Workers at Fiat's Termini Imerese plant in Sicily stopped work and blocked a road in protest at reports the facility would be closed under plans to create the world's second-largest carmaker.
Fiat has agreed to take a 20% stake in US car maker Chrysler in an expansion strategy to weather the downturn in global auto markets, and is now in talks to acquire the European operations of struggling General Motors.
German unions have told Italian counterparts the Fiat proposal involved downsizing its Pomigliano d'Arco plant near Naples and closing the Termini facility, which employs around 1,400 workers making Lancia vehicles.
Fiat has not made its plans public.
“It's normal that tensions are high, especially amongst the youngsters who risk more than those who are close to retirement,” Berto Mastrosimone, representative of the CGIL union federation, told local television outside the plant.
“There is a lot of tension and its building up to a clash. I certainly don't think it will stop today,” he said.
Television images showed a few hundred workers gathered peacefully outside the plant's main entrance, preventing vehicles from entering and blocking traffic on the road outside.
A spokesman for Fiat at its Turin headquarters said around half the workers at the Termini Imerese plant downed tools from 7.00 a.m. local to 8.30, and just over a third then stopped work between 9.20 and 11.00.
“We will see if there is any more action this afternoon,” the spokesman said.
Fiat workers were due to travel to Turin on Saturday for a major demonstration against plant closures.
Italian union leaders have met with German counterparts and said they would adopt a common position about the shutting of European plants.
“No plant must close,” Enzo Masini of Italy's FIOM-CGIL union told Reuters after the union meeting. (Reuters)