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Workers voice fears as Pomigliano idles

January 23, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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An anonymous, metallic voice echoing through the security gate intercom bars a reporter from visiting Fiat’s Pomigliano car factory, the largest industrial plant in southern Italy.

Come back after March 15,” the disembodied voice of management requested.

As the whistle blew for the end of the 2pm shift, a trickle of maintenance and office workers emerged from the gates where six months ago there would have been a flood. Production lines at Pomigliano, which used to make 600 cars a day, have functioned for barely four weeks since last August when most of its 5,300 workers were sent home on 60 per cent pay.

Workers angrily recall how management communicated the news – a note on the gate when they arrived to clock in.

Pietro has been running a stall selling things like pirated CDs outside the plant for 15 years. It has never been this bad, he says in the rain.

There is no money in their wallets now. Zero.” Graffiti scrawled on a wall behind him declares. “No to repression of workers. Solidarity.”

While Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government plays down the depth of the crisis, thousands of Fiat workers and their families, plus another 10,000 workers laid off in related industries around Naples, are feeling deep pain and anger.

In Naples’ Square of the Martyrs, union leaders and workers held a protest rally yesterday in a desperate attempt to make their voices heard while Fiat’s board met in faraway Turin to discuss taking a stake in Chrysler of the US.

Antonio De Luca, who is married with three children, is angry at the chunky dividend paid out by Fiat last summer, and what he calls the empty rhetoric of government and church in support of the “family”.

On one side, the government wants to raise the pension age, and on the other the bosses want only young workers,” he argues.

Giuseppe Dinarelli speaks of his fear of not making it to the end of the year. “The government tells us people to go out and spend. With what? We are the ones driving the economy, if we stop, everything stops . . . I am feeling awful, a man who is not producing.

There is a lot of talk, but also confusion, over the accord between Fiat and Chrysler. The fear is that Fiat will start production in the US of its smaller, more successful models, like the Fiat 500, while Pomigliano, which produces the nine-year-old Alfa 147 and the uncelebrated Alfa 159, will close down.

Massimo Brancarto, leader in Naples of the Fiom metal workers’ union, recalls how on December 4 2007, Sergio Marchionne, Fiat’s chief executive, gathered union leaders together to lay out his €120m ($155m) restructuring plan for Pomigliano. Productivity, he said, was the lowest in the group.

We were the youngest plant but with the oldest production lines,” said Mr Brancarto. Modernisation and retraining arrived. Fiat declared the plant fit. But instead of an industrial plan and new models, Pomigliano got redundancies.

Unions are asking for more government support for the unemployed, for Fiat to redistribute profits among workers, and assurances that the Chrysler deal will not lead to lay-offs in Italy.

The social plight is dramatic,” says Mr Brancarto. “It risks exploding.”

Published on the Financial Times on January 23 2009

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