By Simon Basketter
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Italian workers fight to shape response to coronavirus

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Issue 2696
Workers in the Filcams union in Perugia have won gains from their bosses
Workers in the Filcams union in Perugia have won gains from their bosses (Pic: @CgilPerugia on Twitter)

In an attempt to head off a strike wave the Italian government, the unions and bosses have signed up to an agreement.

The government announced, “It is a primary objective to combine the continuation of production activities with the guarantee of conditions of health and safety in the workplace and working methods.”

Essentially the union leaders, while getting some basic concessions on hygiene, did a deal to keep production going. The promises on the rights of workers laid off are vague to say the least. And a comittment to partnership with the bosses is seen as the key acheivment.

In the run-up to the talks there had been a growing number of workers taking action over the crisis.

The Italian government has closed many businesses. All “non-essential” shops were told to shut down, as were bars, restaurants, and hairdressers. But this didn’t apply to workplaces.

So last Tuesday, workers struck at the Fiat car plant in Pomigliano, near Naples.

Company bosses then announced that it was temporarily shutting the site down, along with three other plants, at Melfi, Cassino, andAtessa all in the South.

Then on Thursday another Fiat plant in Termoli, also in the south, struck. The union there said, “The large factories are places that bring people together, from the buses to the assembly lines to the canteen. It’s nonsense that the state closes everything, starting with the schools, and bans moving around — with fines for those who ignore the rules.

“But the Italian government has not closed the factories. It keeps saying stay at home even as the assembly lines continue producing, and putting staff and their families at risk. We will stop the strike when then the company and the government pay us for absences and stop everything.”

Again Fiat bosses closed the factory.


There were walkouts at the steelworks in Terni and at shipyards in Venice. Dock workers in Genoa also struck to get the workplace deep cleaned. 

Some 450 workers went on wildcat strike at the Corneliani clothing company insisting “there are not Serie A and Serie B health—there is only one health.”

The union wrote, “We will stay at home until Monday because in our sectors there are no conditions to guarantee health and safety of workers. We are waiting for something to change!

“We will only defeat this pandemic and this fear together.We keep repeating it—first of all health, the health of all and all!”

Metal workers across the north of Italy walked out unofficially on Thursday. A very high proportion of workers in the Piedmont provinces of Asti, Vercelli and Cuneo walked off the job on Thursday at the companies Mtm, Ikk, Dierre and Trivium. There was also a strike near Brescia in Lombardy.

This pushed the FIM, FIOM and UILM unions representing metalworkers to demand that the nation’s factories be closed until 22 March.

They said that if these demands were not met they would strike for “as long as necessary” adding that workers are “quite rightly scared”.

The Filcams union has secured special measures for shop workers in the Northern region of Lombardy. It has obtained time off and flexible working hours from employers such as Zara, H&M and Carrefour so shop workers can look after their children while many schools are shut down.

The union has also secured a commitment from companies to provide disinfectant for stores and allow hand-cleansing during the day, as well as offer gloves and face masks for workers who want to wear them. Employers have also agreed to consider paid leave for workers, in case of absence due to forced closures.

Claudia, a shop worker at Zara in Milan, said, “Thanks to my union, I can take care of my daughter. We are able to have flexible shifts and time off work while the schools are closed.”

The region of Lombardy, that includes Milan, as well as Veneto, around Venice, have been a centre of infection for coronavirus with hundreds of reported cases.

Suddenly the ER is collapsing

Dr Daniele Macchini, an intensive care unit physician in Bergamo, near Milan wrote a widely shared post on social media. It gives a vision of what happens to an overstretched health service when the virus accelerates.

Italy has 3.15 hospital beds per 1,000 people. Britain has 2.54.

“I will try to convey to people far from our reality what we are living through in Bergamo in these days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I understand the need not to create panic, but when the message of the dangerousness of what is happening does not reach people, I shudder.

“The war has literally exploded, and battles are uninterrupted. Day and night cases are multiplying. We have arrived at a rate of 15–20 admissions per day all for the same reason.

The results of the swabs now come one after the other: positive, positive, positive. Suddenly the ER is collapsing.

“The staff are living at the hospital. Surgical cases are being cancelled, and operating rooms are converted to treatment rooms where every available ventilator being used is considered ‘gold.’

“Exhaustion has set in as endless shifts proceed without an end in sight. The staff are compelled to push beyond the limits of human endurance.

“They watch hopelessly, knowing that the fate of some of the patients they are caring for awaits them in just a few hours.”

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