Italian workers at GKN in Florence continue 3 year exemplary struggle

Dave Kellaway has drawn up a dossier of articles translated from Italian for this site that give a detailed update on the struggle of the workers in the occupied GKN factory to save their jobs and start a new cooperative that will produce socially useful products.

 

Introduction to the dossier

Despite getting their last pay packet in November 2022 and only receiving sporadic state benefits since then, there are over 200 workers continuing the struggle to save and reconfigure their factory. There have been very few exemplary struggles like this in recent decades, and even fewer have been successful. Not only does their action challenge the rule of capital and the market over production, but it also raises the ecological question of what sort of products we need to produce.

Although the current Meloni government has made some demagogic statements about finding a solution, there is a direct political link between the current owner, Francesco Borgomeo, and the prime minister’s office. Professor Gaetano Caputi is the head of Meloni’s office but is tied up financially with one of the companies involved with the current owner.

The workers have reached out for international solidarity and to make contact with workers elsewhere carrying out similar struggles. They held an international meeting with them on 5 November 2023. Representatives came from the Spanish state, France, Greece, Argentina, and Chile, as well as cooperative organisations, ethical banks, and Fuorimercato (exchanges outside the capitalist market).

Progress is good on the one million euro cooperative share launch; 600.000 has been raised. You can directly send money to the Insorgiamo website, but the minimum unit is 500 euros. Individuals can group together to buy one unit or more. We will organise this at ACR too, so contact us directly if you want to make a contribution towards a unit.

The campaign to raise funds to facilitate a reopening of the factory through agreements with local and regional authorities is very important since it is clear that the current owner sees the opportunities for lucrative property developments on the site.

You can keep in touch with the GKN workers at www.insorgiamo.org which has English translations, and also at https://www.facebook.com/coordinamentogknfirenze which is only in Italian. 

The dossier below includes:

  • The latest update from the GKN factory collective;
  • An article describing the mass mobilisation on New Year’s Eve;
  • A speech by one of the GKN workers at the rally on New Year’s Eve.


Latest Statement from the GKN workers (January 2024)

On 9 July 2021, Melrose Industries announced the closure of its GKN Driveline (formerly FIAT) factory of car axles in Campi di Bisenzio, Florence, and the layoff of its workers (more than 400). In many such cases, the workers and unions settled for negotiating enhanced redundancy benefits, but the GKN Factory Collective took over the plants and kick-started a long struggle against decommissioning. However, what makes the ex-GKN Florence dispute really unique is the strategy adopted by the workers. They sealed an alliance with the climate justice movement by drafting a conversion plan for sustainable public transport.

Such a strategy led to a cycle of broad mobilisations, repeatedly bringing tens of thousands to the streets, so that the dispute is still open. The permanent sit-in at the factory remains active. The workers were meant to be finally dismissed on 1 January 2024. The GKN Factory Collective had thus turned New Year’s Eve into a final call to action to defend their conversion plan. Such pressure from below probably played a role in the labour court’s decision, announced on 27 December 2023, to overturn the layoffs for the second time.

The 31 December 2023, concert in the factory and the subsequent nocturnal march across Campi Bisenzio’s industrial area became a mass mobilisation to relaunch the workers’ current plan to set up a cooperative for the production of cargo bikes and solar panels, as part of a broader vision for a worker-led ecological transition.

This project needs material solidarity now – over 600,000 euros have been collected by the popular shareholding campaign to launch the co-operative, moving closer and closer to the target of one million euros. All information on how to contribute, individually or as an organisation, can be found at the website www.insorgiamo.org.


A new year, but not just any new year

Carlotta Caciagli*  reports on the New Year’s Eve mobilisation(4 January 2024 from  minimaetmoralia.it )

For many reasons, probably many different ones, thousands of people decided to turn a New Year’s Eve party into the defence of a factory. No other trade union struggle has been able to garner the level of support that the former GKN employees have.

Five thousand, maybe seven thousand, came out. The exact numbers we cannot know, but what we saw on 31 December in Campi Bisenzio was surprising. It was the first time in the history of our country that a New Year’s Eve party became a mass picket in front of an occupied factory, together with the 185 workers still there after two years of struggle since the closure of the factory. People came in there thousands  who had never worked in that factory. People who, despite the adverse weather, were there together with hundreds of volunteers who set up the site, served, cooked, and directed traffic. Any account of the 31st December in Campi Bisenzio can only start from here. Despite the ups and downs, the attrition, and the fatigue that always comes with mobilisations, after two and a half years of struggle, this place still promises something for many people.

It was another record—another first achieved by the collective process set in motion by the workers of the former GKN. It is difficult to define what this New Year’s Eve was because it is difficult to define what the struggle of these workers has been and is in recent years. Certainly, it has been transformed through the specific goals set, the challenges met, and the dynamics of the social forces involved.

