The Titan Works and the Struggles of “Labour”

The following article is translated from the front page of Battaglia Comunista which was distributed throughout Italy but particularly at the assembly of workers of Titan, a factory with which the organisation has long had links. We are publishing it here for the general issues it raises about the situation of the working class in the face of austerity throughout the world.

The Situation at Titan

For several days the workers at the Titan factory (a company that makes wheels and brakes for agricultural machinery) in Crespellano (Bologna) have been preventing the release of goods and equipment from the factory, in order to defend their jobs and, consequently, their ability to survive. The workers are fighting against their bosses, who want to get rid of 190 workers to be able to close the factory and shift production to places like China and Turkey where low wages gives them huge profits. On the one side we have the workers and their need for a living wage, on the other the bosses who think they should lower wages to increase their profits. The class antagonism that divides workers and employers, is becoming more and more obvious.

Relocation and Layoffs

"The occupation" of the factory came after a month of unrest, made up of countless strikes and the blocking of production by the workers. This agitation began as the workers’ response to the company’s non-negotiable request for them to be laid off for 13 weeks. The company then launched a more devastating offensive, declaring the forthcoming closure of the Crespellano factory, resulting in the opening of lay-off proceedings for the 190 employees who work there. All this under the pretence that the volume of production was in decline but the real motive is their desire to relocate production to where labour is cheaper. This is the bosses’ thanks to the workers who, forced by the need to protect their jobs, after the earthquake of 2012 had damaged the factory in Finale Emilia, were forced to turn out even more in order not to miss already promised orders. That same factory, back on its feet with public money, has seen firstly the wide use of cassa integrazione and then solidarity contracts.(1) It is no coincidence that the only concession the owners seem willing to make is to leave only 52 workers in the Crespellano brakes department, shifting part of Crespellano’s production to Finale (62 workers), the factory where wages are lower. Moreover, if today they aim to outsource the production of Crespellano so quickly, with the same logic of profit, they will soon want to relocate Finale’s production too, where they have already declared 60 redundancies. The trick is this: they blackmail us by threatening to relocate production to force us accept lower and lower wages, then when we have been properly squeezed they are just as likely to relocate anyway.

Other Assumptions in the Relocation

The behaviour of management is contradictory: on the one hand they sent a letter of dismissal to all workers (including office workers) in the Anzola-Crespellano plant (a part of which should be restarted, as with Finale Emilia, according to the company’s promises) on the other hand they recently installed a new gigantic press; but if they want to shut it down why don’t they just do it? One possible reason, so to speak, would be that the owners are keeping the site open, but only after breaking the workers’ backs i.e. after generally imposing "Turkish" (that is, roughly speaking, as in Turkey, where there is another plant) working conditions and for this have built-in incentives of all sorts from the unions and local parties. At the same time the institutions-local parties are rushing about trying to show solidarity with the workers. All this, of course, naturally depends on so many things, not least the ability of the workers to fight for themselves.

In every corner of the globe, the attack on wages and living conditions of the proletariat is the common denominator of the capitalists and their governments, to make up for the crisis of profitability. For this reason, the situation at the Titan is not new for us workers, but just one more confirmation of the crisis.

Bosses’ Offensive and Workers’ Resistance

Titan Bologna, AST Terni, Canados of Rome, Livorno TRW, are just some of the factories which demonstrate the reality of the capitalist crisis, the cost of which is paid entirely by the workers, but are representative of the impact on other categories and sectors of the working class. The central element in all these situations is that the owners have quickly assessed the current climate: they move with determination in respect of their real objectives and with the realisation that they have to break workers’ solidarity first, and then wear down any resistance in a long battle of manoeuvres in which all the heavy weapons are on their side. Negotiations or attempts at institutional mediation reflect this state of affairs, fully endorsing the employers’ case with no real opposition, and in fact seem a waste of time as they at most tend to ratify the current situation in exchange for much less than the usual crumbs. So nothing changes and you just have to put up with it.

In this context it is clear that workers' struggle can only be defensive in resistance to the bosses’ plans, in order to defend jobs, working conditions, wage levels, and our ability to organise ourselves in the factory. A fight which as Titan shows brings with it the consciousness of the need for an immediate response, at the same time also brings out all the problems related to the nature of the struggle itself, and the general situation in which the workers' struggle is overwhelmed by the current balance of power, in a situation of overall class retreat.

