Workers marched in demonstrations across Italy on Friday to protest new work rules at two Fiat plants that one union holdout says erodes workers rights.
The FIOM metalworkers union organized the demonstrations to vent ire at contracts at two Fiat SpA plants, which they say undermine Italy's national contract system. The deals were signed by other unions, and passed by worker referendums.
Addressing a crowd of some 10,000 people in the square facing Milan's Cathedral, FIOM secretary-general Maurizio Landini called again for a general strike. He also said he would work one factory at a time to ensure continuation of national contracts.
"We won't allow what Fiat and Confidustria want to happen. We want to recoup the national contract and we will, factory by factory," Landini said, referring to the industrial lobby that has supported Fiat's moves.
FIOM called for the protests after workers at Turin's Mirafiori plant voted to approve a more flexibile work contract sought by Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne. Marchionne has pledged to invest (EURO)1.2 billion ($1.64 billion) in the plant to build Alfa Romeo and Jeep brand SUVs as part of an overall (EURO)20 billion investment he has slated for Fiat's Italian factories.
Fiat also won a similar deal at the Pomigliano plant near Naples and is investing (EURO)700 million to begin production of the new Panda, slated for late 2011 or early 2012.
While most unions supported the deals, FIOM and many of its members opposed it, saying it undermins hard-won union rights, as well as the national system of contracts.
FIOM also called for a metalworkers strike Friday, and said that workers at the two Fiat plants next slated for contract negotiations adhered. It said 50 percent of workers at Fiat's Melfi plant walked off the job, shutting down one line, while production was halved at the company's Cassino plant south of Rome.
Marchionne has said he is looking at investments at both of those factories, but indicated in remarks to analysts on Thursday that they may not be necessary this year.
While the Fiat contracts were the rallying cry for the protests, few of the 10,000 protesters in Milan were Fiat workers. Many came from other sectors that have been hit by the economic crisis, which has idled many Italian factories and sent some companies abroad.
"Italy is lacking an industrial plan to protect the workforce," said Davide Intacchi, who in 2006 lost his factory job making home appliances near Milan after 18 years, when it was moved to the Czech Republic. He has been surviving with payments from Italy's temporary layoff scheme.
"I still have dreams that I am working in the factory, with all of my colleagues," he said.
Protests also were held in Rome and nearby Cassino, among more than a dozen sites in Italy.