Cgil holds general strike

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On 21 February 2003, the Cgil trade union confederation held a general strike against the responses of the government and employers to the current problems of Italian industry. Estimates of the level of participation in the strike - which was not supported by the other main union confederations - varied widely.

A general strike called by the leadership of the Italian General Confederation of Labour (Confederazione Generale Italian del Lavoro, Cgil) (IT0302103N) in protest at government and employers' industrial policies was held on 21 February 2003. Workers in industry, agriculture, construction and the artisanal production sector went on strike for four hours, while workers in the metalworking sector and the Abruzzi region - which has been severely hit by the problems in the electronic and telecommunication sectors- stopped work for eight hours.

According to Cgil, the strike was a success beyond its expectations: more than 100 demonstrations took place all over Italy, with marches and thousands of demonstrators in Milan (20,000 participants), Turin (25,000) and Pescara (20,000). The participation rate was about 70%-75%, with peaks of 100% in many plants.

Rather different figures were presented by the Confindustria employers' confederation and by the other two main union confederations - the Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions (Confederazione Generale Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil) - which calculated that only about 20%-25% workers took part in the strike. According to the employers, the participation rate was about 30% in large companies and negligible in small and medium-sized firms. Cisl and Uil also denounced the presence of Cgil pickets outside some plants.

Speaking at the rally in Pescara, Guglielmo Epifani, the Cgil general secretary, stated that Italy risked industrial decline with possible dramatic consequences for employment, with more than 400,000 jobs under threat. Mr Epifani accused the government of minimising the seriousness of the crisis and exacerbating it with ineffective and incorrect policies. He called on Cisl and Uil to express 'a common judgment on the crisis and on its possible solutions'. In this way, said Mr Epifani, 'we could restart together.'

Savino Pezzotta, the Cisl general secretary, was very critical of Cgil's unilateral strike, and stated that the practice adopted by Cisl is first to discuss a problem, then to define and carry out together with other unions a form of protest: 'this is the way we act and we will continue consistently with this approach'. Adriano Musi, the deputy general secretary of Uil, said that the strike was a 'missed opportunity. Problems should be faced and resolved together, not by calling a strike all by oneself.'

Stefano Parisi, the director general of Confindustria, said that there was no industrial crisis and that in any case Cgil's protest was like 'striking against bad weather'.

The February action was the second general strike within a few months called unilaterally by Cgil without the participation of Cisl and Uil, following a one-day strike in October 2002 (IT0212104N). The strike also occurred at a time when efforts were being made to resume dialogue between the social partners. Mr Pezzotta, the Cisl general secretary, wrote to Confindustria's president, Antonio D'Amato, calling for discussions over the situation of the Italian productive system. Confindustria accepted and a first meeting took place on 26 February 2003 (IT0303102N).

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