In the sixth year of a devastating crisis, a crisis that is making the rich richer and the poor poorer, caused by the former and paid for by the latter, the situation in Italy is particularly dire, with unemployment ranging between an estimated figure of 8 and 15m, and with a new xenophobic Right on the rise. Friday 14 will be in Italy a day to strike and stress that it is not the weak that cleans the mess of the strong.
Matteo Renzi – still in a kindergarten when Margaret Thatcher began her major offensive against British workers in the 80s, and who grew up with Berlusconi’s media cultural schlock – is trying to impose, thirty years on, some of the neoliberal measures that contributed to cement Britain into the historical habit of recurring to spectacularised charity (Children in need, etc.) as an ersatz to drastic measures to combat its severe child poverty.
But if Renzi’s attitude is English (not British), his practical model is actually German: the deregulation Schröder introduced in the German job market in 2003. The adagio goes that this was the cause of today’s German economic primacy. Which happens, inexplicably, to be false. In fact, it was the worsened salary conditions imposed on its workers that enabled Germany to better compete with other European countries that had not penalised their workforce in the same way, and therefore kept buying German goods. German banks, which preferred to invest their export profits in those very “PIGS” countries – particularly Spain, Greece, and Italy -, also precipitated the financial crisis.
It is therefore of no surprise that Renzi’s right-of-centre government is waging an unprecedented legislative attack on labour. An unrepentant admirer of Tony Blair, as much as endowed with the EU’s blessing to deal with those notoriously lazy scroungers the Italian workers, he calls it in English “Jobs Act”, just to give the impression of a no-frills entrepreneurial dynamism. The aim is forcing Italy to swallow this Anglo-German pill: mini-jobs, midi-jobs, workfare and zero hours contracts.
The governmental offensive focuses on the article 18 of the Italian labour legislation: once that is gone, employers will be free to sack people without fearing any appeal for unfair dismissal by the employees they made redundant. The result will not only be widespread work insecurity and more joblessness, but also the loss of a fundamental right for the worker, and the growing insignificance of trade unionism in Italy.
After taking over the main centre-left Italian party in what could easily be defined a soft coup, ousting the inane Letta with the help of the totemic Napolitano, Renzi is now bringing forward his plan of cursorily liquidating what’s left of the social-democratic heritage of the already discredited Italian Democratic party and turning it into a pachyderm-like centre force. To resuscitate the pre-Berlusconi Christian Democracy – a Catholic hotchpotch of a party that, under American aegis, ruled in Italy from 1945 until the late Eighties and brought corruption to unprecedented heights – might not have been his main objective, but it is happening anyway. Hence his major incursion into the centre-right electorate (he got past 40% at the last European elections, beyond the PD’s wildest dreams).
In Rome, a few days back, while a million workers were demonstrating against the abolition of the article 18, Renzi was chairing a three-day convention of his party current, a sort of entrepreneurial meet & greet for businessmen in the highly stylised postmodern archeo-industrial settings of Florence old train station. In this, he truly proves himself the dignified heir of Peter Mandelson, who notoriously had no problems with some members of our society “becoming stinking rich”. Indeed, it could be argued that his is a latter-day ‘newlabourisation’ of what’s left of the main centre-left opposition party, that PD formerly known as Italian Communist Party. But this is academicism.
The problem is that he has a terrible electoral law down his sleeve, has messed up with the constitution by clumsily reforming the Italian Senate and that he is where he is also thanks to a deal he made with Berlusconi, the man he shares his political DNA with. Friday social strike will be a major NO to all of this.