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Michele De Palma: giving meaning to work – Martino Mazzonis

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Michele De Palma: giving meaning to work – Martino Mazzonis

“We can eat one thing in Fiom”. It is not easy to find an hour to chat with Michele De Palma, 46 (“So I have nothing young, as it is written”), general secretary of the metalworkers of the CGIL. So we have lunch on his desk in the Fiom-Cgil headquarters in Rome, eating a salad from the canteen. But it is still a lunch and not a formal meeting, so I warn De Palma that I will interrupt him whenever he uses trade union jargon.

Let’s talk about the minimum wage and how work has become marginal in terms of attention and visibility. And how hard it is to be a trade unionist in a country that has gone from one crisis to another in the last twenty-five years. “Sometimes. But when you get a result for the people you represent it’s not strenuous. I think our members know we are there, they saw us at the gates in the months of the covid, when we went to check that the security protocols were respected. And they see us during crises or if there is a need to lend a hand in buyouts, when they found a cooperative to acquire and save a company from closure. Yet from how they tell us it seems that being a trade unionist means doing the business of a few and officials. It’s something that comes from the idea of ​​work I was talking about earlier and from years of anti-union rhetoric. We also have responsibilities, but they do not justify the image of the union that is transmitted ”.

De Palma does not like to talk about himself. There are more urgent issues: national and European politics are full of issues that affect the role of the trade union and the future of factories. And then, given the freshness of the assignment, he is very attentive to what he says.

It must be odd for an unborn union to be the union leader par excellence. “When it was first talked about, I pretended not to hear and not think about it. Even today I have cold sweats in front of such a responsibility. When I started in the CGIL, in Reggio Emilia, I came from politics and maybe they looked at me like the parked official. I think I got rid of that label by working. I think the role we play is important because I have a concern that concerns the people we represent but it is also personal: if we do not create a world of work that is inclusive, that gives perspectives and does not make those who work a gear feel, if we do not face the environmental crisis with courage, what world do we leave? I have a young daughter and this question, which was important even before, has taken on a new meaning ”. This joke is the most personal of our lunch, De Palma in this sense is a bit of a man from another era, one in which the sentences of the public figures did not begin with “I”. The need to give answers to the younger generations on the climate goes hand in hand with that of responding to the widespread anger in Italian society.

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De Palma was born in Terlizzi, in the metropolitan city of Bari, has an accent and also some colloquial expression that you do not expect from the leader of Fiom, he is the first southerner to lead the federation. Terlizzi often returns to our conversation, not out of nostalgia but because it is part of the story of a different era. Although he is relatively young, the world in which De Palma grew up did not have the blurred and uncertain boundaries of the contemporary one. He cites the party section not as a place for politics and nothing else, but as a space through which social and convivial life passed. And he remembers the church of Don Tonino Bello, a pacifist bishop who, already suffering from cancer, participated in the 1991 peace caravan in Sarajevo.

“Traveling around Italy you realize how in unexpected places so much of the added value is still industrial. This is especially true for the north-east of course, but also for places where the story is different: in Florence for example, I don’t say in Piombino or Pontedera where one expects it. But that world of work is as if it didn’t exist. It is not at the center of politics and has no visibility. Work is no longer considered an added value for you who do it and for society as a whole “.

De Palma recalls the praise and the beautiful words that were spent during the pandemic about the so-called heroes, about people who carry out nursing jobs or are employed in hospitals. “But there were also people who didn’t stop working in the factory for a moment while the rest was stopped. Then we’re back to square one: the idea that working isn’t just about earning money but doing something for everyone – whether you make a bus, take care of a person, write software, or teach at a school – is gone again. . Moreover, the companies of this country from a certain moment on have sold to foreign groups and funds or have focused on finance. The competition was made on the cost of labor. I’ll be wrong, but I don’t recognize myself in the idea that you are cool if you make money in a few minutes with cryptocurrencies or by being sponsored by a cosmetic brand on Instagram “. He earned the first 500 lire by helping his uncle in the summer in Terlizzi. “That job meant responsibility, growth, it made me feel more important. It was like that for me as a kid but also for those who worked as a worker, nurse, train driver “.

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While Italian politics takes refuge in abstract discussions and its representatives seem engaged in a permanent electoral campaign, the indications voted by the European parliament on the minimum wage force us to talk about important things. “The minimum wage exists everywhere. In Germany it was introduced just as the labor market was becoming precarious, noting the risk that the incomes of new workers would fall. In Italy it happens that company bargaining derogates from the norm, that is, that a part of the national contract does not apply. This is also why we can only be in favor of the minimum wage ”, he underlines. “Starting from a base means not going below the bar set by law. We work with companies that are willing to dialogue to ensure that all workers in a plant have the same wages and the same rights. But there are workers hired for an indefinite period by temporary agencies with contracts that provide for minor pay and protections. And then do we have the lowest wages in Europe or not? Is there inflation or not that risks making poor even those who are just above the poverty line? ”.

On the transition to the electric car, De Palma tries to look ahead. He was among the demonstrators who took to the streets against the G8 in Genoa in 2001, when a generation that did not feel represented by politics rebelled against the neoliberal and capitalist model of globalization and put the defense of the environment and the issue of migrants at the center. .

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“That there was a climate emergency and that it would have consequences on how and what we produce is no surprise, there are auto giants who have been planning the transition for years. In 2005 almost 60 percent of the cars sold were diesel, in 2021 we are just over 20 percent. There is a dynamic going on. If investments are not foreseen that focus on innovation and new technologies throughout the supply chain, we will continue to produce internal combustion engine cars that from 2035 will no longer be able to be sold. It is not putting one’s foot down to slow down a process that makes a sector remain competitive. We have plants to produce 2 million cars a year but 400 thousand come out of the factories ”.

The problem is not the switch to electric, he says: “It has been like this for years. Among other things, after the covid, the blockade of the Panama Canal and now the war and geopolitical tensions we have entered a phase in which companies reason (and act) to shorten production chains, because they no longer want to depend exclusively from distant suppliers. Can we think of investing, of having an industrial policy that in some production sectors we are equipped to innovate and bring home parts of the production process and keep it competitive? Do we want to train workers in new productions or do we simply postpone the time when we will do it while other countries have already been at work for some time? A concrete and visible commitment from the government is needed on this. At the moment we have seen many consumer incentive bonuses, the kind of tools needed for a passing crisis. We are not in a moment like this “.

Time is running out. “Sorry, I have to run in CGIL”. I accompany him with one of those scooters that can be rented with an app and we say goodbye in front of the headquarters in Corso Italia.

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