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The struggle of the workers in Texprint, as in Gkn, as in hundreds of other similar cases, must fight both against the arrogance of the bosses and against inter-class collaborationism
On Wednesday 1 September 2021, after 228 days of mobilisation and protests at the gates of Texprint, a multinational textile company run by Chinese personnel, eight workers of Pakistani and Senegalese origin and two trade unionists of Si Cobas began their yet another peaceful hunger strike in front of the town hall in Prato.
The mobilization was aimed at raising awareness among institutions in Prato about the conditions of systematic exploitation and slavery in the textile printing factory. The workers - seventeen Pakistanis and one Senegalese, who were hired on fictitious apprenticeship contracts, all of whom were eventually fired in April 2021 because they were demanding a regular work contract - complained of a complete lack of security and of being forced to work twelve hours a day for seven days as opposed to eight hours for five days, as well as extended hours at night and constant CCTV surveillance. Many of them also reported serious injuries, such as one worker losing a finger joint while working on a machine; to prevent the worker from reporting the work injury, the Texprint manager, without calling an ambulance, personally took the worker to the hospital.
These workers are now demanding to be reinstated with a regular work contract. In addition, they are demanding the cancellation of the fines that have been imposed on them since the strikes have begun, which amount to more than 30,000 euros. They are appealing to the institutions to support them in the process of obtaining residence permits and to support them in bringing charges of exploitation under Article 18 of the consolidated amend of the Immigration Act. Finally, they demand, unfortunately to no avail, a report from the Prato labour inspectorate on the results of the investigation carried out for several months at Texprint.
In recent years, the local authorities in Prato have allegedly been equipped with 'new tools' to combat this hated enemy, namely 'labour exploitation'. The tools provided by the Prato authorities are neither sufficient nor applicable to the specificity of the Texprint case. The negotiations at the 'anti-exploitation' table, which have been going on for more than three months now, are totally inadequate when it comes to the workers' problems concerning their permanent residence and residence permits. As a result, they cannot make use of the meagre resources left over from the much-vaunted social system.
The multinational company in question has been in the spotlight since June this year, when the on-the-job fatality of Luana D'Orazio at the textile production plant in Oste di Montemurlo brought to light the fact that in the Florentine hinterland, where Texprint is based, tons of textile scrap material stored in warehouses were being trafficked. At the same time, the 'nth case of forced labour' and over-exploitation of foreign workers in factories whose products are marketed by major fashion brands could not fail to emerge.
But that is not all. The Council of State (Consiglio di Stato) issued an order to ban Texprint from business following an investigation by the District Anti-Mafia Directorate (DDA), which was investigating Sang Yu Zhang, known as Valerio, formally an employee but in reality the head of the textile printing factory, on charges of exporting large sums of laundered money to China for the benefit of companies close to the 'ndrangheta. In the end, Sang Yu Zhang was acquitted in the first instance by the Milan court, but this was not enough for the administrative judge of the second and last instance... to disprove the suspicion. But it remains a mere suspicion!
In the face of the arrogance of society and institutions, going on an indefinite hunger strike in a tent in front of the town hall in Prato is a more than legitimate reaction stemming from the desperation of these workers. Mayor Matteo Biffoni of the Democratic Party was not of the same opinion and considered such an initiative unacceptable and outside all norms. Therefore, on 3 September at dawn, the police intervened and forcibly cleared out the protesting workers who were trying to resist. Arrests followed. One of the men said: "They choked me for more than ten seconds, I couldn't breathe. At one point I managed to tell the policeman that I was afraid I was going to die. He told me that I was fine." The policeman's remark is the result of brainwashing combined with racist ignorance, but it also characterizes the current upsurge in authoritarianism we are witnessing. Naturally, the police rejected any degree of violence: this was an eviction in accordance with... democratic rules.
This incident has provoked a backlash and a strong reaction from workers at another factory, GKN, part of a British concern. From behind its gates comes support from the Factory Collective (Collettivo di fabbrica): 'We have just received news of the eviction of the Prato centre from the Texprint workers. As far as we know, they are being arrested at the police station. Do you really think you can put an end to this dispute? Do you really want to attack workers who are merely demanding that the national contract be respected? The Texprint workers were just here last night explaining their situation. We see an attack on them as an attack on all of us."
The following day the detained workers were released. The only charge is resisting a public official. But the tug of war is not over yet. The workers did not give up and on 6 September Si Cobas organised another demonstration in the square outside the town hall, which was also attended by GKN workers. The municipal Department of Order and Security decided to prevent the demonstration in a discriminatory way and moved it to the Piazza alle Carceri. When the GKN workers chanted in chorus in the Piazza alle Carceri, it sounded like a stadium; the slogans were different but dealt with exploitation: The Italians were chanting - 'Eight hours!' and the Pakistanis were complementing, 'Five days!'". Finally a complete agreement was realized in the square between the workers who have in common that they were fired : 422 from Campi Bisenzio on the part of the English multinational that wants to produce elsewhere, and 13 from Macrolotto on the part of the Chinese owner who denies the accusations of exploitation.
Above all, however, these multinationals are the protagonists of a continuous and uninterrupted stream of workers who have been sacked, facilitated, moreover, by the abolition of Article 18. The expressions of solidarity follow each other almost at random, but they are very significant, even if very isolated. Of course, this solidarity is countered by the policies of class-collaborationist unions inside the factories, which have succeeded in preventing a qualitative shift in the struggles, both today and in the future.
The baton is increasingly used by the state, the limits of the functioning of formal democracy are increasingly an obstacle for the bourgeoisie, which, beset by competitive wars and economic and financial crises, has an ever greater need to have a freer hand, to act dictatorially, which makes those limits ever narrower. The strangulation carried out by a member of the riot police, with no fatal consequences, is very reminiscent of the US police intervention that led to the death of George Floyd.
The imperialist states of the world will be forced to throw off the mask and show the true nature of bourgeois dictatorship. The proletarians of the whole world, if they do not want to be crushed in conditions of perpetual powerlessness and therefore perpetual slavery, will have to react in complete class independence, freeing themselves from opportunism and democratism, i.e. the real intoxication of inter-class collaboration, which the bourgeois counter-revolution has exercised for decades. To react means to fight, and the workers know this well, however to fight on class terrain, not on the terrain of the democratic system, and certainly not on the terrain of inter-class collaboration.
The clash between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is historically determined and inevitable. But to win the class struggle and to overthrow the bourgeois and capitalist dictatorship and replace it with the only one capable of changing the whole of society from top to bottom, the dictatorship of the proletariat, will require proletarian organisations of their own, which will lead to the rebirth of class trade union, which will be a long and agonizing process of struggle within the proletarian class itself, because defeating the practices and illusions of opportunism and inter-class collaborationism will not be an easy matter; and it will need above all the political guidance of the class, i.e. its political vanguard, the International Communist Party.
International Communist Party
September 7th, 2021
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