Guglielmo Epifani replaces Sergio Cofferati at head of Cgil

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In September 2002, Guglielmo Epifani was elected as general secretary of Cgil, Italy's largest trade union confederation, succeeding Sergio Cofferati. Mr Epifani inherits a breakdown of relations with the other two main union confederations, Cisl and Uil, and a general strike called unilaterally by Cgil on 18 October.

On 20 September 2002, the executive of the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil) elected Guglielmo Epifani as its new general secretary to succeed Sergio Cofferati, who has stood down after eight years in office.

With more than 5 million members, Cgil is Italy's largest trade union confederation. Under Mr Cofferati's leadership, its relations with 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), gradually worsened. During Mr Cofferati's first years in office, the 'unity of action' among the three confederations, which led to the signature of important agreements such as the tripartite agreement of 23 July 1993 on incomes policy and the bargaining system, was the basis for efforts to find common ground for trade union unification, as repeatedly urged by Cisl (IT9707307F). After Cgil pulled out of the union unity project (IT9905113N), the confederations found increasing grounds for disagreement (IT9912137F).

The crisis in the relations between Cgil, Cisl and Uil worsened with the election of the centre-right government in May 2001 (IT0106188N). While Cisl and Uil were willing to negotiate over the new government's various proposals, Cgil expressed total opposition to the government's economic and social policies, and indeed many observers saw it as playing the role of a potential leader of the political and social opposition to the government. The three confederations took diverging positions which, in many cases, resulted in Cisl and Uil concluding agreements with the government or employers, with Cgil refusing to sign. This was the case with: the May 2001 agreement on fixed-term work (IT0105282F); the July 2001 sectoral agreement in the key metalworking industry (IT0107193F); the July 2002 national tripartite 'Pact for Italy' (Patto per l'Italia) on the labour market, the tax system and the South of Italy (IT0207104F); and the July 2002 joint opinion on irregular work (IT0208103N).

Mr Epifani was elected almost unanimously by Cgil's 156-member executive. He replaces Mr Cofferati at a very delicate moment in the strained relations with Cisl and Uil and inherits a general strike called by Cgil for 18 October 2002 (IT0209205F), just before the start of negotiations over many important sectoral collective agreements (eg for transport and schools) and over the budget law with the government. Furthermore, the Italian Federation of Metalworkers (Federazione Impiegati Operai Metallurgici, Fiom), affiliated to Cgil, has decided to present a separate platform of demands for the forthcoming renewal of the metalworking sector agreement, with the aim of breaking with the incomes policy provided for by the July 1993 national tripartite agreement (IT0209101N). The left-wing political opposition have asked Mr Epifani to reconsider this decision, so as not to worsen further the division with Cisl and Uil.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Epifani dealt with some crucial issues:

  • relations with the government. Mr Epifani believes that 'this government is unreliable because it has put the country back about 10 years';
  • relations with Cisl and Uil. He stressed the contribution that all the trade unions had made to the economic recovery of the country and urged Cisl and Uil to join forces with Cgil against the government's policy;
  • relations with the Confindustria employers' confederation. According to Mr Epifani, Confindustria's alleged decision to side with the government 'is a short-sighted choice'. Confindustria, he said, had made mistakes in attacking workers' rights without solving the main problems which are now facing companies, and in pushing the division within the trade union movement which 'in this way becomes inevitably competitive'; and
  • the Pact for Italy. Mr Epifani reiterated the criticisms of the pact already voiced by Cgil at the time of its signature, stating that 'the agreement has nothing to do with development, it just reduces rights.' The newly elected general secretary reiterated Cgil's decision to call a unilateral strike on 18 October 2002. The strike was originally called over the Pact for Italy, and Mr Epifani added protest against the budget law to the reasons, despite the fact that the government has not yet presented the law.
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