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The Struggle of the Longshoremen from Genova

By Pietrasanta Marco, Italy

The 80s saw the repercussions of a deep restructuring crisis of the entire industrial and productive system on a worldwide scale, which was hounded by the start of the deregulation cycle.These processes led, on the one hand, to the massive spreading of the use of mechanical tools and containers, and on the other hand to subsequent changes in the port work force.

In Genova, all this was personified by the then President of the Consorzio Autonomo del Porto (C.A.P.1, Autonomous Port Consortium) Roberto D’Alessandro.His project aimed at creating a port where new entities, half public and half private, would have to participate in the various phases of the production cycle.This operation included the transfer of workers, who were members of the CULMV2,and of the CAP employees to these new companies, which would have had to be completely privatized shortly thereafter, thus lastly ending public docks and the Compagnia.

This entire process took on the name of "Libro Blu”, the Blue Book. It marked the start of a very tough confrontation, which even put the CULMV under a commissioner towards the end of 1986. It was followed by a year of strikes and fights by longshoremen, until an agreement was finally reached in December of 1987 that brought about a truce that lasted the entire following year.

Those fights demonstrated the rock-solid solidarity of the CULMV, of its members and its leaders.The general of that battle was Consul Paride Batini, who unfortunately passed away recently, after having been elected by the workers for 25 years as the Consul of the CULMV and who was its undisputed chief.The Compagnia was the only force capable of defending labor despite the lack of any political or union support and the attacks by all other forces that were involved.The union was not able to fight a general battle, leaving the CULMV isolated in leading its own defensive battle (these years led to a tear between the union and the CULMV which lasted for a long time; today there are signs of a new reconciliation).

The confrontation culminated in 1989, when the then Minister for Merchant Shipping, Giovanni Prandini, issued a series of decree laws on January 6th, which severely limited the role of the companies, relegating the exclusive right to work only for operations on board of ships.In this critical situation, too, the CULMV reacted swiftly and firmly, announcing a strike for January 20th, which reverberated strongly in the city.

The newspaper "Il Secolo XIX” commented on it the next day:“Almost twenty thousand workers have brought the unrest of the conflict which opposes the Compagnia to the Ministry for Merchant Shipping, onto the streets of the city.""Il Lavoro”, another daily newspaper of Genova, wrote on the same day:“A sensational and unexpected success, even for the longshoremen themselves.Yesterday morning twenty thousand people participated in the large demonstration and protest against the Prandini decrees".In a sign of solidarity, workers from many factories and students marched together with the longshoremen and their families.

The decline of traffic due to the additional year of extensive blockade of the port forced the users to once again negotiate with the CULMV.Despite the fights, the participants who were more aware did not believe, however, to be able to stop the economic processes that were clearly taking place, and this did not happen indeed.

The privatization of the port continued, bringing about, after prolonged preparations, the private terminal operator at the beginning of the nineties.This entity received the franchise for the pier, in which however, it had to use workers from CAP and the CULMV for the operations from cargo to fret.This new and chaotic situation, however, had to be "put in order” and “regulated”.This was the goal of the law of port reform 84/94.It was to be understood as a European law, issued on December 12, 1992, which removed articles 110 and 111 of the Code of Navigation, abolishing the "reserve” (the exclusive right) of work for the Port companies.

The law intended to unify the Italian port system, however, it achieved quite the opposite.In fact, every Italian dock, one being completely different from the other, has interpreted the law according to its own needs.Before then, the ports were managed by the government through authorities present in each port (Consorzio Autonomo del Porto, Autonomous Port Consortium) and workers of the Port companies (pool) which had the exclusive right to work.

In summary, this law determines as follows:
The establishments of Port Authorities, which replace the old, CAP which may not control port areas or be a shareholder in port terminals, but will leave the areas in franchise to private operators, and have a role of control and planning for the development of the port.The private terminals can employ workers autonomously and without restrictions.Thus, since 1994, the exclusive right of port workers no longer exists.

In the Port of Genova many franchises were given to terminal operators who started to employ direct workers.This created a fragmentation in the world of port labor. We just need to mention the various terminals where six different types of national contracts were applied which consistently lowered on the one hand the cost of labor of the companies, and on the other hand the salary of the newly employed workers.Finally, in 2000, an agreement was reached on a national level for the creation of the National Contract for Port Workers.

In Genova, too, the CULMV was forced to transform itself because of the new law.In 2002, the Compagnia was able to reach an agreement called “Labor Pact” which establishes the exclusive call of the Compagnia for work peaks that are not covered by terminal employees.This agreement largely limits the deregulation of labor which would otherwise be admissible by law, limiting to two the entities allowed to work in the port, that is:the terminal employees and the longshoremen of the CULMV.

Today, terminal operators cover 60-65% of the work with their own employees and a work force of 1400, while the Compagnia covers the remaining 30-35% with 1100 longshoremen.In the following months this order will have to be sanctioned through an invitation to tender.

Today, the international crisis is inevitably reflected in the ports, which show a decline of traffic and the ensuing reduction of work days for longshoremen. There is the risk that once again the crisis will be paid for by the workers.If the wind of deregulation that blows in the ports is fueled by the current international crisis, it could pick up and be felt strongly.

In this sense the fight led by the port workers of the CULMV in the last decades against the deregulation processes can represent an important experience and an asset available to the labor movement.

  1. The CAP (Consorzio Autonomo del Porto, Autonomous Port Consortium) was the government authority, established in 1903, which managed the port directly.Following the law 84/94 it was transformed into the Port Authority, which may no longer operate directly nor have shares in companies that perform operations or port services, and may only have a directive role.
  2. The CULMV (Compagnia Unica Lavoratori Merci Varie) or Compagnia is a pool of workers who cover the work peaks.Following the law 84/94 it transformed itself into a Cooperative.The workers are all members of the cooperative and elect their own management. The CULM has its origin in the distant 1340.