Saturday, 23 March 2013

Co-operatives and strikers in Italy

In a forthcoming article for a new workers' paper, migrant logistics workers in Italy describe their fight against attacks on wages and conditions at IKEA and TNT:

"During recent months migrant transport workers in the north of Italy have enforced significant improvements of their working and living conditions through hard strikes. Usually they are not directly employed, but through subcontractors, which are registered as so-called 'cooperatives'. If there are any problems or workers try to struggle against precarious conditions, these 'subcontractors' just change their official company name and status - and workers are left alone with their demands ...

"After a few months the Cooperative tried to go back to the conditions before the strike. It wanted to almost triple the average number of palettes; they cut most of the employees’ hours to 4 hours so that they compulsorily had to stay at home two days a week and only earned 400 euros a month. When productivity fell, everyone had to work overtime. In October they locked out about 90 workers, fired 12, through a struggle we were able to get 3 of these workers reinstated, so that 9 remained fired. So we blockaded the gates every day. On November 2nd there was an extremely brutal police attack at gate 9, there were 20 people injured and 30 workers got charged, I got 6 charges. I don’t know whether I’ll get problems with my residents permit in the future but no struggle is without risk ..."

This is going on in the Piacenza region of Emiglia Romagna, a supposed stronghold of worker co-operation.

I was of course interested to read that 'co-operative consortia' are controlling the supply of labour to TNT/IKEA in Italy, and I'm going to find out more. CICOPA (the world worker co-op federation) explicity rejects co-ops purely for the supply of labour, unless they're owned and controlled by workers for the defence of conditions and wages (e.g. freelancers, actors, sex workers) - at least partly in reaction to the experience of state-sponsored co-ops in the Soviet Union and China.

There's growing interest in the UK in co-op consortia as an organisation method for self-employed or atomised workers. I'm working with a couple of such groups  - IT, design, modelmakers. God help me.

Looking for more information, I used the internet search term 'IKEA + co-operatives' and out popped this, from IKEA's Privacy Policy page:

"Just as shopping at IKEA is a co-operative experience, IKEA makes a point of working with our customers when it comes to their privacy."

All of this just shows us why words are so important, and co-operative identity worth trying to be clear about.