General strike in public transport sector
In late November 2007, a general strike was held throughout the entire public transport sector involving 300,000 workers. The strike had been announced by the trade union federations and involved 14 branches of the sector, most importantly railways, local public transport, air travel and maritime transport. Reasons given for the strike were the crisis situation in the sector, the lack of suitable government funding, and the demand for a general policy to reform the sector.
On 30 November 2007, the entire Italian public transport sector was paralysed by a general strike announced by the Italian Federation of Transport Workers (Federazione italiana dei lavoratori trasporti, Filt-Cgil), the Italian Federation of Transport (Federazione italiana trasporti, Fit-Cisl) and the Italian Union of Transport Workers (Unione italiana dei lavoratori dei trasporti, Uiltrasporti), flanked by another trade union in the sector, namely the General Union of Transport Workers (Unione generale lavoratori dei trasporti, Ugltrasporti). As the first protest of its kind in 25 years, it involved 14 branches of the sector, including buses, trams, underground systems, planes, trains and ferries, as well as motorway and harbour workers, breakdown services, road haulage and deliveries, cable cars, car rentals, driving schools and funeral transport. A total of 300,000 workers were involved in the strike. The work stoppage was announced by the trade unions in full compliance with the law, and it was organised in such a way to allow the operation of essential services, as envisaged by law.
Reasons for strike
The trade unions cited numerous reasons for organising such a large-scale protest. First, the ongoing crisis in the sector was highlighted, particularly in relation to air (as in the case of Alitalia), railway (Trenitalia) and maritime (Tirrenia) transport, as well as the unresolved issue of road haulage (‘transports internationaux routiers’ (TIRs) or ‘international road transport’), on which Italy is dependent to a greater degree than is the case in other European countries. The trade unions complained about the low level of resources allocated by the government budget to relaunch the transport system, and criticised the lack of a well-defined government planning policy. Moreover, the unions accused the government of ‘immobilism’.
Under these conditions – according to the trade unions – a negative impact on workers and on the renewal of collective agreements in the sector are inevitable, alongside the continuing inefficiency and shortage of services available to citizens. The situation of local railway transport is particularly serious, given that investment in the sector has for many years been concentrated on Eurostar and high-speed railways. For these reasons, the trade unions promoting the strike called for the immediate resumption of talks with the government, and for the urgent allocation of sufficient resources to sustain services in the transport sector.
According to the General Secretary of Filt-Cgil, Fabrizio Solari, ‘the strike was called in the absence of talks, although these have been repeatedly requested with the government, and due to the lack of planning and regulation initiatives able to remedy the sector’s increasingly severe crisis: particularly at Alitalia […] and the Italian State Railways […]. The same situation applies to Tirrenia and local public transport’. For the General Secretary of Fit-Cisl, Claudio Claudiani, ‘the government has once again demonstrated its lack of commitment and its ambiguity on urgent issues concerning transport, the provision of universal services, and the mobility of commuters above all’.
The Minister of Transport, Alessandro Bianchi, responded: ‘We are drawing up an action programme and seeking to forecast the demand for transport in the medium to long term, and by 2008 we will have issued the General Mobility Plan. But, in the meantime, €600 million a year will be allocated to allow and sustain the reform of local public transport’.
The general strike in the transport sector – the first in 25 years – did not principally concern pay issues connected with the renewal of the national collective agreements for the sector, but rather wider problems concerning the future of the Italian transport system. The worsening of national mobility is exacerbating a long-standing crisis – as in the case of Alitalia. In fact, on the one hand, road transport of both goods and people is constantly growing, while on the other, a parallel deterioration in railway transport has occurred, especially with regard to local and regional transport services used by commuters.
To prevent a concerted reaction by the trade unions to these problems, talks must be resumed between the social partners and agreement sought on a development policy to relaunch and modernise the transport sector.
Livio Muratore, Ires Lombardia