Thousands of Fiat employees take to the streets

Worried about the consequences of the group's planned takeover of Opel, Fiat employees from all over Italy - 15,000 according to organisers - took to the streets of Turin on Saturday to demand job security.


AFP - "We are Fiat!" was the rallying cry of thousands of employees of the Italian auto giant who converged Saturday on the group's headquarters in northwestern Turin to demand job security.

Some 15,000 people from all over Italy, according to organisers, took to the streets to express their fears that Fiat's planned acquisition of the General Motors subsidiary Opel in Germany will lead to massive job losses.

Fiat, Italy's largest private employer with a workforce of some 82,000, has long symbolised the country's post-war industrial prowess.

The march's leading banner read: "From north to south, Fiat must not develop without us."

"We are Fiat!" proclaimed unionist Giorgio Airaudo. "Without us, the managers would not be praised as they are today" for having turned around the group, which was on the verge of collapse when Canadian-Italian Sergio Marchionne took the helm in 2004.

Even though the maverick captain of industry achieved the feat without massive job cuts, protester Francesco Percuoco, 42, told AFP: "We are worried. Marchionne is making alliances overseas that might lead to duplication and therefore plant closures in Italy."

Everyone fears an "industrial desert" in relatively poor southern Italy if Fiat closes down plants or slashes jobs in the region, already hit by the highest unemployment rate in the country.

"It's all very well to go shopping abroad, but Italian workers want to know what their future will look like," said Marco Roselli, a Fiat employee from southern Melfi.

"Marchionne should understand that it is not just the head of Fiat that must remain in Italy but the body as well."

Fiat's plans are unclear as it negotiates to take over the European activities of crippled US automaker General Motors, including Opel, raising deep concerns over potential job losses in Italy and Germany.

Italian unions are particularly worried over Termini Imerese in Sicily and the Pomigliano plant near Naples.

They fear that promised talks with management will not take place until after crucial decisions are made.

Fiat is in negotiations to take over Opel after entering into an alliance with stricken GM rival Chrysler.

According to a plan attributed to Fiat and quoted on Wednesday by Italian and German unions, the auto giant plans to scale back the factory at Pomigliano, close Termini Imerese and an Opel plant in Kaiserslautern in western Germany, as well as others in Britain and Austria.

Fiat has declined comment on the document, but has denied any connection with an earlier planning paper allegedly leaked to the German press that spoke of cutting 18,000 jobs in Europe after acquiring Opel.

"The silence is total," said Ermes Naccari, a worker at Fiat's largest plant in the Turin suburb of Mirafiori. "It's not like in Germany where the unions are involved in the management of companies. We're just seen as spoilsports."

Marchionne told reporters late Friday that while "market conditions" were beyond Fiat's control, "we will do our utmost to... guarantee the greatest possible number of jobs in Italy."

He said he would meet the unions and the government, but only once takeover talks for Opel are completed.

In the middle of the march was Roberto Mastrosimone of Sicily who downed tools twice this week with his colleagues at Termini Imerese.

"Unfortunately we're used to it. In 2002, Fiat already wanted to close the plant but we went on strike for two months and forced them not to do it," Mastrosimone said, adding that new work stoppages were likely.

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