Lessons from the dockworkers’ strike in Italy against the mandatory ‘Green Pass’

Statement of ‘Le Prolétaire’, October 22, 2021.

Faced with the need to cope with the rising infection and hospitalization rates in the current  “fourth wave” of the Covid-19 pandemic, and a staggering vaccination campaign, some governments in the western hemisphere increasingly take their resort to measures… not so much of strengthening public health services, but rather of increasing repression, like blackmailing wage earners, who are barred from their workplaces and having their wages suspended, if they do not dispose of the required vaccination status, as for instance in Italy.

The following elaborate statement by the Bordigist group around ‘Le Prolétaire’  analyses an attempt initiated by dockworkers in Italy last autumn to thwart off such an attempt by the state to strengthen its control over the workers (via the “green pass”) – one that however was nipped in the bud rather spectacularly, not only by the usual political and syndicalist maneuvers, but also by the poisonous, if not nefarious, influence of the ‘anti-vax movement’. It also proposes some basic lessons to draw from this defeat that merit discussion.

On the strike of the dockworkers (CLPT) of Trieste and Monfalcone against the Green Pass obligation for workers

21 September became a turning point in the relations that the government in Rome intended to impose on Italian workers: it was the day of the enforcement of Decree-Law 127, a blunt measure against all workers who were guilty of the specific offense of not having a «green pass», i.e. the permission to enter the workplace.

This blunt measure consists of: immediate suspension from employment, immediate suspension of pay (and all allowances therefore), cancellation of vacation, sick leave, severance pay, and other corresponding compensation, etc., which would have been due during the entire period of suspension from employment. There is only one non–punitive clause valid for the entire “emergency” period, which expires on 31 December 2021: workers without the pass are deprived from their job but not dismissed – which yet leaves the door open for “legal” dismissals in the following period…

This ignominious blackmail, which the government extended to all workers in the public and private sectors after imposing it on health and education workers, was opposed by many workers who demonstrated and went on strike, but in conditions of total isolation and forced fragmentation. The class collaborationist trade unions, faithful to their odious collaboration with the bosses and the bourgeois ruling class and to the sabotaging the workers’ struggles as effectively as possible, could not fail to carry out the tasks imposed on them by the bourgeoisie: to divide the proletarian masses into those who, out of conviction or necessity, submitted to vaccination according to the government’s plans, and those who were not going to be vaccinated, either out of fear of the long–term consequences or out of their own conviction, and who were not going to submit to this additional measure of repression and social control. The grassroots trade union movement, which defines itself by the term “conflictual” (1) in order to distinguish itself from the bargaining and compromising trade unionism that characterizes traditional collaborationist unions, has mobilized against the compulsory green pass that entitles access to the workplace, which is also promoted by the class collaborationist unions CGIL, CISL and UIL. Also active was the Italian Federation of Interprofessional Trade Unions (FISI) (2), referred to by the Coordination of the Dockworkers of Trieste, which set itself apart by declaring and launching a strike from 15 to 20 October with the intention of blocking the port of Trieste and demanding the abolition of the green pass not only for the dockworkers of Trieste but for all Italian workers. This strike was covered by all the media and we will return to it later.

If the government has resorted to such harsh repressive measure against these 5 or 6 million workers who refused to be vaccinated, it is because it intended to force this great mass of “disobedient” workers to submit to the provisions agreed between the government, the employers’ unions and the collaborationist trade unions, in order to resume production at full speed and restore important growth rates after the sharp fall in capitalist profits in 2020, the most critical year of the pandemic. Have these workers not been convinced of the need for vaccination? We’ll convince them by cleaning out their pay slips! Let’s see how long they resist government regulations…

The latest data on the “economic recovery” from recent quarters suggest that, according to the calculations of the bourgeois statistical authorities, the Italian economy could see more than 6% growth this year compared to last year. Italian capitalism does not intend to let this chance slip through its fingers, especially at a time when the competitive struggle on international markets has intensified, and since Italy is not only a manufacturing country but also a major export country. All the activity of the Draghi government is aimed at economic recovery, for which, on the other hand, the European Union itself has spent a total of 2,364 billion [Euros] since last year (including loans at concessionary rates and free subsidies) in order to support this recovery for all the member countries, among which Italy is the country to which the largest part (191.5 billion Euros) is allocated: this is the so-called NRRP, the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (3), the altar on which the lives, wages and dignity of workers are sacrificed.

