Italy: The Lions of Piacenza Have Been Caged

The FedEx workers’ struggle in Piacenza ended on 10 January. The "lions” – as the warehouse workers of Piacenza have been appropriately dubbed by SI Cobas(1) – have suffered yet another blow from the bosses thanks to the union rabbits (to stick to zoological metaphors) of SI Cobas, who might claim to be running a rank and file union but look damn like their big brothers in the traditional union federations of CGIL, CISL, and UIL.(2)

So, after many months of struggle, an agreement has been reached between the parties. With great pomp SI Cobas triumphantly announced it, but in an obscure, cryptic statement which – as we all know – means they are hiding something. In short, these jokers are playing a game of saying very little, pretending to be ostriches and mostly keeping silent with their heads in the sand.

Two lines of the SI Cobas communiqué explain it all. This is the first:

SI Cobas has achieved a very valuable result: despite failing to obtain the reopening of the Piacenza hub and therefore the reintegration of all those laid off.

And this is the second:

we hope that this result, partial in trade union terms but very weighty in political and perspective terms ... will be able to convey a clear message to all proletarians ...

In the first place they admit that the “victory” is only partial. The Piacenza distribution hub remains closed, just as the plant management wanted, with most of the workers having no real offer of re-employment. Many of these will be fired, because they are unable to move to Bologna; or else will receive a €48,000 incentive to join the "exodus". They call the dismissals an exodus. After the divine punishment of the FedEx bosses, by an invasion of mosquitoes, locusts, etc., Moses, elected leader by SI Cobas, led them to that promised land, the desolate land of unemployment, which will now also include the warehouse workers of Piacenza.

It is a like a sudden flashback to the 1970s, those years when struggles were hardly off the agenda. In this world of capitalist domination, layoffs were, and are, the daily bread and butter of the bosses who are ever ready to impose them at the slightest hold-up to the machinery of exploitation of wage labour, of extracting surplus value, that Eldorado of the bourgeoisie. Back then there were also very tough struggles against layoffs, headed by the infamous FLM (Federation of Metalworkers, which was the unitary abbreviation of FIOM, FIM and UILM).(3)

When the bosses, with their usual brutality, demanded lay-offs the argument was always the same: the rule of the market and the need to “be competitive”. The bottom line was summed up in a few words "we cannot work at a loss". And since the rules of the capitalist game apply until the table is overturned, there was always a long drawn-out negotiation very similar to a cattle market, which usually led to an agreement like the current one at FedEx in Piacenza, but with some differences: the factory often remained operational, and the surplus workers were liquidated, wiped out, with the usual incentives. As you can see, the same old methods in regard to moving to other factories are still being applied, but back then these had to be within a radius of 50km of the original factory. So congratulations to SI Cobas, because they have widened, or rather lengthened, the issue, adding another 100 km, to make a total of 150 km (100 miles), the distance between Piacenza and Bologna.

Also noteworthy is the total silence about the numbers involved. The crafty SI Cobas play on words. What does it in fact mean to say:

... A large number of the workers ... were hired, – and immediately after – ... others including many workers …

accepted the redundancy money (as mentioned above). Why is it not clearly stated how many are the "many" and how many the "large number"? Obviously they are ashamed to let people know the numbers in this defeat, rather than ranting on their website that this was a “workers' victory”. These are a repeat of the typical vices of the traditional big three trade union confederations. Our congratulations to SI Cobas: in the short space of a morning (historically speaking), they have completely caught up with their older brothers, on the road to integration into the bourgeois state apparatus. This is further demonstrated by another extract from their leaflet, where they say:

... workers who have chosen not to move to Bologna ... and to remain in Piacenza, will be able to count, as always, entirely on the support and commitment of SI Cobas ...

What does this mean? Is SI Cobas going to transform itself into an agency for laid-off workers? Will they become “providers of work", like some religious institution for charitable works? With a full sail and a following wind they are heading towards a more peaceful middle-class harbour.

In second place, and contradicting their cry of “victory”, SI Cobas hopes that the partial result, in trade union terms, (admitted, through gritted teeth, as a failure) but important from a political point of view, will not remain isolated. It is a sort of invitation to the whole proletariat to fight as the FedEx workers did. Beyond the hard fought struggle endured by the Piacenza workers, to whom our solidarity always goes, the familiar politically empty stance of SI Cobas has to be denounced. It is an increasingly less radical, weak, union organisation, which is forced to work in those spaces left open by the traditional union confederations who deem them unattractive, or rather of little interest and low visibility.(4)

Politically there is absolutely nothing to comment on except the negative fact that there is a complete absence of any alternative perspective to the capitalist system to accompany the legitimate and necessary struggles for demands. It is not enough to blame the traditional union confederations, or attack the employers and the Draghi government if there is not even a hint of the need for a political perspective of breaking with a system that increasingly exploits, starves, and impoverishes the world of work. It will be said that this is the task of a revolutionary political party. This is true, but then what is the sense in saying that the union victory was only partial, but the political one (which one?) was very significant?

P.S. The very significant political consequences can already be seen. Logista, a Spanish multinational (the main distributor of products and services for retail outlets, especially tobacco, therefore operating in the same field of logistics as FedEx), has announced the closure of the Maddaloni-Marcianise warehouse near Caserta. The workers, however, don’t need to worry as they will be transferred to Anagni in the province of Frosinone, 150 kilometres away, the same “offer” as the Piacenza workers! The CGIL and CISL complain because despite having

healthy balance sheets... – they see this – … the operation is aimed only at maximising profits on the backs of employees.

Il Manifesto dated 06/02/2022

Perhaps they thought that the bosses were benevolently running a charity which was aiming instead to minimise profits (sic!). As you can see, the "very significant" political result claimed by SI Cobas is already on its way, indeed, the motorway.

Battaglia Comunista
9 February 2022

Notes to the Translation:

(1) For previous articles on the rank and file union SI Cobas (Sindacato Intercategoriale Comitato di Base) and on the Piacenza and other struggles see:

(2) The three traditional union confederations each linked at one time or another to the Communist, Christian Democratic and Socialist Parties in the “first” Italian Republic (which collapsed in the “tangentopoli” bribery crisis of 1992).

(3) FIOM (Federazione Impiegati Operai Metallurgici) is the oldest industrial union in Italy now mainly linked to the Democratic Party. The other two are metalworking unions which split from FIOM under the influence of Catholics and Socialists (thus mirroring the split in the main federations).

(4) SI Cobas has mainly organised amongst migrant workers who are often employed by “cooperatives” (in reality employment agencies). As a result they are paid well below the agreed national rates. SI Cobas recruits on the basis of getting them to fight for their legal rights under the state. See:

Tuesday, February 15, 2022