'Reformist' Cgil officials meet

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In September 2003, more than 600 officials of Cgil, one of Italy's three main trade union confederations, met and approved a document addressed to Cgil’s executive, calling for a debate on the organisation's direction and decisions. The 'reformist' group is concerned about matters such as a perceived 'politicisation' of Cgil's activities and its strained relations with the other two union confederations, Cisl and Uil.

On 15 September 2003, more than 600 officials and leaders of the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil) took part in a meeting organised by: Agostino Megale, president of Cgil's Institute of Economic and Social Research (Istituto di Ricerche Economiche e Sociali, Ires); Aldo Ammoretti, president of the National Confederal Assistance Centre (Istituto Nazionale Confederale di Assistenza, Inca), Cgil's benefit advice centre (patronato); and Antonio Panzeri, secretary of the Milan Chamber of Labour (Camera del lavoro di Milano). With more than 5 million members, Cgil is Italy's largest trade union confederation.

The context of this initiative is that there has been a widespread climate of political malaise among some Cgil officials in the face of some of the confederation’s decisions, despite the formally united outcomes of its most recent congress held in September 2002, at which the former general secretary, Sergio Cofferati, departed and Guglielmo Epifani was unanimously elected in his place (IT0210101N). A crisis has emerged in relations between Cgil and the political parties of the left and centre-left as a result of recent developments such as: the break in unity of action between Cgil and the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacato Lavoratori, Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil), due to a number of unilateral strike calls by the former (IT0303101N); Cgil's support for a separate bargaining platform for negotiations over a new metalworking sector collective agreement, drawn up by its affiliated Italian Federation of Metalworkers (Federazione impiegati operai metallurgici, Fiom), which was not in line with agreed incomes policy (IT0305204F); and Cgil's promotion of a national referendum on changes to the 'Article 18' dismissals rules (IT0307101N). The secretariat of the Democrats of the Left (Democratici di Sinistra, Ds), which is the political party of reference of the majority of Cgil’s officials and members, has voiced many criticisms of these decisions.

According to the centre-left parties and many other observers, Cgil has recently played a predominantly political role, trying to lead opposition to the current centre-right government. Cgil's general secretary, Mr Epifani, has also recognised, on one more than one occasion, the need for a 'reunionisation' of the confederation.

The idea of calling a meeting to discuss the widespread disagreements within Cgil arose at the beginning of summer 2003. According to the promoters of the initiative, the September meeting was organised because Italy is currently facing an economic and social emergency: the government is no longer able to create social consensus and the main employers’ organisation, Confindustria, no longer follows the government line. A document drafted and approved during the meeting focuses on two key issues for Cgil: the independence of trade union action from politics; and relations with the other two main confederations, Cgil and Uil.

The main criticisms voiced by the 'reformists' against the current Cgil executive and its predecessor led by Mr Cofferati concern the 'politicised' role played by the confederation during the past two years. They claim that Cgil felt so strong 'that it believed it could conduct - all by itself - the social struggle and lead the political mobilisation against the government', thus distorting the role of the trade unions and making mistakes such as promoting the failed referendum on Article 18.

The reformists want Cgil to be independent of political parties and to promote unity of action with Cisl and Uil. They believe that each union confederation should, through internal decision-making mechanisms, draw up and follow 'a system of rules committing the confederation to look for unitary solutions during the course of all negotiating processes which involve the three confederations'. To this end, the meeting asked Cgil to avoid taking any unilateral action - such as drawing up bargaining platforms, holding strikes or concluding agreements - and to refer the most controversial issues to joint assessment and mediation between the three confederations.

The meeting document states that social concertation and dialogue is the 'best strategic choice for confederal trade unionism' and recognises the validity of the industrial relations system created by the national tripartite agreement of 23 July 1993 (IT9709212F). 'whose practical tools can be modified and updated but which is, still, very topical in its general inspiration'. The group of officials also call for: a profound organisational renewal within the confederation, leading to a substantial decentralisation of decision-making; new criteria for the selection of the Cgil executive in order 'to overcome the logic of loyalty, conformism or political membership'; a process of 'democratisation' with systematic consultation procedures by executive bodies at all levels; and verification of the implementation of decisions.

The reformist officials plans another meeting in the near future to assess the response of the Cgil executive to their proposals. The initial reaction of the confederal secretariat was to oppose the proposals. Confederal secretary Gian Gaolo Patta stated that the reformist group is proposing the same positions as Cisl and Uil, while Mr Epifani, the general secretary, said that there is no reason to review the policy guidelines agreed at Cgil’s last congress. Bruno Trentin, a prestigious trade unionist and former general secretary of Cgil, expressed his support for the positions of the Cgil reformist group.

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