Union Strikes at Fiat Plant in Italy

Conflict is over plans to increase overtime, cut breaks and impose night shifts in a deal, which will see Fiat and Chrysler produce up to 280,000 Jeeps and Alfa Romeos per year at Mirafior plant

Tens of thousands of workers took part in a strike on Jan. 28 organized by Italy's Fiom union to contest a tough deal on working conditions voted in this month at Fiat's Mirafiori plant in Turin.

Staff voted by a majority of 54.05% in mid-January in favor of Fiat-Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne's offer to bring one billion euros ($1.3 billion) in investments to Mirafiori in exchange for more taxing contracts.

All Italian trade unions had signed up to the deal on December 23 except the left-wing Fiom, which slammed the proposal as "blackmail."

"Today, the factories have stopped production because workers don't want Marchionne's plan to spread, they want to defend employment with rights and personal dignity," Maurizio Landini, Fiom's secretary general, said during a protest in Milan.

Around 20 other protests had been organized across the country, particularly in Turin in northern Italy, home to the Mirafiori plant, as well as in other towns with Fiat factories such as Pomigliano, near Naples.

Fiom -- the metalworkers' branch of CGIL, Italy's biggest union -- had called on all its members to strike against the deal between the auto maker and other unions, not just those who are employed by Fiat. But the CGIL's new secretary general, Susanna Camusso, has not officially backed Fiom's strike and was booed at a pre-strike protest in Bologna on Jan. 27.

The deal, which will see Fiat and Chrysler produce up to 280,000 Jeeps and Alfa Romeos per year at Mirafiori, ignited a fierce political debate in Italy over plans to increase overtime, cut breaks and impose night shifts.

The Mirafiori plant has been at the heart of Fiat for more than 70 years but Marchionne had threatened to close the factory and take production to the United States or Canada if workers voted against the deal.

Controversially, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said ahead of the vote that Italian companies "would have good reason" to leave Italy if the proposal was rejected.

Fiom's refusal to sign up to the deal means it will now be deprived of representation in the factory.

Marchionne plans to extend the deal made with Mirafiori workers -- and another made with Pomigliano staff last June -- to other Fiat factories in Italy in a drive to boost productivity in exchange for greater investment.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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