Cgil, Cisl and Uil take united action

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In March 2004, the three main Italian trade union confederations, Cgil, Cisl and Uil, held a joint assembly for the first time in 10 years. The meeting approved a document which criticises the government and makes proposals on economic, incomes and social policy. The confederations called a four-hour general strike on 26 March to support their proposals and protest at the government's current pensions reform.

After strained relations among Italy's three main trade union confederations over recent years, a new phase of unity of action seems to be under way in 2004 (IT0312103F). On 10 March, more than 6,000 delegates from the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil), the Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacato Lavoratori, Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil) took part in a joint assembly in Rome, the first such event for 10 years The general secretaries of the three confederations - Guglielmo Epifani, Savino Pezzotta and Luigi Angeletti respectively - agreed on the necessity of resuming united action to oppose government policy, which they consider to be disastrous, and of supporting a united platform on economic, incomes and social policy. Claiming that the centre-right government's social policies have failed and that the country's economy is stagnating, the unions are seeking to overcome their divisions and fight together to change economic and social policy.

A joint document drafted by Cgil, Cisl and Uil and adopted at the assembly presents an extremely negative picture of the work done so far by the government: 'a stagnating economy, uncertain employment, decreased investments, a consumption freeze and worsened material conditions for employees and retired people'. In short, 'the failure of the government's economic policy' has been worsened by the abandonment of incomes policy and social dialogue, it is claimed. According to the trade unions, development and employment should be the government's main priority. The document focuses in particular on three main issues, as follows.

  • Economic policy. Cgil, Cisl and Uil call on the government to: review the entire company incentive system, increase research and development allocations and activate local policies (IT9704203F and IT9804322F) in order to boost competitiveness; increase allocations for the South of Italy up to 45% of capital account expenditure; increase the 'quality of labour' by strengthening training and continuing apprenticeship; develop an income support system; encourage non-precarious employment through incentives; reduce energy costs and decrease Italy's dependence on foreign countries in this area; and promote the environmental sustainability of production and consumption
  • Incomes policy. The unions underline the importance of resuming a concerted incomes policy in order to safeguard the purchasing power of wages and pensions. They call on the government to start negotiating with the social partners, with the regions and with local bodies to regulate tariffs and prices. Moreover Cgil, Cisl and Uil call for a tax policy based on progressive measures rather than amnesties. The unions also demand the renewal of public sector collective agreements covering about 280,000 workers (IT0306102N) and for the start of the 2003-4 bargaining round.
  • Social policy. Cgil, Cisl and Uil believe that social polices 'are a must for environmentally sustainable and stable growth'. According to the trade unions, it is necessary to increase Italian healthcare expenditure to the EU average level and tackle major social priorities such as the implementation, at national level, of 'basic assistance levels' (Livelli Essenziali di Assistenza, Lea) for people in need, the improvement of services and the creation of a national fund for the support of people who cannot support themselves. The unions claim that government social policy is penalising and impoverishing the public education system, and instead call for a unitary system of national training standards, compulsory education and training lasting at least 12 years and the immediate launch of intersectoral vocational training funds (IT0202103F). Moreover, the unions want the government to intervene in housing policy in order to guarantee a home for everybody. Cgil, Cisl and Uil underline their total opposition to the government's reform of the pension system (IT0311102N) which, they believe, penalises workers and does not achieve a separation between pension expenditure and assistance expenditure.

A four-hour general strike was called by Cgil, Cisl and Uil on 26 March 2004 to support their new joint platform and protest against the pensions reform. According to the organisers, the strike was a major success and more than 1 million people took part in demonstrations. According to the police no more than 300,000-400,000 people took part in the demonstrations while, according to the Confindustria employers' organisation, no more than 30% of the workforce joined the strike.

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