Fiom-Cgil metalworkers' union holds strike

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Fiom-Cgil, one of Italy's three main metalworkers' trade unions, called a one-day general strike on 16 November 2001. It is seeking a referendum among workers on the national collective agreement for metalworking which was signed by other two unions, Fim-Cisl and Uilm-Uil, in July 2001, with the reopening of negotiations if the agreement is rejected. Fim-Cisl and Uilm-Uil reject this call and see Fiom-Cgil as being motivated mainly by political concerns.

On 16 November 2001, the Italian Federation of Metalworkers (Federazione Impiegati Operai Metallurgici, Fiom) - the metalworkers' federation affiliated to the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil) - organised a one-day general strike in metalworking, which culminated in a demonstration in central Rome.

The strike was the most recent initiative taken by Fiom-Cgil to protest against the national collective agreement for the metalworking sector signed on 3 July 2001 (IT0107193F) by the Federmeccanica employers' federation and the two other main metalworkers' unions - the Italian Metal-Mechanical Federation (Federazione italiana metalmeccanici, Fim), affiliated to the Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl), and the Union of Italian Metal-Mechanical Workers (Unione Italiana Lavoratori Metalmeccanici, Uilm), affiliated to the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil). Fiom-Cgil is calling for a referendum among the sector's workers to vote on the July collective agreement - which has been already applied in terms of its pay increases - and for the reopening of negotiations if the vote goes against the accord.

There were conflicting reports on the level of participation in the 16 November strike. According to Fiom-Cgil, the average participation rate in plants was around 75% across the country, while more than 250,000 workers took part in the national demonstration. According to Fim-Cisl and Uilm-Uil, the strike received little support, especially in the South, and in some large companies there were no participants. Fim-Cisl and Uilm-Uil also claimed that 'the participation of numerous political and social movement leaders at the Rome demonstration gave it a political character' and that the high turn-out reflected issues other than the metalworking agreement.

The general secretary of Fiom-Cgil, Claudio Sabattini, considered the controversy over the metalworkers' agreement as one aspect of an attack which it believes that the Confindustria employers' confederation and the new centre-right government are preparing against the whole Italian industrial relations system in order to reduce trade unions' bargaining power. Mr Sabattini also claimed that the situation reflects a 'democratic deficit' in trade union leadership, as the agreement signed by Fim-Cisl and Uilm-Uil was not approved by the sector's workers in a referendum.

Fim-Cisl and Uilm-Uil claim that the strike has given the whole issue a political aspect. They state that the metalworking agreement cannot be improved because it applies the principles established by the July 1993 national intersectoral agreement which regulates the Italian collective bargaining system (IT9803223F), and because the world economic situation has worsened considerably since the terrorist attacks on the USA on 11 September. Furthermore, if the agreement were declared void, workers would have to pay back the wage increases already received.

Fim-Cisl and Uilm-Uil believe that the position of Fiom-Cgil goes beyond trade union concerns and represents a political stance against the government. However, the two unions do seem willing to start a 'serious discussion' with Fiom-Cgil on the issues of trade union representation and democracy.

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