'We are Fiat!' Say Workers Fearing Job Loss

15,000 protesters voice fear of plant closures

Some 15,000 people from all over Italy took to the streets to express their fears that Fiat's planned acquisition of the General Motors subsidiary Opel in Germany will lead to massive job losses. We are Fiat!" was the rallying cry of the employees who converged May 16 on the group's headquarters in northwestern Turin to demand job security.

Fiat, Italy's largest private employer with a workforce of some 82,000, has long symbolized the country's post-war industrial prowess. The march's leading banner read: "From north to south, Fiat must not develop without us."

Fiat was on the verge of collapse when Sergio Marchionne took the helm in 2004. Even though the he achieved the feat without massive job cuts, protester Francesco Percuoco, 42, said: "We are worried. Marchionne is making alliances overseas that might lead to duplication and therefore plant closures in Italy."

Fiat's plans are unclear as it negotiates to take over the European activities of General Motors, including Opel, raising deep concerns over potential job losses in Italy and Germany.

Italian unions are particularly worried over Termini Imerese in Sicily and the Pomigliano plant near Naples.They fear that promised talks with management will not take place until after crucial decisions are made.

According to a plan attributed to Fiat, the company plans to scale back the factory at Pomigliano, close Termini Imerese and an Opel plant in Kaiserslautern in western Germany, as well as others in Britain and Austria. Fiat has declined comment on the document, but has denied any connection with an earlier planning paper allegedly leaked to the German press that spoke of cutting 18,000 jobs in Europe after acquiring Opel.

"The silence is total," said Ermes Naccari, a worker at Fiat's largest plant in the Turin suburb of Mirafiori. "It's not like in Germany where the unions are involved in the management of companies. We're just seen as spoilsports."

Marchionne told reporters late on May 15 that while "market conditions" were beyond Fiat's control, "we will do our utmost to... guarantee the greatest possible number of jobs in Italy." He said he would meet the unions and the government, but only once takeover talks for Opel are completed. In the middle of the march was Roberto Mastrosimone of Sicily who downed tools twice this week with his colleagues at Termini Imerese.

"Unfortunately we're used to it. In 2002, Fiat already wanted to close the plant but we went on strike for two months and forced them not to do it," Mastrosimone said, adding that new work stoppages were likely.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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