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Reportage. After airline unions shot down a business plan asking for steep cuts to workers, Alitalia’s future is hanging in the balance.

Alitalia hangs between liquidation or new business plan

“Why wouldn’t the government help? It saved the banks, it saved Ilva, why not us?” This observation by an Alitalia worker summarizes what is happening in the former national airline, the day after the resounding “no” issued from the union to the non-business plan proposed by the company. A company that, despite the failure of its strategy, continues to raise its voice, as the board decides to initiate proceedings for special administration, a step toward bankruptcy. This shift must be approved at the shareholders’ meeting on May 2.

So there is still a week to see if the government will really appoint the commissioners, selected by the Ministry of Economic Development. Or if the leaders of Etihad, Unicredit and Intesa San Paolo, the company’s major shareholders, and the government leaders, rethink this issue. Mainly due to the fact that Alitalia has 11,600 direct employees and a giant sphere of satellite activities that employ another tens of thousands of workers. And these workers operate in the sensitive area of air transport across the entire country, with high visibility.

Although formally it is a private enterprise, Alitalia is not just any company. Susanna Camusso and Annamaria Furlan remind us of that. They are the union representatives of Filt CGIL and CISL, organizations that supported the “yes” in spite of the dissent among some of their members. The CGIL secretary warns: “You have to start from a credible business plan, supported by the banks and the government, and the participation of the Savings and Loans Fund.” Therefore, the discussion over the business plan needs to be reopened, because an extraordinary administration and the liquidation of the company “means the loss of an industrial heritage for the country, which we have to protect. But in order to do it, we need a different business plan.”

Furlan presents a similar reasoning: “We hope that Alitalia’s proceeding of special administration will pave the way to a credible business plan and for a revival of our company, involving all employees through their participation in company decisions, and enhancing the professionalism present in the company.” Furthermore, the leader of the CISL union considers the alternative a disaster: “Alitalia’s closure or its dismemberment to pieces, must be averted in every way possible, in the interest of the employees, the air transport sector and the country system.”

The union base — USB and CUB — proud supporters of the “no,” presents a clear picture of the state of things. Antonio Amoroso recalls: “There are at stake not only the 12,000 Alitalia employees but more than 50,000 workers, if you think that for each of our employees there are four workers in satellite industries. We could not support the industrial plan because it was really just the springboard to deliver Alitalia to the best foreign bidder [Lufthansa]. This is the third bankruptcy since 2008: Back then, there were 220 aircraft; now we have 120, and the plan provided for the grounding of another 20 planes.”

Even Stefano Fassina, leader of the Italian Left, provides a realistic analysis: “The ‘no’ by 67 percent of male and female workers is saying no to additional heavy sacrifices, imposed for the third time in less than 10 years, in the absence of a credible business plan managed by an inadequate management team. With pragmatism and a significant public capital investment in Alitalia, the company can execute the necessary investments and build useful partnerships to its revival. It would be irresponsible for the government to use the referendum result to sell off Alitalia.”

From Brussels, the E.U. recalls that, in theory, Italy can request state aid for the national airline. Though it would be a temporary situation, and it would require a number of bureaucratic and administrative steps. Anyway, it is better than the almost certain eruption of a major social conflict. It’s not by chance that a worried Virginia Raggi, the mayor of Rome, declared: “We believe that the jobs should be protected.”

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