Interview with Arafat, worker in the logistical complex of Piacenza
[The interview by Loris Narda and Diana Sprega was broadcast on November 7 on Radio UniNomade. The text is published as part of an inquiry into a cycle of struggles of migrant workers in what might be named the logistical complex: the blockades in Piacenza, last year’s mobilisations in Verona, Pioltello and elsewhere, as well as the current strike at the Coop warehouse of Anzola, Emilia.]
Can you tell us how the struggles began in Piacenza?
Here they started with Tnt, then they spread to Gls and finally IKEA, where we currently are. The protest at IKEA carries on every day at the gates of the central warehouse, which is the largest in Europe.
What are your demands?
They are always the same: we demand respect of the national contract, a dignified wage commensurable with the dignity of workers inside the company, and also that health and safety are respected. We demand a dignified treatment from the employers, because in every warehouse the supervisors treat workers aggressively.
Are there threats in the workplace?
Yes, there are also threats. Those responsible for logistics intimidate workers and create a system of slavery: they tell them that they must not talk, they must not ask for a wage rise, they don’t let them demand their rights. They used this system of threats in Piacenza for years.
So your struggles began some time ago…
Yes, in logistics we started two years ago. Until now, there is a different protest every day, we have expanded to Casalpusterlengo, Lodi, Milano, Brescia, Parma. Bartolini, SDA, MCN, UBS: all the largest companies in Italy that deal with the moving of commodities always operate in the same way: when you look at the situations of the workers they are more or less similar. We took the lid off to show what it covered. Now the dirt is coming out, the vermin inside. It’s a system that has been covered up for years that is now being exposed through struggles and protests.
So these are struggles occurring in all the large logistical complexes in Northern Italy and are becoming generalised in different places. Do you have connections in the rest of Italy, or forms of coordination?
Yes we coordinate across all the cities of Northern Italy, but also in the South. Now the struggle has spread to Rome and Sicily too.
What are your forms of organisation? How are you organised in these struggles?
First of all, in order to enter a company, you first have to make leaflets and meet the workers outside, to explain what their rights are. Because I think that information to workers is really important. Many people don’t know their rights: they spend years working and believing that the law entails a set of conditions, but when you go and tell these guys what their contract actually says, the workers say no, because all these years have been appropriated by the boss who would tell them to do what he wanted. The workers ask themselves at this point, why don’t I get holiday pay, etc.? When we explain to people that they have a right to demand, they start to demand their rights. Because they know that by law these are their rights whilst the boss had always made them believe that the law was what he said. If, instead, you inform the workers well, they start rebelling and also getting together. So they start to organise and carry out the struggle.
Your mobilisation resonated across the whole of Italy, with the latest pickets you organised. How are your relations with the trade unions in the companies?
Actually, the confederate unions in the past few years have grown distant from workers. It’s as if they inhabited another world, they know nothing about what happens in the company. When a grassroot union like Cobas arrived, it managed to understand what suffering is and to approach workers and experience their problems with them. Everyone realises that the union must be the workers, rather than a ‘nominal’ union. The confederate unions only took the money for membership for years, and I think they have failed in this: they tried to get the membership money but then never shared the workers problems with the workers.
How are the confederate unions confronting the pickets and your struggles?
It’s as if they weren’t there, as if they did not consider the problems of these people. They only come when the struggles are over to put their signature on an agreement. They’ve never been seen on a picket line.
How will the mobilisation continue?
We’ll carry on with blockades of these companies every morning, we are not scared. They must respect our dignity and especially we will carry on until they will give their work back to the twelve workers they fired at the beginning of the protests, until they will change the arrogance of their supervisors and pay all indemnities, holidays and entitlements that are part of the contract. Until we will have all this, the struggle continues.
* Translated by Arianna Bove.