||Issue No. 144||12 July 2002|
The Lotto Economy
Interview: Capital in Crisis
Industrial: No Sweat
Bad Boss: Super Spam
History: Living Treasures
International: Axis of Evil
Solidarity: Pride of Place
Technology: The Art of Cyber-Unionism
Poetry: The Masochism Tango
Satire: Foxtel-Optus Merger 'Anti-Repetitive'
Review: Bob Carr's Thoughtlines
The Locker Room
Week in Review
The Latin Lover
Indeed, Berlusconi could be the first individual - including Janette - to ever show any physical affection to John Howard. As he groped then kissed our glorious leader, Berlusconi exposed Howard as the amateur arse-licker he is. And while he grinned sheepishly at the physical proximity with his Latino lover, he was clearly out of his comfort zone. For a stodgy Methodist from Earlwood the touchy feely embrace reminded us of our favourite Wesleyan joke: why don't Methodists have sex standing up? It could lead to dancing.
The Rome meeting was the latest set piece in Howard's victory lap of Europe, that also included a most curious audience with the Pope, where the PM was forced again to get up close and personal to interpret the spittle. It had been a trip of war grave photo opps and failed calls for trade access to Australian farmers. Dammit, he didn't even get to Wimbeldon to yell 'c'mon'. Like many an Aussie caught on a Kontiki tour, Europe was proving more movement than action.
But then he met Berlusconi - Italy's cross between George W Bush, Rupert Murdoch and Mel Gibson. Howard found a kindred soul, albeit one with a far more interesting CV. While Howard has hacking away in Canberra, Silvio has pursued more diverse interests including buying the nation's leading soccer team, AC Milan, building a $14 media empire that includes three TV networks - commanding 90 per cent of the viewing public - publishing houses, PR firms and investment firms. The small section of the Italian media he does not control describe him as 'Citizen Kane on steroids'
Between business deals, he established Forza Italia Party (meaning Go Italy, which is a chant at soccer games). It too is more of a commercial enterprise rather than a Party - founded in 1994 and revolving around Berlusconi. The Party has no platform, branches or conferences. The membership of the party have no say over the policy and direction of the party. Rather Berlusconi draws on PR and Advertising professionals from his own media empire to develop policies and campaigns. Candidates are selected by PR "headhunters" and only can be endorsed by Berlusoni himself.
Berlusconi won power in 2001 in alliance with the National Alliance which emerged in the post-cold war era from a small group in the 1970s which stood in the tradition of Mussolini. Also in Alliance with the "Northern Alliance" which seeks to separate the rich northern half of Italy from the poorer south. Both parties have links with neo-Nazi groups and are xenophobic in their nature.
So where's the common interest? Silvio is currently at war with the union movement - with recent general strikes bringing literally millions of workers onto the streets. Howard may not have the resources to buy the Central Coast Bears or even the Prime TV network, but he knows how to trash unfair dismissal laws. At this week's media conference Berlusconi told him how much he admired Howard's IR 'achievements' Howard replied that he'd just LURVE a three year freeze on unfair dismissal claims. They were talking dirty and didn't care who was listening.
So there they were, seated side by side in the Eternal City. The palms were sweaty and the furtive glances resembled a couple of teenagers at a formal - but do they really have so much in common?
Here's a comparative snap-shot of Australia and Italian industrial relations (special thanks to Neale):
* the Italian Government has tried to get up dismissal laws which replace reinstatement provisions with financial compensation. Howard and Co want dismissal laws that don't allow any compensation or right of employees to appeal
* The Italian Government has proposed 'on call' allowances for workers whose jobs require them to be on call. The on call jobs are all defined by collective agreements, which remain the basis for all employment in Italy (except for a largish black economy sector. We have a government that is doing its level best to remove all collective rights and agreements.
* Italian proposal will require labour disputes to be conducted in accordance with the "principles of fairness". Abbott and co probably see merit in this as it's a pretty slippery term as the unions recognize. Unions object to this as they say arbitration decisions should be based on legislative provisions and on collective agreements, not a reference to "fairness"
* There are social partners in Italy- business unions, governmentt, a concept that the Libs here couldn't cope with.
* Italy also links a wages guarantee fund with active labour market policies so workers have the right to skills training and income support, not the threat of a cut off of all income if they don't follow the increasingly ridiculous and arduous social security rules that apply in Australia. Italians are also looking for a mobility allowance for unemployed workers who are re-skilling and seeking employment away from their current location.
* In Italy a cooperative approach to industrial relations is pursued between employers and union on to foster employment, as opposed to Tony Abbot's notion that there is war going on and employers should use all means possible to win the war. In Milan a new "pact for employment and growth" was signed in May 2202, after the general strike against the central govt, between the three main union confederations, municipal government and employers. The pact aims to:
· Support innovative sectors and production activities with a view to a Europe wide role
· Improve citizen services such as health care, transport, environmental
· Raise the employment rate with emphasis on the weaker category of workers (older workers, migrants)
· Increase citizen participation all aspects of life
· Regularise irregular and clandestine employment
· Foster continuous training and adaptability of workers and firms
· Devise Municipal action program to foster local economic growth and employment growth
* After the general strike negotiations resumed and the Italian Government signed a statement of agreement with two of the three major union confederations which meant that negotiations could continue on the unfair dismissal laws (and social security law reform and tax reform) were not implemented except for new employers of more than 15 people, who were still required to pay financial compensation rather than reinstate. The Italian government had been proposing an experimental change to just give compensation. Italian unions have agreed to limited experimentation.
* And NB: Even though Berlusconi and co are Far Right of the Italian spectrum, they still negotiate labour, pension and tax reforms with unions, and they weren't trying to remove rights to any comeback by dismissed workers, only allowing them cash rather than reinstatement. Anyone dismissed in Australia has no automatic right to cash, has to wait for social security payments, beg for any money in the meantime and faces ridiculous job search rules to keep getting social security.
* Despite govt intransigence, it did talk to the unions before the general strike and after it indicated its willingness to negotiate on the provisions. When did Howard and Abbot last have a talk with union officials here? And while the dismissal law is the big sticking point, but the Italian government's position, which the unions firmly oppose, is a better starting point than anything Howard and Abbott want.
So the message for Howard is that before he gets to second base with Silvio, he might be just another Latino Lotharo who is more talk than action. Despite the big claims, gold chains and hairy chests, he's just another flaky ideologue without the streak of hatred that Howard is looking for in a relationship. If George W just wiggled his butt, Sylvio is a sweet-talker. Be warned Johnny, he'll tease ya, but he'll never deliver.
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