2019 02 – News from Italy

Listening to Italy

by Orecchiette


Cgil, the Italian General Confederation of Labour, elected Maurizio Landini as its new leader at its 18th Congress at the end of January 2019. Its previous General Secretary, Susanna Camusso, elected with 79.1% of the vote, had served two terms and was the first female General Secretary of any Italian Union. The second largest Trades Union in Europe, Cgil had 5.5 million members in 2013. (The largest, the German DGB had around 6 million members.)

No recent figures exist, but in 2000 there were national figures for union membership of 35% for Italy. (The figure represents union membership, as a percentage of all employees.) This contrasted with the highest world figures of 82% for Sweden and 76% each for Denmark and Finland, but 29% in the UK and only 10% (surprisingly for the number of strikes) in France.

Cgil was set up in 1944 to unite communist, socialist and Christian democrat syndicalists against fascism. The first General Secretary, the forceful Giuseppe Di Vittorio, even fought against Franco in Spain. Newly elected Cgil General Secretary, Maurizio Landini referred to him in a speech setting out his own manifesto: “I fear resentment and loneliness among the workers…How do we address that? I think back to the roots of the Union that was born to defeat fear and loneliness, to teach workers not to take off their hats in front of the master.”

And Camusso? Tracking Article 18 of the Constitution can give an idea of her role and effectiveness. Article 18 of the Workers Statute protected employees from unjustified dismissal. Silvio Berlusconi’s 2001 right-wing government attempted to abolish it. Cgil under Sergio Cofferati organised a record-breaking 3 million-strong demonstration in Rome’s Circus Maximus. Eventually this and further pressure led to the attempt being abandoned. Berlusconi came in and out of government and Cgil’s successive General Secretaries, Guglielmo Epifani and then Camusso successfully maintained the fight.

The Pd (Centre-Left) Partito Democratico‘s Matteo Renzi introduced his Jobs Act in 2014. Camusso strongly criticised the draft law because it removed workers’ rights. Cgil organised protests and demonstrations across the unions which culminated in a million-strong rally in Rome and another protest by 100,000 public employees in the City. But in December the Jobs Act was approved by a centre-left government and Article 18 was abolished. This and other measures clearly ignored union pressure and flagrantly diminished the rights of union members. It  precipitated a split in the left and widespread voter disillusionment which remains to this day. One result of which is the current populist government.

Camusso’s Cgil was criticised for its ineffective role in the sale of national airline Alitalia, which the government had allowed to become bankrupt in May 2017. Later that year an interview for Expresso outlined Camusso’s analysis of Renzi’s operating strategies. Her view is that Renzi’s government did not want to involve the unions in his projects and Alitalia was an example of that. Cgil was unable to get information and details about the situation and future of Alitalia. “The Union was called in in the last days and hours and was expected to take or leave it. We gained no popularity from that, and the refusal to restructure fell exclusively on the shoulders of the workers.”

Camusso believes that Renzi’s, and now M5S’s (Five Star) Luigi di Maio’s, tactic of disintermediation – of taking away the mediating unions and associations – is fracturing and dissolving the means that people have always had to protest. She sees this as antidemocratic. If there is no body to represent their views then “it is not an advanced form of democracy, but its denial, because it apparently respects the vote on the formal level but does not recognise people and their interlocutors.”

The Pd had been led by Matteo Renzi until his defeat in the General Election in March 2018.  Maurizio Martina served as interim leader until October, leaving a vacuum and the party are only now holding elections for a new General Secretary. The result is that there has been no effective opposition to the so-called giallo-verde Government (i.e. yellow and green, symbols of the M5S and Lega parties). It is surprising, or perhaps a comment on the increasingly unpopular M5S, that a Pd candidate recently beat the M5S candidate and expected winner, to take a seat in Sardinia.

Camusso was nominated to contest the position of General Secretary of the International Trades Union Congress. The incumbent, an Australian woman, Sharan Burrow had led the organisation for 10 years. There had been criticism of her leadership style, or in Burrow’s own words “decisions made …. have not been democratically anchored”. In December 2018 Camusso gained a respectable 48% of the vote. One reason given for her defeat was that her command of the necessary English would not be good. Plus, in the words of arbetet.se website, the fact that the two are of a similar age (over 60) means that Camusso could serve for no longer than a term. “Burrow is therefore considered a safer choice”. The arbetet.se website talks about the reluctance of delegates to speak on the record and clearly there were backstage undercurrents.

Maurizio Landini was Camusso’s choice of successor. He was previously General Secretary of Fiom, the metal workers union, moving to Cgil in 2017. Vincenzo Colla, already at Cgil, nominated himself as a candidate. The voting scheme gave fewer votes to the three million, an enormous number, of members who were pensioners.  Camusso, who aims to support democracy, neither encouraged Colla nor modified the system to give equal weight to all voters. Both men had come from Fiom and both from the north Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. Camusso said of them: “different by temperament one (Landini) the more charismatic and impetuous, the other (Colla) more reflective and calm.” The former is radical, the latter the reformist. Landini won with 92.7% of the votes. He named Colla as his joint Deputy General Secretary.

La Repubblica’s editorial of 19 January was reflective: “Cgil has a new leader, the left doesn’t”. It said that Camusso had wanted a generational change for her successor (Landini is 57) but there was no obvious candidate. “Instead she went back to the most charismatic and popular trade unionist in the field, someone who had been her clearest opponent. It was a brave move that was opposed by some in Cgil.” La Repubblica saw Landini as: “the eternal opponent, the rebel…the man of identity battles, strikes of testimony and historic defeats.” In other words, it said, full of idealistic projects some of which remained unborn. “Now it is up to Landini to do as he always has said: change the union…”

Anna Maria Furlan, General Secretary of Cisl (Italian Confederation of Trade Unions) with 4 million members was asked whether the two would be able to work together: “I really think so, I’m optimistic, I have to be optimistic”.