Susanna Camusso appointed new Cgil general secretary

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Italy’s largest trade union, the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Cgil), has elected Susanna Camusso as General Secretary of the organisation – the first time a woman has held this post in any of the country’s three biggest trade union confederations. Elected with a resounding majority of 125 votes out of 158, Ms Camusso, who has a lot of experience in the trade union movement, has expressed her intention to promote more unity among Italy’s trade unions.

Background

The General Confederation of Italian Workers (CGIL) is the largest Italian trade union organisation with more than 5.7 million members. Its executive board elected Susanna Camusso as general secretary on 3 November 2010, when Guglielmo Epifani retired after eight years at the helm.

This is the first time that one of the three biggest trade union confederations in Italy – Cgil, the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Unions (CISL) and the Union of Italian Workers (UIL) – will be led by a woman.

Profile

Ms Camusso, aged 55, became active in the trade union world in 1975 in what was then the joint federation of metalworkers (FLM). She then moved on to the Italian Federation of Metalworkers (Fiom-Cgil) where she became the national secretary in 1997. In the same year, she became general secretary of the Federation of Agro-industrial Workers (FLAI), and in 2001 she was elected general secretary of Cgil Lombardia. In 2008, she became general secretary of the Cgil Nazionale for the agricultural, artisan and cooperative sectors, and in June 2010, she was elected deputy general secretary.

Ms Camusso was appointed by 125 votes out of 158. Some of those who voted against her were representatives of Fiom-Cgil, which has recently complained about some of the choices made by the union, warning that there is a ‘problem with democracy and an authoritarian climate growing within the organisation’.

Views of new general secretary

Ms Camusso strongly criticises the government, which has chosen to ‘remove basic rights’ and guide Italy towards a period of decline. However, she is happy with the constructive debate that has opened up between the social actors , a form of convergence that can help to tackle the national emergency.(IT1011029I), a form of convergence that can help to tackle the national emergency.

The primary importance of the national collective agreement, according to Ms Camusso, must remain one of the fundamental and principal rights for her organisation. In fact, the objective of Cgil must be to ‘recreate a joint and universal bargaining model’, which will also be a system of rights and protection for many young people who currently ‘are not covered by any form of national collective agreement’.

In her view, the government is partly responsible for the divisions between Cgil, Cisl and Uil. She says it has worked towards dividing the trade unions, and has exploited the crisis to worsen the conditions of workers in such a way that ‘there has never before been such a negative period in the history of the trade unions’.

Nevertheless, Ms Camusso believes that uniting with the other two big confederations remains a primary objective. She says: ‘The divisions always produce negative consequences for the workers. Our historical ambition is trade union unity.’ The path towards unity will, above all, have to begin with the definition of norms regarding representativeness of the organisations, a fact that has long been the object of discussion between social actors in Italy. At the moment, there is no law regulating trade union and employer representativeness in the private sector.

Reactions

Guglielmo Epifani, Ms Camusso’s predecessor, says that by choosing a woman ‘an unacceptable delay has been resolved’.

Raffaele Bonanni, General Secretary of Cisl has stated that with the election of Ms Camusso ‘the relations between the three big central confederations can improve and evolve towards unity’, while still respecting trade union pluralism, which is a ‘great asset in our country’.

According to Luigi Angeletti, General Secretary of Uil, the three confederations have very different positions on the central issue of bargaining policies. This ‘represents the real question to be faced in order to measure the positive development in trade union relations’.

The General Confederation of Italian Industry (Confindustria) has sent Ms Camusso a welcome message, which also praised Mr Epifani for being ‘a professional and loyal interlocutor over the past few years’.

Minister of Welfare Maurizio Sacconi has said he is optimistic that ‘greater cooperation between the trade union organisations will re-start and that this will improve industrial relations and relations with the institutions.’

Gianni Rinaldini, previous general secretary of Fiom, and currently coordinator of an internal group within Cgil called ‘Cgil che Vogliamo’, justified his negative vote, stating he disagreed ‘with the programme suggested by Susanna Camusso’.

‘There is a debate taking place between the social partners (IT1011029I) where Cgil is participating without any involvement or authorisation of the managing committee’, he said, and the fact that this debate has been initiated ‘represents a subordinate and wrong choice’.

Mr Rinaldini complains that there is a lack of pluralism within the organisation and ‘an enormous problem of democracy in Cgil’. Giorgio Cremaschi, National Secretary of Fiom, is also of the same opinion, and says there is ‘an internal authoritarian climate in the organisation’.

Vilma Rinolfi, Cesos

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