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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Italie. Les Videocolor préparent la grève générale

by Gaël De Santis

Italy: Videocolor Workers Prepare for the General Strike

Translated Sunday 14 December 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

On the eve of the general strike organized by the CGIL trade union, we take you to Frosinone province, where one industrial worker in three has lost his job in the past few months.

Anagni (Frosinone province) from our special correspondent.

Today’s demonstration won’t be their first. They participated in blockading the highway last week, and in a provincial general strike “involving all crafts and industries” two weeks ago. This summer, all 1500 “Videocolor” or “Videocon” workers – such is the name of their Indian company rescuer – went to the Indian embassy. “We went there by special train,” because the white knight did not keep his word. Some of the workers will demonstrate in Rome today in the general strike which has been called by the Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL). For several months now, the workers at the factory have been in permanent assembly. This is a way to “keep interest alive” and to “keep our organization functional” so that each worker will find a job and an income, one of the CGIL union stewards, Emilio Cacciatore, warned.

An income of between 700 and 800 euros a month.

One thousand of the company’s 1500 workers live on between 700 and 800 euros a month, and no longer come to the factory. They benefit from the Italian system of “casa integrazione” which allows them to receive an indemnity without ending their job contract. This can go on for years. In Frosinone province, which has been hit particularly hard by the industrial crisis, 25,000 workers find themselves in this situation – that is, one industrial worker out of three.

For example, “the Fiat workers in Cassino will not resume work before January 11,” Domenico De Santis, the provincial secretary of the CGIL, indicated. Just in this province, three hundred companies are considered to be in a crisis. That is why the different trade union confederations launched a general strike of all crafts and industries on November 28, and organized a demonstration in the main town, Frosinone, which brought out “5,000 people in a rainstorm.” Today, several buses will be leaving for Rome.

Videocolor Spa was one of the leading companies of the Thomson group, until the company shut down in 2005. The factory turned out tens of millions of cathode ray tubes. It was one of the biggest companies in the region, which, in the 1990s, still employed over 2500 workers. Then the plasma screens arrived. “Nearly 100% of the market,” noted Domenico De Santis, the provincial secretary of the CGIL. “In 2004-2005, Thomson chose to abandon the sector throughout the world,” said Giacomo Di Giulio, a CGIL shop steward. The company was “given away, with a dowry of nearly 180 million euros, to Videocon, an Indian group,” he continued. “The money was to be used to relaunch the company.” Several projects were to be developed: the development of a plasma screen prototype to be manufactured later on, the production of air conditioners, and the assembly of television sets using imported parts. In the end, the only project implemented was the assembly of TV sets. “The shareholders decided, at one point, that it was no longer suitable to engage in this sort of production in Europe,” Domenico De Santis emphasized.

Rancor towards the authorities.

At the beginning of the year, Videocon turned down government financial aid to convert the factory. In fact, “Thomson was to sell off the premises. And since the operation implied not only costs, but above all damage to their brand image, they decided to have the ‘Indians’ do the job,” Giacomo Di Giulio concluded. “In relation to Thomson, we felt colonized,” Ludovico Chiodo, a worker, confided in more down-to-earth terms. “They used our professional resources, both Italian and ciociares (a region in Frosinone province – editor’s note) for thirty years.”

As for the subcontractor jobs, “they’ve been decimated,” said Giacomo Di Giulio indignantly. “The companies that worked for Videocolor have all shut down.” They accounted for 1500 jobs.

The Videocolor workers feel that they have been had. “The organization that was to supervise the implementation of the rescue plan didn’t supervise anything,” Ludovico Chiodo said, and complained about the incentive stock option scheme implemented several times since the year 2000. “We bought the shares for 50 euros and now they’re only worth 89 eurocents.”

There is rancor, not only towards the industrialists, but also towards the authorities. “In Europe, they’re organizing a response to the international crisis, even as concerns industry,” Alessandro Picitelli, the secretary of the Italian Workers Union (UIL) local at Videocolor, said. “What worries us is that this isn’t happening in Italy. For reindustrialization, one of the ways forward would be to reduce energy costs. That is an important factor when you’re making plasma screens.” On average, since the elimination of government subsidies energy has cost 30% more in Frosinone province than in the rest of Europe. “Nothing has been done.” And if nothing is done, “the company will be shown on television. And then we could become useful again, entertaining the masses,” the trade unionist said ironically.

Today the members of the CGIL and of the other trade unions will march in the demonstration. And in the factory, the struggle will continue, with “all six trade union logos united together.”

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