Struggles in Logistics in Italy
Publisher: Break Their Haughty Power
Year Published: 2015
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX18603
A sketch based on conversations in October 2015 with militants in and around the small Italian union SI Cobas (Sindicato Interprofessionale/Comites di Base), which has carried out and won militant strikes over the past few years with mainly immigrant logistics and warehouse workers.
About fifteen or twenty years ago, cooperatives became, in Italy, a major form of recruitment used by big logistics companies in the hiring of truckers and warehouse workers (facchini) .
They are not to be confused with earlier forms of cooperatives, organized by workers for purposes of solidarity. These cooperatives are labor brokers, often literally Mafia, which arose when the major Italian unions (CGIL, CSIL, UIL) went into decline. They are intermediaries between workers and large firms, and compete among themselves to contract their members at the lowest price. Large companies such as IKEA , the Swedish furniture and appliance retailer, do not hire workers directly, but tell them to join a cooperative. Unlike slave owners, who have a certain interest in keeping their slaves alive and able to work, the cooperatives draw on an enormous revolving labor pool of immigrant workers to be sucked dry and discarded. The formal illegality of such practices is ignored; the law becomes involved only to crack heads of strikers and to lock them up. The big unions look the other way. A fired foreign worker risks losing residence papers and being forced underground. Workers are called in to work on an as needed basis, and troublemakers can be left at home for weeks or months, or transferred to another distant warehouse. The shop floor bosses control the labor shapeup, deny bathroom breaks and otherwise do everything to dehumanize the workers. Speaking little or no Italian , these so-called worker entrepreneurs are kept totally unaware of their rights to public assistance and health care, however minimal.
in violation of national labor law, the cooperatives provide no sick leave. Like fly-by-night firms, the cooperatives appear and reappear with different names; they form a seamless web with the Mafia, banks, and some bureaucrats from the CGIL and the CSIL. They close up shop and sell their contracted members to another cooperative, making it impossible for workers to build up any seniority. By these methods, with no outlays for vacation, sick leave, or bonuses, it is estimated that the cooperative pockets 15,000 euros a year per worker, while the workers earn 700 euros ($675) a month. The companies naturally take no responsibility for what the cooperatives do with their work force.
These struggles also extended to broader struggles against the Jobs Act (the English name is used in Italy), which was decreed by the left Renzi government in February 2015. The Jobs Act basically shredded existing laws on layoffs, making them much easier, and also restricted access to unemployment insurance in the event of layoffs. In the run-up to the final version of the Jobs Act, the resistance was strongest in Bologna, including in schools at every level. These struggles involved immigrant workers from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), Egypt, North Africa, Ukraine, Eastern Europe and South America. 90% of workers in SICobas are immigrants. At the same time many bosses in the cooperatives are themselves immigrants.
In Bologna in particular, SI Cobas extended the struggle to housing and to steep price increases in utilities. This ultimately forced the local governments (commune) to pay for utilities. Major demonstrations were also rather successful in stopping evictions. The social centers also became involved. In Piacenza, SI Cobas waged a three-month struggle at IKEA to force hiring of workers without the mediation of the cooperatives.
A first national strike in logistics took place in March 2013. Pre-strike meetings all over Italy were connected by video conferencing so that workers could see the depth and reach of their movement. When they struck on March 22, the pickets were attacked by the carabinieri (the national police force), leading to a day-long pitched battle involving hundreds of workers and cops. The warehouse, however, stayed closed. The success was announced all over Italy by Twitter. In a day, years of fear and isolation had vanished.