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Last Friday, Italian workers took to the streets in a general strike which grounded flights and brought the transport system to an almost complete standstill.
In the grip of brutal austerity, workers felt they had no choice but to make their feelings known.
Mass media coverage of this event was limited despite the huge action.
A key union in the strike was the USB – representing 250,000 members.
The union has no general secretary and is governed by three different bodies: the National Council, the National Coordination and the National Board (19 members).
Pierpaolo Leonardi, member of the National Board, responsible for the International Department, talks to the Dreadnaught about last week’s action, the EU and the importance of cooperation through international trade union organisations.
Q1. Why did you take strike action?
We were striking against austerity, which is an anti-workers policy imposing wage cuts, freezing and increasing of the retirement age, while it increases taxes, privatising state agencies and social services, slashing rights and benefits.
Q2. What type of workers does USB represent?
We organise all kinds of workers in every sector, both public and private, including casual workers, immigrants, unemployed and homeless. USB has a total number of approximately 250,000 members and is currently present all over Italy, with its territorial offices based in the 80 major cities of the 20 national districts. We are trying to build what we call a “metropolitan trade union” a new kind of organization, open to the new social issues, to a world of work which is very fragmented.”
Q3. Is austerity the fault of the Italian government or the EU?
Austerity is sustained by every neo-liberal power, in Europe and abroad. In our opinion, it is a way to justify the dismantling of the European social model. The imposed measures will only serve to exacerbate inequality, foster injustice and maximizing the profits. But it is a short-sighted view. Working people are more and more aware that they are paying the price for a crisis which they are not responsible for. The fight back has started…
Q4. What would you like the strike to achieve?
The strike and the demonstration in Rome was very successful. More than 50,000 people marched in the capital and the major cities of Italy were paralyzed by the transports and public services strike. This should warn our government to stop the policies wanted by the Troika and IMF. We launched these campaigns: an extraordinary programme for employment; for the right to housing, health care, education; good wages and good pensions; decrease of retirement; freedom and democracy in every workplace.
Q5. Why did you affiliate to the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU)?
Because we are class oriented and anti-capitalist. Nowadays, a union that does not weave international relationship runs the risk of not understanding the general dynamics of international relations. The ITUC, the other main international Confederation, supposes that capitalism can be reformed. Our choice of affiliating to the WFTU comes from the fact that we share the WFTU’s project, as stated by the 16th Congress in Athens: against capitalist barbarism, for social justice, for a world without exploitation.
Q6. What will be the next protest by the union?
We strongly supported the big demonstration that took place in Rome the 19th of October, the day after our strike. Our demonstration ended with an “acampada”: we camped in San Giovanni square (a place which is a symbol for the Italian unionism) and spend the night there. The further demonstration started from the same square, where we joined all the other movements gathered there: against austerity, for social justice, social housing, and for the environmental defense.
Q7. Are you a “political trade union?” If so, what kind of politics do you represent?
We are class oriented, but independent form any Italian political party. There is a lack of political representation for working class. Let’s see what happens.