Italy: As Virus Spreads, Workers Forced to Strike

Shut it down before it’s too late! The virus doesn’t stop at the factory gates

Giuliano Brunetti, Resistenze Internazionali (ISA in Italy)
After unnecessary delay, the government has now decided to step up measures to contain the spread of the Coronavirus in Italy. From Tuesday, a decree by the President of the Council, Giuseppe Conte, ordered that all commercial activities, with the exception of pharmacies, newsstands and grocery stores, should be closed. This is in addition to the shutting down of all places of study and assembly: universities, schools, gyms, cinemas, bars and theatres. This decree replaces that, which transformed the whole country first into an orange zone and then red, and that which locked down many northern regions.

In order to contain the spread of the Coronavirus, we are asked justifiably to stay at home and limit contact to a minimum. If we have to leave home, we have to sign a declaration certifying we are healthy. Basically, this means it is only permissible to leave home to go to work, to the doctor or to go shopping. Only one person per family is allowed to do that.

If you leave home without good reason, you risk a fine and a criminal charge. Hundreds of people have already been reported by the police for violating the ordinance. The police stop people in the streets to check whether there are serious and well-founded reasons for leaving home. These drastic measures make sense if they are taken by all people of all ages and social status.

But why then, do companies not shut down? Even though it is necessary to reduce travel to a minimum, companies are remaining open, this demonstrates the government’s servility to Confindustria, the Italian Employers Federation, and makes the other measures adopted futile.

Does anyone really think that the virus is not going to spread to logistic warehouses, factory canteens or on the buses and trains that we use to get to work? What is the point of blocking the transit of people, if goods are travelling free and undisturbed? What is the point of closing restaurants, but maintaining the home delivery services of the Justeat and Deliveroo platforms? Why allow BRT couriers to continue working without any safety measures, such as masks? Why is it not possible to distribute sanitary masks free of charge and immediately to the staff of the large-scale retail trade and to those categories of workers: drivers, lorry drivers, garbage collectors who need to continue working?

Faced with this situation, in which the profits of the capitalists are more important than the collective health of millions of Italians, workers in dozens of companies have developed and are developing spontaneous strikes to demand the right to health. Strikes and mobilisations have already taken place at Fiat in Pomigliano, Pasotti in Brescia, Piaggio in Pontedera, Electrolux in Susegana and Bonfiglioli in Bologna. Other strikes are scheduled for tomorrow at Fincantieri in Palermo and Vitesco in Pisa. Probably these strikes will spread further over the next day or so. The three main metalworker trade unions, FIM, FILM and UILM are demanding that production is completely ceased until 22nd March. The Unione sindacale di base (USB) has, for its part, announced a plan of 32 hours of strikes in non-essential industrial sectors, starting today.

Workers protest at Fiat in Pomigliano

To stop the spread of the virus, all unnecessary work must be stopped. Air, rail, sea and road transport, unless essential, must now stop. Faced with the seriousness of the situation, with a national health system that is in danger of collapsing, dragging hundreds of lives with it, we must immediately stop production, just to make profits, and close unnecessary public offices, factories and companies. This is the only sensible decision to take at this time.

At the same time, special quarantine payments must be introduced immediately to ensure that the millions of workers who will lose pay due to the pandemic do not risk starvation. The use of the Extraordinary Supplementary Benefits Fund should be made available immediately to all workers in all sectors, whatever type of contract they have and regardless of the number of hours worked. Pay supplements should be provided to all those workers in precarious jobs, for example, in tourism and catering, who were working before the epidemic without proper contracts or with zero hour contracts, especially when they will have more difficulty finding work in the future.

As of Wednesday evening, with more than 12,000 confirmed cases, a figure that is certainly much lower than that of reality, the test for the disease should be provided for the whole population, starting with those at most risk. Swabs should not be used just for the most serious cases, when the symptoms of the disease are already evident and the infection has already been spread. Virus carriers can be asymptomatic and the incubation period can last up to twenty days. It is therefore necessary to monitor the entire resident population in order to map the infected population so that it can be properly isolated, treated and assisted not only medically, but also provided with food and other necessary products!

This serious crisis in which many of us are at risk of losing our jobs, economic stability and, in some cases, even our lives, with already over a thousand deaths in Italy alone, must be tackled in a decisive and transparent way, with the involvement of trade unions and the wider population in decision making.

Today the National Health Service should be provided with all the necessary resources to allow our heroic doctors, nurses and auxiliary staff to lead this hard battle against this treacherous invisible enemy. Not a hospital bed, not a syringe, not a single medicine must be diverted from use to ensure the health and treatment of people. Private medical facilities must be requisitioned immediately! Private clinics and treatment centres should be immediately integrated into the NHS and staff working in them guaranteed the same conditions as those working in the state system.