Tense discussions expected at 16th Cgil congress

In November 2009, the national directorate of the Italian General Confederation of Labour (Cgil) formally began preparations for the 16th congress of the largest trade union – in terms of membership – in Italy. The national directorate proposed two policy documents, on which discussion at the congress will be based. One of the documents has been put forward by the current general secretary of Cgil, while the other calls for a more aggressive policy stance.

Congressional calendar

The November 2009 meeting of the national directorate of the Italian General Confederation of Labour (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil) – the organisation’s uppermost governance body – formally marked the beginning of Cgil’s 16th congress (599Kb PDF), which will be held in the eastern city of Rimini from 5 to 8 May 2010. The final assembly will be attended, in accordance with the regulations approved by the directorate, by 1,043 delegates representing more than 5.7 million members. Trade union members will be able to discuss and vote on two documents proposed by the directorate at regional meetings and in workplaces from 9 December onwards. Moreover, the regulations establish that regional congresses will be held between 15 and 25 March 2010, while sectoral meetings will take place from 26 March to 17 April.

Opposing policy documents

The previous congress (IT0603039I), held in 2006, discussed a single policy document, to which amendments were made by minority groups on the radical left and the Federation of White-collar and Blue-collar Metalworkers (Federazione impiegati operai metallurgici, Fiom), affiliated to Cgil. At the congress scheduled for May 2010, however, discussion will centre on two contrasting documents: one presented by the General Secretary of Cgil, Guglielmo Epifani, and the other by the General Secretary of the Cgil-affiliated Italian Federation of Insurance and Credit Workers’ Unions (Federazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori Credito e Assicurazione, Fisac), Domenico Moccia. Mr Moccia will have the support of the leaders of two other important federations: the General Secretary of the Cgil-affiliated Public Service Union (Pubblica Funzione, FP), Carlo Podda, and the General Secretary of Fiom, Gianni Rinaldini.

When the Cgil national directorate voted on the policy documents in November 2009, the majority of its members elected at the last congress opted for the document presented by Mr Epifani. More specifically, of the 177 members of the directorate, 144 – equal to 81.36% – voted for the general secretary’s document. By contrast, the alternative proposal obtained only 18.64% of the votes, representing 33 members of the directorate. The vote by the membership, however, may change these proportions. Estimates internal to the organisation, in fact, forecast that the alternative document presented by Mr Moccia will receive about 25% of members’ votes.

Content of documents

First proposal

The two documents are distinguished mainly by their judgements on Cgil’s recent past. The first proposal, entitled ‘Rights and employment during and beyond the crisis’ – signed by Mr Epifani – carries forward Cgil’s strategic choices. This includes the trade union’s rift with the other two trade union confederations, the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil), since Cgil refused to sign the agreement on collective bargaining reform in January 2009 (IT0902059I).

The strategy proposed by Mr Epifani consists of moving beyond the rift with Cisl and Uil by concluding agreements signed by all three confederations at sectoral level, as has already happened in the cases of the food industry (IT0910029I) and telecommunications (IT0911019I). The content of these unitary accords should heal the divisions caused by the agreement on the bargaining system, especially with regard to wages, which should be above the levels allowed by the index contained in the agreement on the bargaining system, as set by second-level bargaining and bilateral bodies.

Alternative proposal

On the other hand, the alternative proposal marks a radical break with the past. Entitled ‘The Cgil which we want’, this document – first signed by Mr Moccia – criticises the confederation’s directorate for having pursued a soft line in collective bargaining in recent years. This document’s main recommendation is for a more autonomous and combative Cgil, with ‘renewed authoritativeness in its overall programme and visibility, extent and effectiveness of mobilisation’. This aggressive stance should also be apparent in negotiations on agreement renewals.

The question of whether to jointly sign sectoral agreements, on the basis of the new bargaining system scheme, is the core issue on which opinions differ between the documents. In fact, as noted, among the signatories to the alternative document is Mr Rinaldini, representing Fiom, which refused to sign the recent renewal of the national sectoral agreement (IT0911029I), thus adopting the conflict-based stance proposed in this document.

Similarities arising

Nevertheless, there are also numerous similarities between the two documents. Among them are the:

  • negative verdict passed on the government’s action in handling the economic crisis;
  • theme of trade union democracy – to be achieved through the binding vote of workers on agreements signed by the trade unions;
  • application of a law on trade union representativeness as an antidote to possible future separate agreements. This law would prevent insufficiently representative trade unions from signing agreements of general validity.

Cristina Tajani, Fondazione Seveso

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