Millions of workers joined a general strike in Italy on 18 October called by the country's biggest trade union federation, CGIL. Protests were held in 120 towns and public transport was brought to a halt.
The strike was called to oppose massive cuts to health and education services proposed in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's 2003 Budget. Many school and hospital workers joined the action, as did car workers from Fiat, where bosses are trying to slash jobs. Twenty per cent of the Fiat workforce faces redundancy.
By Lucy Clement
The strike also highlighted the CGIL's ongoing campaign to save Article 18, which protects workers in firms with more than 15 employees from unfair dismissal. CGIL now has four million signatures calling for a referendum to save the statute and stop laws which would further casualise the labour market, as well as calling for positive guarantees on workers' rights and social security reform. It needs five million signatures to force the vote, and CGIL will be campaigning through November for the final million.
Unlike the 13-million strong general strike in April this year, the 18 October action was not backed by Italy's more conservative union federations, the CISL and UIL. However, in workplaces organised by the CGIL, turnout exceeded April levels, a sign that Italian workers are still willing to take on the government.
CISL and UIL signed a pact with Berlusconi's right-wing coalition earlier this year, backing the temporary suspension of Article 18 in return for nebulous promises on pensions and social security. CGIL refused to sign up. In an effort to rebuild April's unity, it's now proposing to the other federations joint campaigns on specific issues, in particular the industrial issues around the Fiat dispute and a development programme for the South, where youth unemployment is over 50%.
Whether the CISL and UIL leaderships will bend is unclear. However a CGIL unity offensive could well persuade other trade unionists to defy their leaders' sell-out and join the fight against Berlusconi.