Italian autoworkers strike over plant closings

By Martha Grevatt
Source: Workers' World. Jan 7, 2010

In December a two-day strike halted production at the FIAT automobile assembly plant in Termini Imerese, near Palermo, in Sicily. Workers were protesting FIAT’s plans to shut down the plant, which employs 1,400 workers, this year. As of Jan. 3 the Termini Imarese workers are on temporary layoff until Jan. 7.

Prior to the two-day work stoppage, workers in Termini Imarese held a general strike on Dec. 14 to protest the closing. Over 10,000 workers and youth attended a rally that day, which also had the support of local clergy and elected officials, according to the Federation of Italian Metalworkers (FIOM). Earlier in the month FIOM struck the Sicilian LEA plant, which supplies the FIAT plant and may also close.

Sicily has one of the highest unemployment rates in all of Europe; unemployment there is much higher than on the Italian mainland. The island will take another strong blow if FIAT and its suppliers cease production.

This strike completes a year of sporadic auto strikes by FIOM. FIAT workers in Pomigliano d’Arco, near Naples, struck in solidarity with the Sicilian workers and to protest extended layoffs and the possible closing of their plant.

Italian autoworkers have a long history of militant class struggle, going back to the factory occupations of 1919-1921 and the powerful movement of 1968-1969. A two-month strike in 2002 halted the closing of the Termini Imarese plant at that time. Nevertheless the Italian working class, like workers all over the world, has been devastated by decades of capitalist restructuring.

On May 17, 15,000 workers demonstrated outside FIAT’s world headquarters in Turin. At that time FIAT’s takeover of Chrysler was all but certain and the company was trying to purchase General Motors’ European operations. Workers came from all over Italy and Sicily to protest anticipated job cuts.

The theme of the May protest, “We are FIAT,” was a direct challenge to the capitalist media’s portrayal of FIAT CEO Sergio Marchionne — who is now the CEO of Chrysler — as the person who singlehandedly “turned the company around.” While FIAT was unsuccessful in acquiring GM’s Opel, the latest “turnaround” plan — to increase production by 50 percent while simultaneously closing plants and cutting jobs — is obviously an attack on the workers. This is the purpose of the $8 billion investment FIAT plans to make in its Italian operations. The company will also begin building FIAT vehicles at Chrysler plants in Mexico, Canada and possibly the U.S.

This is the same “turnaround” strategy — hailed in capitalist circles — by which Ford has returned to making billions in profits. In the past few years Ford has reduced its union workforce by over 50 percent. Now Ford’s market share has increased in relation to GM and Chrysler and its overall sales are improving. Its stock prices have nearly quintupled since the beginning of the year. Yet the company just announced plans to offer another round of buyouts designed to permanently shrink the workforce even more.

This is exactly what Marchionne hopes to achieve at Chrysler. While projecting increased market share, Chrysler has not reversed plans to close plants in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. At the same time, the drive to intensify the brutal restructuring is behind the latest managerial shakeup — the departure of CEO Fritz Henderson, who had replaced Rick Wagoner earlier this year — at GM.

Workers all over the world need to unite and militantly resist the attacks on their jobs. This is the only “turnaround” strategy that has any hope of success.