The largest Italian trade union, CGIL, originated in 1944 as the continuation of the pre-existing CGdL (Confederazione Generale del Lavoro); the UIL, the smallest of the three main trade unions, with a secular, democratic, and socialist background, came into being on March 5, 1950; the CISL, the second-largest by number of registered members and of a Christian nature, was born on April 30 of the same year.
The three historical Italian trade unions were united and politically very strong until the 1970s. They were referred to collectively as the “triple” or the “Confederated Trade Unions.”
Starting in the 1960s, a sort of referential fear spread around these institutions. Even the “bosses,” as entrepreneurs were called at that time, when they referred to the “workers’ organizations,” always did so with measured and respectful judgments. After all, they had to reckon with them, dealing with them every day in the factories, because their strikes damaged more than a company’s production. In the past, criticizing the role, the organization, the politics, and the finances of a trade union automatically meant taking the bosses’ side.
Things started to change in the ’80s, first with disagreements among the three unions regarding the abolition of the sliding scale (the mechanism that automatically adjusted wages to inflation), and then with the famous “march of the 40,000” the vociferous protest of white-collar Fiat workers against the blue collars of the union organizations. The trade unions’ loss of power has continued to this day. Moreover, the media do not hesitate to expose the excessive power and intrusiveness of the three main unions, as well as the aspects of a bureaucratic and costly reality, which gradually lost touch with the real Italy. At present, trade unions are no longer as well-regarded as they once were, and the public indignation over the exorbitant costs of the political caste ended up involving this institution as well, accusing it of not making its finances public and transparent. The former “triple” can, however, count on the CAF, the centers for fiscal assistance of the trade unions (INCA-CGIL, INAS-CISL, ITAL-UIL), which have millions of clients.
The most recent dispute involves Fiat, which decided to reject the consolidated model of union relations by leaving Confindustria (the association of Italian industrialists) and proposing—also on account of the economic crisis—another system of relations, founded on the company and on agreement within the factory, in a logic in which the union would have to be placed in an inferior position with respect to the politics of the group. Some trade unions followed Fiat’s course of action, while FIOM remained wary of the position of the “boss,” and did not sign the contract.