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No Paradise for the Workers

Happy Festa del Lavoro! The picture is ‘Il Quarto Stato – The Fourth Estate (1901)’ by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo.  It’s in the Museo del Novecento, Milan.

Originally titled “The Path of Workers”, this painting is ‘an icon of the twentieth century, depicting workers (members of the fourth estate) on strike marching towards the light, and painted in the “chromoluminarist” or divisionist style‘. The composition of the painting is balanced in ‘its shapes and vibrant in its light, giving the perfect idea of a mass movement, with equal space given to a woman with a baby in her arms marching with her co-workers’.

113 years later, the employment of Italian workers, or rather the lack of it, remains a political hot potato in Italy.

In March 2014, the unemployment rate dipped a little to 12.7% (still near a 40 year high) whilst youth unemployment for those aged 15 to 24 rose slightly to 42.7%.  Italy’s jobless rate has more than doubled in seven years.

Getting people back to work is unsurprisngly a top priority of Italy’s new Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.  Under the banner of the Jobs Act, he is seeking sweeping changes to the inefficient and inflexible Italian labour market.  But the FT says that the draft guidelines ‘are still vague, lacking a clear intention to move towards a single, more universal labour contract from the current confused system which leaves the majority of Italy’s workforce on protected life-long contracts and a sizeable minority on fixed short-term contracts with few or no rights‘.  Still Renzi has already decreed that firms can now employ a fifth of their workers on three-year rather than one-year short-term contracts, sought to get more apprenticeships and made changes to state-run companies.

Italy’s economic problems run deep and continued high unemployment is a symptom of a wider malaise.  Italian business leader has said that Italy needs ‘discontinuity.  Renzi represents this‘.  And the thought is that, by picking the issue of short-term contracts, he is cannily giving himself more time to build consensus within Italy on the deep and painful reforms needed to reboot its flagging economy.  This at a time when he still lacks a strong political mandate for change.

For the sake of the unfortunate Italian worker, and the modern fourth estate, let’s hope he succeeds.

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