YES WE CA$H!- Welfare struggles and precarity in Italy

An interview with a new campaign for a social wage in Emilia-Romagna, Italy, formed in the wake of Onda Anomala movement last year.

Submitted by Pemulwry on February 3, 2010

The current phase of welfare struggles (in countries that have welfare to struggle over) is of defensive struggle against their erosion by neo-liberal re-imposition of work and privatisation. However, Italy is potentially moving in another direction as the crisis has highlighted the problems of welfare with even liberal commentators advocating the extension of welfare benefits.

Yes We Cash is a regional movement, pushing for the creation of a social wage in Emilia-Romagna (in North-West of the country.)

When did YWC start?
YWC started about 2 or 3 months ago as a campaign but the project started about a year ago. The idea for a regional campaign for a guaranteed social wage came out of the Onda Anomala campaign against university reforms last year. The main slogan of Onda Anomala was "We won't pay for your crisis", that experience focused on the need for a basic, social wage for young people, precarious workers and so on to fight the effects of the current economic crisis and to extend welfare rights to these groups who have no access to welfare in Italy. So the campaign has been planned for a while and we are now only starting to take it forward. This campaign involves activist from all the main cities in Emilia-Romagna: Bologna, Parma, Ferrara, Reggio Emilia, Rimini.

So it's made up of people from Onda Anomala?
Yes, it's made up of students and researchers involved in Onda Anomala but also precarious workers and activists but we see YWC as an open campaign that's open to all including non-citizens who are interested in seeing the creation of a guaranteed minimum income in E-R.

What are the specific goals of the campaign?

We want to force the regional government here in Emilia-Romagna to adopt a basic income like one that was passed in Lazio (the region where Rome is located) after a movement of students and precarious workers won the right to a social wage, last year. We recognise that this law was not enough, it is very restricted and doesn't guarantee a basic income for all those who need it but it is a precedent and we want to try and make the government in E-R adopt similar measures but hopefully extend them further.

The goal simply a basic income for anyone who needs it. We don't want it to be linked to wage labour, it won't depend on the claimant looking for work or relate to their ability to look for work; it will only depend on whether you earn less than subsistence wages/income. We want eligibility to be assessed on an individual basis and not take into account parental wealth or whether someone is living at home. The amount we are asking for is at least 800 to 1,000 Euros per month which is enough money to live decently and not just to survive. We consider this to be the only serious measure possible against the crisis since there is barely a welfare system in this country.

What is the welfare situation in Italy?
Each region in Italy has its own welfare system. Apart from Lazio, Campania has a social wage that was created a few years ago but that is only for unemployed workers while the welfare measures that we want will not be related to anyones work status or their intention to work. An important aspect of the campaign is our desire to focus on the needs of precarious workers since precarious work has become a structural feature of the economy in Italy and around the world. By getting a guaranteed, minimum income adopted in E-R, we can radically transform the welfare system in Italy and placing the focus on the welfare rights and needs of individual people rather than welfare being dependent on work status. We also hope that any new measures we can force will set a precedent for other welfare struggles throughout Italy.

A prominent part of the campaign seems to be the idea of autonomy from wage labour, how important is this?
This is one of the central principles of YWC. We want a basic, guaranteed minimum income, to attend to material needs ,of course, but also to free people from the need to take any job that they are offered. So they are not compelled to take work that is poorly paid, has bad working conditions or is only for a short time. We think that wage labour should not be the central organising principle of peoples lives, that it constricts people and forces them into capitalist modes of organisation and production. This was central to Operaismo, to Autonomia and its important to YWC. It's a problem for university graduates who have to accept low wage and skill jobs despite spending years studying in other fields and not just a feature of the current crisis but also of the global division of labour. So YWC is definitely an effort to free people from the “cage” of wage labour and to enable people to make autonomous decisions about life and work from a secure position and not one of desperation. We also come from the viewpoint that the production of value in modern capitalism isn't only in the "official" site and time of labour but is spread everywhere throughout the society, and it deeply involves the reproductive sphere. So we consider a basic income such as this as a wage for work that previously was unwaged.

Another interesting aspect of the campaign is that the wage will be unconditional.
We want to make it so the right to this wage will be unconditional and not connected to citizenship, non-Italian citizens and migrants will have the right to this basic income. We understand the difficulties that this would present in the current climate surrounding immigration here in Italy but we hope it can open up new space for dialog about the idea of citizenship and to fight to extend it. We know it will be difficult to achieve this especially from an institutional perspective but there is a great need to connect these struggles.

What, if any, involvement have the political parties and trade unions had in YWC?
This is an autonomous campaign that relies on the horizontal relationships and solidarity between students, researchers, precarious workers, migrants etc and we try and avoid the influence of institutional bodies such as unions and political parties. However, should these groups want to support this campaign, they have not been involved in the campaign from the start.

What sorts of actions have taken place so far and what have you got planned?

We are at the very start of the campaign but we did enter a city council meeting (in a peaceful manner) to announce the campaign and asked for the right to talk about the campaign. Of course, they didn't allow us to speak so we left campaign flyers and information for the media. Now, we are planning to increase our efforts to promote the campaign amongst precarious workers at temp agencies, around picket lines, at the universities and so on. We are starting to sense a change in the political climate regarding a social wage in Italy. The idea has never been discusses in Italy before but we are starting to hear a calls for one not just from the left but also from some liberal commentators, who are starting to argue for the expansion of the welfare system. We want to continue to push this idea into the public debate especially during the regional election campaign in February and March by hosting debates , conferences and seminars to discuss this idea and to force the candidates to talk about it. One debate we have planned is to host a talk by Luciano Gallino, an important sociologist who is an advocate of a social wage, along with other researchers and academics involved with BIN (Basic Income Network) that campaigns for a social wage throughout Italy. We also have events planned in other cities in E-R like Ferrara, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Rimini etc during the election campaign.

Most of the literature makes no reference to the wider economy or any effects this would have, is this deliberate?
This campaign is a partial one, focusing on the needs of the groups we have already mentioned. We are interested in issues of the wider economy but we aren't interested in helping to solve the problems of the economy but to change the social relationships of production and give more power to people and more control over their lives.
email: [email protected]