A 20-year public discussion concentrated on the fierce politics of rights (to labor or of labor) and has diverted attention from the only truly reformist, not to say revolutionary, topic: the duty of labor. Read from this perspective, the theme becomes a private prospect, but also a social necessity, a collective necessity. And it brings many different groups of ruling classes to the gallows of one’s responsibilities: if unemployment can currently be summarized as that 12 percent figure that worries Europe, it means that those who were responsible for delivering policies useful to the creation of jobs actually failed.
Only lately has the theme been recognized as central to the electoral campaign, but all of us will remember these two furious months of invective and tactics, such as the debate over taxes, divided among various registers, frigidly technical at times, grossly populist and demagogic in many cases and submissively realistic in others. Some of the most dramatic, fundamental data were not considered, such as the loss of 16 years’ worth of income per capita (we are back to the levels of ’97) or the 25 percent percent reduction in production, not to mention those approximately 9 million workers, or (for the most part) ex-workers, who ended up in the area of social disadvantage (Italian General Confederation of Labor estimates).
In contrast, the duty of labor imposes on the public decider concrete strategies to create employment opportunities. In the best of cases, it translates into a coordinated and synchronous action of industrial policies, fiscal strategies, and structural initiatives geared toward training and investment in human capital. Out of necessity, Spain learned this through its massive program to ease fiscal pressure on flexible labor and the new concrete attention being paid (through fiscal discounts) to small and medium businesses. France also learned it with eased fiscal situations for small and medium businesses and tax credits for research (a more restricted version will be operational in Italy but will affect more restricted numbers). For some time, Germany has been aiming for low taxes and high productivity, a fact that makes it Europe’s most competitive country.
You speak of labor and you discover the need to pay attention to the real economy—to manufacturing, to construction (which, on its own, lost 550,000 jobs), to the export champions, to those who have the courage to modify their internal organization, their production lines. In other words, labor means businesses.
Without the latter, employment simply doesn’t exist. If, on top of that, there are no active policies geared toward employment (the tile missing from the Fornero reform), everything is aggravated because hope also vanishes; and not even the attempt to aim at apprenticeship—provided for by law—will make a difference if the regions do not activate the central government’s design.
Hence, politicians’ first duty: interpreting labor not as a lump of regulations, as an immaterial arena where different worldviews clash, but as an opportunity to achieve full citizenship and talent, without tricks or shortcuts chosen under the guise of social promotion. The true 18 that should have caught politicians’ attention should have been the generation of those who today are 18 years of age, and nothing more: we are talking of those who need to find employment or a training track that will allow them to accomplish their dreams. Another indication (indeed, proof) of the failure of the policies thus far designed comes from the 3.6 million young adults who are neither looking for employment nor studying. It is like an entire city, twice as big as Milan, consisted of a population of deadbeats without hope or goals.
The duty of labor, then, passes though a long-term vision of a policy that is, after all, about manufacturing. Not the old-style government control, but the choice to support, though facilitation, the driving sectors, the technologies that must be transferred to the productive world, the infrastructure useful for attracting investments—without forgetting the minimization of the bureaucracy that otherwise kills good ideas and entrepreneurial spirit. These are equally crucial labor policies, a completely different story from the reality of the 100 billion euros in missed payments from the government to its suppliers; from the collapse of investments, which, between 2008 and 2011, dropped by 14 percent for infrastructure and by 30 percent for transportation; from the reduction of at least 39 billion euros in loans to businesses shocked by a credit crunch unprecedented since the postwar era.
Now we will see if the new political majority chosen by the ballots will follow up on, just for example, the programs regarding the diffusion of broadband and the infrastructure to reduce the digital divide, a theme present in all programs since the beginning, but never realized. It will be a fundamental precondition creating employment. The same holds true for the definition of a strategic plan of reconversion and reclamation of the basic and heavy industrial sites: a multiyear project that, even from its fine-tuning stage, would present an opportunity for large-scale employment. Its benefits would be reaped through employment, environmental improvement and the residential landscape of at least 30 Italian cities.
Additionally, in contrast to the government control attitude, a massive dose of liberalization would have the effect of multiplying employment opportunities. (For example, why does auto insurance cost twice as much in Italy as in the rest of Europe?) Almost every political party also discusses these topics, but it would be hard for their leaders to efficiently answer the question, why have you not done this yet?
The duty of labor also regards individuals and micro behavior and, for the most part, returns us to the themes of flexibility and the increase in productivity, which have afflicted all of Italy for years now. Its growth is one of the primary objectives of whatever government may start its administration next week. It can only be attained through higher employment and increased investment. It is a call to both workers and employers. They must find the strength to stitch up a dialogue that is vital for fielding intelligent and innovative solutions to solve problems as ancient as the productivity of Europe’s manufacturing sector. This is, after all, the European Union’s second country, industrially speaking.
An evaluation (and correction) of the dynamics of the cost of labor—under control as far as industry and labor unions (the contracts), but completely out of the standard as pertains to the weight of fiscal and parafiscal burdens enforced by the legislature, which places Italy at the fringe of European competitiveness—is also indispensable. And it is Europe that will have to be a co-agent of the new growth policies: the fierce face of the fiscal compact’s rigor cannot be the only face of our new European homeland for much longer.