Struggles for Safety on Italy’s Railways

Submitted by Tubeworker on 16 August, 2006 - 9:13

The restructuring process being forced on Italy's railways by EU railway liberalisation is causing a decay in safety levels, with a rise in often-fatal accidents.

Trade unions are fragmented, and there is a high degree of involvement of the main unions in co-management with the bosses. Many officers and managers of the FS (Ferrovie dello Stato, the state railway) are former trade unionists, mostly from the ‘official’ confederations CGIL, CISL and UIL. Six of the eight rail unions signed the last labour agreement, which unhinged regulations won by years of struggles by drivers, stretching the workday to 10 hours and extending it to part of the night shift.

Signing this agreement, with the (false) assumption that this would protect workers against competition, has triggered a chain of dropping safeguards for other worker qualifications. The same unions signed bad agreements with other companies, thus opening the way to "social dumping".

Italy is one of the European countries where rail liberalisation has been pushed furthest. This process was sharpened during the so-called ‘friendly government’, which was in charge until 6 years ago, with restrictions on the right to strike, less job security and the crumbling of safety levels. Worst hit was Trenitalia's cargo sector.

Into this situation came 15 March 2003 - when European rail networks were opened to international competition, when the cargo transportation enterprises fiercely fought one another to take control of the tracks and train services. The workers bore the burden, caught in a whirlwind of savage competition.

The FS responded with intensified attacks on workers, including firing five workers who denounced the safety decay, and a long row of disciplinary measures against workers who took individual steps to sustain safety.

Over the last 18 months, rank-and-file workers have waged a dispute to demand the repeal of the dismissals and disciplinary measures, and to support safety. Drivers are struggling against the 'dead man', a 'vigil-ance' device installed on the engineers' cabs with the aim of eliminating the second driver. This device was introduced on electric loco-motives in 1939 under the fascist regime; only four years later it was abandoned, and there have been two drivers in the engineer's cab since (except for local trains).

Our approach as Marxist railworkers is to lead struggles where we can, denouncing the logic of capital and profits, exposing this logic by analysing the restructuring process which is running over Europe's railways. We work to strengthen links between railworkers in Europe, and to widen the front of the struggle beyond national boundaries, with common demands uniting all railworkers against the disasters of capital.

Nucleo Ferrovieri Internazionalisti (Internationalist Railworkers' Group), pagine marxiste, Italy

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