Cgil organises general strike

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On 18 October 2002, Cgil, one of Italy's three main trade union confederations, organised a one-day general strike against the government's economic policy and other recent developments. Estimates on the proportion of workers taking part in the strike varied from 30% to 58%..

In July 2002, the government and the main employers' organisations and trade union confederations - with the exception of the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil) - signed the 'Pact for Italy' (Patto per l'Italia), a national agreement on the labour market, the tax system and the South of Italy (IT0207104F). In protest, Cgil called a one-day general strike on 18 October 2002.

Falling economic growth and negative forecasts have since deeply changed the economic and social context in which the general strike was called. After the signature of the Pact for Italy, Cgil took a negative view of the labour market measures contained in the Pact and in particular of the experimental changes to the employment protection rules in Article 18 of law 300/1970 (the Workers' Statute) and, on these grounds, called a general strike for October. Since then, the economic situation has worsened and the government has acknowledge the worsening of the public deficit, the country's negative growth perspectives, and the growing problems of the production system, underlined in October 2002 by the crisis at the Fiat group's auto division (IT0210303F). As a consequence, the government approved a budget law for 2003 which reduced investment in the South of Italy (Mezzogiorno) and financial transfers to local bodies (IT0211104F).

The reasons behind Cgil's strike - ie the changes to Article 18 and the government's 'proxy laws' on labour market, tax and pensions - consequently became less important for the union confederation than protesting against the budget law and the government's economic policy.

Data on participation in the 18 October strike differed according to the source. According to Cgil, some 58% of workers took part in the strike while, according to the Confindustria employers' confederation and the other two main union confederations - the Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil) - participation did not exceed 30%.

About 120 demonstrations were organised all over Italy. The most important took place in Turin, the city hit most hard by the crisis at Fiat. Here, Guglielmo Epifani, Cgil's general secretary, made a speech in front of 200,000 people (according to Cgil data). Mr Epifani's speech focused in particular on the need for a different economic policy and for more measures to help Fiat overcome its problems. He mentioned only briefly Article 18 and the Pact for Italy.

Mr Epifani voiced many criticisms of Fiat's latest restructuring plan and declared himself willing to believe in a government that committed itself to proposing a new plan capable of safeguarding employment in firms in the Mezzogiorno. Mr Epifani was also very critical of the government's economic policy and reaffirmed Cgil opposition to the Pact for Italy which, he stated, was running into difficulties because the economic recovery on which it was based had failed. The Cgil general secretary also made an important appeal to Cisl and Uil to return to a united trade union approach: 'the South of Italy, the welfare state and the crisis of Fiat auto require everybody's collaboration,' said Mr Epifani.

Cisl and Uil were very critical of the Cgil strike. Savino Pezzotta, Cisl's general secretary, criticised in particular the action's 'political' character and hoped for 'the end of maximalism and the return of reformism'. According to Antonio Foccillo, the Uil confederal secretary, the strike had contradictory objectives and might have dangerous implications, give the division it entailed among workers.

On the employers' side, Stefano Parisi, the Confindustria general director, called the strike 'incomprehensible and useless'.

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