Socialist Appeal interviewed Antonio Recano, an engineering shop steward, who worksin the construction and maintenance of industrial plants, and works for one of the companies operating within the Syracuse oil refinery. He is a member of the FIOM-CGIL (metalworkers' union), on its Syracuse provincial committee and also the Central Committee (national committee) of the FIOM-CGIL.
What do you know about IREM in terms of working conditions, wages, etc.?
Antonio Recano: IREM was set up in 1979 with its Italian offices in Syracuse and Milan and its international offices in France, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Greece, Libya and Azerbaijan. It started its activities in the industrial hub of Syracuse, an area with a high number of oil refineries and petrochemical installations, which are also among the largest in Europe. After having completed its investments in building this industrial hub, it diversified its activities by setting up a group which operates as a "main contractor" and expanded its activities mainly abroad. Now 90% of the activities of this main group are abroad, while the other companies belonging to the group operate in Italy. It is these smaller companies that operate locally that we are able to keep in check and where we manage to get them to respect the national collective bargaining agreement, together with other local agreements that establish conditions and wages. These local "satellite" companies are unionised and thus we can keep up the pressure in maintaining wage levels, and even in a recession like the one we are in today, we are able to guarantee decent conditions for the workers.
Is IREM unionised and if not, why not? What have you done to unionise it?
Antonio Recano: As I mentioned earlier, unionisation at IREM has always been on two levels. The union is able to control the situation in the smaller companies that make up the group and that operate locally, while it is unable to penetrate those affiliates that operate abroad. Most of the workers in these affiliates negotiate their wages on a one-to-one basis directly with the company, and as they move around continuously they become somewhat "allergic" to trade unions.
The British workers made it clear that their struggle was not against Italian or Portuguese workers. It was in defence of conditions won through trade union agreements here in Britain. How did the mass media portray their struggle and what can be done to get the real message of the British workers in struggle to their Italian brothers?
Antonio Recano: Italians, thanks to the information portrayed by the mass media, received a distorted picture of what was happening in Britain. Here in Italy the reactionary forces used the struggle of these British workers, presenting it as xenophobic in order to hide the real causes of the crisis and to cover up the very dangerous social dislocation which is growing throughout Europe. Basically, they attempt to hide the disastrous consequences of neo-liberal policies in Europe and throughout the world. This is aided by EU laws which seem to favour dumping, and a "race to the bottom" favoured by the way in which tenders are adjudicated, all of which is pushing companies downwards both within the national borders and within Europe as a whole. This race to the bottom in Italy is offloaded onto the shoulders of the workers. What is required is to reissue a call for unity of all workers, starting from below, from the rank and file, putting on the pressure to build a European-wide labour movement, a European-wide collective bargaining structure which would guarantee all workers the same decent conditions. We need to find common values upon which to build that motor force for a genuine democratic and social Europe, prioritising labour and the dignity of labour.
Do you have anything else you would like to add? What is your message to the British workers who organised this struggle?
Antonio Recano: To the British workers who, not because of any xenophobic or protectionist logic, continue their battle in the whole country for wages and jobs, I wish to express my full solidarity and explain that I agree with the aims that flow from our common condition. I salute them, bringing greetings from all the Italian workers who are presently struggling like them for jobs and wages. I hope that there can be the rebirth of a mighty European labour movement, that by bringing together all the voices of protest, uniting all the workplaces across Europe, can achieve genuine social and economic democracy for all us workers.