Fiat Auto Strikers Clash with Police
Striking Fiat Auto workers clashed violently with police yesterday as simmering work stoppages threatened to snowball into a nationwide strike reminiscent of the widespread Italian labor unrest of the 1980s. The protest has gathered strength in recent days, and Fiat Auto yesterday said it had so far cost the company 16,300 cars in lost production, or 1 per cent of its worldwide annual production.
Umberto Agnelli, Fiats chairman, said: These are sad days. Within Fiat we are trying to do everything to resolve a difficult situation. Despite an open table [for talks], we are giving away car sales to the competition.
Seven workers were injured at Fiat Autos assembly plant in the southern Italian town of Melfi, where unions are demanding higher pay and altered shift schedules. The union demands threaten to sweep away one of the countrys few attempts to allow employers to bypass national labor contracts and offer lower wages for workers in the impoverished south, where living costs are lower.
Fiats Melfi plant, 160km east of Naples, opened 11 years ago as a symbol of economic rebirth and co-operation between the state and private sectors. Economists have long argued that wages should be differentiated by region in order for southern provinces to reduce unemployment rates that top 20 percent.
The demands also come 18 months after Fiat Auto overcame labor unrest sparked when it announced 8,000 lay-offs, more than one-fifth of its Italian workforce, in order avoid bankruptcy.
Most unions last Friday agreed with Fiat to review labor conditions at Melfi next month. One influential splinter group, however, refused to join those discussions and increased blockades around the factory that stopped its 5,000 workers from entering.
Unrest first began 10 days ago when workers at suppliers next to the plant, notably those of Johnson Control, were told that they would be temporarily laid off for up to 13 weeks.
Nearly 5,000 workers at Fiats plant near Naples also stopped work yesterday.
Financial Times, April 27, 2004