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European strike in protest at Electrolux restructuring

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Country: 
Italy
Author: 
Alberto Gherardini, Domenico Paparella

Download article in original language : IT0508103NIT.DOC

On 12 July 2005, workers at the Italian and German factories of Electrolux, the Swedish-based home appliance manufacturer, held a strike to protest at the company's restructuring plans, which include plant closures and job losses.

The Electrolux Group is the world's largest manufacturer of home appliances (refrigerators, washing machines, ovens, gas cookers, vacuum cleaners, chainsaws and lawnmowers). Every year, customers in 150 countries buy more than 55 million products bearing Electrolux labels including (AEG, Corbeirò, Frigidaire, Husqvarna, REX e Zanussi). Electrolux employs 74,098 workers in every part of the world, of whom about 9,000 work in the Italian factories in Emilia-Romagna, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lombardy, Tuscany and Veneto.

On 12 July 2005 the workers at the Italian and German Electrolux Group factories came out on strike to protest against the strategies adopted by the Swedish multinational. This 'European strike' closed down production in the factories from a minimum of one hour to a maximum of four hours.

In Italy, the strike was called by the company level trade union representatives (Rappresentanze sindacali unitary, Rsu) of the Electrolux Group supported by Federation of metalworkers (Federazione impiegati operai metallurgici, Fiom-Cgil), the Italian federation of metalworkers (Federazione italiana metalmeccanici, Fim-Cisl) and Italian union of metalworkers (Unione italiana lavoratori metalmeccanici, Uilm-Uil). In Germany, the protest was organised by the Electrolux-AEG Works Council at Nuremberg and Rottenberg, with the full support of IGMetall.

The purpose of the strike was to support the demand for negotiations leading to an agreement that would ensure that the Electrolux factories in Europe would remain and be upgraded.

The Swedish multinational corporation's plans provide for the closure of the Bavarian factory at Nuremberg and the Lombardy factory at Parabiago (Milan) and the downsizing of the factory at Scandicci (Florence). The result of the cutbacks in production from the European factories would cause 1,750 redundancies in Nuremberg, 650 at Paragbiago (Milan) and 200 at Scandicci (Florence).

The closure of these factories cannot be explained only by the loss of market shares. With a turnover of EUR 13 billion (2004) Electrolux is still the world's leader in its industry, despite having to come to terms with heightened competition from the Korean group, Samsung. Furthermore the restructuring plan which the Board of Directors announced to the financial markets (equivalent to EUR 1 billion) does not even seem to be due to a loss of productivity by the European factories. The causes therefore lie in the decision to heighten competitiveness in terms of product costs in order to conquer new markets. An evident sign of this is the EUR 65 million invested to upgrade the plant in Hungary, to produce 560,000 refrigerators a year, the opening of a new major facility to build washing machines in St Petersburg (Russia), the enlargement of the Polish factories to which production currently made in the German factories is to be transferred, and lastly, the financing of one of Mexico's largest industrial projects, which has just been completed and where, by 2006, some 3,000 workers will be employed, producing a million refrigerators a year.

At a meeting held on 8 July in Rome, the CeO of the Electrolux Group, Hans Straberg, assured the Italian Minister of Production, Claudio Scajola, that the Group was interested in staying in Italy.

During the strike, Antonio Aldrighetti, the national Fim-Cisl coordinator for the Electrolux Group declared, 'we have had great support, and now we are waiting to see how the company will react. We hope that it takes note of the determination of the workers and will once again discuss an alternative plan with us. We continue reiterating that a solution can be found that will both meet the company needs and safeguard jobs. The only possible way forward from this dispute is to reach a negotiated agreement, and we hope that this will be the opportunity to ensure the company management takes on board the demands of the workers.'

Massimo Capitale, the Fiom-Cgil delegates in the Electrolux-Zanussi Rsu at Scandicci (Florence) added, 'this factory stands as the symbol of the Group. It is not running at a loss and with the same labour force, it is the most productive factory in Italy which has been held up on many occasions as a good example. We want an industrial plan which will safeguard our factory.'

These comments were followed by remarks by Peter Sherrer, the Secretary-General of the European Metalworkers' Federation (EMF) who, on the day of the European strike, said, 'what the EMF can never permit company management to do is set off one factory against another. Together with EMF, the workers will be united in the struggle to save the production of household appliances. Every effort will be made to coordinate the work of European trade unions in order to ensure a sustainable future fir this important engineering sector.'

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