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NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Turin.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Unidentified Man #2: (Italian spoken)
POGGIOLI: Unidentified Woman: No, no, no. (Italian spoken)
POGGIOLI: In one of Europe's most unionized countries, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne is trying to overhaul decades of labor relations by moving away from the national contract and making new demands on Mirafiori workers to ensure greater competitiveness and productivity. In exchange, he says Fiat will invest $1.3 billion in a new joint venture with Chrysler. But Marchionne warned what will happen if the no votes win.
SERGIO MARCHIONNE: (Through translator) If 51 percent vote no, Fiat will not invest in Mirafiori and will leave Italy.
POGGIOLI: Mirafiori is a symbol. It was the center of the country's industrial revolution and propelled post-war reconstruction. It was the heartbeat of the Italian labor movement. Now, the Marchionne plan includes fewer work breaks, more shifts, according to market demand, sickness benefits cutbacks and restrictions on the right to strike. Worker Antonio Cimino is convinced Marchionne wants to use Mirafiori to dismantle decades of Italian workers' hard-earned rights.
ANTONIO CIMINO: (Through translator) Mirafiori is just the first step. Other industries will do the same, scrap the national contract and impose what they want. Then workers' rights will no longer exist anywhere. It's a battle that goes beyond Fiat.
POGGIOLI: Italy has an alphabet soup of unions: FIM-CISL, UILM and so on. And here at Mirafiori, most of them have already agreed to the plan.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)
POGGIOLI: Unidentified Man #3: The crisis has been under way for three years. Many industries are dying. Banks are holding onto their money. If nothing improves, unemployment will skyrocket this year. We want to ensure our future. That's why we broke labor unity and approved the Marchionne plan.
POGGIOLI: Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)
POGGIOLI: Thousands of workers take to the streets in a torch-lit march. They chant slogans reminiscent of Italian labor triumphs of the late 1960s. One of the march organizers, Paolo Flores D'Arcais - who's a leading Italian intellectual - says Marchionne's plan is authoritarian and illegal. But he acknowledges that today's economic reality has sharply undermined labor's bargaining power.
PAOLO FLORES D: Sixty-eight was a moment of struggle, but in an economic period of growth. Today, one young worker out of three is without work, and so this is a social tragedy, and this changes completely the balance of forces.
POGGIOLI: Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Turin.
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