by Wally Linder
March 17, 2020
Since this article was written, most factories in Italy and the rest of Europe have shut down, but not until worker protests forced them to. In the US, auto plants are still operating and have only promised more cleaning and safe practices as the UAW pressures them to close.
“We’re not cannon fodder!” cried millions across Italy as wildcat strikes erupted in every major industry to halt the spread of the deadly coronavirus disease. Workers were protesting government and corporate attempts to force them to keep the factories open, risking their lives in unsafe factories so the bosses could jam them into cramped assembly lines to pump out profits.
The wildcatters hit producers of refrigerator and auto parts, factory bolts and vacuum cleaners, closed steel and auto plants and railways, shipyards and shipbuilding docks. While the bosses’ media debated who was responsible for the spreading fatalities, there was a complete blackout of the workers’ militant actions.
The 6,000 Fiat-Chrysler workers, who touched off the strike wave in the Pomigliano plant near Naples when they walked out at the start of the 2:00 pm shift on March 10, protesting unsafe conditions on the assembly lines producing luxury Alfa-Romeo cars for the super-rich.
As the workers stated, “”We’ll withdraw the protest only when the government and the company…stop everything and pay our time off. We can’t afford to lose more money for an unalienable right to make our collective health and safety top priority….
“The big factories are places that bring people together, from the buses to the assembly lines. It defies logic: the state closes everything, starting with the schools and bans moving around….But…the Italian government has not closed the factories; it keeps saying “stay at home” even as the assembly lines continue producing and putting staff and all their families at risk!”
Workers in at least a dozen cities stopped production, including 700 women at the Electrolux plant in Solaro and shipbuilders in Liguria after one worker tested positive for the virus, causing the strike to spread to other docks. Those at Genoa were protesting unclean equipment being used amid the fatal virus.Wildcat walkouts caught on among London postal workers, Paris bus drivers and Fiat-Chrysler auto workers in Canada.
Not only does capitalism kill us with infectious diseases brought on by poverty and its agricultural practices, but it is unable to respond to crises because the health system operates on the basis of just enough in ordinary times. The lives of workers are expendable. Mass struggle is necessary not only to demand care and safety in a time like this, but ultimately maybe this whole system needs to go. Hopefully the solidarity built in this pandemic will allow us to further a movement to that effect.