Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Why Social Democracy is Dying

The Last Rites are being spoken and enacted over the body of social democracy and the European Social Model in the Italian peninsula. Fiat's Sergio Marchionne has played a blinder. He has faced the unions and most particularly the communist metal workers' union FIOM , with the truth that labour conditions including wages cannot fail to recognise conditions across the world in an international industry like car manufacturing.

The deal he has offered to the FIAT workers marks the end of collective bargaining – which is, among other things, an integral part of the European Social Model – and marks the resurgence of enterprise-level bargaining: FIAT has had to leave the Confederation of Italian Industries in order to replace the standing collective contract; metalworkers could also be moved to the new contract in other enterprises that follow FIAT’s example.

For those of us who hold the nation state to be the ultimate defence of democracy, this is a bitter moment. The first article of the Italian democratic constitution states that Italy is a republic founded on labour; Article Four declares that all have a right to work. Yet the government can do nothing to protect Italian workers' conditions and wage levels without retreating into a protectionism in which FIAT would take no part.

What is more, Marchionne has appealed directly to the Italian workforce, over the heads of their union leadership, to vote in referendums on acceptance or rejection of the terms he has laid out for the continuation of motor manufacturing by FIAT in Italy: smaller, specialist unions representing skilled workers have voted Yes, preferring work on worse conditions to no work. They subscribe to the view expressed by Marchionne so forcefully during the negotiations over  OPEL, that he is an industrialist and these are industrial not political arguments - (on that occasion he walked away from the talks rather than get caught up in the political games being played by GM, Vauxhall, OPEL, and the German, American and UK governments.)

FIAT, Marchionne has declared, is not an Italian company but an international company with a historic connection to Italy that necessarily will be run on internationalist lines. We can assume that what is true for FIAT is true for FIAT-like companies, particularly in medium-ranged manufacturing skills industries everywhere.

Some may rejoice that trades unions are being recalled to their true purpose - the representation of workers' interests in terms and conditions rather than ideologically-inspired prancing about on a political stage on which they should never have had a place. But the contradiction between the centre-left's internationalism and the maintenance of their people's advantages in work, and the centre-right's claims for the defence of the nation state in the interests of democratic self-determination coupled with economic stances demanding free trade is a bitter irony.


Nick Drew said...

bitter irony

I know what you mean, frequently finding myself

(a) rejecting the EU federast agenda

(b) strongly advocating moves towards an integrated European energy market

but I know how I rationalise this: the common theme is freedom, rule of law & democratic accountability

willing buyers & willing sellers should be able to come together under rules they voluntarily choose to observe - the stronger, the better (which is why common law wins every time)

the nation state is (or should be) co-extensive with the largest workable unit of genuine democratic accountability

the federalist project, as with most internationalist / 'world government' projects, fails - nay, doesn't even try - on this criterion every time

[WV = frocknoc - you've done it again HG, haven't you?]

hatfield girl said...

I agree wholly with your rationalisation, ND, but what is happening here, in real time, with real people facing the real loss of not just their jobs but a foundation pillar of the Italian economy, that has constitutional, political as well as economic centrality, is extraordinary.

Mr Berlusconi has now put his foot in it, into the whole wobbling blancmange of negotiation across so many fields, while on a state visit to Germany (of all places, where they have the Mitbestimmung).