Italy’s Labour Charter
Tipologia: Paragrafo/Articolo – Data pubblicazione: 14/05/1927
Italy’s Labour Charter
«The Economist», 14 maggio 1927, pp. 1008-1009
In the article which appears below an Italian correspondent analyses and describes the new «Labour Charter» announced by Signor Mussolini on April 21st. At the present moment, when Great Britain is rent with controversy over comparatively mid-changes in trade union law, a study of the Italian «Charter» is of peculiarly topical interest. The declaration, as our correspondent describes it, is amazing in british eyes, and marks the peak of Signor Mussolini’s efforts to subjugate the entire life of the nation and of the individual to the control of the Fascist Party.
The most important of recent events in Italy was the promulgation, on April 21 (the day of the birth of Rome, which is the new public Labour festival), of the Labour Charter by the Great Council of the Fascism. The Charter was published afterwards in the Official Gazette, which publication, while not giving in the character of an Act, means that the Government is bound to implement it by Royal legislative decrees or to present to Parliament Bills enacting those sections of the Charter which have not yet been placed on the statute book. The Charter may be conveniently classified, for foreign readers, into three parts. First come all those sections which regulate night work, daily and yearly rest periods, methods of payment of wages, wages for overtime work, collective labour agreements, indemnification for dismissal, probationary periods, labour exchanges, prevention of accidents, accidents, maternity, unemployment, old age, & c., insurances, social services. In greater or lesser degree such regulations are becoming part and parcel of the social legislation of all civilised countries, and the Charter, though compressing them into a single solemn document, does not, therefore, in this respect contain anything very original.
From an historical point of view greater interest attaches to the sections laying down principles regarding the duties of the State, and the relations between classes, and between the State and society. Much speculation has centred around the philosophy of Fascism. Is it a reactionary capitalistic movement, or is it a sub-species of Bolshevism? Such are the questions frequently put all over the world by anxious politicians, social workers, and scientists. Fascist leaders have always been highly incensed by such characterisations. The statement of principles in the Labour Charter can be called the Social Creed of Fascism. «The Italian nation», says the Charter, «is a thing superior to individuals; Labour is a social duty, and only as such is protected by the State; economic production must strive for the good of individuals and the maximum development of national power; separate and opposite interests of employers and employed must be conciliated and subordinated to the superior interests of national production; to this end the professional syndicates of employers and employed are combined into corporations, and these are State organs; the Italian State, therefore, is a corporate State; private initiative is, according to the essence of the corporate State, the most powerful and useful means toward promoting production in the best interests of the nation; private organisation of production is, therefore, only a social function in the national interest, employers have the responsibility to the State of the direction of production; the direction of enterprises belongs to the responsible employers; but the employed, manual workers and intellectual alike, are active cooperators in economic enterprise; the State must intervene in economic production, by inspections, encouragements, and direct administration, only when private initiative is lacking or insufficient, or when such intervention is required by the public interest of the State».
Probably students belonging to different schools of thought will label variously those essential principles of the corporate State. For present purposes the Charter can be defined, from the point of view of principles, as an effort to conciliate capital and labour under the supreme authority of the State, in the interest of the nation at large. What will be the outcome of the effort only time can tell.
Perhaps, however, the most interesting sections of the Charter are those which aim at giving a practical scope to general principles. The chain of reasonings and of practical deductions is very close: «Private initiative and labour are forces which must be guided and conciliated by the State in the interest of maximum production. But the State, and the Fascist State primarily, cannor recognise as legal organisations of employers and employed which aim at subverting it. Organisations are free, but only national law abiding organisations can be legally recognised; and only legally recognised organisations can represent their constituents before the State and the other organisations, or can negotiate collective agreements, binding for members and non-members alike; they alone can exact compulsory contributions from all members of the trade and craft. If the legally recognised syndicates are unable to come to an agreement they can delegate the negotiation of it to the corporation, i.e., to a State body, representative of both social forces; and if they fail to delegate the solution of conflict to the corporation, the magistrate will step in, and after an attempt at conciliation, deliver a final binding judgment». What are the principles which must guide judges in giving their judgment in industrial conflicts ? Thus replies the Labour Charter: «Wages must be related to normal exigencies of life, to what the production can bear, and to labour productivity. Statistics published by public bodies concerning the conditions of production and of labour, the situation of the money market and the variations of the standard of life of the employed classes will furnish criteria useful to the co-ordination of the interests of different categories and classes between themselves and the superior interest of production». The Italian Labour Charter thus abstains from stating a rigid rule to be applied invariably by judges, the rules being, instead, sufficiently elastic to admit variable interpretations of the specific cases of conflicts which will come before the judges. Both the traditional rules – standard of life and what industry can bear – are incorporated in the Charter. The standard of life aimed at is, indeed, a continuously improving one, for the Charter adds that legally recognised syndicates «are obliged to exercise a selective influence among workmen, so that their technical capacity and moral standard can be indefinitely increased». And here comes one of the more characteristic rules of the Charter: «Employers are obliged to select employed men through public labour exchanges established by recognised syndicates of employers and employed under State inspection. Employers are free to engage men among those inscribed in the labour exchange registers, subject to the provision that preference must be granted, according to the date of inscription, to members of the Fascist Party or of the Fascist syndicates, which means legally recognised Syndicates». Members of the old General Confederation of Labour, such as Signor Rigola, objected that the privilege granted to members of the Fascist Party or Fascist syndicates means, in time of unemployment, starvation for followers of Socialist, Catholic, or Liberal creeds; and the objection appears to have been echoed by M. Thomas, the general secretary of the International Labour Office at Geneva, in an interview with an Italian journalist. The reply was that in a compact legislative system, where syndicates are public bodies, preference must be granted to men fully conscious of their duties toward the State and the nation as against those who aim to subvert the established order. Therefore, it must be added, the preference applies obviously not only to manual workers, but also to brain workers, i.e. to technical, administrative, and clerical staffs.
The Great Council of Fascism in the preamble to the Charter begged «to draw to it the attention not only of the Italian people, but of all the students of social problems in the world, because only the system of the Charter can reconcile the opposite social classes, making them truly productive, and only this same system can raise, morally and materially, the level of the working classes, as against the impotent demagogic socialistic ideals». The challenge thrown out by this Declaration of Principles will probably be taken up by representatives of liberal and socialistic tendencies, and M. Thomas foreshadowed an interesting discussion on the occasion when the problem of syndicalist freedom comes before the annual assembly of Geneva. To such a discussion no objection was raised by the Italian Press, provided that it remains academic, and its conclusions are not binding on the adherent States. Such a debate will, indeed, be highly interesting, for the Italian representatives are bent on proving the virtues of an economic organisation, in which all social forces are compulsorily guided by the State toward a common, and in obedience to a common, ideal.