By Conor Gallagher
The longest-ever manufacturing unit occupation in Italian historical past is going down in Florence the place the 300 employees are actually making progress at turning it right into a worker-owned non-profit that might pay the workers and produce merchandise that might profit the group. Ought to the employees succeed, it may present an inspiration for others.
For 3 years employees on the former automotive components manufacturing unit, GKN Florence, had been in limbo. According to Investigative Reporting Mission Italy, in 2018 GKN was bought by the British hedge fund Melrose, which went about enacting its motto of “purchase, enhance, promote.”
And in 2021 it was getting ready to just do that when it abruptly introduced the termination of your complete workforce. As an alternative the employees occupied the manufacturing unit and have been there ever since.
Because the occupation, Italian labor judges have condemned GKN for its anti-union practices (in Italy a negotiated settlement is meant to precede a enterprise closure) for a scarcity of dialogue within the firings, and instances are open on the Ministry of Enterprise and Made in Italy, however importantly the employees didn’t depend on the federal government.
Whereas employees are nonetheless demanding again pay, they’re additionally now attempting to make “ex-GKN” a worker-owned, non-profit factory – one which produces photovoltaic panels and batteries that don’t contain the usage of rare earths, in addition to a cargo-bike painted in the identical purple because the Florence soccer staff. The thought is that the manufacturing unit will serve the group and probably the encircling area. Francesca Gabbriellini and Giacomo Gabbuti write at Jacobin:
Parallel to the technical points surrounding industrial plans and labor group, the work teams targeted on the difficulty of possession construction, together with by finding out the potential of a worker buyout. In Italy such operations are regulated by the Marcora Legislation of 1985, which gives for public funds to safeguard employees affected by makes an attempt at industrial relocation or liquidation and who intend to take over possession in a cooperative construction. Normally, with such processes, the startup capital is constructed up by means of employees investing their severance pay. However within the GKN case, the thought is that native supporters ought to play a number one position in reactivating manufacturing, as within the wrestle itself. Thus the thought of the favored shareholder marketing campaign was born, and dialogues started with Banca Etica (an Italian moral finance physique, which has been in solidarity with the GKN wrestle because the opening of the Resistance Fund) and different such establishments.
The primary steps are promising as they’re blowing past preliminary fundraising targets. Within the second section, to start this summer time, ex-GKN will launch an “fairness crowdfunding” from small, medium and enormous investments.
The group says “the employees are instantly concerned within the administration of the brand new manufacturing venture.” Moreover, the plan is to incorporate all “private and non-private buyers, representatives of the area and all individuals within the fairness crowdfunding” on the board of the cooperative.
How Has the GKN Occupation Been So Profitable?
First off, the employees who had been already unionized made preparations early. As quickly as they acknowledged that possession was “boiling the frog” – or getting ready to unload the equipment and shutter the manufacturing unit – they started to make plans to occupy. They realized hanging or different types of protest wouldn’t be sufficient as Melrose would prepare to have the equipment faraway from the manufacturing unit. In addition they didn’t depend on judges, elected officers, or every other exterior group to save lots of them.
The employees concerned the group by partnering with different unions, inexperienced and different native teams, together with together with organizing the primary Italian Festival of Working-Class Literature March 31 – April 2 within the occupied manufacturing unit:
Dal 31 marzo al 2 aprile siete invitat3 al Pageant internazionale di letteratura working class organizzato assieme agli operai del collettivo di fabbrica GKN di Firenze. Diffondete la notizia e aiutateci a sostenere il progetto: https://t.co/xDXPM0bDMq pic.twitter.com/nwFFuZ4jm4
— Alberto Prunetti (@alprunetti) February 14, 2023
These connections had been so sturdy that inside a number of days of the occupation, there was a basic strike in Florence and greater than 10,000 individuals took to the streets in assist of the employees’ trigger. Final month – almost two years after the occupation started – roughly 15,000 got here out to point out their assist.
— Siciliano (@Siciliano741) March 26, 2023
Occupation can also be perhaps the best device employees have. From Socialist Worker:
The primary purpose why sit-downs are so efficient is that it’s not possible for administration to make use of strikebreakers to defeat a strike, because the employees are actually sitting on the technique of manufacturing.
