Susanna Camusso was elected General Secretary of the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) in 2010. CGIL is the largest national trade union centre in Italy, with a membership of over 5,5 million.
Susanna was born in 1955 in Milan, Lombardy, the most industrialised region in Italy. She is the youngest of four sisters in a family committed to progressive values and causes and during the 1970s season of protests and youth movements she started fighting for improving democracy and social and labour rights.
A life in the labour movement
Susanna joined the trade union movement in the ’70 when she was a university student. At the age of 20 she became a trade union leader at Milan’s metalworkers union. She started her career in workers’ and trade unionists’ training, where she learned the importance of collective bargaining to ensure lifelong learning and public education to the workers.
Once elected as a National Secretary of FIOM, the metalworkers union of CGIL, she took the responsibility of the automotive and steel industries, where she was confronted with the global development of the markets and the process of production. Her work included dealing with issues such as the organization of work, wage models, industrial strategies and company restructuring during economic crisis.
In 1997 she was elected General Secretary of FLAI-CGIL, the food and agriculture union of Lombardy region, and she negotiated some important agreements based on an innovative vision of collective bargaining and rural production, environmental protection and new forms of consumption.
Three years later she became the first woman to be elected General Secretary of CGIL of Lombardy, which is the largest regional organization of CGIL, with a membership of over one million.
In 2008 she moved to Rome as a National Secretary of CGIL charged with collective bargaining and industrial policies in the manufacturing industries and in 2010 she became the first woman to be elected General Secretary of CGIL with a majority of over 80 per cent. She was then re-elected for a second term in 2014.
Jobs, equality, participation
Susanna’s eight years of leadership at CGIL coincided with the major financial, economic and social crisis that the world and Italy has experienced since the 1920s.
The 2007 downturn was exacerbated by the austerity policies of the Italian government and the European Union with an attempt to undermine social cohesion, social dialogue and collective bargaining.
However, not only the Italian trade union movement has survived but has increased its membership, involving new groups of workers, such as migrants and precarious workers and playing a leading role in opposing the growing wave of racism, xenophobia fostered by new rampant right-winged parties.
Under Susanna’s leadership CGIL signed a set of agreements that saved hundreds of thousands of workers from redundancy and helped to keep Italy’s major trade unions united.
Italy’s trade union centres CGIL, CISL and UIL renewed together all national collective agreements and closed an important deal with the employers’ associations to reform the collective bargaining model, confirming the central role of national branch collective contracts.
Among the agreements with multinationals, Italian trade unions have marked a significant step forward with Amazon in May 2018, when the company accepted to reorganize work shifts and salaries and so put an end to casual work and low wages and recognizing freedom of association and right to collective bargaining to its workers.
In 2016 CGIL obtained a new law to protect farm workers – in most cases immigrants – against any form of exploitation by illegal hirers.
Faced with a recession that created vast unemployment across the country, CGIL developed a national Plan for work aimed to rethink recovery policies against the neoliberal approach and focused on full employment, protection for jobs in the new economy and strategic investments in emerging sectors.
Susanna conceived also a Charter of universal labour rights in response to the government’s and the big business’ rampant attack on labour rights, against the rise of precarious and informal work, the attempt to undermine collective bargaining.
CGIL submitted the Charter to a consultation which saw an extraordinary participation of the workers, with meetings in over 50,000 workplaces and the draft bill was submitted to the Italian Parliament with more than 1,3 million signatures.
In the last eight years CGIL has undergone an internal reorganization based on generational renewal and women’s access to leading positions. As an advocate for gender equality, she founded the movements Out of silence and If not now, then when? which resulted in massive rallies all over Italy to promote women’s rights and oppose any form of violence against women.
She is committed to the defence of human rights and campaigned against racism and discrimination of immigrants, in most part from Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Susanna has always been a fierce supporter of the international trade union movement and a believer in the unity of the workers’ movement.
She has campaigned for social justice and for the protection of fundamental rights at work, for the promotion of ILO labour standards, for social and environmental sustainability, against any form of inequality and violence.