Article 18, a false problem

by Adriano Autino

Once again we have to witness impotently another stitch-up by the usual suspects: the attempt, by the current right leaning government, to abolish the anti-dismissal law (article 18 of the worker's statute), and the blocking of this by the trade unions. Such bad comedy could be named "The last industrial struggle". But probably it would be too optimistic a name: in fact I don't think it will be the last one, since the theatrical company, though weak, has no challengers and is not thinking of retirement.

The fact is that this scene, illuminated by terrorist flares, where the burdens of millions of people were expressed in the streets of Rome, has little to do with article 18, served in reality as an occasion to express the popular protest versus the government, versus the grotesque situation of the judiciary in Italy.

The comedy grows up, profiting from a fully enslaved media, afraid to lose their jobs, with the same old ritual of odd declarations, advances and retreats, noise in declarations but stillness in facts. For instance we heard a representative of the government declaring very peacefully: "We don't think at all of dismissals, and we're sure that, after removing article 18, factories will fill themselves with workers." On the other hand a seraphic Cofferati answers with his traditional line, aimed at defending his back garden of dependent workers. The password for this season is "taking off": so the government should take off article 18 from the reform project. It's like saying: everything is good, there's no need to change anything. The same old choir of layabouts incapable of social analysis. Is the existing state of affairs ok? definitely not. Could "factories" fill themselves like during the industrial age? Only idiots could believe such a big lie!

Many people lose their jobs (with or without article 18), and they risk a lot, because they are neither informed nor re-trained to stay in the job market. Besides, considering self-employed workers and small businesses, they're immediately oppressed by a destructive taxation, which (could anyone expect anything different?)  continues to favour big owners in all ways, and damages the small ones. But BBF (Berlusconi-Bossi-Fini) are not interested in this, and not even Confindustria is interested (it has always been ruled by big industry). Nor is Mr. Cofferati interested. In fact the ex-dependent-workers or small business owners, stop paying the trade-union card, then they're only losing their say in this delicate balance. Remove article 18? And how many cards less would there be?! Cofferati looks at his accounts, dangerously near to red, then he begins to release the bureaucratic brakes, allowing the streets to be painted red.

But article 18 is a completely false problem. First of all, it "protects" only workers of firms that have 15 dependents or more. But, of 5 million Italian firms, the majority (more than 3,5 million) have less than 15 dependents, and generally they haven't a problem of dismissing workers, but the opposite: finding qualified workers and keeping them. All of these firms are not interested in article 18, they have other problems. In fact small enterprises don't benefit from the same big tax relief given to big ones. Since they're small, these firms are more controllable, so they must demonstrate and justify each hour of dependents' work. Even if they make research, rarely they can overcome the "Caudine Forks" of the requirements for financing. Of course in the majority, micro-firms, associated partners and administrators also have operating tasks in their businesses. But - pay attention now - the hours spent for research and education by associated partners of the company are no use when requesting financing! On the contrary, the operative work of associated partners and administrators is just tolerated by the wild tax controls. Why is this? Easy: the small firms, the majority now in the context of electronics age, simply don't exist, in the opinion of the "powers that be", (right, left and trade-union)! They look at small companies with disdain, they hope that such firms are going to disappear soon and that  "factories will fill themselves again" with quiet and obedient servants paid on industrial wages!  Administrators shouldn't work, in fact the business model of the industrial age didn't concern small and micro-firms. The model of "employment" that they continue is always the same: if an administrator has technical assignments in the firm, he "steals jobs"!

Well, who "needs" dismissing? Big firms only. Throwing uneducated "man-power" onto the market would increase the supply of labour, and decrease the price of work, in the opinion of the "powers that be", of course. Small and micro-enterprises probably would face more competition, maybe not very qualified, but certainly able to decrease the price of advice also. Is anybody interested to know that the prices of qualified advice in Italy, are the lowest ones in Europe? Many people, sure, because a lot of job relations are based on advice, but there's no trade union, nor politician who speaks about this reality, again this is looked on with disdain. The term "advice" is still considered very suspect, like a shady deal (but often, in Tangentopoli country, advice has been used to hide very shade deals). The wording created by magicians of coercion - for preventing, or damaging as much as possible, the social growth of whole parts of the population, keeping the power of the big enterprises and the problems of the small ones unchanged - is "temporary job". Such jobs are paid less than permanent ones, and are also deprived of the so-called "social guarantees". In the temporary job model, the concept of enterprise-risk is completely hidden or absent: a temporary worker is considered as a beggar who is waiting by the door for someone "big" who, kindly, gives him work. Without any contractual power, temporary workers accept any kind of (temporary) wages. Making all brain-work into temporary jobs, or bringing it back "inside the factory" again, these are the dreams, not even secret, of the old-industrialist big entrepreneurs and trade-unions. In both situations their power would be preserved: trade-union bureaucracies would extrude tentacles out of the factories, creating temporary job agencies, reproducing a dependent social class, but out of the factories. Big enterprises would still have in their bureaucracy the menial interlocutor they always had, and also the power to establish prizes, "noose" agreements and times of payment under their full control. Small enterprises, which provide services, would be always blackmailed: "if you don't accept my rules, I'll use temporary services.

Is that the future we want? A feudal society in which a few lords dispense jobs like a very rare treat? Perhaps someone saw recently on TV some social future analyses (very rare, personally I saw only one on National Geographic satellite channel) that, taking as an example several small US counties, it anticipates a society divided between a small number of workers, closed inside true fort-villages with very complex defense systems, and a majority of wretched people, obliged to live on their wits. A similar kind of society would probably be the beginning of the end for human civilization: a very large number of great minds would be completely excluded from any possibility of solving their own problems and society's ones, just being able to survive from day to day. It would be the fastest and most effective way to waste the human heritage provided by the electronics age, and go back to the stone age.

A successful model for continuing civilization, must be a different one: proposing problems to the biggest number of people, paying for ideas and solutions, creating a society in which intelligent persons are pushed to use their brain in the best way. Less able people, seeing that intelligence is improvable by training, would be incited to follow and to compete with the best ones, and not despise them, or bully them with force, as in the past. Brain work, that somebody would like to confine, despise or delete, is going to become more or less the only job - if humanity doesn't waste its own technological results, and kill ourselves as a species. So the advice; study grants, financing (also from business to business) for research, a new law to better regulate intellectual property: these are the kinds of strategies we have to consider as priorities in the next society. Article 18? Can we understand that it's the difference between pre-history or not? Do we really want to favour development and to help everybody to be competent and productive? It's easy, we've only got to overthrow the current system:
  1. Help the small enterprise, instead of machine-gunning it.
  2. Give help and tax reductions to firms which try with great difficulty to overcome the minimum number of workers rule (which allows administrators to follow the firm's development and not only technical tasks), instead of giving such help to the big enterprises only.
  3. Financing research, even if diffuse and carried out by any little entrepreneur developing his own products, and also by single individuals who develop their own scientific and technological knowledge.
  4. Help small firms to be present in the market and to have customers.

Isn't the above a very simple program? Realizing it, there would be no need to remove or preserve article 18, because people would have no interest in remaining in big firms any more, seeing that the small ones would become a less dangerous place for living and working. But do we really believe that the majority of people love to be just a number in a big firm in which bureaucracy flattens any wish for self-choice, creativity, any will to have a return on their own investment in time, energy and devotion? Whoever believes such a thing is living in another world. Instead, those who want to keep people believing such things, do so for their own dirty interests: living by other people's work and stress and lack of ideology.

[005.AA - TDF.1/2002 - 09.03.2002]

[English version was revised by Ben Croxford]