Commentary. Giorgia Meloni's labor decree exacerbates existing inequalities, undermines labor relations, and reflects a political agenda that prioritizes the interests of the economic elite.

Meloni’s plan not to ‘bother the wealthy’ widens the socioeconomic divide

True to her promise to “not bother those who create wealth,” Giorgia Meloni, with the May 1 labor decree, ushered in a kind of “income politics” entirely at the state’s expense. Not that there’s any problem with cutting employees’ taxes by a few points, harrowed by inflation as they are. It is unjust, however, that it’s happening with yet another hole in the budget, additional debt that the taxpayers of today and tomorrow will have to pay back with interest. There are no “funds saved up” to be distributed, as Giorgia Meloni incorrectly claims; instead, it opens an additional hole in the public budget and that of the INPS, which would already be falling apart if it were not supported by a state transfer of €17 billion a year.

Far be it from our prime minister to ask for a higher tax contribution from those who have more. She carefully glosses over the companies (in the food sector, pharmaceuticals, etc.) that are inflating their profits by speculating on prices. She absolves businesses of their responsibility as we face worsening human and material conditions for millions of workers, young people and women. She is launching a measure that obviously aims to shut down the struggle over the renewal of expired contracts, starting with those of the civil service and the tertiary sector. She is digging a deeper chasm between the “unprotected” and the lower-middle income brackets, who fear they will slide down the social ladder due to soaring prices. She is making a deliberate choice to support those who are less poor, abandoning those on the lowest rungs to their fate.

Thus, with the labor decree, the right-wing government is lowering taxes for paychecks that don’t exceed €35,000 , but at the same time dramatically cutting the fund for recipients of the “citizenship income” and throwing labor relations into even worse disarray, already characterized by precariousness, fake and unpaid internships, full-time jobs passed off as part-time jobs, intolerable forms of discrimination and subservience. This decree requires a proportional political and social response to counter the political design that underlies it, which comes with severe risks to democracy.

The right does not believe in a welfare society, in the widening of rights and spaces for participation. Instead, it has in mind an opulent society that incorporates the old myths of the nationalist tradition, in which an enlarged economic elite is dominant, the aristocracy of the 21st century (those born into wealth, entrepreneurs, managers, CEOs, rent seekers, asset holders and tax evaders who populate the upper social strata).

In this scheme, self-employment – privileged over wage labor – acts as the glue for a system of social relations that follows a precise hierarchy. Those who start at a certain income level are “insiders”; those below remain excluded, “outsiders”: at best, they can pick up the crumbs, aspire to meal vouchers or near-slavery contracts of €4 per hour. The institutional reform consultation, aimed at proposing a directly elected “savior of the Fatherland”-type president, lays the foundation for a neo-corporatist and authoritarian state, guarantor of the new order.

The fiscal state is taking over from the welfare state. The Revenue Agency remains a powerful instrument of consensus and regulation – hence the amnesties, tax rebates, the flat tax, the subsidy of up to 60 percent of social security contributions for entrepreneurs who hire young people, the tax-free allowance of up to €3,000  for company-level contracted bonuses (fringe benefits). Likewise with the perks, bonuses, incentives on everything.

Money is supposed to substitute for efficient social services. Special tax treatment is extended to new categories and social groups, breaking all barriers between public and private. Thus, for nurses in the national health system, whose average salary is below 40 percent of the European average, instead of changing their contracts, they will now be allowed to work in private facilities as well, resulting in predictable negative impacts on the functioning of public facilities. And many civil servants and managers, with permanent contracts, will find it more convenient to opt for self-employment and thus take advantage of the (all-inclusive) 15 percent tax. The quest for the highest possible gain while paying the lowest taxes is becoming the compass by which to navigate the labor market.

The right is in government because the privileged classes have won “the tax war” (the title of a great book by Vincenzo Visco, published by Laterza, which everyone should read). There is no longer any progressiveness or fairness in the system. The tax system now functions like a “tailor’s shop” where lobbies come in and order garments custom made for particular social groups. However, with debt rapidly rising towards three trillion, an objective problem of sustainability is arising – and that’s when the left will have to be prepared. “The tax war” doesn’t end here.

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