Fiat workers in Italy strike after a high profile football player transfer

 (Photo: Pexels)

(Photo: Pexels)

The FIFA World Cup is in its final stages, as France and Croatia face off in the final this weekend, in what has been widely perceived as a heavily fought out tournament. But there has been brouhaha off the field as well, with Cristiano Ronaldo announcing his farewell to his club Real Madrid and moving to Juventus for an impressive transfer fee of $130 million.

To the uninitiated, Cristiano Ronaldo is widely considered to be one of the greatest footballers of all time, having won five Ballon d'Or trophies over the last decade - an award given to the best footballer of the year. Spanish club Real Madrid which Ronaldo is leaving now is touted to be one of the wealthiest clubs in the history of football worth over $3.5 billion - making this a high profile transfer and sending club-loyalists into disarray.

The interest in this transfer has now transcended the boundaries of the football universe and has overflown into the auto OEM industry. A Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV union from southern Italy is calling for Fiat factory workers to sit on a strike to protest the Ronaldo transfer. The simmering problem here is that Juventus Football Club, the one Ronaldo is moving into, is owned by the Agnelli family who also control Fiat Chrysler. The union believes that the owners are channeling money derived from the automaker into buying Cristiano Ronaldo - a move which has not gone down well with the workers.

Though the claims are unlikely to be entirely true, the media outlet Football Italia did run a story mentioning that a part of the transfer fee would be paid from Juventus’ parent company Exor, which owns Fiat.

“It’s unacceptable that, while FCA and CNHI workers continue to make huge economic sacrifices, the company spends hundreds of millions of euros on the purchase of a player,” the union said in its statement. "We're told that times are tough, that we need to resort to social safety nets, waiting for the launch of new models, which never arrive. And while the workers and their families tighten their belts more and more, the company decides to invest a lot of money on a single human resource.”

A similar scenario played out two years back when Gonzalo Higuain was bought by Juventus from their local league rival Napoli for $105 million, again by funneling money from Fiat into the football club. “After Higuain, also Cristiano Ronaldo? It's a shame. Fiat workers have not had a pay rise in 10 years. With Cristiano's salary we could give every worker an extra €200 (a month),” said Gerardo Giannone, a worker at Fiat’s Pomigliano D'Arco factory near Napoli.

Generally, autoworkers have had a problem with low wages, not just in Italy but also in the United States. In 2015, auto workers in the U.S. protested against the two-tier wage model, which left workers who were hired after 2007 in the lurch, as they were considered second-tier employees and could earn only between $16 to $19 an hour. The workers who were hired before 2007 made $28 an hour on average.

The automakers argued that it was the two-tier system that helped bail them out from going bankrupt during the recession, as they could hire low-wage workers to keep the company afloat. Regardless of this, it was the two-tier wage system that pushed the compensation of an average auto worker to a situation where he made less in 2015 compared to what he took home a decade before.

Moving back to the Ronaldo situation, the club capital of Juventus rocketed over the last couple of days as the news of the transfer broke out. The club valuation jumped from $775 million on July 2 to $962 million on July 5, a $187 million increase in valuation in under three days. Its share price shot up from $0.78 to $0.96, making this transfer a huge financial success for the club and thereby, the Agnelli family.

The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV union on its part has declared a strike at its Melfi plant between 10 pm on Sunday, July 15 and 6 pm on Tuesday, July 17. Though the Ronaldo deal has been signed and revocation is improbable, the protest is believed to send a strong signal to the Fiat management that their workers are not happy with the reckless spending of the company on football players and further indulgence would be met with a more severe backlash from the workforce.  

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