There have always been several levels to this struggle. Not only are there trade union and political aspects, but also more fundamental and mass-related ones. The marches, pickets, and tours around Italy and Europe have seen the workers of the Factory Collective as the key protagonists, but also the militants of the movements in and around Florence have also played a role. It has always been organised initially as a local, community struggle as much as a trade union one. But it has certainly not been just a local struggle. National organisations and those from other regions in Italy took up, participated in, and sought alliances within the uprising (=insorgiamo) that the Factory Collective immediately proclaimed.

The composition of the 31 December action confirms how this is also a struggle beyond collective subjects. Solidarity and participation were not only shown by political groups but also by individuals who were not part of any group. Beyond the analyses and evaluations, the incontrovertible fact is this: for many reasons, probably very different from each other and not necessarily political, thousands of people decided to spend New Year’s Eve together here in the factory. Few other struggles, and no trade union dispute to date had ever managed to have such social appeal.

There were many interventions from the stage, from the No Tav (against the high-speed rail link destroying the Val de Susa between Italy and France -Tr) movement to the Mondo Convenienza workers (delivery drivers taking industrial action for months, also in Campo Bizenzio- Tr). They were testimonies of existence and resistance, but also a desire to unify the struggles and reaffirm that social opposition is still there, even if media attention wanes and events become increasingly technical and complex.

The presence of so many people in the square shows that, while on the one hand there are the interests of individuals, on the other there is a community. Even if it is composite and never homogeneous, this community defends the value and necessity of work as a tool to build a different, ecologically inclusive society. Wealth and speculation, on the one hand, face work and dignity, on the other.

The 31st December was supposed to be The X Hour, the one in which the dismissals would become definitive. But this New Year’s Eve of struggle also turned into a New Year’s Eve of real celebration. Celebrating first and foremost  the court’s decision, which arrived in extremis on 27 December, to uphold the appeal for anti-union conduct filed by the workers on the basis of Article 28 of the Workers’ Statute. A few days earlier, the labour judge had ruled that the dismissal procedure implemented by Francesco Borgomeo, the former advisor and current owner of the factory, was invalid. The year 2024 should have started one way, but instead it started another.

No move, however, in GKN, as elsewhere, is ever the last. There are still many challenges, and if they are not met and overcome, what is at risk is not stalemate but defeat. The reindustrialisation of a cooperative factory integrated with the territory is far from a foregone conclusion, despite the 175,000 euros collected through crowdfunding and the 527,000 euros of shares reserved for the new cooperative’s people’s shareholding.

What the comrades of the Factory Collective hope is that the efforts from now on will be in this direction. No longer, and not only do we take sides against a class enemy, but to build an alternative. The construction phase of revolutions – big and small – has always been the most difficult because it requires synthesis and compromise, acceptance and strategy, and lucidity to assess the path and take precise aim. That is why the Collective has taken it upon itself to mobilise to force the region to take over ownership of the plant. It is certainly not the bosses that will make the project of a public and socially integrated factory fail, but the silence of the institutions and our inability to hold them to account.

If you want to save the factory and all that it has represented, the way forward is clear. Make the factory the basis of the only existing industrial plan, the one drawn up from below by the workers and the community. That is why there was no shortage of appeals throughout the evening to be ready—to rise up and participate tomorrow as well, because the battle is certainly not over.

New Year’s Eve in the factory was not the usual New Year’s Eve in the town square; it was not toasts and panettone, but a demonstration. That’s why a few minutes after midnight, the square in front of the garrison liquefied and reassembled into a procession that crossed the deserted streets of an area that was empty and sleepy that night but which by day is the beating heart of productive activity in the centre of Tuscany.

Five thousand of us marched in front of the Mondo Convenienza warehouses to the gates of Leonardo Industries to shout and to tell each other that it was not enough to defend the former GKN. It is not enough for the factory collective, and it cannot be enough for any of us. It cannot be enough to defend jobs in a world where an entire population is exterminated in Palestine. It cannot be enough to denounce the bosses’ abuse of power and the incompetence of the ruling class if we do not recognise who is arming Israel. We are involved, all of us. And the midnight procession on 31 December served this purpose: turning our involvement into a tide running through all struggles.

It was an unusual procession where we spoke to each other rather than externally precisely because outside that night there was nothing but the unlit warehouses and the still-lit signs of the shopping centre. But in those streets connecting production and consumption, it was useful to parade. Why? To regain energy, to close ranks, and to say that a perspective is still there despite the phases we have gone through, despite the forces on the field that have changed and will change. Each of the realities and forces in the field can find their own way of being within this space. On New Year’s Eve, it was necessary to remember that this space is still there and that it can be an opportunity not to testify that a social class resists but that it can change the balance of power and bend power relations right beyond the confines of a factory. A single collective of workers cannot alone change an entire way of doing politics.

A public and socially integrated factory is a goal, certainly, but also a means: a starting point against those who tell us and reiterate that this world – even if it burns – is the only one possible. Let us open a new year, and not just any new year.

*Carlotta Caciagli is a research fellow at Dastu, Milan Polytechnic. She works on urban movements in digital capitalism. She is the author of the handbook Movimenti urbani. Theories and problems (Mondadori, 2021)


The speech of ex-Gkn workers made at the New Year Eve’s demonstration, Campo Bizenzio, 31 December 2023

Published on 2 January 2024 in Jobs, News, Politics (from minimaetmoralia) by Dario Salvetti.

