Commentary. The crucial aspect is the fact that this association of industrialists has become a de facto political party, which intends to fight the trade unions out in the open and dictate its preferred policy line to the government on this basis.

Giants of Italian business are using Covid to justify weakening unions

The Confindustria president’s response to the trade unions was not long in coming. If anyone was disquieted by such a prolonged silence from the usually loquacious Carlo Bonomi, they have certainly gotten their fill. In an eight-page letter addressed to all the leaders of the structures within the system of representation of the employer’s association, Bonomi has laid down the line for the coming fall. In view of the upcoming meeting with the trade unions on Sept. 7, he is stressing that it’s not true that Confindustria is unwilling to renew the collective employment contracts—the only thing it wants is to make them “revolutionary.”

The very same writer, aware of the outrageousness of that expression, then admits that this particular adjective “doesn’t quite sit well with us,” but claims that the reality is that “work and technologies, markets and products, the ways to produce and distribute them, have been revolutionized.”

As one can easily see, these are not new ideas at all, but the president of Confindustria is seizing on the opportunity provided by Covid and the post-Covid situation to push them with renewed energy—also in the light of some support he has received from the intelligentsia of the system.

For instance, one might read what Tito Boeri wrote on Thursday in La Repubblica, according to whom the pandemic has supposedly changed the conditions of work to such an extent that it has become necessary to shelve the national work contract altogether: “Either we accept the challenge of decentralized bargaining, or the risk is that it will no longer be possible to govern anything, as Confindustria is experiencing these days in the case of the contract for the food industry.”

In turn, Bonomi extends this notion to all economic sectors, which is the reason why he has summoned all the respective union leaders together. According to Bonomi’s view, the “revolutionary” character of national contracts would translate, in practice, into their disappearance.

In this view, individual contracting—e.g. as in smart working—and company-level bargaining would be the new basis from which to start—supposedly because this is the only place where innovation could occur, originating from the commanding force of the captains of industry, endowed with even greater capacity for aggressiveness.

It is the latter who must regain control over everything, no matter at what cost—starting with the regulation of working hours and the size of wages. Gone are the times—Bonomi insists—“of the old exchange between wages and hours from the early 20th century.” It’s not very clear what that means historically, but what is crystal clear is that the industrialist side doesn’t even want to hear about any compromise whatsoever.

Of course, Bonomi is not only angry at the unions: he does not miss the opportunity to attack the government head-on about the choice of extending the social shock absorbers and the blocking of layoffs.

It is not enough for him that the August decree has left six vast loopholes that allow employers to easily resume the practice of firing workers. He wants the combination of temporary paid layoffs for all as well as permanently eliminate a ban on redundancies, even more than it has already been in practice in the field of labor policies, because the latter must be inspired solely by an “active and not passive” conception. In other words, they must let companies have free rein, and abandon, or at least reduce to the bare minimum, the protection offered to the weaker party in the employment relationship.

In even more precise terms, we again find a solemn attempt to ward off the “anti-industrial spirit” that is supposedly spreading across the country, and which is said to be giving succor to “attempts to intimidate companies to force them to remain silent.” Of course, these are not words spoken in the heat of the moment, but ones that were well thought out and set down in writing. It’s not just the new face of Confindustria that we are witnessing. It’s something more.

The crucial aspect is the fact that this association of industrialists has become a de facto political party, which intends to fight the trade unions out in the open—according to a logic reminiscent of the infamous “no union” policies— and dictate its preferred policy line to the government on this basis.

It is an ambitious and revanchist program, one that is now coming to the fore with such a high degree of virulence not only because of the personal traits of the new president of Confindustria, but also because of the tempting opportunity that has presented itself to use and direct the massive flow of European aid funds and loans. It is no coincidence that Bonomi’s long letter dwells on the existence of an “anti-European prejudice” and on the rejection of the use of the ESM (even if, in reality, it is only a postponement of the decision).

The class struggle, in the broadest and most modern meaning of the term, now has its epicenter precisely in the area of the end goals and means of the post-pandemic reconstruction. Therefore, it is a matter of who will manage to seize control of the command deck.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!