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Insorgiamo: the story of how workers of an Italian factory are creating history

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Picture: Andrea Sawyerr via Collettivo Di Fabbrica / Lavoratori Gkn Firenze – Mobilisation of the GKN workers and support groups on New Year’s Eve in Campi Bisenzio. Laid-off workers of the former GKN plant in Campi Bisenzio, who have been leading a 900-day long struggle, have proposed to take over the plant by forming a co-operative to facilitate futuristic production, the writer says.

By Peoples Dispatch

The fight against plant closures, offshoring, mass layoffs, and persecution has been an almost a daily affair for the working class in Europe over the past two decades. Covid-19 and the escalating cost of living crisis further pushed workers to the brink.

Over these years ridden with scorching attacks of global finance capital marked with austerity and ‘slave’ labour, grassroots mobilisation and solidarity were two major pillars of working-class organisation and resistance.

It is in this context that the fightback by the workers of the former GKN factory in Campi Bisenzio near Florence in Italy against layoffs and plant closure, which has been on for more than 900 days, has created history. The movement has generated a path-breaking alternative that seeks to buy back the plant by raising a € million through solidarity crowdfunding initiative.

As of January 5, GKN Florence Workers-Factory Collective has received over € 600,000 (US$ 657,360) as popular shareholding from individuals, community groups, co-operatives, and workers collectives within Italy and abroad.

The struggle

The driveshaft manufacturing plant in Campi Bisenzio was owned by Fiat till 1994 and later went to the British multinational automotive company GKN Ltd. In 2018, through a controversial deal, all divisions of the GKN were taken over by UK-based investment firm, Melrose.

Under the new management, even though GKN’s Campi Bisenzio plant was operational for some time with the backing of the Italian government, Melrose chose to close the site as part of its speculative ‘restructuring’. On July 9, 2021, all 422 employees and around 80 temporary workers at the plant received termination notices via email without any previous notices or communications.

In response to that, the workers who were already affiliated with the metal workers union FIOM-CGIL and the autonomous factory-wide platform Collettivo di Fabbrica, launched their struggle against the dismissals by occupying the plant and starting a permanent assembly.

The working class sections in Florence and metal workers in other parts of the country soon launched a solidarity campaign “Insorgiamo con i lavoratori GKN” (Let’s rise with the GKN workers). They organised work stoppages, marches, and demonstrations in Campi Bisenzio and Florence, and also contributed financially to the protesting workers of GKN.

The GKN workers also challenged their arbitrary dismissal in court and in September 2021, the Labour Court in Florence upheld the appeal against the layoffs and forced Melrose to pay three months’ salary to the workers.

Ex-GKN For the Future

In the following months, while Melrose continued its scheming to evict the workers and sell off the plant through an advisor, Francesco Borgomeo, the GKN collective and activists from different groups devised a plan to form a co-operative for productive reconversion of the Campi Bisenzio into an eco-friendly futuristic plant that would produce cargo-bikes and solar panels.

In 2022, Francesco Borgomeo acquired the GKN plant from Melrose, named the plant ‘Quattro F’, promised to revamp production, and appealed to the Mario Draghi-led government to put the new workforce on a government-funded furlough scheme. But neither Borgomeo nor the government had any concrete plan or willingness to revamp production or to protect the workers.

The factory collective, led by workers, developed their plan to re-operate the plant, even without receiving their salaries or support from the government. In 2023, the workers’ collective launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance the new co-operative ex-GKN For Future (GFF) to facilitate the buyback or lease the plant, to refurbish machinery, purchases, start production, and other formalities.

Meanwhile, in December last year, the workers’ collective successfully challenged another layoff order from the management in the Labour Court in Florence. On December 31, thousands of people gathered at the factory site and resolved to continue their campaign to save the factory and its workers.

Sources from Potere al Popolo told Peoples Dispatch that “since July 9, 2021, the GKN workers in Campi Bisenzio have been fighting”. “Not only to defend their jobs and a factory from a hedge fund that wanted to close it but also to enhance a basic socialist principle: it has to be us, as a community, who decide what, how, and how much to produce.

“The workers have already rejected collective dismissals twice. They have written a law against relocations. They have resisted government and company attempts to starve them. Now they want to relaunch the production from below, together with environmental networks, to create products that are useful for the ecological transition. Insorgiamo!”

The Communist Refoundation Party (PRC) stated that “braving the Draghi-Meloni governments and the Tuscany regional administration, the GKN Florence Workers Factory Collective has elaborated an industrial project for a socially integrated plant, based on co-operation, mutualism, public capital and with production available for the ecological transition from the bottom up”.

PRC has called on the Italian government and the Tuscany Region to support the workers’ project to produce photovoltaic panels and cargo bikes.

This article was published by Peoples Dispatch