Published: 11/04/2002

The centre-right government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in power for almost one year now, is currently considering modifying those elements of Italian labour legislation which give workers effective protection against unfair dismissal.

Passed in 1966, Article 18 of the labour code introduced into law the requirement of just cause for dismissal. It was the product of long years of struggle by the Italian labour movement for justice and dignity for working people.

To satisfy the wishes of Confindustria, the Italian confederation of employers associations, which blames rigid laws and an “inflexible” workforce for the current economic slowdown, the government has launched a campaign aimed at dismantling rights and de-structuring the labour market. To achieve this, it has asked that Parliament delegate legislative powers to the government, allowing it to modify laws “by proxy”. In taking advantage of this facility, the government effectively relieves itself of any obligation to engage in bonafide discussions with trade unions, and of the requirements of democratic accountability.

In protest against the attempt by the Italian government to unilaterally modify important elements of labour legislation, the three Italian trade union confederations, CGIL, CISL and UIL, have called an 8-hour general strike on 16 April 2002.

In a joint statement, the three confederations have said that in choosing to modify Article 18 of the labour code, the government “has not only chosen to revoke a basic workers right, but it has cut off the possibility of discussion and placed obstacles in the way of negotiated solutions on other issues”.

Ironically, a number of employers have publicly announced their opposition to the policies of Confindustria’s leadership, in particular, the alliance with the Berlusconi government and the confrontational approach to labour, recalling how effective social dialogue and the pursuit of negotiated solutions has been in the recent past. The Italian Bishops Conference has also come out strongly against the government’s attempts to curtail human rights and implicit contempt for the dignity of workers.

In another characteristic display of contempt, Berlusconi has declared that the strike will not be “general”, but rather, “partial”, as it will not be adhered to by the entire working population of 21 million. CGIL, CISL and UIL have a combined membership of 5.5 million waged workers who will be taking to the streets (the prime minister has also declared that he does not “fear the street”) on April 16 to send a forceful message to the government and the employers.

The IUF’s European regional organisation, EFFAT, has announced it will adhere to the general strike by sending a delegation of European trade unionists to participate in the demonstrations in Rome. The IUF has alerted its world-wide membership which will be mobilising support in the form of solidarity messages to the IUF’s affiliates in Italy, FLAI-CGIL, FILCAMS-CGIL, FAI-CISL, FISASCAT-CISL, UILA-UIL and UILTuCS-UIL.