The governments attack on workers who refused to be vaccinated is in fact an attack on the entire working class; first, because it discriminates and divides workers into those who submit to this government blackmail and those who resist it; second, because it deprives of their wages workers who do not nod today to a particularly nasty repressive measure against those who do not want to be vaccinated; but tomorrow it could be a measure against those who refuse something else in another field; thirdly, because it is part of a general program of social control and repressive measures which the ruling bourgeoisie intends to implement within a few years in order to secure for itself a mass of proletarian sheep to be used as a bulwark against foreign competition and as a docile labor force willing to make any sacrifice to save the national economy and its profits.

This attack, on which the government and Confindustria (Italian Manufacturing Companies Association) were in complete agreement, was facilitated by the decades-long work of the compromising trade unions, which took it upon themselves to promote all the demands of capitalism as a general system and of each enterprise as a unit of production at the expense of exclusively proletarian interests, and systematically sabotaged them whenever a choice had to be made between defending the interests of the enterprises and the interests of the proletarians. In this general climate, and thanks to the super-proven practices of inter-classist [inter-class] collaboration, year after year the proletarians found themselves more and more defenseless, less and less defended, more and more sacrificed to the exploitation, which has not even hinted at letting up; on the contrary, it has increased with each crisis. Every year, this is demonstrated by workplace accidents and deaths, as well as the increase in job insecurity, unemployment and illegal employment.

The capitalist bourgeoisie is interested in having at its disposal a large number of proletarians from whom it can recruit from time to time those who are useful for the production of profit, for the valorization of invested capital, and from whom it can discard those who are no longer needed or who cost too much in comparison with the others.

Not only Trieste

All measures that the bourgeoisie is willing to take in order to somehow alleviate the most grievous situations in which the proletarians find themselves – and this time it is billions of Euros – are aimed at soothing the wounds that the proletariat is experiencing in a war that is not its own, but is a war of the bourgeoisie: a competitive war with foreign bourgeoisies.

In this competitive war, therefore, even a strike, all the more so if it is fought “to the end”, like the one launched by the dockworkers in Trieste and Monfalcone, has a deeper meaning for the government and the bourgeoisie, for their closest allies such as the parliamentary parties and the collaborationist trade unions, and for the proletarians, with, of course, completely different motivations between them and all the other “components” of society.

In the port of Trieste, there are 950 dockworkers and about 40% of them are not vaccinated (about 350); in the nearby port of Monfalcone, there are 300 dockworkers, 30 to 50% of them being not vaccinated. Since 2013, the port of Trieste has become the number one Italian port in terms of the volume of goods transported (mainly oil products), overtaking Genoa. In 2019, it handled 61,997,000 tons of goods, while Genoa handled 52,750,000 tons. The agitation that started in the port of Trieste was supposed to spread to other ports, Genoa, Ancona, Civitavecchia, etc., which indeed happened. It is therefore understandable why, from the government to the last company with commercial activities in the port, the alarm bells were ringing: if the port was indefinitely blocked, the losses would be considerable. The green pass has made another problem more visible: many of the trucks that arrive daily at the port of Trieste from Eastern Europe are driven by truck drivers who have been vaccinated with the Sputnik vaccine, which EMA and AIFA (European and Italian Health Agencies) do not recognize, so since 15 October they cannot enter the port because they do not have a green pass.

