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Autoworkers resist plant closings

Published Feb 11, 2010 11:32 PM

As in the U.S., autoworkers in Europe are confronted with a capitalist restructuring agenda that involves plant closings and mass layoffs. Workers are fighting back on more than one front.

On Feb. 3, Italian autoworkers staged a four-
hour nationwide strike against Fiat at Termini
Imerese plant, which employs 1,400 workers
on the island of Sicily.

Upon learning on Jan. 21 that General Motors’ Opel division would close their assembly plant, union members in Antwerp, Belgium, blockaded the parking lot and prevented new vehicles from leaving the premises. As of this writing, round-the-clock picketing is still holding up vehicle transport.

The 2,600 workers at the Opel plant are outraged at GM’s decision to close their plant later this year. Recently workers agreed to take pay cuts, while the Belgian government assisted in the transatlantic GM bailout, to the tune of half a billion euros. For 85 years GM has made profits off the backs of the Antwerp workers.

The Labor Party of Belgium has launched a solidarity campaign, engaging in mass distribution of cards and signs with the slogan, “Don’t touch my job.” Thousands have signed an online petition in solidarity with the Belgian GM workers. (www.solidarityforopelantwerp.be)

The Opel workers were inspired by the two-week blockade of Anheuser-Busch InBev — maker of the world-famous Stella Artois beer — that succeeded in halting that company’s plans to axe 10 percent of the workforce.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 3 Italian autoworkers staged a four-hour nationwide strike to warn Fiat against closing the Termini Imerese plant, which employs 1,400 workers on the island of Sicily. This was the latest of a number of militant protests intended to keep the Sicilian plant open.

“Termini Imerese should not be shut down,” said union leader Gianni Rinaldini. “There is no overcapacity in Italy.” (Agence France-Presse, Feb. 3)

The Feb. 3 shutdown was the first strike affecting all of Fiat’s 80,000 Italian employees since 2004 — the year Sergio Marchionne became CEO and launched a “turnaround” plan to produce more vehicles with fewer workers. As the new CEO of Chrysler, Marchionne is closing plants and reducing the U.S. workforce as well.

Prompted by the determination of the Fiat workers to defend their right to their jobs, the Italian government is considering ending federal subsidies to the company unless it reverses the decision to close Termini Imerese.