Commentary. It looks a bit like an intensive care treatment: trying to give oxygen to a body worn out by apnea. And it could only be this way. At the same time, we must say it: this is not the last word.

Italy’s ‘relaunch decree’ kicks off a long game of tug-of-war

The so-called “Relaunch Decree” doesn’t relaunch anything—it’s just a band aid. It is not designed with a view toward the future, and it does not draw up the contours of any future New Deal.

It is anchored in the near past, in the need to somehow fill the holes that this pandemic tore in the social and productive fabric.

It looks a bit like an intensive care treatment: trying to give oxygen to a body worn out by apnea. And it could only be this way. At the same time, we must say it: this is not the “final word.” Taking the view that this is “game over” would be wrong. It’s only the beginning—the first move—of a long game of tug-of-war.

From these preliminary clashes, it is possible to see the two sides on the field and their difference in strength, which—no need to repeat this once again—is not looking good.

On the contrary: we are seeing an insatiable Confindustria on the offensive, which showed up at its worst in the most dire weeks of the contagion, thinking only and exclusively of its own interests, ready to sacrifice the health and lives of workers and citizens, without a notion of the common good, without an offer of products and services or a word of understanding for the sacrifices of others. Today, it would like to be given everything: all available resources, all the much-needed protection from disease, all the gifts that servants owe to their masters.

On the other side, there is the world of labor, which has kept the country going these past two months.

They’ve paid a hard price, both in terms of health and effort. While everyone was segregated at home, they were sent to the frontlines, in hospitals as well as in factories and on the roads, all along the production and logistics chains.

This is why they are justly demanding what they are entitled to, not only in terms of income and guarantees, but also in terms of social recognition. However, their side is suffering from a structural weakness in the mechanisms of its representation and in the difficulty of finding suitable forms of organization and struggle.

The decree reflects the balance (or rather imbalance) between the two.

On the one hand, it provides about fifteen billion euros for “handouts,” if we must call it that: social security benefits, redundancy funds, emergency income, various bonuses. A little less than a third of the total amount of the decree.

It’s much less than would be necessary (in particular, the emergency income is little more than token charity). But it’s much more than what Confindustria and its partners would have been willing to grant, according to the slogan repeated ad nauseam that asks for everything to be put in the service of “growth” (i.e. for the benefit of their lordships) and nothing for “handouts,” i.e. for citizens and families, while railing against “windfall” income.

The reason why the present solution has prevailed instead of theirs is not sensitivity to the social situation, but rather fear: the atavistic terror of all the dominant classes against the anomie, the widespread illegality, the petty crime committed by those who are not criminals, the theft out of need, the delinquency of honest people, which would all spread without that pittance of income support.

Like the Luminol sprayed by CSI technicians at a crime scene, the virus has revealed the bloodstains that the health emergency has left all over the social fabric. It has revealed the pockets of new poverty that has turned into misery. The €15 billion are a necessary measure to defuse the social anger produced by impoverishment.

Then, there are another €15 billion or so for businesses: €10 billion for small businesses (under €5 million in turnover), which are non-refundable, and €4 billion for medium businesses (up to €250 million turnover) via a cut in the IRAP tax. This the part that is hardest to swallow, due to the linear nature of the mechanism that doesn’t only award funding to those who have truly lost during these months, but also rewards those who have made a profit, and there are certainly some in this category.

Finally, there are the CDP loans for large companies, with a generic provision of the temporary entry of the state into their governance structure—we’ll have to see if that ends up merely a formality.

Then, there are the real “investments”: the €3.5 billion for health care—above all, the restoration of local health facilities and the provision of intensive care units, with 9,600 new nurses hired—and those for school and research, including universities.

That’s the most promising part, although insufficient, because it’s the one that projects into the future. For now it’s a mere road sign, but it might be a preview of a certain course correction in the direction hoped for by the “Democratizing work” document published by il manifesto on Saturday, May 16. It’s a possible good omen, which needs to be jealously defended.

This is where we will start from, as soon as we understand from Brussels to what extent (and how) Europe will be able to deal with the task of saving itself.

And that will be the real end game. That flow of resources and the manner of their “distribution” will tell us if everything will be as before, or if (at least some) change is possible. At this level, we have already been given some signals of what is to come.

The indecent proposal by the FCA group to take €6 billion in Italian funds as a loan with a guarantee from the state, while making this capital flee into a tax haven in order to avoid paying their share, says a lot about the predatory spirit with which the big bosses are preparing for the endgame. They give no discounts and take no prisoners. Now that the fear is past, they will do everything so that nothing will be any different from before—which means that everything will be worse.

On the other hand, preparing to fight them means having the courage to change, and to a truly significant extent. It means aiming high and pushing with great strength. It means reviving bargaining and labor conflict by focusing on the widespread processes of democratization and self-organization that are able to gather the strength of a world of labor that is justly proud of its role and of how much they have given—and how much they are due—over the recent years.

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