Cgil demonstrates against terrorism and government policy

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On 23 March 2002, Italy's Cgil trade union confederation organised a major demonstration in Rome against the centre-right government's economic policy and, following the murder of Marco Biagi, against terrorism. The event was claimed to be Italy's largest demonstration since the Second World War.

On 23 March 2002, the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil) organised a nationwide demonstration against the economic policies of the centre-right government led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and - following the murder of Marco Biagi, the government labour law consultant, by the Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse) on 19 March (IT0203108N) - against terrorism. The demonstration was a considerable success. Participants came to Rome from every part of Italy on 53 special trains, 9,000 coaches, special flights and ferries from Sardinia. According to the organisers there were about 3 million participants, making it the country's largest demonstration since the Second World War - though the police put the figure at only 700,000. The demonstration was organised in six different marches divided by regions and ended at the Circo Massimo. It included delegations from all the left-wing parties. The demonstration, which included more than 10,000 union activists from the security service activities and 7,000 from the police, was peaceful.

In his speech to the rally, Sergio Cofferati, Cgil's general secretary, focused in particular on issues linked to terrorism and government economic policy. After one minute's silence in memory of Professor Biagi, Mr Cofferati stated that that killing was an attempt to upset industrial relations: 'they want to intimidate the political consultants, those who play a delicate social role. They want to hit industrial relations,' said Mr Cofferati. He stated that terrorists had resumed their actions at a time when trade union mobilisation is increasing and 'a few hours before the start of the demonstration'. It thus seemed that they intended to attack those, like the trade unions, which had played a fundamental role in defeating terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s - 'our history is made of men and women who openly fought against terrorism.'

Mr Cofferati repeated Cgil's criticisms of the government (IT0202302F) whose policy, in his view, 'risks interrupting the positive cycle triggered by the recovery' and implemented thanks to the major social concertation agreements signed in 1992 and 1993. The government intends to 'impose a neo-liberalist model which does not consider the Mezzogiorno [South of Italy] as a priority' and which supports a policy of 'compassionate capitalism and philanthropy' opposed to the trade union principle of solidarity, claimed the Cgil general secretary.

Mr Cofferati acknowledged that it was legitimate for the government to take initiatives. However, he attacked the proposals for the reform of the labour market, the tax system and the pension system (IT0201277F). In all three cases, the reforms are to be introduced by means of 'proxy laws', whereby parliament delegates to the government the power to legislate on a particular issue. Mr Cofferati stated that 'the excessive use that the government makes of proxy laws impoverishes social dialogue and deprives parliament of its authority.' Cgil is particularly opposed to the proxy law on the labour market, and its general secretary called on the government, as a prerequisite for the resumption of negotiations on the reform, to withdraw the proposed amendments to Article 18 of law 300/70 (the Workers' Statute). This Article provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed without 'just cause ' or 'justifiable reason ' and the government wishes, for an experimental period, to replace reinstatement with financial compensation for certain groups of workers.

Finally, Mr Cofferati addressed the anti-globalisation movement in his speech, guaranteeing it Cgil's attention and respect.

Savino Pezzotta, the general secretary of the Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl), responded to the demonstration by underlining that it was a unilateral initiative by Cgil. He thus saw 23 March 2002 as 'a bad day for the trade unions, because are divided'. Mr Pezzotta invited the government and the Confindustria employers' confederation to moderate the harsh words which he thought were fuelling the current conflict and proposed resuming negotiations on the basis of the government's October 2001 White Paper on labour market reform, (IT0110104F), drafted in large part by Marco Biagi.

Adriano Musi, the deputy general secretary of the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil), also highlighted the unilateral character of the demonstration and hoped that it would be the last one organised by a single trade union confederation. He asked Cgil and Cisl to resume trade union unity of action as soon as possible (the three union confederations indeed subsequently called a joint general strike for 16 April 2002 - IT0204102N).

Stefano Parisi, the general director of Confindustria, did not see any novelties in the demonstration organised by Cgil. He considered the condemnation of terrorism as positive but claimed that 'the demonstration was against the ideas of Marco Biagi and not in favour of them.'

The government did not make any official declaration on the demonstration, though a few ministers made comments. Giulio Tremonti, the minister of the economy, saw in the demonstration an important 'trial of strength within the left-wing parties in particular'. According to Mr Tremonti, the extreme left won, defeating the moderate left led by Piero Fassino, the secretary of the Democratic Left (Democratici di Sinistra, Ds), Francesco Rutelli, the leader of the Ulivo coalition, and Massimo D'Alema, the president of DS.

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