The Coordination of Workers of the Port of Trieste (CLPT), as announced in the previous days, launched a strike on Friday 15 October 2021 from 6.00 a.m. From the outset, the CLPT’s stance has been adamant but extremely pacifist declaring from the outset that whoever wants to go to work can do so. Thus the group of dockworkers who stood at the entrance to gates 1 and 4 was not in fact a workers’ picket but a peaceful gathering. After gaining the support of many people outside the port, a mass of several thousand people blocked the entrance at Gate 4 on October 15. Needless to say, the strike called by the CLPT was immediately declared “illegal”, meaning that the participants risked conviction for obstructing a public service and for occupying a road. Nevertheless, the agitation continues, despite pressure and threats from all sides. According to the prefecture, the port authority and the companies involved in the transport of commodities, the decisive days should have been Monday 18 and Tuesday 19 October. But as early as Saturday, October 16th, the whole affair began to take a very different turn. Conflicts arose even within the CLPT itself, especially against the “leadership” of its spokesman (S. Puzzer), who clearly did not know how to “lead” the strike, so that it would be clearly distinguished from the extremely heterogeneous “solidarity” movement, which eventually stifled the workers’ initiative by turning it into a general “anti-vax” demonstration. On Monday, 18 October, a CLPT spokesman declared “victory” for the simple reason that the strikers had achieved – it is not known exactly, on an intercession of what particular person from the state authorities – a meeting on October 30th in Rome at the Senate to “discuss” the green pass necessary to enter the workplace; and he announced the end of the strike, which was originally intended to last “until the end” or at least until October 20th, as FISI stated in its communiqué of October 18th addressed to all government institutions, ministries and all employers’ unions in the public and private sectors.

The rift in the CLPT was inevitable; the strike lost its main aspect, the momentum of the workers’ struggle, within a few days. It could have been an example to be followed by the workers of many other enterprises, but the contamination by the “solidarity” of the petty bourgeoisie could not bring anything positive to the proletarian struggle, because instead it aimed to use the workers’ agitation for political purposes completely incompatible with the struggle that the dockworkers in Trieste – vaccinated and unvaccinated – were fighting together for the abolition of the green pass obligatory and, consequently, the resulting suspension of wages.

This kind of class solidarity between vaccinated and unvaccinated workers was not limited to the Trieste dockworkers; on October 15th similar strikes took place at Elettrolux in Susegana (TV), DHL in Liscate (MI), Camsto and Interport in Bologna, in the Caserta area and in many other factories.

The Trieste dockworkers and with them the Genovese dockworkers (who tried to block the Ethiopia gate) found themselves not only facing the police – which, on 18 June, after a full day of water cannons and tear gas shelling, managed to “liberate” gate no. 4 of the port of Trieste – not only to the pressure and threats of the port authority and the courts, not only to the more or less silent and cowardly sabotage of the collaborationist unions (4); they have also had to face the action of a heterogeneous, confused, but at the same time arrogant, anti–vax movement and those far–right currents that exploit social unrest and proletarian discontent by shamelessly flaunting the Republican Constitution and the “rights” enshrined in it, calling for “direct democracy” against parliamentary democracy, and babbling about “auto–decision of the people”; in short, a movement which would establish itself as “anti–system”, but which, like all the previous ones – as, for example, the «5 Star Movement» – seeks to have a large number of supporters so that sooner or later it can sit on the benches of the organs of power…

At the beginning, the dockworkers of Trieste wanted to abolish the green pass requirement for entry to the workplace not only for themselves but for all other workers, and opposed the introduction of testing even if it was provided free of charge (while in the port of Genoa, the USB union of the dockworkers, although opposed to the green pass requirement, demanded only that the tests be provided free of charge even to the workers who did not intend to be vaccinated).

What damage did the strike cause to the port?

According to all authorities, there was no damage, only a few delays in loading and unloading. The strike therefore failed in every respect, not only because it was not nationwide as originally declared, not only because its leadership fell apart within two days, not only because it was isolated and sabotaged in every way by the trade union confederations, but above all because it did not do any harm to the transport of commodities. This is exactly what everyone wanted, state authorities and private companies, politicians and traitorous trade unionists and they used every means at their disposal to do so; of course, after the decision was taken to provide free tests to all unvaccinated dockworkers, the trade union confederations pressed the accelerator and proclaimed that there was now no reason to continue the protests and that the strike must be ended immediately because the danger of damage to the port’s economic activity had to be averted… even if it was only to slow down traffic.

In fact, it was the CLPT itself that brought its own struggle to a dead end of impotence with its declaration that the strike of its members would not stop any activity at the port. If the workers’ struggle does not do any harm to capitalist activity, which is the only way to be heard and to obtain satisfaction, or at least to constitute a force that can later become decisive, why then go on strike? Why to struggle when the main demand for which the strike was called – the abolition of the compulsory green pass and of the suspension of wages not only for dockworkers but for all workers – has from the outset been inserted within limits that shackle it and render the demand futile and the struggle impotent?

