Fiom congress seeks to restore dialogue

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In June 2004, Fiom-Cgil, the largest trade union in Italy's key metalworking sector, held its national congress in Livorno. The congress concluded with re-election of the organisation's general secretary, Gianni Rinaldini, and adoption of a united final document. The main points discussed were bargaining policy and representation - two themes that are crucial if dialogue is to be restored with the other metalworkers’ unions after a period of conflict and separate agreements.

On 3-5 June 2004, the Italian Federation of Metalworkers (Federazione impiegati operai metallurgici, Fiom), affiliated to the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione generale italiana del lavoro, Cgil), held its 23rd national congress in Livorno. This was an important meeting and it was convened earlier than scheduled, on the basis of a proposal made by the general secretary at the end of January 2004, in order to discuss the union’s policies after a period of serious conflict with the other metalworkers’ unions and the breakdown in trade union unity of action during negotiations over renewal of the national-level metalworking agreement in 2003, which Fiom refused to sign (IT0305204F), and following the launch of a Fiom campaign to reopen national-level negotiations by means of so-called 'pre-contracts' (company agreements intended to anticipate the contents of a future new sectoral accord and thereby compel the employers’ associations to reopen negotiations) (IT0310205F and IT0312102N).

Some 734 delegates representing almost 370,000 Fiom members - Fiom is the largest union in metalworking - gathered in Livorno. Discussion centred on two motions tabled in February 2004: one by Gianni Rinaldini, the Fiom general secretary and part of the Cgil left; and the other by Riccardo Nencini, the national secretary of Fiom and a member of the 'reformist' wing of the union and the confederation (IT0310103N). During 110 local congresses and 20 regional ones leading up to the national congress, the first motion received 80% of the vote. During the Livorno congress, Mr Nencini decided not to create an opposition minority within the union, in view of the positions taken up during the debate, and in particular the commitment expressed to restore unity with the Italian Metal-Mechanical Federation (Federazione italiana metalmeccanici, Fim), affiliated to the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Unions (Confederazione italiana sindacati lavoratori, Cisl), and the Union of Italian Metal-Mechanical Workers (Unione italiana lavoratori metalmeccanici, Uilm), affiliated to the Union of Italian Workers (Unione italiana del lavoro, Uil). The result was the drawing up of a unitary closing document and the re-election of Mr Rinaldini as Fiom general secretary with 95.4% of the vote.

A platform for Fiom

Fiom left its congress with a unitary policy document which confirms decisions taken recently and sets out Fiom’s industrial relations and bargaining strategies for the near future, with particular reference to renewal of the economic (ie pay) part of the national agreement, which expires at the end of 2004. The main strategies that the union intends to pursue are the following:

Bargaining

After Fiom’s rejection of the national metalworking agreement signed on 7 May 2003 by Fim-Cisl and Uilm-Uil (IT0305204F), the union’s main concern is to create the conditions whereby it can regain a central role in national-level negotiations (what Fiom calls 'recapturing' the national agreement) and give workers’ representatives greater bargaining power in workplaces. According to Fiom, the essential steps towards achieving these goals are: extension and intensification of the pre-contracts campaign (with 623 pre-contracts signed as of 31 May 2004, and 1,978 negotiations in progress - IT0310205F); the development of decentralised bargaining; and positive renewal of the economic part of the industry-wide agreement, which lapses at the end of 2004.

Furthermore, Mr Rinaldini, in his opening address to the congress, proposed the creation of a collective agreement for the whole of manufacturing, which would unify the existing sectoral collective agreements. This would address some of the effects of outsourcing processes, 'which often lead to the application of different agreements to employees who work side by side'.

Incomes policy and concertation

According to Fiom, the wage restraint inaugurated by the national tripartite agreement of 23 July 1993 (IT9709212F) on incomes policy has excessively restricted the margins for wage bargaining and it should be replaced with new rules. A study by the Fiom economic monitoring unit finds that, in the decade 1993-2003, nominal wages rose in Italy by 34.8% while inflation stood at 33.2%. Fiom maintains that incomes policy and concertation should not be synonymous with wage restraint and views collective bargaining as the most effective form of action, though recognising the importance of fiscal and social policies in safeguarding the purchasing power of workers.

Representation and trade union democracy

According to Fiom, legislation is required on worker representation, and 'platforms of demands and agreements should be put to referendum by the workers concerned, as the crucial means for defining their representatives’ mandate'. Mr Rinaldini also proposed that unitary workplace union structure s (rappresentanze sindacali unitarie, Rsus) (IT0309304T) should be entirely elected by workers, eliminating the rule that reserves one-third of their members for the unions that signed the relevant national sectoral agreement.

Fiom maintains that a set of rules which prevent the signing of separate agreements by different unions in the same sector or company should be drawn up jointly with the other sectoral federations. For Fiom, the recent experiences of Fiat Melfi (IT0405205F) and Fincantieri, where preliminary agreements reached by unions and management were submitted to the workforce for final approval, highlight the need to begin discussions on bargaining procedures and the possibility of finding a common solution. The aim is to have shared rules in place before the bargaining round at the end of 2004, when the two-year economic part of the national metalworking agreement is to be renewed.

