“Despite a long recession and high unemployment, Italians are shunning [pizzeria jobs] because of the long hours and modest pay.”
Nick Squires – The Telegraph
Italy has 2.95 million unemployed people and 3 million “inactive” citizens, people who could work but aren’t looking for a job. The unemployment rate for people between 15 and 24 is 38.4%. This is a gloomy landscape from any angle, even if the Letta government has sworn to “commit itself 100% to the issue” and “create 100,000 new jobs”.
Luckily, there is a solution: “the pizza sector is booming – and an estimated 6,000 new pizzaioili (pizza makers) are needed, according to FIPE, an Italian business federation.” The news has reached the UK, and Nick Squires reports on the wonderful news in an article probably inspired by Fabio Savelli on Il Corriere or by other articles that came out following the president of FIPE, Enrico Stoppani’s stunning statement. Each article exploits well-worn stereotypes: the pizza-eaters – “8% of consumers, according to FIPE, eat pizza in the morning”; the careful consumer vs the crisis – “the white collar worker of 2010 becomes a careful consumer, with a slice of pizza as unavoidable accessory”; the battle of have-nots or the immigrant work thief – “despite the arrival of the Egyptians there are still 6,000 jobs”; the noble savage – “but foreign immigrants have no such qualms and are now filling the gap”; and finally the fastidious and choosy Italians – “Italians may be reluctant to get their hands dirty by stoking ovens and kneading dough”.
Another well-known journalist, Massimo Gramellini, reported almost the same news two years ago, when complaints came from the bakers’ union, looking for “600 young people for a 2000 euro job”. Matteo Pascoletti and others on La Valigia Blu, a collective journalism blog, bothered to search and found out that “instead of loads of jobs as bakers there are loads of bakers’ classes with fee attached”.
For years, young Italians have been told, over and over again, that they are lazy and picky. The former Minister of Labour, Social Policies and Gender Equality Elsa Fornero became famous for her advice to Italian youth about not being too ‘choosy’ and to take the first available job instead of waiting for the job of their dreams. This possible slip-of-the-tongue offended many young unemployed people, and was used on placards in demonstrations in Naples and across Italy.
Il Corriere della Sera created a blog, Solferino28, to collect the stories of young, cool and inventive, self-made men and women who haven’t surrendered to the crisis and have invented their own job. Young and white people of the new millennium report their daily struggles there.
The choosy narrative has become so common that McDonalds recently used it in its advertising campaign. The McDonalds rebranding operation shows the cheap and boring McJob as a shining paradise in a time of crisis. “We work night and day” – in a country where one in three young men and women is out of work; “Pay arrives punctually” – while many may wait for months; “90% of the employees have an open-ended contract” – in a world of precarious jobs and temporary contracts; “You can become a restaurant director by the time you’re 27” – in a country blocked by gerontocracy; and McDonalds wants to employ 3,000 new people over the next three years. The other version of the masterpiece, filmed by the Oscar winner Salvatores, shows only people in their twenties, students or graduates, with shining smiles and relaxed faces, happily working in a McDonalds. The adverts were greeted very positively by Italian newspapers, with many reporting the news as the first act of trust in the Italian economy by a foreign company. Only later did complaints emerge from CGIL, the national labour union.
Unemployment, once considered a systemic issue and a dramatic waste of skills that government, schools and firms had to solve together, is now seen as a personal drama: it’s your fault if you don’t accept employment as a baker, a pizza-maker, a crew member at McDonalds or in any other underskilled job. Unemployment is your own fault, and you are the victim of your own mistakes. Now you have to comply with market needs and laws.
A national survey on participation, labour and unemployment in Italy, carried out by Isfol PLUS, sets the problem in context. The empirical evidence shows that, in 2011, only 8% of job-seekers received a job offer, compared with 14% in 2008 (Tab. 1 – LaVoce.info). Meanwhile, the job acceptance rate grew from 40% to 44%. Looking at the background of job-seekers (family connections, family income and parents’ education level) provides more insight. According to the survey, a higher education is likely to produce better job possibilities and a higher family income is likely to increase the acceptance limit (the point at which a job is accepted). A weak background is correlated with fewer opportunities, a lower acceptance limit and a less selective attitude. The survey indicates that those with stronger backgrounds are likely to be the choosy ones. We can deduce that under-skilled jobs are not only “the will of the market” but a critical systemic problem, and the main thing affecting individuals’ response is their background.
The solution does not lie in being less choosy, and although selling McJobs as trendy reinforced the choosy narrative it clearly didn’t mirror reality. Clash City workers (it), a collective blog about workers’ struggles, reported the real story of McDonalds workers, “strict control of employees, multiple tasks not required by contract, breaks and holidays given only when the firm wanted or needed”. In Campania (the region around Naples) McDonalds workers are mostly women with a 500 euro part-time contract. The union representing the workers at the regional level even signed an agreement where the company can move workers to any of the nine other ‘restaurants’ in the region, leaving transportation costs on workers’ shoulders. Failure to conform to this agreement was used as the reason to dismiss workers promoting strikes. The reality is that McDonalds employees in Campania had to strike for two days during March and protest for several weeks until the agreement was withdrawn, with little cooperation from the firm in finding a solution.
Italian websites like ClashCityWorkers and L’isola dei Cassaintegrati continue to report abuses by firms and misapplications of the law, strikes, pickets and demonstrations by workers, showing the real nature of ‘choosy’ youth and the daily struggle against the misrepresentation of the Italian working class.