In our statement of October 13th, we wrote: «The example of the Trieste dockworkers is illustrative: the Coordination of dockworkers of Trieste (CLPT) has declared that it will strike from 15 October until the end unless the green pass obligation is abolished not only for dockworkers in the port of Trieste, but for all workers. It is this resolutely classist attitude that has made them declare that they will not even accept the free testing that the companies have promised only to them if they go to work: “We are not for sale!” is the cry that unites all the dockworkers in Trieste, both those who have been vaccinated and those who did not want to be vaccinated. This is what proletarians should do in all enterprises, in any industry, on the example of the Trieste Dockers.» (5)

However, from what we know, the strike of the dockworkers in Trieste and Monfalcone suffered from the first moment the negative consequences of the collaborationist policy that the trade union confederations have followed for more than seventy years: The CLPT was unable to use the means of class struggle that alone could put into practice the declaration of struggle that was verbally launched on the wave of anger triggered by the government decree.

The apparent contradictions of this decree were clearly denounced by the Trieste CLPT, which stressed in its October 16th communiqué that the struggle had been launched «to prevent the application of the criminal and blackmailing green pass decree, which has nothing to do with health security and the fight against Covid-19, but which aims to divide the workers and force some of them to pay to be able to work. All this after almost two years of working in health and safety conditions that are, to put it mildly, ridiculous»; and that the response has been «to offer free testing to dockworkers in Trieste and Monfalcone, but not to all (… ), another discrimination within discrimination»; and it stressed that the strike initiative «aroused a wave of solidarity from all over Italy that surprised us, but also made us understand that we are not alone», while condemning the fact that companies, «in order to face the strike, employ workers without green pass, contrary to government regulations».

The CLPT, after openly declaring that all workers who wanted to enter the port and work could do so without fear, instead of relying on the unity and strength of the workers’ struggle as such – a compactness and strength that is not born out of nothing but is the result of work done long before – relied on demonstrations by opponents of vaccination and the “solidarity” of thousands of people, who had rushed to Trieste to pursue goals that had nothing to do with the dockworkers’ struggle, but who, on the other hand, used this struggle (and the publicity it objectively gained, since the blockade of the Trieste port, if it had actually taken place, would certainly have done harm not only to the port itself but also to the national economy) to strengthen the “anti–system” populist movement.

The CLPT has made the development of the strike dependent on this movement, as is evident from the very sentences written in the October 16th communiqué in which it denounces the fact that the institutions “have tried to prevent the democratic expression of the will of a large part of the population by threats and lies“, drawing from this the need to “take a step forward together with the thousands of people and groups with whom we have come into contact in recent days”. What did this step forward consist of?

From tomorrow, we are going back to work – those who can – (for the dockworkers of the first shift on October 17th, 2021), but we are not letting up. The first step will take place on October 30th, when representatives of dockworkers from Trieste and Monfalcone and other Italian ports, police forces, medical staff, journalists and other sectors from all over Italy will be received at the Senate in Rome to present the arguments of those who demand the abolition of the green pass required to work.”  (6)

The dockworkers of Trieste – and other ports – went on strike because of the government decree affecting the unvaccinated on wages; they demanded the abolition of the green pass entitling them to work not only for themselves but for all workers. However, they were fooled by the heterogeneous movement of those “anti-Green Pass”, thinking that their mobilization of “solidarity” would strengthen the workers’ protest; and not only that, they were fooled by the promise of a meeting on the floor of the Senate in Rome with representatives of police forces, medical staff, journalists and other sectors from all over Italy” that would lead to a positive outcome of their protest. In reality – and we are writing on October 22nd, before the fateful meeting of October 30th – the strike was defeated before it had a chance to become a practical example of the workers’ struggle; this struggle, enfolded within the petty–bourgeois framework of the populist “anti Green Pass” movement, proved to be a weapon without any effect. The capitalist “partners” had it easy when, already on 17 October, the number of dockworkers present at Gate 4 was reduced to about 70 people. The president of the Trieste Port Authority, D’Agostino, could rub his hands and claim that ‘the port never stopped working, albeit at a slower pace», the gates were not blocked, those who wanted to enter could work”, and concluded, when he saw that the Trieste dockworkers had not blockaded the port, that they had finally “understood that they were in an absurd situation that was bigger than themselves and had no way out”. (7) Yes, he described the situation as it had developed: with no possibility of the port workers’ struggle continuing; while the CLPT was announcing the “victory” of the strike, after having received the solidarity of the port “anti green pass” activists and the promise of a meeting in Rome, one of the most important representatives of the local and national economy was rejoicing in the defeat – this time real – of their struggle.