Reactions

The general secretaries of Fim and Uilm have welcomed Fiom’s commitment to opening up dialogue with the other sectoral unions and some of the proposals made at the June congress. Differences remain, however, especially on the question of representation. Tonino Regazzi, the general secretary of Uilm, has expressed his agreement with Mr Rinaldini on the need for improving wage levels, while Giorgio Carioli, the general secretary of Fim, has suggested that talks should be held on the feasibility of forms of intersectoral collective bargaining. However, the Fim general secretary has stressed that this proposal might encounter a series of obstacles within the union movement itself.

As far as employee representation is concerned, there has been some agreement with Fiom’s proposals for revision of the rules on Rsus, for example the elimination of the places reserved for unions that signed the national agreement. However, as regards the means to obtain this change to the rules on representation, Savino Pezzotta, the general secretary of Cisl, has affirmed his confederation’s opposition to legislative measures as proposed by Fiom and has expressed his preference for a collectively bargained solution.

The greatest difference in positions concerns the use of referenda in collective bargaining. Fim and Uilm are opposed to the introduction of a rule that would automatically requires a referendum to be held for the final approval of an agreement that has been reached. The two unions argue that this would undermine the legitimacy of the Rsu and would render pointless the reinforcement of the Rsu's democratic mandate that could be achieved by eliminating the one-third quota reserved for the unions signatory to the national agreement. However, Fim and Uilm have declared their willingness to discuss forms of workforce and membership consultation, although they stress that the decision on their implementation should be taken by the bargaining delegation concerned, and consider the phase prior to conclusion of the agreement as the one during which the workforce should be consulted, in order to give the mandate for the negotiations to be closed, rather than ratifying an agreement whose specific contents have already been decided.

Roberto Biglieri, the director general of Federmeccanica, the employers’ association for the metalworking sector affiliated to Confindustria, has expressed great concern at the Fiom general secretary’s announcement of the 'end of wage restraint'. According to Mr Biglieri, collective bargaining should take account of the situation of the sector and its firms, and the Italian metalworking industry is going through a difficult phase. A hardening of the unions’ position on wage claims, irrespective of the incomes policy rules, may compromise the outcomes of collective bargaining. The director general of Federmeccanica has also expressed reservations at the use of referenda on collective agreements, stating that 'if it is always the workers who decide, then you may want to deal directly with them, bypassing the union'.

Commentary

The Fiom congress represented an important juncture for industrial relations in the most important of Italy’s manufacturing industries. In certain respects, it is a further attempt to restore social dialogue after a resurgence of conflict in relations: between the unions and the government - first on the reform of the labour market (IT0201108N, IT0204102N and IT0205101N) and then on reform of the pensions system (IT0404102N and IT0311102N); between the social partners; and also among the unions themselves, with Cgil’s refusal to sign the 2002 'Pact for Italy' (IT0207104F) and Fiom’s refusal to sign the renewal of the metalworking agreement in May 2003 (IT0305204F). Since Fiom has frequently been at the forefront of this antagonism in collective relations, its strategic choices are important for the assessment of trends in Italian industrial relations. Moreover, the decision to bring forward the national congress was influenced by the need to assess the choices made and to reflect on bargaining strategies in the future.

Despite the probably inevitable confirmation of the past decisions to diverge from the other unions, the Fiom congress's most important decision for developments in the near future is the commitment to restore union unity in the metalworking sector after the splits caused by events in the past two or three years. Fiom has realised that it cannot continue to fail to sign national sectoral agreements, and that concentrating action at the company level by means of the controversial 'pre-contracts' campaign may undermine the central role of the national-level agreement always advocated by Fiom. Hence 'recapturing the national agreement' is a necessary priority which can only be achieved by regaining unity with Fim and Uilm.

There are two main obstacles to be overcome (besides the possible continuation of the pre-contracts campaign): the intention to demand wage rises in excess of the limits set by current incomes policy; and the proposal to submit all collective agreements to approval by referendum. The employers’ strong opposition on these two issues is already manifest, and could have been taken for granted, but the main difficulties may be raised by the other unions, which have taken up positions different from Fiom’s. There are signals that a united front may be restored, both on wage claims, given that all the unions have been increasingly dissatisfied with how the incomes policy has been implemented in recent years (IT0310206F), as well as on representative democracy, as testified by recent events at the Fiat plant in Melfi (IT0405205F). The outcomes will depend closely on whether there is a willingness to relinquish the most extreme positions and initiate effective dialogue between the metalworking sector union federations and the national-level confederations. As regard relations with employers, the recent election of a new Confindustria president (IT0406102N and IT0404101N) offers an opportunity to resume dialogue and concertation. The moment of truth will come at the end of 2004, when negotiations begin on renewal of the economic part of the metalworking national agreement. In the meantime, the government’s actions with regard to economic and social policies may help defuse the wages issue: something that probably all the social partners would welcome. (Cinzia Maddaloni and Roberto Pedersini, Fondazione Regionale Pietro Seveso)

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