The specific case of the Titan workers’ fight demonstrates this contradictory reality. Surely in face of the "everyone go home, you are all sacked” attack by the bosses, the first need is to organise a solid and united response. Faced with such an ultimatum this was the only response, given what’s at stake, and knowing that there will be no second chance. The second element is that the workers’ solidarity could only express itself in the organisation of forms of struggle they themselves set up. Forms of struggle whose main purpose was to impact directly on production, "to hurt the boss, where he feels it most", which not only forced the immediate stoppage or slowing down of work on the production line, but also controlled and blocked supplies and production, both in and out, expressing a precise awareness of the productive processes of the Titan multinational and its other branches in the area. This element assumed control and continuous supervision of the factory. A further step was to widen the struggle or to build support in some way by looking for links with other parts of the working class. Moreover, following the example of the workers in Livorno, the workers of Titan have directly identified their real opponents on the bosses’ side in Confindustria(2), which in the Bologna area specifically dictates the timing and method of the attack on working conditions and the process of industrial restructuring, dripfeeding them, factory by factory, production unit by production unit. They never make a frontal attack all at once across the board, as they are well aware of the possible repercussions of a united workers' response.

The workers' struggle took on all these elements even before they had become aware of the situation which the bosses’ attack provoked. Surely the depth of the problems faced could only overcome any hesitation and lead to the need to organise ourselves rediscovering forms of struggle that we could use to fight the bosses’ initiative. Willpower, energy, intelligence and the strength of organisation are certainly the distinctive elements that have allowed workers to get this far. Of course, this does not change the character of the struggle, of resistance and defence, nor the terrain on which it is fought, that of the individual factory or as a purely sectional dispute, but faced with the bosses attack they address the same goals and perspective for working class action. But a number of problems facing the workers' struggle certainly arise from this, and need to be resolved before the struggle ends up being just for its own sake.

Problems to Solve

The workers’ resistance at Titan, as in any other workplace, whilst confronting the immediate problems of the specific situation, must also take account of the wider context weighing down on it like a stone. As we said, this not only means an extremely unfavourable balance of power for the proletariat, but, at the present time, the bosses have seized their chance and are preparing to "take no prisoners". Management’s essentially negative response to pressure from the Titan workers basically reflects this idea: there is nothing to negotiate, our logic dictates your condition!! Clearly, it is not only concrete working conditions that are at stake, but above all the very possibility/capacity for workers to organise and weigh up their own interests against the interests of the bosses’ is being called into question. Nowadays negotiation between "social partners" has not disappeared, but it is always within the formal framework of settling disputes and problems based essentially on accepting what the bosses put on the table. For sure, at Titan we are at an intermediate stage, where the problems of perspective and the questions about what to do are being sharply posed. The situation of apparent balance between the bosses’ offensive and the workers' response is destined not to last. Organising themselves against the attack was the first step which concentrated the strength of the workers. The immediate organisational glue came from gathering around their representatives of the RSU(3), with the FIOM(4) in its role of managing the struggle. The union has directed the workers’ action, even efficiently getting them to put pressure on the very areas, organisations and institutional spaces that it has always previously denied. However, FIOM still refuses to give any real weight to the reasons for the workers' struggle, reducing the problem to one of minimising the social cost, but in fact not disturbing any of the employers' interests. Despite the union’s tactical acumen and its generous funding, this is the way to draw the workers’ initiative into a "cul de sac" where it becomes a victim of other people's strengths and weaknesses. If the workers’ response is restricted to the terms imposed by the bosses, i.e. simply applying pressure, even heavy pressure, it cannot be long before they go on the retreat. This sort of recuperation of the forms of struggle has been the traditional fate of the workers’ movement, even though workers have been able to recover and break through the stagnant air oppressing the situation in the factory. In the long run this ability is a blunt weapon if they cannot also take steps to go beyond the daily struggle. That is to say, the workers' struggle, as well as that of the entire proletariat, will make a leap forward only if it is able to face the mighty obstacles in its way and of which any specific situation is only a partial representation. This problem is posed “in” the struggle but also “beyond” the struggle and its immediate outcomes. Within every workers' struggle, or rather within each battle, there is always the question of a crossroads which arises from the nature of the offensive made by the class enemy: either settle on the basis of extreme defence of your immediate conditions, or take note that your situation is inextricably linked to that of your class and its general interests which conflict with the class adversary.

