Italy's Fiat workers march in Turin to defend jobs

TURIN Sat May 16, 2009 10:57am EDT

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TURIN May 16 (Reuters) - Thousands of workers from Italy's auto group Fiat FIA.MI marched through the streets of Turin on Saturday shouting for job guarantees as the company moves to create what would be the world's second-biggest auto maker.

Blowing whistles, sounding horns and waving banners, the protesters from factories around the country vented their fears that ambitious deals planned by Fiat with Chrysler and General Motors could lead to plant closures and job losses.

Trade unions claimed 15,000 workers gathered at Fiat's headquarters in the northern Italian city, while police put the total nearer 3,000. The most vociferous groups came from the Pomigliano plant in Naples, which has a history of militancy.

"We've been at home on reduced pay for almost a year," said Pomigliano worker Milena Giammattei. "Fiat has never answered any of our concerns."

The Italian car maker is seeking alliances with Chrysler [CBS.UL] and General Motors Corp's (GM.N) European unit Opel in an expansion strategy to weather the downturn in global auto markets.

Many workers appeared more angry with Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right government for not calling on Fiat to begin talks with unions than with the group's Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne, who won some praise for his expansion strategy.

Marchionne said on Friday he was ready to talk with Italian unions after making more progress in negotiations with Opel, but workers fear that will be too late.

"We want a meeting now between the prime minister, Marchionne and us, not when they have already decided everything," Giorgio Cremaschi, the head of Fiat's main trade union, the FIOM, told Reuters.

U.S. and German unions have so far appeared to be putting up stronger opposition to the deals, fearing they have more to lose than the unions in Italy.

RESPECTED

Marchionne, who took the helm in 2004, got rid of many white collar workers at the group when he arrived in 2004 and saved blue collar workers, leaving him respected with a less antagonistic relationship with unions.

In newspaper interviews on Saturday, Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti and Industry Minister Claudio Scajola both said they had received commitments by Fiat not to cut jobs in Italy, but the marchers seemed far from convinced.

"Fiat's planned alliances are positive... but we need to know about our future and how central to Fiat Italy is going to be," said Marco Roselli, a worker at the southern Melfi plant.

"Marchionne is far-sighted but we don't just need the brains (of the group) in Italy, we also need the arms and the legs."

Ernesto Gado, from Turin's Mirafiori plant where the march began, said the factory now employed just 15,000 blue collar workers compared with some 70,000 in the 1960s and '70s.

A Pomigliano worker who gave his name as Mimmo said if the plant closed the livelihoods of 25,000 families would be at risk and the only alternative for many of them in the poor southern region was offered by organised crime.

"After Fiat the only thing left is the Camorra," he said, in reference to the notorious Neapolitan mafia.

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