Tue May 28, 2024
May 28, 2024

Stellantis (formerly Fiat): A Class Analysis

Interview by the editorial team of the PdAC, Italy website

The situation of auto factories in Italy is dramatic. Every week brings news of a new closure or relocation, destined to turn into hundreds of layoffs: in addition to the case of the Marelli plant in Crevalcore, which we have already discussed in a previous article – and of which these days there is talk of hiring for 152 of 299 workers (1); now it is the turn of the Marelli plant in Venaria (Turin), where at least 320 jobs are at risk (2).

It is emblematic of the actions of the Stellantis group (ex Fiat) that, besides laying off a large part of the workers of the group (from Mirafiori in Pomigliano to Maserati in Modena), has hit hard against militant union activists in an attempt to prevent workers’ struggles. This includes the workers  of Delio (Cub, Cassino plant) and Francesca (Slai Cobas, Atessa plant), who were dismissed with ulterior motives. The workers’ response was not long in coming: on March 8, on the occasion of the strike for International Women Workers’ Day, a protest was organized at Atessa, in front of the factory, with the presence of a delegation of workers from the Cassino plant. Our militants present at the factory were also organizers and our comrade Diego Bossi, a Pirelli worker, intervened, expressing the solidarity of the whole Communist Alternative Party (3). Solidarity with Francesca, a woman worker fired on the eve of March 8, was also shouted in other squares on March 8, for example in Modena, in one of the speeches at the opening of the march in the city (4).

We are publishing  an interview with Roberto, a militant of Slai Cobas of Chieti and of the PdAC, a Stellantis worker, which explains the situation of the group’s factories. We are also republishing an article with historical background, by Fabiana Stefanoni, which reconstructs some of the most important moments of the workers’ struggles at Fiat in the last decades, especially the strikes of the seventies which culminated with the occupation of Mirafiori in 1973. It is good, in fact, not to forget that the struggles of the Fiat workers – together with those of the workers at Pirelli, Fincantieri, etc. – have marked the fate of our country. They are a demonstration of workers’ strength that we should remember today in contrast with those of the union bureaucrats who invite workers to resignation and surrender.

Before going into more specific details about the Atessa plant, what can you tell us about the general situation of the group? More specifically, what can you tell us in light of recent statements by Tavares, who is profiting from the government like his predecessor, while Italian factories are almost all at a stalemate (for instance the layoffs at Mirafiori, against which the workers also went on strike, and at Maserati in Modena)? And what will the transition to electric vehicles mean for workers?

First of all, it would be useful to frame the financial situation of the Stellantis group, as well as contextualize Tavares’ words. 2023 was a record year for the giant born in 2021 from the merger (!) between FCA and PSA with revenues of €189.5 billion and net income of €18.6 billion, figures that have not stopped growing over the past three years. These figures underline the group’s financial strength and its ability to generate profits for shareholders, who will receive 6.6 billion in dividends. Sales of electric and hybrid vehicles have seen double-digit percentage increases compared to last year and estimates for 2024 follow the same trend. These data should be read from a global perspective as they are indicative of a multinational present all over the world, and which produces and profits a lot. But, if we look at this data from the perspective of national realities, the dire consequences, and especially the social effects of the most extreme globalization, begin to emerge. We must therefore remember, as we have already done on numerous occasions, that the sole purpose of mergers and acquisitions between industrial groups is to optimize resources and take over new market segments in order to increase profits.

In the present case, the French part, Peugeot S.A. (PSA) acquired the Italian-American counterpart Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), mainly to enter the North American market, which is the most profitable one, and to eliminate or at least drastically reduce a domestic competitor. The exchange was obviously unequal: the reins are in the hands of the French, just look at the board of directors and the main managerial positions, while the Italian part, which rests on the ashes of Fiat, has lost all decision-making and strategic capacity. Moreover, John Elkann himself, after having sold FCA to Peugeot and having pocketed billions, declared laconically “we can no longer take care of Italy.”

