Surly union representative Larizza (UIL) said it over ten years ago: align with the German unions, demand participation in decision-making. At the time Carniti, thinking of the fighting tradition of the Italian unions (in Germany there have been no strikes to speak of since 1956), smiled disparagingly. Today they all agree on the great move. The Italian unions want to transform themselves into holdings like their German colleagues, where they would acquire not only weight in the firm’s decision-making processes, but also become shareholders, and so come to possess companies and real estate themselves.
CSIL leader D’Antonio once said that in a global economy competition and international competitiveness weaken wage demands. The factory needs to breathe, otherwise there would be a risk of returning to the conditions of the Fifties, as happened in the case of the English miners in their struggle against Thatcher. Conflict, he continued, still exists, but it has moved from the streets to the directors’ offices in such a way that, through co-management, the weight of restructuring is being distributed more equally. Force must be abandoned in bargaining, Larizza states (according to whom the new participatory model should be widened from the factories to local institutions concerning the management of urban areas, investment in the South, etc.). Finally, CGIL leader Cofferati points out that it is necessary to avoid the dangers of the so-called Japanese solution: direct cooperation between employees and bosses. Participation, he says, must be filtered through the union.
As we can see, in spite of a few differences, the outline of the union is now quite compact. Any residue of struggle in the streets, any conflict based on strikes and consequent damage to the employer, however remote the probability, is to be abandoned for good. Participation means making decisions along with the owners, that is deciding on what is referred to as the ‘company’s technical problems’, i.e. the ideal composition of the various components of production: capital, machinery, labour. The result, if not exactly identical to the German model of more or less complete social pacification, nevertheless tends in that direction.
Now an important question is emerging. So long as the three big confederate unions acted at the level of claiming, autonomous base unions such as Cobas whose slogan was direct struggle still had some reason to exist, as they represented a possibility for development in the field of direct action, sabotage and maximum damage to the bosses. Basically, the bosses were still afraid in the knowledge that, even within the framework of less serious clashes, this eventuality could not be altogether excluded. Such a function no longer makes sense today. In fact, now that the big union organisations are refusing to continue in the logic of claiming it is impossible for this to be maintained by the minority unions alone. They would end up using up all their potential for struggle simply in proposing claims.
Let me explain more clearly. If what once characterised these minor union structures was the methods they used, all that would remain would be the objectives (claims as opposed to participation), sadly confirming that making claims is now enough to be ‘beyond’, and consequently in contrast with the outlook of the three main unions.
So these minor unions seem destined to taking on the superfluous and insignificant role of claiming. Superfluous because that does not suit the evolution of the economy as a whole (as the unions intelligently understand); insignificant because the minority ones (with all their pseudo-revolutionary chatter) neither desire, nor would they be able to use, methods they could only reach in the presence of the considerable strength still held by the big mass organisations in spite of all their limitations.
And any structure that loses its function, even the squalid one of holding on to someone else’s tail, tends to disappear.
[Original title: Addio alla rivendicazione, in “Canenero”, no. 11, 20 January 1995. English translation by Jean Weir published in "Let's destroy work, let's destroy economy", Elephant Editions, London.]