A minority strikes

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It has been called the “minority general strike”. From the shutdown that should have paralyzed the country as it happened back in the glorious days of Sergio Cofferati’s CGIL, to the rearguard political operation conducted on the ruins of the union.

CGIL and UIL took to the streets on Thursday (without the support of the CISL) to attack a budget maneuver deemed inadequate with respect to the needs of the country and claiming a resounding participation with peaks of 80 or 100 percent in some realities of Italy. On the other hand, the figure recorded by companies is the opposite, for which only 5 per cent of workers would have participated in the protests.

If the turnout was traditionally the subject of antithetical narratives, the context of Thursday’s strike was most important.

CGIL’s Maurizio Landini and UIL’s Pier Paolo Bombardieri did not protest the Prime Minister Mario Draghi but lashed out at the parties that support his executive. They did not even feel the need to present specific platforms or demands for the day, as if at the time of the NRP or the ecological transition it did not become urgent to debate the future of industrial relations.

The slogan addressed to the political forces is truly emblematic: “We have filled the squares; you have emptied the polling booths”. A sign that, to animate the strike, there was above all the will to fill a void of consensus left uncovered by the adhesion of almost all the parties to the Draghi government. PD and M5s have suffered the greatest attacks since they are the forces perceived as (theoretically) closest to the world of workers.

There are those who have interpreted it as an act of post-populist positioning, aimed at capturing the favor of unequal and abstentionists in the pre-election year. From this point of view, in fact, both CGIL and UIL have explained that they want to give a voice to social hardship and to Italians in suffering because they are affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic.

But the fact that next week’s table with the government on pensions was already on the agenda, that the budget will remain exactly as it is, and that the showdown has not shifted the balance of power in the country feeds great doubt. Why call for a general strike – that is, the most powerful weapon available to a trade union – in the absence of impressive results to be achieved?

To put it otherwise, the risk of having witnessed a show of strength for its own sake is extremely high. As well as having to acknowledge for the last time that the union is no longer able to transfer its significant aggregating power in any project capable of contributing more to the socio-economic growth of Italy than to the popularity of some pugnacious leader.

If you want to fight them, there is not even shortage of battles. Just to name a significant one, our country has been gripped for decades by a serious wage problem which is in turn the result of the low growth of the national GDP and the equally poor productivity of labor.

The idea of being able to redistribute wages by means of laws by some governments (minimum wages, citizenship incomes and higher taxes for the wealthiest classes) proved to be an illusion. All this opens a prairie for the action of a trade union that really wanted to take charge of an instance that is so important for the future of the country, as well as for the solidity of its relaunch. With no less important consequences on its hold in the social body.

The alternative is a slow slide into irrelevance or, even worse, its transformation into the megaphone of some piece of society marked by populist twists.