In our statement of 13 October, we concluded by asking the question: «We shall see what happens in Trieste on 15 October: the Dockers have declared that they will not budge an inch from the blockade of the port. Will the police intervene with force to clear access to the port? It seems that even many of the truck drivers who have to go to the port do not have the green pass, especially those coming from abroad who have been vaccinated with Russian Sputnik, which Italy does not accept. It is certain that tensions have been escalating recently and that the government is at a crossroads: to repress the Trieste Dockers by force, so as to avoid the blockade of the port, which is one of the most important in Italy, or to back down and invent, as usual, some kind of a loophole for this exceptional situation?»  (8)

We have told, albeit briefly, what happened. There was no blockade of the port and, in fact, none was intended. Although the action of the port workers was peaceful, the police, under the pretext of a gathering of “no–green pass” demonstrators in the grounds in front of Gate 4, intervened with force and cleared access through that gate to the port, which was certainly not the only one through which trucks could enter and leave. In the words of Interior Minister Lamorges himself, the government decided to intervene by force, because such a lesson would be harsh enough for the proletarians who dared to oppose the government’s orders, even peacefully and without resorting to a de facto blockade, because they could interrupt the transport of commodities and its profits, if only for a day, and, above all, set an example for struggle in other ports and in other areas. In addition, the fact that thousands of “anti green pass” demonstrators had been drawn to Trieste was another factor in the fact that the suppression of their demonstrations was a further warning to all those who intended to break out of the narrow confines into which any expression of dissent is now effectively cast. It was also a warning to all those who spontaneously felt that they wanted to support the Dockers’ struggle with their presence, to make that struggle more resolute and not to make them feel isolated.

The government intends to remove all possible impediments to the recovery of the economy, whether in any public or private sector; it does not care that in intervening in this sense it goes and will go increasingly against “individual freedoms” and “rights” enshrined in the Constitution. Today, the state of emergency of Covid–19 is still a great pretext for taking “extraordinary” measures, which, moreover, the laws take into account; in the future, another state of emergency, an excuse to suppress and prevent the workers’ struggle from manifesting itself in its full strength, will certainly not be lacking. For all this, then, the proletariat must prepare itself ideologically and practically.

From the experience of the struggles of port workers, not only in Trieste, as well as from the struggles of logistics workers, delivery riders, from the struggles in multinational companies that dismiss workers with extraordinary ease, and from all situations where workers are exploited even more bestially than before in the name of economic recovery, productivity, competitiveness, a lesson must be drawn that applies to all proletarians.

  1. It is necessary to organize independently not only of the state and institutional apparatus, but also independently of the apparatuses of collaborationist trade unions and collaborationist politics, on platforms of struggle that defend exclusively the immediate proletarian interests. This means heading towards proletarian economic associations that do not differentiate between native and immigrant proletarians, between the skilled and the unskilled, and that include among their demands those that are primarily unifying for all wage-earners, such as a drastic reduction in the daily working day, wage increases for the lowest paid categories, and full wages for those on the dole, laid-off and completely out of work.

  2. The means of struggle in defense of the working conditions and existence of the proletariat must undoubtedly correspond to the real proletarian force that is being mobilized, but it must be placed above and against the demands of the economic activity of the enterprises; the struggle against the harmful environment, the increase in the pace of work, the increase in the number of tasks performed, overtime, the struggle for safety measures must be part of the basic demands of the proletariat; the struggle against scab labor is part of the proletarian class struggle, because the scabs are another weapon of the capitalists against the workers’ struggle. The workers’ assemblies must once again become the main medium for the direct participation of all proletarians in the defense of their interests, through which they will decide the aims and means of the struggle. The “right to strike”, unless backed by the force of struggle, is worthless, as the Trieste dockworkers’ strike showed; negotiations and “talks” with the so-called “social-partners” must be pushed forward by actual struggle. And in order not to remain in isolation, in the demands of one’s enterprise and in total oblivion, it is necessary to take the struggle outside one’s own workplace, to the proletarians of other enterprises, to the demonstrations in the streets.

