Trade Unions

   The prefascist trade unions, whether of Catholic or Marxist inspiration, were equally the targets of systematic violence at the hands of Fascist action squads, then of outright prohibition. During the resistance, however, the Comitati di Liberazione Nazionale/National Liberation Committees (CLN) drew many of their leaders together. The collaborative spirit that informed the resistance moved its component parties to work together in reconstituting the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro/Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL) in 1944. Giuseppe di Vittorio, of the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI), was its first postwar president. In the early reconstruction years the union made continual concessions, eager to avoid antagonizing the dominant Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy Party (DC). By late 1946, factory committees had been effectively emasculated, thus silencing for a time the workers’voice on the shop floor. After the 1948 elections and the onset of the Cold War, nothing could prevent Catholic members from leaving the CGILand forming their own Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori/Italian Confederation of Workers’Unions (CISL). They were soon followed by the Social Democrats and Republicans, who had formed the Unione Italiana del Lavoro/Italian Union of Labor (UIL). The CGIL, from being a three-party union, became a “transmission belt” for the PCI. This led to a persistent employers’ offensive, generously backed by the U.S. embassy and the American Federation of Labor (AFL), so that by 1955, the influence of the CGILhad noticeably decreased. It was not until July 1972 that a broad CGIL-CISL-UIL federation was reformed. The components cooperated but retained their independence. In the late 1960s many young Italian workers, especially migrants from the South, inspired by what they saw happening in France, concluded that the moment had come for a New Left. Disruptive and often violent, it led to immediate results. Union leaders demanded total autonomy from political parties, the better to respond to this uncompromising spirit. Thereafter the unions began to recover some of their lost standing among workers. At the end of the “hot autumn” of 1969, concessions included the right to convene shop-floor assemblies for up to 10 hours annually at employer expense, the 40-hour week, and the beginnings of wage-leveling. In 1970 and 1971 the unions began to reintroduce elected factory councils. Union training schools offered courses on trade union history and political theory. In 1973, the metalworkers’contract entitled them to up to 150 hours paid time off every three years for instruction in public institutions in pursuit of higher qualifications. Feminist collectives became widespread by the use of this provision.
   The greatest gain obtained by the unions, however, was unquestionably the scala mobile (“moving staircase”), automatic wage indexing for all categories of workers. This technique of protecting wages from inflation was extended from industrial workers to the rest of the economy in 1975, but it proved to be a heavy burden for Italian business. It was overturned by negotiations between the government of Giuliano Amato and the unions in July 1992. Union power peaked in the late 1970s. In 1980, FIAT pointed to a declining market share to explain a chain of dismissals. The reaction was a union call for a total shutdown. After 34 days, in a spontaneous counterstrike, up to 40,000 foremen, white-collar workers, and line workers who wanted to return to work paraded through the streets of Turin. Aturning point was reached when the union capitulated. Italy remains one of the most highly unionized countries in the world. General strikes occur regularly, and certain industries, notably the railways, are prone to industrial action.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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