 and 14, trade unions, the employers’ association and the government struck a deal. What do you think about the 13 points of the agreement?  

The main goal of the agreement was to protect the production of goods. In this regard, it was restating that workers’ health is less important than profits.

It is true that there are new rules. Yet, these remain very generic and are largely very hard to apply.

For instance, how is it possible to keep the one-metre distance between people in a workplace?

The idea to assign a medical mask to each worker every day, moreover, is not only impossible, but also damaging for the national health system that has run out of masks several times over the last days.       

What should we expect on Monday 16 March?

It is very complicated to provide an answer to such a question. Considering that the agreement does not deal at all with the first and non-negotiable demand of workers—the closure of all productive activities—it is possible that we witness a new wave of strikes.

At GKN we are ready to fight.

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