The consequences are there for all to see. The dismantling of the Italian factories is underway, but the process started a long time ago, in the name of that optimization of resources I mentioned earlier, i.e. moving production to places that are more profitable and where there are few or no legislative or environmental constraints. In that sense, the group’s new targets are continuing to move production to North Africa and Eastern Europe, where the factories have already reached considerable production quotas. It is easy at this point for Tavares, with workers on severance pay and factories closed, to threaten to relocate in order to obtain public funds in the form of incentives and the contraction of labor rights to operate undisturbed. On the other hand, the solicitation of public funds is an old story: it is estimated that, from 1975 to today, first Fiat, then FCA, and now Stellantis have received 220 billion euros in various forms, including incentives, early retirements, scrapping, and financing for the opening of new plants. As for the electric transition, it has nothing to do with the environmental issue because it is guided by a capitalist logic; the real reasons are the need to recreate a saturated automobile market and the reduction of the workforce needed to increase profits.

The former Sevel plant is currently the only one in the Stellantis orbit that produces with some continuity in Italy. However, here too, after the PSA acquisition, doubts arose about the plant’s future, despite Tavares’ verbal assurances. What has changed under French leadership?

The Atessa plant has been producing commercial vehicles continuously and increasingly for more than 40 years, thanks to the merits of the product, but above all thanks to the dedication and sacrifice of thousands of workers. However, with the birth of Stellantis, the plant has suffered the same fate as other Italian plants, i.e. it is immersed in a downward competitive logic that has the workers as the only victims. For the first time, commercial vehicle production is shared with another plant, that of Gliwice in Poland, which previously assembled cars. The Polish plant benefits from the latest technologies (robotization) and a preferential tax regime, as well as very low labor costs, all of which are advantageous to the exploitative management. It is clear that now the paragon is Gliwice, so Tavares’ mantra is to cut costs, which has generated increasingly extreme working conditions and terrible repercussions for the workers of the contracted companies and related industries. This has been the case from cleaning companies to component manufacturers, to which the Portuguese CEO explicitly advised them to transfer production to the more profitable (for him) Polish plant. In short, in addition to the nefarious CCSL, Tavares can count on the threat of offshoring to impose his conditions on the workers.

As Slai Cobas, you are promoters together with USB of a series of struggles against speedup and workload and against misleading disciplinary measures against militant workers. What are the specific problems on the assembly lines?

We have always been promoters of struggles against speedup and burdensome workloads, obviously because they are necessary to counteract the bosses’ drive for profit to the detriment of the health and wallets of the working class. The CCSL stipulation and Stellantis’ current strategies have exacerbated the struggle; the cost-cutting advocated by Tavares has translated into increasingly difficult working conditions that undermine workers’ health and safety. Working on a mechanized line involves time scanning and analysis of movements and postures which, if not properly controlled, lead to increased speed (more production, i.e. more profit for the employer) of individual operations and concrete risks of musculoskeletal damage to workers. We are fighting against the lasso clauses of an unfair labor contract and against those who manage them, including the signatory union leaders.

These exasperating working conditions create a climate of discontent among the workers and tensions on the production lines: the bosses’ response is the repression of dissent through deceitful disciplinary measures against those militant workers who do not bow their heads. Emblematic are the recent illegitimate and discriminatory dismissals imposed on comrade Delio of the Flmu-Cub of Cassino and comrade Francesca of the Slai Cobas of Chieti, who have been found “guilty” of carrying out consistent and determined union activity. One thing is certain: we will defend those who are attacked by all possible means.

Do you think that union struggles such as yours can be extended and connected with the other factories of the group? Along the lines of what you did with your colleagues at Cub de Cassino, at the former Sevel, to denounce the forced displacement of workers.

Of course, the recent disciplinary responses, as well as the continued movement of workers from plant to plant and the working conditions in the factory make a unified response from the group’s workers desirable and necessary; we will work to ensure that this happens to counteract the bosses’ strategies of profit and exploitation.

Notes

  1. https://www.partitodialtracomunista.org/articoli/sindacato/marelli-di-crevalcore-non-si-svende-la-lotta. Here is the latest news, which confirms our analysis: https://www.ilpost.it/2024/03/12/vendita-marelli-crevalcore/
  2. https://torinocronaca.it/news/cronaca/312582/si-spegne-anche-la-marelli-a-rischio-320-lavoro.html
  3. https://fb.watch/qSG8qs3jSt/
  4. https://fb.watch/qSGfUIwBMN/

Article published in www.partitodialternativacomunista.org, 19/3/2024.

Translation: John Prieto

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