Secondly, whereas police typically inflict violence upon picket strains–solely to show round and blame the strikers–it’s way more troublesome to do the identical factor to employees occupying a plant. For one factor, it’s considerably troublesome to assault the occupying strikers with out damaging the corporate’s property. But additionally, it’s way more troublesome to cost sit-downers with beginning the violence.
In distinction, the closure of a GKN plan in Birmingham was introduced concurrently the one in Florence. Regardless of strikes, negotiations, and offended condemnations, the factory closed, moved to Poland, and 519 individuals misplaced their livelihoods.
Ex-GKN Florence may develop into one other Birmingham – albeit one which put up an extended combat, or it may develop into an inspiration in find out how to combat again in opposition to precarious work and construct one thing run by employees and for the advantages of the group.
Might It Occur within the US?
Whereas Italy has some present built-in benefits – particularly unions which can be nonetheless sturdy regardless of many years of conservative and liberal efforts to weaken them – each international locations share a powerful historical past of occupying workplaces at completely different factors within the twentieth century.
The Italian Biennio Rosso (two crimson years) noticed greater than half one million employees run their workplaces for themselves in 1919 to 1920 – though that finally led to the fascist response of the Biennio Nero (two black years).
In 1936 and 1937, sit-down strikes and occupations unfold throughout the US. It began in Akron, Ohio, when all of the rubber employees on the Goodyear truck tire division sat down and refused to work in protest of a wage minimize. Administration shortly restored the previous wage charges. Socialist Worker on what happened next:
By January 1936, 2.500 Firestone employees struck to protest the firing of a union member, in a sit-down that lasted a number of days. In opposition to the strike resulted in victory.
Quickly the sit-down pattern had unfold to the auto business and on December 28, 1936, greater than 1,000 employees at Cleveland Fisher Physique occupied the plant, demanding a nationwide auto contract.
Inside two days, the strike unfold to Flint, Mich. Inside three weeks, the strike would shut down GM operations not solely in Flint, Detroit and Toledo but additionally at vegetation as far-off as Kansas Metropolis and Atlanta.
By the top of the strike, 140,000 of GM’s 150,000 manufacturing employees had been concerned in both a piece stoppage or a plant occupation, making calls for that included union recognition and a signed contract, the 30-hour week and six-hour day, a seniority system and union enter into the seed of the meeting line.
Within the first 10 days of February, GM produced solely 151 automobiles in your complete nation.
The 44-day Flint sit-down strike, which was led by store ground militants and socialists, has develop into legendary–for its excellent rank-and-file solidarity, which drew in 1000’s of employees from close by cities, in addition to its shrewd execution, which repeatedly outsmarted GM administration of their try to power the strikers out of the vegetation.
After battles with police and the calling in of the nationwide guard, the employees received a brand new contract.
It wasn’t that way back (2008) that employees occupied the Republic Home windows and Doorways manufacturing unit in Chicago. From Libcom.org:
On Tuesday 2 December 2008, officers knowledgeable the 300 employees of Republic Home windows and Doorways that the corporate can be shutting down in three days. Workers wouldn’t obtain severance pay or accrued trip pay. On Friday morning possession additionally knowledgeable employees that they might be instantly minimize off from their medical insurance suppliers.
2 hundred and forty union members (Native 1110 of the united Electrical, Radio, and Machine Employees of America) voted to have a sit-in in a while Friday. The sit-in individuals rigorously organized and orchestrated the motion, dividing into three teams to handle and clear the manufacturing unit tools, present safety, and talk with the media and supporters.
(Occupy Wall Road was influenced by Republic Home windows and Doorways, however we all know how that turned out. Thanks Obama.) After six days, the negotiated settlement by Native 1110 with Republic and Financial institution of America supplied the employees with the eight weeks of pay they had been owed, two months of continued well being protection, and pay for all unused trip.
Possibly subsequent time, employees will go a step additional and attempt to accomplish what ex-GKN is doing in Florence.