Whilst I was delighted that Solidarity 240 contained not just one but two articles about Italy (Hugh Edwards, “Strike wave sweeps Italy”, and Kate Devine, “Italian feminism resurgent?”) and agreed with much of their content, I did feel that cumulatively they gave a somewhat skewed impression of the current role of women in Italian politics and public life.
Although the Berlusconi period marked a nadir in this respect, the controversies of the last four months over pensions and Article 18 have in fact seen three strong intelligent women as their principal protagonists — Elsa Fornero, the Minister of Labour, Emma Marcegaglia, the President of Confindustria ( the employers’ federation), and Susanna Camusso, the general secretary of the CGIL trade union confederation.
Obviously, the first two represent the class enemy and the last, however imperfectly, our side; but their prominence in public life —– and it should be stressed that Marcegaglia was the first woman to head Confindustria and Camusso the first woman to lead the CGIL — should serve as a demonstration to the younger generation of Italian women that women can rise on the basis of their intelligence and ability and not through being a “showgirl”.
Whilst Camusso is a classic social democratic trade union bureaucrat, not a Rosa Luxemburg or even a Janine Booth, she has been far less willing to compromise than Democratic Party (PD) leader Pierluigi Bersani and former PCI member President Giorgio Napolitano hoped (both of them subjected her to massive and sustained pressure).
At the tripartite meeting on Tuesday 20 March between government, employers and unions over Article 18, which ended without any agreement, Camusso alone refused to sign or even to concede a positive judgment on any part of the package. Moreover, the last minute desertion of Angeletti, the UIL leader, of which she was unaware until that moment, did not weaken her resolve in any way and her angry but icy closing exchange with Mario Monti drew a clear class line.
It has been Camusso’s intransigence which has forced the PD to backtrack over the last week and talk about watering down Monti’s labour market “reform”, just as it has been her intransigence that has led the leaders of not just the vacillating UIL but even the supine CISL to start having retrospective reservations about the proposals.
I would agree with Hugh that an earlier date for the proposed general strike would have been preferable, and I acknowledge that having a craven careerist like Sally Hunt as the General Secretary of my own union may soften my reservations about a union leader like Camusso.
I would like to end by pointing out that Mara Cafagna is about the worst possible example of a woman in Italian public life that Kate could have picked.
Unlike Letizia Moratti, the education minister in Berlusconi’s 2001-06 government and until recently mayor of Milan, who clearly had some degree of competence as a bourgeois politician, even if family wealth may have assisted her rise, Cafagna’s appointment was entirely due to Berlusconi’s attraction towards her.
The flirtatious exchange between the two on national television on the entertainment programme Telegatti was what led to the first public protest by Veronica Lario, Berlusconi’s second wife, even if the marriage survived on a precarious basis until his subsequent relationship with the 18 year old Noemi Letizia.
The appointment of a former topless model to the role of Minister of Equal Opportunities made Italy an international laughing stock.