Photo of a group of union leaders sitting at a table

Building Solidarity with Italian Metal Workers

UE International Representative and GE Conference Board Secretary John Thompson joined more than 700 delegates from across Italy at the 27th Congress of the Italian Federation of Metal Workers (FIOM), held from December 12–15. Delegates from FIOM attended UE’s 2015 and 2017 conventions, and UE’s relationship with FIOM was instrumental in setting up the global GE Trade Union Network.

While attending the congress, Thompson did a video interview on the history of UE and the current political situation in the U.S. He also spoke with the international representatives about the merger of GE Transportation and Wabtec with the aim of building international solidarity among Wabtec workers.

The FIOM congress was held in the sea-side resort city of Riccione, located on the Adriatic Sea in Northern Italy. FIOM holds its congress is held every four years. Thompson says, “Any UE member would have felt right at home at the Congress, where rank-and-file delegates spoke throughout the four-day-long gathering.”

“The Congress of Equality” was the theme of the Congress, and it was “held at a time of great change which calls for analysis, research, openness and participation,” according to the opening sentence of one of the two main documents which were discussed, debated and voted on during the Congress. One of the documents, quoted above, was for the FIOM and the other document would be submitted to the Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL), of which FIOM is an affiliate.

Both documents laid out the current situation that workers face in Italy and how the FIOM and CGIL should fight back going forward. The situation that workers face in Italy is very much like the situation that workers face here and elsewhere: a hostile, right-wing, anti-worker, anti-immigrant, nationalist government, which is undermining workers’ rights and the social safety net and vilifying immigrants in its efforts to divide the working class. The economic crisis of 2008 unleashed a corporate assault which has led to worsening working conditions, a rise in precarious work, and increasing inequality. The effects of globalization and technological innovation were also discussed in both documents and throughout the Congress.

The rise of fascism in Italy with the election of the center-right government of Matteo Salvini’s Northern League, which emerged as the main political force in the 2018 elections, was featured prominently throughout the discussions during the Congress. The FIOM also had a large display outside the hall of the Congress with the history of fascism in Italy and the role of the working class in the resistance to fascism. Interior Minister Salvini’s vilification of immigrants has led to increasing assaults on immigrants. A video shown during the opening of the Congress showed the murder of a North African immigrant in Florence and how FIOM members there organized to counter the anti-immigrant sentiments that led to the killing.

During the opening plenary, Francesca Re David, general secretary of FIOM-CGIL, gave a thorough report on the work of the FIOM and laid out her vision for going forward. The Congress also heard from Susanna Camusso, general secretary of the CGIL, which is the largest labor federation in Europe. Representatives from the other Italian labor federations also addressed the Congress: Marco Bentivogli, general secretary of FIM-CISL, and Rocco Palombella, general secretary of the UILM-UIL.

More than a dozen international representatives of trade unions attended the Congress. Andrew Chirwa, president of National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, and Emilio Perez Estrada, the international representative of the Cuban Trade Union Confederation, both addressed the Congress. Mai Alkaila, the Palestinian Ambassador to Italy, also addressed the Congress. FIOM has a long history of supporting the Palestinian liberation struggle.