So in two and a half years of permanent occupation making a speech, looking at the clock for fear of missing the countdown, is one of the hardest things that has happened to us.

And since I’m in danger of forgetting it, but perhaps you already take it for granted, I’ll do a bit of a spoiler. After the countdown and the ritual toast, we will listen to Zero Reticuli and then set off in procession, because that’s what we’re here for.

Massive thanks to everyone who contributed to this evening, to the volunteers who were at the tents, in the kitchen, on security duty.

And we owe an apology to all those who were not here with us tonight, including our colleagues who were unfortunately overwhelmed by depression, by resignation, by the idea that being here was useless. We apologise to them, because we were not strong enough, to win, to protect you, from the bosses that wants to close us down, that wants to starve us, who wants to throw us out of here.

It is easy to live in Florence and exalt the David against Goliath statue in the historic square. It is difficult today to be that David who challenges the Goliath of this system. And when you find that David maybe you don’t even recognise him.

In a while there will be bangers, fireworks, toasts here, but let us try for a moment for the last time before this midnight to focus on silence, and to hear a background noise near this factory, on this territory. Let us listen for a moment to the noise of property speculation, of criminal interests, of the mafia, of the ndrangheta, of the camorra, of contracts, of subcontracts, of logistics, of precarity, of exploitation. Let us hear it loud, this noise, because it is what we live with every day, in a flooded, built up area.

We confess our embarrassment as GKN workers for calling you here, for our redundancies as if this were the only problem in the world. Unfortunately, to use the term drama when talking about redundancies is grotesque in the face of what is happening and has been happening for decades in Palestine, and is happening today in Gaza. It is grotesque, but unfortunately our life is made up of relatives and absolutes. For us those redundancies are an absolute drama and are relatively ridiculous compared to what is happening in the Mediterranean, in Palestine, and the five hundred thousand dead in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. But we have the task of holding this relative and this absolute together.

If the class here and now cannot defeat workplace closures, low wages and precarity, it cannot even deal with what is happening in the world.

If we don’t win the fight to make ends meet, we can’t win the fight against the end of the world.

To keep the five million eight hundred thousand absolute poorpeople and a further three million relative poor subjugated in an apparent democracy as in Italy, to keep three and a half million precarious workers exploited,  you have to keep them completely absorbed in this society’s anti-political, consumerist, useless matrix, in an eternal present, without perspective.

Against this eternal don’t give a damn fascist world centred on the individual me where they hold down the working class we have countered with a working class collectve we  that cares for the locality, the environment  and a community.

They have accused GKN workers of being political and not trade unionists. Well, in a way we have been – the only ones doing politics in this country, and we have also been the only ones not doing it. We do not do politics in the electoralist, transactional vote sense. Those who have done politics on the back of 185 redundancies is the Meloni government, which has done politics at our expense. And at the same time the ones who have done politics by presenting industrial projects capable of restarting a country are us, all of us and all of you who are here.

We have won six anti-union cases in five years. Now they will say that this proves there is a legal way to fight. But we won these trade union actions on the basis of the 1970 workers’ statute. The only thing keeping us on our feet came out of the ’68-’69 two-year period of huge struggles, that’s all.

In our dispute we had a special relationship with the trade unions. The trade unions supported us but also often looked at what was happening in this factory with distrust. We say to the trade unions, CGIL, Fiom, Usb, Si Cobas, that this is not a dispute against the trade unions, but this is a dispute that speaks to the trade unions about  the need to recover a democratic, participative, conflictual, demand driven, insurgent trade union movement

And so, since after this victory they will go back to playing down the clock, with fake promises, with fake reindustrialisation, we tell you this and we make a pact, on this 31 December at midnight: if they start wearing us down and attacking us again, it will be a new fight… Keep your diaries free in March, we will be back on the streets.

We want to inform you that  the working class literature festival will return and perhaps we will all be there at a festival that talks about literature.  In a country that no longer knows how to do politics and build trade unions, perhaps recovering narrative and literature is the only way to do it.

There is a slippery concept, that of nationalism, sovereignty, which animates this government. I think it is fair to say that this government does not deserve any kind of adjective. They are not nationalists, they are not sovereignists, they are nothing. They are servants of the servants of the servants of the servants of the servants of the servants of the servants of the servants of the servants of this economic system, that is what they are. Because otherwise there would be nothing to fear from thousands of people rallying in defence of a factory and a community to demand ecological transition and social justice.

We dedicate this last day of the year to those who are no longer with us, and in particular, because this is what we have told the family and this is what we will do, to Lorenzo Orsetti, who reminds us that you never know when the storm is coming, you cannot know, but worry about being swept away like a raindrop. Let us continue to be raindrop in the future. Let us take this future. Let us stop living in an eternal present without prospects, and let us try to win here, to set a contagious example to this country and the rest of Europe. For it to be a really new year, and not simply another year that passes.


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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.


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