For the first time since 2003, Italy’s three main trade union centrals marched together in Rome on Saturday, to call for government action on jobs. The joint action by CGIL, UIL and CISL, bringing up more than 100,000 into the streets, comes as fresh data exposes the social catastrophe caused by EU-backed austerity and neo-liberal reforms. Over half a million workers are now temporarily laid off by companies, Italy’s biggest trade-union confederation, the left-wing CGIL, said on Friday.
The CGIL said 524,000 workers were claiming the temporary redundancy benefit, a state subsidy of 1.7 billion euros to make up for the loss of wages in the first five months of the year. This is in addition to close to three million people, 12% of the working population, who are unemployed as Italy struggles to emerge from its longest recession in over 20 years. “These numbers are terrifying,” said the CGIL. “They are the sign of a very deep crisis”. The trade unionists called on the government to intervene to prevent plans by white goods maker Indesit to lay off 1,400 workers in one of the most recent labour disputes. The company plans to slash 1,425 jobs, including 25 managers, 150 white collar staff and 1,250 factory workers across three Italian manufacturing plants.
After talks broke down unions have called strikes on 5 and 12 July. Workers must be let go due to production and financial woes triggered by falling sales, according to the company, which is planning to shift much of its manufacturing abroad. CGIL leader Susanna Camusso told the rally in the central Rome on Saturday: ”Indesit isn’t in crisis, it just wants to use its profits to make investments in Turkey and Poland.” More woes are expected at Italy’s oil refineries which “are in a risky situation that could lead to four plant closures,” Industry Minister Flavio Zanonato said Thursday. The sector employs more than 100,000. Italy’s government is talking much about growth while sticking to draconian EU fiscal commitments that make any economic expansion policies virtually impossible.
The economy of the Eurozone’s third largest economy shrank by more than expected in the first quarter, extending the country’s recession to seven straight quarters and making it the longest since quarterly records began in 1970. Gross domestic product fell 0.5 percent following a 0.9 contraction in the fourth quarter of last year and contracted 2.3 percent on an annual basis. Despite waves of austerity adopted by the former government of Mario Monti, Italy’s huge public debt will rise to a new record of 131.5 percent of output this year, according to the OECD, and climb further to 134.2 percent, rather than fall to 129 percent as envisaged by Rome’s targets. Meanwhile, labour reforms making it easier for firms to hire and fire, implemented by Monti and his predecessor as PM Silvio Berlusconi, have not tackled the jobs crisis but may be aiding employers in pushing down wages. Meanwhile incomes for the majority have fallen sharply.
New figures published this week by the retailers’ association Confesercenti, found that Italian households in the past five years have seen their income drop by 238 billion euros, approximately 9,700 euros per family. Consumption also dropped by over 145 billion in six years, Confesercenti said, with a loss of almost 6,000 euros per family. Unions plan for jobs The unions marching Saturday called for:
- An immediate reduction of taxes on employees, retirees and businesses that will be hiring in the next two years
- Expansionary fiscal policies that combat recession rather than austerity measures that are adding to it, including allowing more freedoms for local government to invest, and reversing cuts to education, research and innovation, which would include extending expired temporary job contracts in schools and elsewhere in the public sector
- An active industrial policy to revive production and promote investment in innovation and research and employment
- Finally, to help finance public spending and investment they want to see the controversial property tax implemented, but with exemptions for owners of just one property.