Thus, in our view, organising today, even for immediate self-defence, means organising a resistance which not only diminishes the decimation of the labour force, but which encourages debate beyond the immediate, onto the political, organisational level. Such a debate raises the prospect of reconstructing class identity – understood as workers’ interests generally – independent of the interests of the bourgeoisie. Overcoming the immediate contradictions imposed by the bosses’ initiatives, not only requires a more consistent opposition to the policy of annihilation and sacrifices that this involves, but it must relate to a power game and deal with the central issue of how to accumulate the strength and level of organisation which understands how to make itself felt in that power struggle, a fundamental fact which the bosses and capitalists today are very aware of in every aspect of their relationship with the proletariat. The practical process of struggle, the immediate problem of how the skirmishes in the factories can be linked to the more general class interest must be posed. How can they act as the building blocks of a revolutionary class, overcoming the limitations that a single dimension of the struggle, albeit legitimate, brings with it. Because it is only within this general dimension that the “labour question” becomes the “class question”.

In this regard, as we wrote recently in a leaflet for the dock workers of Rome Canados:

In one way or another, this struggle is destined to run itself out. It is difficult, but possible for you to win. More probably you will lose, but only if the struggle does not plant a minimum of class consciousness, or consciousness of the incompatibility of our interests with those of the bosses, and thus the need to organise to get rid of this society itself. Basically, if the relationship between the class and its political instrument, the revolutionary party, which is the bearer of this perspective, has not been strengthened the fight will have done nothing except feed the demoralisation and resignation within our ranks. We will have lost a good opportunity to grow and get stronger.

Since the particular situation of Canados is part of a more general crisis, we cannot help but take this into account. Taking this into account means having a more comprehensive overview of events which in turn favours a strategic course of action that puts the various moments of a particular struggle into a wider context. But to make this possible, workers need a means to link their interests but not with those of the class enemy ­– that’s the role played by the union, but to link up their historical interests with their immediate and particular interests as a class: this is the task of the political-organisational vanguard of the proletariat, the Revolutionary Party. This permanent political body, comprising the more conscious and militant elements of the proletariat, is the only one with a historical view of the relationship between the classes, their evolution, their current status, and is therefore the only means by which the class can equip itself to overcome its divisions and limitations, both political and organisational. The party, as the custodian of the baggage of political activity of the working class and its overall historical purpose (the abolition of wage labour and the overthrow of class society), is the only body which can give a unified direction to the various general and particular struggles; it is the only one that knows how to give an international and internationalist political perspective, channelling every single case along the route of general opposition to capital today, and social revolution tomorrow. Any fight, even the hardest, can only end up in one of two ways: either by strengthening the domination of capital or else strengthening the real movement that wants to get rid of that domination. To strengthen this movement means giving flesh and life to the Party of the Revolution. It means building and strengthening the links between the vanguard of the proletariat and the rest of the class. For this to happen it is essential, wherever possible, to build Internationalist Communist Factory(5) and Territorial Groups. These are nothing more than the means for enabling the Party to convey its perspective of social upheaval amongst working class communities and workplaces. Not union bodies, then, but political ones.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

(1) “Cassa integrazione” is a uniquely Italian system where you are not sacked from your factory but are laid off and the “integration money” pays you for a certain number of months before you return to the workplace and someone else goes into “cassa integrazione” (literally integration cash). Solidarity contracts are similar where the number of hours for all workers is reduced (along with the pay of course) rather than any one of them to be laid of.

(2) Confederation of Italian Industry, the bosses’ organisation, equivalent of the CBI in Britain.

(3) RSU is the organisation of Unitary Union Representatives or factory council representatives elected by the workers themselves but the system is rigged to guarantee the big three union federations (CIGL, CISL or UIL) a minimum of 33% of all delegates and you have to be a union member to get elected.

(4) FIOM is the Federation of Metal Working Employees, part of the larger federation of the GCIL (General Confederation of Italian Labourers) once affiliated to the Italian Communist Party.

(5) Or workplace groups (CWO).

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Battaglia Comunista

Mensile del Partito Comunista Internazionalista, fondato nel 1945.