  3. The workers’ struggle must be defended not only against the work and activities of collaborationist trade union and political organizations whose task it is to intensify competition between workers, but also against all expressions of solidarity which in fact want to weaken the struggle in defense of the workers’ working conditions and the workers’ struggle in general and divert it towards inter–classist and therefore actually anti–proletarian political aims. Proletarian solidarity is class solidarity insofar as it fully and unreservedly shares the demands of the defense of the proletariat; it is a false, insidious intoxicating solidarity, which must in any case be kept at arm’s length and isolated from the proletarian struggle, insofar as its aim is not to strengthen it but to use its weight and power to strengthen petty bourgeois interests of this or that popular movement.

International Communist Party (‘Le Proletaire’), October 22, 2021.

Source: On the strike of the dockworkers (CLPT) of Trieste and Monfalcone against the Green Pass obligation for workers.

Notes:

1 The organizations that form part of this “conflictual” syndicalism are many; the best known are: ADL Cobas, Cib Unicobas, Clap, Confederazione Cobas, Cobas Sanità Università e Ricerca, Cobas Scuola, Cub, Fuori Mercato, SGB, Si Cobas, Sial Cobas, Slai Cobas S.C., ISB, Usi Cit. These trade unions jointly signed the appeal to the October 11th general strike.

2 The FISI Nazionale is a recently formed “political-syndicalist” organization that came to prominence in 2020 with its stance against the Covid–19 vaccination and the so-called “Sanitary Dictatorship”, by which the government has severely restricted “individual freedom”. Its founders include people from the far right (CasaPound). They also founded the blog The Heretic’ in 2020, which is very present on social media.

3 The PNRR, the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, is precisely the economic and social plan that is being discussed at the European Union level, so that each member country receives support in the form of billions of dollars of investment for economic recovery; a recovery designed at the European level – as if the European Union was a single economic and political entity – with a series of national criteria necessary to access the funds provided. The basic condition is obvious: to present an investment project relating to business stimulation, digitization, launch of the green economy, simplification of bureaucracy and streamlining of regulations, so that businesses can speed up their activities and expand without being held back by the bureaucratic tangle that characterizes almost all European countries, and Italy in particular. Italy has received a greater share of funding than other countries: the European Commission has focused in particular on the fact that it has been badly affected by the pandemic and that its economic recovery would benefit the whole of the European Union as the second European manufacturing country after Germany, not only in terms of intra-European trade but also in terms of global competition.

4 In a joint communiqué, the three big unions CGIL, CISL and UIL stressed the “strong bond between the port, its workers and the city”, which “cannot and must not be threatened by people who have nothing to do with the port” and who “prevent the port and the city from continuing to generate revenue” (www.huffingtonpost.it, 17 October 2021). These words are entirely consistent with those of the President of the Trieste Port Authority, who stated that the situation was ”no longer tenable” because some ships originally bound for Trieste had changed course and landed elsewhere. On the police intervention with water cannons and tear gas, see Sgombero del porto: la polizia interviene con idranti e lacrimogeni , October 18, 2021 [“Port evacuation: police intervenes with water cannons and tear gas”].

5 Read: Italy – Against the Obligation of the “Green Pass” for all Workers! (I.C.P. – ’Le Proletaire’ October 13, 2021.)

6 The text of the CLPT’s 16 October 2021 statement is available at: Clpt: ‘Da domani torniamo al lavoro’. (CLPT: “Tomorrow we go back to work”)

7 Cf. https://www.open.online/2021/10/17/trieste-presidente-porto.d-agostino-porto-aperto/, October 17, 2021. (Headline:At the protest of the ports of Trieste remain the die-hards. The president exults: “They had fallen into an absurd situation”)

8 See footnote 5.

Dockers’ strike at Trieste (Italy), October 18, 2021: The police intervenes with water cannons and tear gas to evacuate strikers. (3 minutes, Commentary in Italian language)

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