Thursday, April 21, 2016

Going On Strike In italy

Yesterday in Padova I participated in a strike (sciopero) which was called  and organized by several unions that represent workers in factories.  They carried flags and banners and marched at the largest and most busy roundabout where they stopped traffic. It was a very peaceful demonstration and was reported in the newspaper and on television as such.

Patient Listeners
These three men were from my wife’s factory.  They are patient with my use of Italian and also speak English to help me understand what the strike was about.
They belong to the union with the red flags CGIL.  Previously all the strikers had massed around a truck with  a speaker system and heard speeches from the various union leaders.  i tried to listen but it was difficult with all the talking in the crowd.  (This is an Italian way...)Also  hearing Italian  is most difficult.  They speak with the velocity of a machine gun and the Veneto accent does not make it easy to hear the consonants.

There is a state wide contract (Italy) that is being renewed.  The workers are concerned that they are being offered a bad contract because there will be no raises for four years.  They have  worked hard since the 70’s for worker rights and this year some of those rights will be taken away.  If the owners of the factories have their way workers who are older will be fired without reason and replaced by younger workers at greatly reduced salaries.  A person just a few years from retirement,who loses  employment would find his retirement pay lowered because he did not find new employment that paid the same yearly amount.

Each union had its own banner
Strikes in Italy are quite different that strikes in the United States.  Here they last only one day.  They do not try to encourage workers to enter the workplace, by force or other means.  In  fact, the strike demonstration occurs far from the industrial area, taking place in the center of the city.  The strike yesterday was also held at the same time throughout Italy.  It is a show of strength against a government that favors wealth, factory owners and has in the past few years reduced worker rights in the name of economy.  From what I have seen, the rights lost had nothing to do with economy.  The leaders of France, Germany and Italy have been trying to take away labor policies that favored the workers.
Each union has its own color for a flag
There are many factories in Italy which have 50 employees or less. Having less than 50 workers a factory receives a special tax break.  The great majority of the workers in the strike were male, I saw only a few females marching.  In the factories there are few females,  and worse, in my wife’s office she is the only female union member.  

More Security 
One of the disputes the unions have with the factory owners/government is that recently a law was passed which gives a huge tax break to factories hiring a person right out of the university and employing them for 6 months.  At the end of 6 months the tax break is lost, so the factories end up letting this person go and hiring a new person to acquire a new tax break.  My wife’s factory is a prime example, hiring numerous people and firing them even when they perform in an excellent manner.  Clearly, it is all about money and no concern about the person.  

The workers despair that in Italy there are  too many political parties and this reduces their voice to get things done in  government.  It appears that the same factor occurs with too many unions.  (In a recent election I saw at least 10 political parties represented on a poster in my city hall.  No wonder nothing gets done!)  
Italians don't seem to have the ability to call their representative in government and complain.  I never hear of anyone doing that here.   Elected officials seem further away from the general population.

The police were there to direct traffic away from the march of protesters.  I heard some of the strikers joking with the policeman that they were going to steal his motorbike.  
There aren't many traffic police in Italy.  They don't drive around and try to catch speeders, or stop bad drivers in hopes  to catch criminals like in America.  Italians in the north are pretty good drivers, except for one  thing......Italians go through stop signs all the time!  
(Only in the driving test! hahaha, do you stop at a sign.)  Read my previous blogs on this!
By the way, this  policeman does not have a pistol.

Don't mess with this guy!
Their were other forces out to make sure the  marchers behaved and there would be no trouble.  This fellow looked tough and not happy to be there.  When I looked at him, he stared back angrily.   He does carry a weapon,but with his attitude I don't think he would need it.    Besides, he had nothing to worry about as what I observed it was the most peaceful demonstration I have ever seen.  All the strikers talked amongst themselves and walked slowly through the street.  I did not see anyone raising their voice, calling out slogans, or even looking angry.   I think that most of them went to lunch and talked over the latest soccer match with a prosecco in hand.

                                        Maybe this is the Italian way……..

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