Many of the most important warehouses in northern Italy blockaded and the logistics sector of three of the most industrialized regions paralysed: that’s the result of the 24-hour strike called by the SI COBAS union and the ADL COBAS union to demand a new national contract. In a sector ruled by the cooperative system (with continuous contract changes, widespread illegal behaviour and exploitation of the migrant workforce), the list of demands included the right to have jobs preserved after contract changes, to recognise employee status (in cooperatives workers are often forced to become associates, with consequent expenses and lack of protection), increase in wages and more protection from injuries and illness.
The strike involved thousands of workers, especially in big centres like Milan, Padova, Piacenza, Verona and Bologna. In front of the Coop warehouse in Anzola, near Bologna, workers were attacked by the police and three of them were injured. The strike has received important active support from some radical movements.
Logistics workers and their unions SI-COBAS and ADL COBAS have been experiencing strong nation-wide oppression, including acts of intimidation and police notices, as has occurred time and time again during the darker days of Italian history. Three days before the strike, an SI-COBAS activist found the tyres of their car slashed. Meanwhile, the national coordinator of the union, Aldo Milani, has been given a three-year exclusion notice by the Piacenza police department, the city where IKEA’s main warehouse for southern Europe is located. Logistics workers at the warehouse have been locked in intense struggle over the past year.
The toughness and injustice of these acts shows the strength of the struggles by logistics workers. By going beyond the negotiation strategies employed by the “moderate” unions (CGIL, CISL, UIL, known as “confederated” unions), these struggles, characterised by extraordinary determination, are able to create a strong feeling of solidarity across the workforce. Such qualities have brought important victories, for example in the case of the Coop warehouse in Anzola, where the illegal and exploitative system of cooperatives in the world of logistics has been brought to light. Workers of the retail giant Coop (which has links to the Italian Democratic Party – PD) were in fact employed by a subcontracted cooperative. Then there was a contract change, and all workers were “transferred” from the old cooperative to a new one, Astercoop. Of course, the consequence was poorer working conditions: increased hours, reduced salary and a new “internship period” which could last up to two years (as if the workers, some of whom had been working in the warehouse for as long as 12 years, were new on the job). At this point, the CGIL union did not act in defence of the workers, whose struggles were in fact supported by the small “bottom-up” union SI-COBAS. This goes to show the ineffectiveness of confederated unions, which often have interests that do not benefit the workers they are supposed to represent. Indeed, CGIL is politically tied to Coop and Astercoop.
In November, after a five day strike, including the blockading of the warehouse, the workers were harshly repressed by police. The giant Coop, whose motto is “Coop is you” and which promotes itself by focusing on its difference in the world of the retail business and on its attention to “social” themes, had called for repression, just as happened today. But in February, when the threats against workers written in the new contract became real – three workers, very active in the struggle, were fired – the strike started again and Coop had to surrender. The fired workers returned to their jobs and the internship period was cancelled by the contract.
Another case occurred in the summer of 2012, when workers at TNT in Piacenza, also under contract to a cooperative, managed to be hired through a nationally-bargained deal, in stark contrast with their previous status, which was purely illegal and lacked any sort of protection. The “Bossi-Fini” Law concerning immigration, requires immigrants to have a job in order to have a legal permit to stay in the country. This results in an absurd vicious circle in which many immigrants are forced to seek a job using fake documents belonging to someone who already has a residence permit. The other obvious consequence of having to have a job to get a residence permit is the ease with which migrant workers can be blackmailed or pressured. As a result of the workers’ struggle, some workers who had been hired using illegal documents have managed to obtain a regular permit and were hired using their real identity.
This is a fundamental aspect of the struggles in the logistics sector, remarks Aldo Milani, as most of the workers have an immigrant background and are directly affected by the vicious circle of illegality and blackmail generated by the Bossi-Fini Law. Even if this terrible and shocking Italian law punishes migrants and sentences them to almost continuous blackmail, a local workplace dispute and a determined struggle can disarm that law. This is an extraordinary victory, and it’s one of the reasons why migrant workers from the logistics sector in some Italian regions simply decided en masse to join the SI Cobas union.
That’s the case in Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna, some of the most important engines of Italian economy, where over the last 20 years big and small industries have generated much of their profits through the exploitation of the migrant workforce, strongly sustained by the Bossi-Fini Law. What is certain is that things now – for the unscrupulous business people, for the exploitative cooperatives and for migrant workers themselves – are changing.
text [it] Three Year Expulsion for Labour Organizer Aldo Milani – SI COBAS
text [it] Threats and Intimidation before the Strike – Contropiano
text [it] Porters’ Demo in Piacenza – Il fatto quotidiano
text [it] Clash City Workers