An Italian Studies Scholarly Blog

Labour – Memory

An interview with Antonio Pizzinato

The job crisis in Italy is becoming dramatic, particularly for young people. How do you assess job prospects in Italy in the near future?

The economic crisis has raised the general unemployment rate to over 10% and youth unemployment to over 33.5%. One young person out of 3 is without a job and a large part of those who have a job are on a temporary contract. This crisis must be confronted through both private and State intervention. We need to design a strategy of development and innovation not in Italy only, but in a unified Europe and in the context of globalization.

The world of labour itself has profoundly changed. We do not have ‘one world of labour’ anymore, but various ‘worlds of labour’, rapidly changing as has never happened in history before, either in Italy or anywhere in the entire world.

The prospects of a new season of development, capable of responding to the labour demands, particularly those of the next generation, must be fostered through strong mobilization and a commitment to ensure social cohesion and equality. This needs to happen not in Italy only, but in Europe too, with a common effort, and in connection with the whole world.

You have been a Trade Union leader for many years. In what sense is the defense of labour nowadays dissimilar from the 1980s, when you led the CGIL (Italy’s largest Trade Union)? 

Between 1960 and 1980 Italian workers, after a great struggle, obtained a system of contracts, a welfare State, and labour rights guaranteed by general, equal and universal laws: the forty-hour week, the ‘inquadramento unico’, the public pension scheme, the National Health System, the Workers’ Rights Statute etc.

Since the 1980s a new phase has unfolded, characterized by a process of economic and productive transformation and by the fragmentation of enterprises and the worlds of labour. These developments are exploited to undermine the rights of workers, from the grounds of the types of labour contract. At the moment, in Italy there are 47 different kinds of contract (fixed-term contracts, ‘contratto a chiamata’, collaborations, contracts on projects etc.). In Italy, over 50% of labourers work in small enterprises with less than 15 employees; millions of workers are temporarily or illegally employed; a little more than 10% of the Italian workforce is employed in factories with more than 250 employees. On top of all the social problems and neglected labour rights, this fragmentation makes the Trade Unions’ organization and activity even more difficult.

We must operate to put labour, social equality, a universal system of labour and social rights back at the centre of  life in our country, along with all the measures we need to recover from the economic crisis.

In order to meet these targets we must aggregate the various and fragmented ‘worlds of labour’, through social and labour cohesion.

In Italy there seems to be a sort of ‘short circuit’ between politics and society. The political groupings tend to ignore or suffocate the social claims and society relates to politics in terms of corporative or patronage protection. How can we improve the relationship between politics and society?

The incomprehension, or ‘short circuit’, between politics and society, and particularly between politics and the world of work, is the consequence of the policies of centre-right governments – Berlusconi, the Lega Nord and their allies – which have questioned and progressively demolished the labour and social rights obtained in the previous decades. These governments have adopted economic and social measures which have deepened the inequalities to the detriment of the poorest and weakest social strata. As a consequence, managers and directors have increased their incomes, whereas the share of GDP assigned to the salaries of workers has diminished.

In the meantime, the forces of the centre-left – in the presence of a change in the economic and productive reality – have failed to put the measures we need to ensure full employment, protection and widening of rights, health and security of job places and social equality at the centre of their policies.

Among citizens and workers, this has resulted in mistrust towards politics and active participation to democratic life, ‘electoral absenteeism’ and social ruptures.

The cleavage between politics and society can be overcome by fostering democracy and involvement in political and social life, which must have the reconstruction of a socially equal country at the heart of its activity. This is a matter of implementing what is stated in the second paragraph of art. 3 of the Italian Constitution: “È compito della Repubblica rimuovere gli ostacoli di ordine economico e sociale, che limitando di fatto la libertà e la uguaglianza dei cittadini impediscono il pieno sviluppo della persona umana e l’effettiva partecipazione di tutti i lavoratori all’organizzazione politica, economica e sociale del Paese”.

You are honorary president of the Lombard Commitee of Anpi, the Italian national association of the partisans who fought against Fascism and Nazism during the Second World War. How has the relationship between the Italians and the symbols of their national past (i.e. the Risorgimento, the unification of Italy, the Resistance) changed in recent years?

The attack on the values of the Resistance implemented in our Constitution is a consequence of the free-market policies of governments over the last ten years and jeopardizes the relationship between  Italian citizens and the history of our country. The Liberation in 1945 not only put an end to the Fascist dictatorship and to the Second World War, but it also revitalized the principles which were at the basis of the Risorgimento and  the unification of Italy, through the realization of a democratic Republic founded on labour.

The attack on the right to work, and on labour rights and social equality leads to ‘qualunquismo’, i.e. political indifference and to a neofascist and neo-nazi revival that is occurring not only in Italy but  in various European countries.

As indicated by the last Anpi national conference, it is necessary to foster a new season of democracy, development and social cohesion, according to the values of the Resistance incorporated in our Constitution. Thus, we must operate, in connection with all the democratic forces and public institutions, in order to defeat the ‘qualunquismo’ and antidemocracy in action and revitalize a united, democratic and socially integrated Italy, which contributes to the construction of a unified Europe.

Antonio Pizzinato was General Secretary of the CGIL, the biggest Trade Union in Italy, between 1986 and 1988. He has been member of the Italian Parliament and is now President of the Lombard section of ANPI, the Italian national association of partisans.


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This entry was posted on October 30, 2012 by in Memory.
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