2014 11 – Listen to Italy

Listening to Italy

by Orecchiette


The Italian political scene is a complex labyrinth of causes and interconnected relationships, which make finding the beginning of many subjects very difficult. And Matteo Renzi’s Jobs Act is no different.

In October, Italy’s under 25 jobless figure rose to 44.2%., and productivity was still not growing. Renzi, Prime Minister and leader of the centre left Partito Democratico (PD), is moving away from his party’s traditional core support. He aims to eliminate the conservatism of the left. Instead of working with the “old guard” he surrounded himself with young, enthusiastic and presumably grateful supporters.

He has started to cultivate an international persona, although at home he was derided for his bad English. The Huffington Post of 9 October listed his contacts with international movers and shakers and wrote about his endorsement by Italian industrial leaders. The article said that he has strived to make internal political alliances and that he is dynamic rather than cautious, as were the previous Monti and Letta administrations. His bizarre politically-inspired pact with Silvio Berlusconi has propped up his government and softened the impact of internal PD dissent. This so-called Pact of the Nazareno exists but its details are secret. Very Italian, very calculated, very offensive to many but pleasing to others because it has delivered a stable government of sorts. There is some Union support for his programmes. However the Cgil, Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (the largest Trade Union in Europe with 5.5 million members) and its National Secretary Susanna Camusso, are bitterly opposed to both him and his policies.

Now Renzi is up and running with his Jobs Act. And here he deliberately gives an impression of modernity and internationalism by using the English language Jobs Act as the bill’s title. This legislation was passed by the Senate, the upper house, in late October. It had been précised in 29 September’s La Repubblica into four worthy-sounding key points.

1) To extend the rights and universality of protection, offering an extensive social safety net for workers on short term contracts.

2) To reduce the numbers of types of employment contract (there are 46 in Italy, the majority of which are neither secure nor long term) in favour of indeterminate ones with increasing protection as the individual’s employment lengthens.

3) To guarantee consistent national services and social protection for workers.

4) To structure the use of sackings for economic reasons, substituting the uncertainty of judicial rulings on individual cases with compensation. To extend the possibility of reinstatement that exists currently only for discrimination and disciplinary cases.

On Saturday 25 October a million people demonstrated in a rally against the Jobs Act in the Circo Massimo in Rome. This was organised by the Cgil. The reason behind their opposition is that Renzi’s seemingly socially helpful act will actually replace L’articolo 18, The Workers Statute, that gives a far greater degree of protection and compensation. In short, L’articolo 18 gives very clear guidelines for workers subject to sackings for discriminatory, disciplinary and economic reasons, even talking about training contracts and situations where families work together. It details time limits for claims and stipulates levels of compensation that are given in multiples of a month’s salary.

The Circo Massimo, (or Circus Maximus in Latin or English guide books), scene of the Cgil rally in Rome, is a vast area that was once the site of Roman chariot racing. It has become a historically significant place for rallies and celebrations. Italians celebrated their last football World Cup victory here, it was the scene for a 3million strong Cgil demonstration in 2002, and so was an obvious venue.

Meanwhile Renzi was showing that he wanted to win this battle. He made it very clear that the country should be following his lead in increasing flexibility in the jobs market with the aim of reducing unemployment and stimulating economic growth. He said, in his characteristically provocative way, that there were to be no more jobs for life.

Then on the following Wednesday, 29 October, Maurizio Landini, the General Secretary of Fiom, Federazione Impiegati Operai Metallurgici, who are allied with Cgil, led a rally in central Rome. This was to support the workers of AST from Terni who had been made redundant by their German Company. Landini says that he had discussed the route of the march with the police, planning that it would go from the German Embassy to the Development Ministry. Mario Portanova writing in Il Fatto Quotidiano said that the police acted provocatively by using an “incredibly large deployment of police and equipment”. The police and workers have generally had an easy relationship with each other and this was an unexpected show of force. The Huffington Post shows a picture of a scene with helmeted police with batons raised. They were clearly outnumbering a demonstrator who was being beaten. And there were injuries. The General Secretary of Silp, the police union was reported as saying: “What happened in Rome is something that should never have happened”.

Portanova goes on to say that he sees that this marks the second time in the year that force has been used against a march. He writes that “according to me this is a political statement from the presidenza del consiglio (ie: Renzi) that this is the end of tolerance”.

One of Matteo Renzi’s strong supporters, MEP Pina Picierno appeared in a telling interview on television. She attacked Susanna Camusso, Cgil’s General Secretary saying that the Circo Massimo demonstration had been filled with bus loads of paid attendees. Her performance was awkward and she seemed uncomfortable, with her hands held together as in prayer. Her outburst was not well received. The TV host looked absolutely horrified and the audience shouted critically. La Repubblica’s Gianluca Luzi said that her accusations were “so bloody as to be on the limits of permissible insults”. One background snippet to this incident is that Camusso had questioned Renzi’s place as premier in the past. She said that he had been put there, presumably by Europe, to provide “strong power”. And now this phrase is currently being bandied about.

So, Renzi is playing tough. He said that there are no more jobs for life, because the world has changed. Of the Cgil demonstration he said that , “if they are political demos, I respect them. It will be nice to know if it is more leftish to cling to nostalgia or to look to the future. Then it will be for the people to decide”. Angela Merkel supports him, while Cgil plan a general strike in December. And so it goes on.