The Italianist

Things That Happen in Italy

Permanent Position

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A couple of days ago, the Italian Minister of the Economy, Giulio Tremonti,  publicly defended the ‘posto fisso’, i.e. the permanent employment,  as being the ‘basis of social stability’. Interestingly, I have discovered that ‘posto fisso’ does not have a clear translation in english, where in italian it is a word that we learn since we are children.

Permament position is the closer translation, although my personal translator, who’s setting next to me now, points out that “permanent position does not entail that you don’t change your job ever again”. In Italy, however, we conceive of posto fisso as a little island, more or less pleasant, where we long to get, eventually, never to leave it again. We use to refer to it with words such as ‘utopia’, ‘dream’, ‘mirage’, etc.

But that is another story. What’s interesting is that Tremonti’s statement is somewhat surprising, since it comes from a Minister belonging to a right-wing government, whose leader has always waved the glorious ideals of anti-communism, economic liberalism and social conservatism. After many noticed this apparent contradiction, the Minister felt compelled to give further explanation of the meaning of his statement. Tremonti was surprised by the way his words had been received by the media.

I often talk to people abroad who praise the virtue of mobility, in terms of the possibility it offers to develop one’s own skills and range of experiences. This makes sense in an Anglo-Saxon world, where mobility is probably linked to a somewhat proper wage. In Italy, unfortunately, il posto fisso is a dream exactly because the government interprets mobility in a slightly exploitative way: i.e. they intend mobility as offering workers a series of short-term contracts, where employees are usually paid half the normal wage. The dichotomy “permanent/temporary position” in Italy becomes “posto fisso/precariato“. Precariato (as in ” being precarious”) is another word that, in Italy, we use to learn from childhood. The alternative to a permanent position is generally a sort of undignified limbo, where the worker is in a state of ‘financial stand-by’ (wages don’t tend to exceed 1000Euros, about£900, per month), though s/he is still expected to work very hard, so to build a career. It is not unusual to see people in their 40s who are still precari. Why did Tremonti suddenly react to a situation which, by the way, was mainly caused by his coalition?

Some bad guys say this is a mere propaganda move: as in, “of course we are not going to do anything, but we know you like it when we say nice things. Now go back to your work”. The Italian Government is not performing very well, and some bits of the electorate are even starting to doubt Berlusconi’s capacity to save the World. The PM himself has been quick in backing Tremonti’s plea for defending il posto fisso: “I am with Tremonti”, he claimed yesterday.

Others may consider the fact that Tremonti is a kid of the Northern League, the lovely party who acquired popularity in the early 90s with its campaign to split Italy into North and South, and which hasn’t changed much since then. The Northern League has an outstanding list of politicians who put a great effort to realise the Party’s ideals. Their leader is the charismatic Umberto Bossi, who heroically came back to fight for (northern) freedom after a stroke a few years ago. He’s supported by experienced statesmen such as Calderoli e Borghezio, all dressed in green to express their concern with environmental problems. These guys are all very worried by the loss of italian jobs (this sounds a bit like Gordon Brown, I know..) due to immigrants being allowed to work in Italy. That’s why immigrants should not be allowed, they say. So, perhaps another explanation for this surprising statement might be that Tremonti was trying to reassure his people about the Government’s intention to give each italian his/her own little island, where no one else is allowed to be.

Another possible explanation for Tremonti’s statement might be that the Government is turning left, and is starting to consider the individual worker as, in fact, an individual, with rights to a decent life. Could this be the beginning of a new Italian Miracle? (Unfortunately, only italian speakers will fully appreciate this piece of history).

I would be inclined for the first answer. But I would welcome comments on this.

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Written by TheItalianist

21/10/2009 at 13:16

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