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Italy, Labour market reform, Politics, unemployment

After Saturday’s massive show of force, where now for Italy’s CGIL union?

As many as a million took to the streets of Rome on Saturday in a protest at the Renzi’s government’s labour counter-reforms, dubbed the Jobs Act. Giorgio Cremaschi analyses the strategy of the country’s largest union confederation that led the mega rally and suggests what is needed to defeat this latest neo-liberal attack on the Italian people

The CGIL has brought onto the streets all its force, together with all its contradictions. In recent decades, the largest Italian trade union confederation has on the one hand been the social agent of the left, alongside the Democratic Party, on the other hand it has repeatedly attempted to ‘producers pact’ with business, to act in concert against government. Both of these cornerstones of the strategy of the CGIL are now dramatically collapsing and the leadership literally does not know what to do, which is not a good message to be transmitted to the streets. Sure there will be more protests and maybe even a general strike. But without clarify on the strategy. Because the reactionary revolution of PM Matteo Renzi must be fought not only by breaking with its most extreme manifestations, but also with the underlying politics and the path that led us to it.

The Renzi government is the last and most clever attempt by the Italian and European ruling classes to impose on us the neo-liberal policies that have destroyed Greece. Smart because it was realized that the sheer brutality of the diktat of the Troika does not pay in the long run. This is why the neo-liberal policies today must be accompanied, or even preceded by political and cultural changes that make it acceptable or even agreeable to accentuate social inequalities that already today are so explosive. To do this, the traditional right is no longer sufficient, you have to occupy the field of the left and take the biggest part of it to support policies to the right of the traditional right. This is Renzismo, the latest version of the political transformation in the history of our country that has always started from the genetic mutation of the left.

The repeal of Article 18 of the labour code symbolises the burning of the last flag of equality in Italy, and makes acceptable measures with much more immediate substance, such as the green light to massive layoffs by ThyssenKrupp , or the gift to employers lobby Confindustria, the reduction of taxes on profits  paid for by the sick, through health service cuts and user charges.

We have realized a dream, Squinzi said while workers and the precariat are living nightmare. This government is blatantly pro-business but this is the logical outcome of the cultural and political process that is taking place in the ruling Democratic Party. The Renzi government concentrates thirty years of neo-liberal policies against labour and is taking them to the extremes.

And it is precisely for this reason that the double contradiction of the CGIL is apparent. The first and most obvious contradiction is that the relationship of the leading Italian trade union with the Democratic Party is becoming increasingly untenable, yet it remains inseparable. The leadership of the CGIL continue to see the Democratic Party as a fundamental institutional reference and to break with this would be like cutting loose in the open seas; it is a scary idea. This contradiction is mirrored by the presence on Saturday’s march in Rome of Renzi’s critics in the Democratic Party who then faced party discipline to vote in favour of the regressive labour law.

But even more serious is the contradictions in the union’s policies. The CGIL opposes the Jobs Act today, but over the past 30 years has come to accept all of the terms and provisions that led to it. The Fornero law on pensions (2012) and the first attack in Article 18 of the Monti government (2012) went through quietly. And if now the CGIL opposes this new labour reform it isn’t opposing the various jobs acts being implemented across the country via local labour agreements that reduce labour rights and wages thanks to the decentralisation of collective bargaining. And lets not forget the agreement with Confindustria in January on workplace representation, among a number of other poor labour deals.

The burst of pride of the CGIL in response to Renzi’s attacks is still a positive development. But it is not sufficient to stop the offensive of a government that is fully aware of the contradictions of the union and exploits them, let alone to reverse the degradation of workers’ conditions. For this to change, the CGIL will need to break with its policies and practice pursued these past thirty years. Today there’s not even the slightest indication that this will happen.


Translation / edit by Revolting Europe

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope


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