Renzi's firing license

The final assault on the rule against unfair dismissal uses a rhetoric that distorts reality. An old rightwing goal disguised as “left reformism”.

The governments of the eurozone’s countries that want to show their loyalty to the policies of the Berlin-Brussels axis are used to offer to the Euro’s sanctuaries, as a gift, a structural reform. Mario Monti, as head of a technocratic government, brought in the reform of pensions, shifting its enjoyment to the threshold of seventy years, an absolute primacy in the EU. Matteo Renzi, the new Italian premier, has chosen, as a  particularly appreciated gift, the freedom for companies with more than 15 staff to dismiss workers on open-end contracts.

The individual dismissals are regulated in Italy by the Article 18, which is a paramount element of the "Statute of the rights of workers". The article 18 had already been hit by the Monti government. Now the Renzi’s endeavor was its definitive cancellation. To facilitate the process, the government and its acolytes have  evoked a mix of true and false arguments. Among the rhetorical weapons most commonly used is the argument that the left and the trade unions make a battle with a symbolic character.

In this argument there is an element of truth. In the trade unions’ and left’s history, Article 18 has taken on an emblematic character from its outset. It was also the case for the right wing parties, which have been persistently used to attack it since it was born. At its very origin, there were the reaction to the anti-union discriminations and the assessment of the workers’ right to recourse to justice in cases of individual dismissal without “giusta causa”, that is a legitimate  justification. The "Statute" was imposed in 1970 by Giacomo Brodolini, an outstanding socialist Labor minister, as a key point of the “Statuto”.

It was a historic step that in the socialist language of the time was identified with a major "structural reform", in the sense of a progressive reform, according to the meaning assigned to the concept of reform by a great leader of Italian socialism, Riccardo Lombardi, before the concept of structural reforms assumed the current,  fraudulent and misleading connotation of regressive reforms aimed to cancel old social rights.

The intransigent defense of Article 18 by the unions and the leftwing parties, against the attack of all the rightwing  governments, until the failed frontal assault of Berlusconi’s government  at the beginning of the past decade, became a popular symbol in the perception of a frontier that separates the dignity of work and workers' rights from the arbitrary behavior of the enterprises, concerning the continuity of the employment. In this sense, Article 18 was and remains a symbol of the workers' dignity and their rights.

Yet the argument about the symbolism of the right is not fake. But it immediately becomes false, when the government  claims with a polemical artifice to reduce it to a mere symbol, a fetish, or a meaningless totem. The argument is that Article 18 now covers a few thousand workers belonging to companies with more than 15 employees to which it applies. The numbers are often disputable. But, to the extent that they are reliable, it is worth looking at them more closely.

According to data of Labor Ministry (La Stampa, 9.27.14), in the last two years individual dismissals which gave rise to the courts’ procedures, provided for the Article 18, have been 40,000. Among these ones, in  about 80-90 per cent of cases, the courts have recognized the reasons given by the worker. The result was for three quarters of thise cases a negotiated monetary settlement between the workers and  the companies, while in the remaining cases the courts  provided the reinstatement in the workplace of the unlawfully dismissed workers.

What is the meaning of these figures? Likely, for those who live with detachment, from the top of a social condition, they haven't any major value. Yet 40,000 workers and forty thousand families are not a pure statistics abstraction. If we are told that a number of companies are preparing to lay off 40,000 workers we'd wonder what we could do to try to prevent, or at least, lessen a ominous decision  threatening a huge number of workers and their families, whose defense can not be reduced to a worthless fetish.

There is more. How many would individual dismissals have been, if companies did not know of having to undergo a Court’s judgment on the legitimacy of the dismissals? Should we still record 40,000 cases, or twice, or three times, or many times more, as it is plausible in front of a corporate power freed from any legal limit, and of workers deprived of a legitimate power of defense? The argument related to the alleged paucity of cases is paradoxical and inconsistent. It is like saying that, given the huge reduction of the exanthematous diseases that affected children, due to the effectiveness of the vaccinations, these have become useless, and should be abolished.

However, it is worth to return to the despised symbolic aspect of Article 18. Yes, the possibility of protection from unlawful dismissals also plays a strong symbolic value. The post-modern era of labor law has recorded two choices that have become a crucial workers’ rights retrenchment at the end of the last century.

The first one toward the freedom by the compnies to dismiss at will the workers was Ronald Reagan's breakthrough, when in the summer of 1980, he fired 12,000 air traffic controllers, showing by his example the way of easy firing at American companies. The second was the example of Margaret Thatcher when in 1984, after a fierce battle, comparable to the determination shown during the Falklands War, she won the tug of war against the miners, inflicting a historic defeat to the British trade unionism.

The General Secretary of CGIL, the main Italian Trade Unions’ Confederation, Susanna Camusso, was right when recalled the "Thatcherism" about the Renzi’s attack to the unions. It is also worth to recall a significant difference. Mrs. Thatcher was certain to represent, with conscious pride, the British neo-conservative right, repeating the glories of the Reaganian policy. Instead, the final assault to Article 18 organized by Renzi‘s government has got a mask of the "left reformism", with the staunch support of the European authorities. An awful example of the current European policies, based on austerity mixed to structural social reforms, that threatens to sink a number of eurozone countries, reduced to the status of semi-colonies of Berlin-Brussels axis.