Trade unions, Berlusconi and the Italian press

zlogo.gifIn a lucid article appeared on January 15th’s edition of la Repubblica, the second largest Italian newspaper, sociologist Luciano Gallino analyzed the strategies employed by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to limit trade unions’ power. As Gallino points out, Berlusconi “and the classes supporting him” represents Unions as “a pre-modern residual”, a “demodé institution”, an “obstacle to country’s modernization”, an “enemy of freedom” who is “opposed to the new powerful course now followed by the world”. Gallino doesn’t fail to notice, with regret, how much this ideology has been shared by that part of the Left who surrendered to “the ideology of modernization”.

But there is one thing that goes unsaid in Gallino’s analysis and for obvious reasons. Berlusconi, “the social classes supporting him” and the modernized left are not alone in holding such an ideology. The biggest Italian newspapers share precisely the same view and vigorously contributed to propagate it. Even before Berlusconi became Prime minister. And Repubblica, the biggest center-left newspaper had a part (and not a minor one) in the chorus.It’s been less than two years, after all, since Massimo Riva, Repubblica’s most prestigious economic journalist, described “labour world” as “barricaded in defense of every acquired position” (Repubblica, April 13th, 2000). At the same time Federico Rampini, then enthusiastic supporter of the then shining New economy, blamed the Unions for the gap separating Europe and the then booming Us. If Ue was in such a bad shape compared to its overseas counterpart, it was due to its inability to remove “the big burden” represented by “an unequal and unbalanced social system”. And that was so because the matter is “confined to national policies, which in France, Italy and Germany are slowed down by Unions” (Repubblica, March 25th, 2000).

According to Repubblica’s most famous journalists Unions were therefore a conservative body fighting hard to defend acquired privileges. In defending their particular interests Unions do harm to the rest of the country. On the same verge Massimo Giannini, another front man of the newspaper, reminded his readers that in the “country with highest growth [i.e. Great Britain], the new hi-tech companies have unionization rates close to zero” (Repubblica, May 1st 2000). On labour day 2000, therefore, Italians were informed that in order to be an advanced country you have to make Unions less strong. The implications of this vision had already been explained by his colleague Rampini, eager to give the Left the recipe for future successes: “the re-brith of New Labour – lectured Rampini – began when Tony Blair took distance from the suffocating hug of a declining labour movement” (Repubblica, November 30th).

After all, Silvio Berlusconi dove into an existing stream, powerfully loaded by the biggest Italian newspapers. And the anti-berlusconian, center-left Repubblica was a major crafter of this ideological work. Future historians who will try, as Gallino puts it, to understand how “the citizen of a big country could willingly surrender” to the “social model” proposed by Berlusconi will easily notice that in their choice they were encouraged by the biggest Italian newspapers. Even by those allegedly on the (moderate) left, that today oppose Berlusconi but that ideologically seem pretty close to him.

(ZNet, January 23rd)

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