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“Laws are made in the Parliament and if trade unions want to negotiate them, they should get elected”. Those words pronounced by Matteo Renzi some time ago in the middle of the battle over the Law of stability, enclose the entire philosophy of the current government with regard to the workers’ representatives. The government has always despised them, undermined their strength, isolated and avoided to summon them. And today, when the trade unions Cgil, Cisl, and Uil have become the butt of the great press because of the so-called ”golden salaries”, the assault seems to be mortal.

For too long – according to public opinion – trade unions have abdicated their role, transforming, at times, into a business committee, perhaps even into a para-political party. There have been exaggerations, daughters to a historical period when everything seemed lawful and possible. It is not a question of names, but of an overall system, of the “system”, as it were. Trade unions, as well as politics, have lost, step by step, contact with real life; they often find themselves not representing their members – although elected in their respective fields. But this does not justify the threat of making them disappear, because both of them are milestones of democracy.

The hypothesis of a unified syndicate – the one the premier has in mind – is a fact.  But Renzi’s idea is wider and does not affect only the workers’ representatives. Confindustria complains as well: “The government has identified in trade unions their target; the same is true for our association, – has said the president of the industrials, Squinzi – as intermediate bodies to be eliminated”.

And in fact, the government’s theory is that of a law of representation that should insert a threshold of 5%: who represents less, within the labour force, will not be able to negotiate.  This would lead to the disappearance of many small organizations. But also the large ones would suffer, because in many areas, in any case, they would not reach the quorum.

More than that, the basic diktat would persist: “The Syndicate – has said Renzi – does not negotiate with the government which does not ask permission”. It is a task of the government  ”to listen and to talk, but perhaps in Italy has arrived the moment when everyone should go back to do their own jobs”. And laws “are made in the Parliament, not on negotiation tables” which, instead, organizations should make with companies. Clear positions, firm as the closure during the debate on the law of stability, the ”Good School” reform, etc.

If Renzi’s basic idea can have a certain European logic (in Germany, the national government seldom intervenes in negotiations and workers have a place in the Board of Directors; in England, the premier intervenes even less, and negotiations work on an enterprise level). Should be stressed also the danger which is inherent to the attack on the plurality of trade unions. Not only because of the loss of a piece of history of the country, conquered with great effort over the decades, but also because of the strong attenuation of the democracy warranties.

Trade unions, in their turn, instead of raising barricades, should admit their mistakes and take advantage of these events as an opportunity to renovate themselves. It is not a question of protecting the past, but of opening towards the future. And the best way to protect workers and to protect the conquests made over time is precisely to change strategy, return to the origins, be the first ones to really listen, by eliminating those privileges that have rendered them not only little credible, but even disagreeable to a large part of workers. If this happened, the proposed ghost would be destroyed, the ghost of an undemocratic unified syndicate, that is a syndicate of the State.

Translated by Ecaterina Severin

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