Is “Regional” Corporatism Still Alive? Evidence from Italy

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
TW2.1.02 (Tower Two)
Andrea Bellini, University of Florence, Florence, Italy
Luigi Burroni, N/A, Italy; University of Florence, Florence, Italy
This paper focuses on either tripartite or bilateral social negotiation practices undertaken at the regional and local level, as mechanisms of policy-making that imply the sharing of political space and co-operative relationships between the actors of industrial relations – namely employers’ associations, trade unions and relevant public authorities – which sometimes also involve actors from the civil society, such as banks or even companies. These practices have developed as key elements of what has been called “competitive regionalism”, that is a model of governance based on a process of political construction of economic competitiveness, which puts emphasis on the creation – as an intentional process – of collective goods that are likely to promote local development. The latter are defined as local collective competition goods (LCCGs) and include both “tangible” goods, i.e. infrastructures, logistics, services, the availability of a qualified workforce, the presence of research and development centres etc., and “intangible” goods, i.e. cooperation relationships, based on social networks and trust as well as skills and tacit knowledge.

In the areas characterized by the presence of highly specialised manufacturing local systems of small firms, such as industrial districts, these practices often took the form of a strong and durable inter-institutional cooperation, giving rise to what is termed a secluded micro-concertation. As such, they are an Italian specificity, which had found favourable conditions in the regions of the Third Italy.

In the Nineties, this model was subject to changes that increased the supply of political space for social negotiation and moved the barycentre of regulation to the territorial level, ensuring the inclusion of local actors in policy-making. Furthermore, it underwent a process of institutionalization, through the launch of Negotiated planning. Within this framework, following a general tendency to the “contractualization” of public policies, Territorial pacts were widely used to produce LCCGs. Despite this, in the last decade, the so-called regional tripartism has received poor attention, probably due to the loss of competitiveness of the traditional model of industrial districts because of intensifying globalization, and to the “alternate fortunes” of concertation at the national level. Since 2001, in effect, the centre-right government coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi favoured the abandonment of concertation as a method of regulation. In general, there seemed to be a declining interest in participative practices, such as territorial pacts, due to the slowness of decision-making processes, though different orientations could be noticed at the level of local governments.

Starting from these premises, the paper seeks to verify what happened to micro-concertation in the following years. For this purpose, it presents key findings of a study conducted in the context of a wider research project aiming to improve the understanding of labour regulation within small and medium-sized enterprises in Italy and other European countries. The focus is on the period of the economic crisis, from 2008 onwards, since it is likely to have seriously challenged this model, but also to have stimulated innovative responses. In this regard, the paper draws the attention to an intense negotiation activity that has taken place at the regional and local level to tackle the effects of the crisis, and has resulted in a series of territorial agreements, many of which are expressions of “collectively negotiated welfare” and are characterized by a proactive role of the actors involved. Based on the analysis of a database of 55 agreements, it attempts to answer the following questions: a) Is the Italian model of regional corporatism still relevant, though less visible? b) If so, what are its main outcomes? What types of agreements have been reached? c) And what effects have they produced, both in economic and social terms? Is there a relation between the presence of innovative agreements and labour market performances? The paper addresses these issues trying also to reflect on the future perspectives of this model, whether it is still a prerogative of areas with a peculiar institutional architecture, high levels of social cohesion and political homogeneity, such as industrial districts, or they could be implemented in other environments, such as urban and innovation areas.