Reexhuming an old joke we can say that all we have to do is save the old soldier of the general strike. The generalized abstention of workers in democratic systems has a delicate function: that of guaranteeing organized civil society spaces for initiative and freedom, that of allowing the expression of social dissent which to the extent that it is included in the dialectic between politics and society It in itself contributes to strengthening democracy. For all these reasons, the general strike is a delicate weapon to be used cum grano salis, certainly not a ritual to be perpetuated on a more or less recurring basis. And all in all, the history of Italian trade unionism has respected these prerogatives, at least until a few years ago.
In the year of grace 2023, with the event of the protest called by CGIL and UIL and with the subsequent reaction of Minister Matteo Salvini, we have moved away from that trend.
But let’s proceed step by step. The strike called by Maurizio Landini and Pier Paolo Bombardieri (in the picture) had already ab initio a peculiarity of its own, and certainly not a positive one. As had already happened with the Draghi government, it presented itself as an action called by two out of three confederations, leaving the CISL outside. The second peculiar element can be traced in the methods of convocation: a chessboard of agitations intertwined at both a sectoral and territorial level to occupy as much mobilization as possible and to reduce the risks – from the point of view of workers’ adhesion – of focusing on a single deadline. In this way the all-encompassing initiative of CGIL and UIL ends up occupying (also in the media) several slots on the November calendar and still encompasses as many as three Fridays. The third singularity concerns precisely the use of the last day of the working week to organize the mobilization.
To the Jacobin
Here it is necessary to open a large parenthesis. Friday trade unionism has unfortunately become an endemic disease of Italian industrial relations. For at least 15 years, minority groups present especially in the transport sector have called Friday to call for abstentions from work which almost always concern large cities, the nerve centers of mobility. A decidedly minority way of exercising trade unionism in which the important thing is not to have maximum consensus and abstention from workers around a platform of demands but rather to block traffic, give a demonstration of strength to the counterparts, even skip some reflections on users and their problems. We could define this Friday unionism as a Jacobin way of interpreting representation and, as mentioned, unfortunately it now has its own multi-year tradition which has not been eradicated either by the action of the counterparts or by the interventions of the guarantee authorities or even by conscious mobilization. of public opinion.
The fact that in some way Friday’s trade unionism can also take root within the confederation is a worrying element because it shows how the success of the show of strength is considered by CGIL and UIL to be more important than a clear relationship with its own base.
A final flaw in the proclamation of the Landini-Bombardieri strike can be found in the convening platform. Extremely broad and all in all mainly oriented towards widening the purse strings: more spending for everyone. The CISL’s objection, which courageously recalled how the Meloni government’s end-of-year budget maneuver – decidedly bad in terms of growth – has as its main objective that of supporting medium-low incomes thanks to the cut in the tax wedge, would have deserved further consideration because it inevitably marks a contradiction. After all, workers are called to strike against a measure that goes in a direction that is desirable for them and which should be of concern to all trade union representatives and not just to the confederation directed by Luigi Sbarra.
This was therefore the real discussion to be had on the general strike, its manufacturing defects and the evolution of Italian industrial relations.
Unfortunately, this mix of contradictions was influenced by a politicization by Minister Salvini which had little to do with the intrinsic limits of trade union action. He had and has other types of objectives.
The spotlight of the minister
The minister and leader of the League, constantly seeking protagonism, uses every opportunity to distance himself or anticipate Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s moves in a key political-electoral competition that at times reaches the point of exasperation. In this case Salvini decided to advocate for the representation of the interests of users, especially those of transport, who were put in tribulation by the methods and repetitiveness of the strikes. He did so lucidly, finding himself in contradiction with his party and government colleague Giancarlo Giorgetti who in some way defended the institution of the general strike by focusing his criticism of Landini-Bombardieri above all on the merit of the call or on their platform. salad.
But anyway, Salvini is not a man of details and went on a big hunt by combining the contestation of the technical methods of the strike with a more radical and disruptive initiative on the very right to abstain from work.
Now it is true that in public opinion there is tiredness and irritation for the unionism of Friday and it has been highlighted several times that it is a form of blockade which ends up mainly affecting the less well-off classes (those who cannot afford to call a taxi) often forced to give up a day of work. But despite the continuous weekend strikes called by Cobas and Cub, a real political-cultural reaction front has not been consolidated over time. The proof of this is that the guarantee authority has validated the last four strikes called by the self-employed and that the media are now presenting these Fridays as a sort of natural disaster or in any case an inevitable evil. It is not certain, therefore, that Salvini will ultimately profit a lot from the position he has assumed, as in truth the polls say for his latest outings. has become a constant in his utterances since free rider.
It is true, however, that the politicization imparted by the Northern League leader has somehow overshadowed what we have called manufacturing defects of the strike and has, so to speak, absolved Landini and Bombardieri and put the pragmatism of the CISL in difficulty. Behind this story there is the old puzzle that fascinates the newspapers about the true positioning sought by Landini and his presumed desire to leave the union perimeter strictu sensu and exercise direct political action. The impression that the leader of the CGIL wants to obtain a position for himself paterfamilias of the opposition, does not want to bring its organization into the political-electoral competition, but rather cloaks itself in a moral advantage over a policy – as it reminds us very often – undermined by the worm of abstentionism. Hence his collaboration-competition with the opposition leaders, Elly Schlein and Giuseppe Conte.
But did the Italy of 2023, the country that risks becoming entangled in low growth, need this recitation and add contradictions to contradictions? Probably not and this answer can also come from public opinion pro-labour, interested more than in Friday trade unionism in a crystal-clear representative action centered on consensus and transparency. At the bottom of all this complaints of transport blocked repeatedly and of the legitimacy of the general strike, those who were silenced were the workers called to a political test of strength and the users called once again to deal with an excess of discomfort.
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Nov 21, 2023
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