Italy's unions leave the sinking ship of state

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The Independent Online
ITALY'S three powerful trade union federations, anxious to avoid being buried under the ruins of Italy's collapsing political system, yesterday announced they are pulling out their appointees from a host of state and public bodies.

Trade unionists hold thousands of top jobs in ministries, public corporations, social security organisations, committees and other public bodies as a result of the theory, fashionable in Italy in the 1970s, that they could best serve their members and the society by 'co-managing' public affairs.

Good intentions often gave way to pressure to serve the interests, as unionists, of the workers employed in each organisation. An example of the results, cited by the Corriere della Sera, is that the railways, which have the highest number of employees per kilometre of track and have the lowest quality of service in relation to costs in Europe.

The unions' main concern, however, is to improve their badly tarnished image. Several trade unionists are under investigation for corruption, though not nearly as many as politicians. The unions' close involvement with the parties and the management of public bodies has meant that some of the general disgrace has rubbed off on them. By pulling out of these posts - it will happen in stages - the unions want to keep away from possible contamination.

'Things have happened which have alarmed us and the way to go is to cut off all possible links with worrying episodes,' said Bruno Trentin, leader of the left-wing CGIL, the biggest of the three.

The unions will keep their representatives on the main social security organisation and on the committees which supervise the functioning of others, and are demanding a reorganisation of the way they function. Unionists will be barred from public offices.

At the same time they will try to revive their traditional, more conflictual role towards the state instead of trying to work within it. Their cautious line during the current economic crisis - they signed away the inflationary scala mobile index-linking system - has already cost them much support, and more extreme grassroots 'base committees' in the factories, which they cannot control, are growing in strength.