The Metal Mechanic

Or, translated from the Italian “metalmeccanico” more accurately, “machinist”.  When I hear that word, I picture someone working with high-end precision tools to make machine parts, or something like that.  Little did I know, however, that I, a computer programmer with little to no knowledge of power tools or metal working of any kind, am actually considered a machinist.  “But that makes no sense whatsoever!” you might say. Welcome to the world of Italian labor laws.

Created in the fascist era, and sprinkled with a lot of Marxist ideology  in the 1960ies, the “Contratti Collettivi Nazionali del Lavoro”, or National Collective Labor Contracts are standard contracts that are supposed to guarantee standards for certain jobs throughout Italy.  Since pretty much everyone is supposed to fit into this scheme, and since it’s all very rigid and bureaucratic and firmly rooted in the Struggles of the Working Class against the Capitalist Oppressors in the past, even people working with new technology doing jobs that did not exist 10 years ago are shoehorned into existing categories. This is why I am a “metal mechanic”.

At least I would be one if I were interested in a Contratto a Tempo Indeterminato, or Permanent Job (literally a “contract for an indeterminate time”), which I’m not: I’m very fortunate to be in a field at a time where the best job security is simply doing a good job.

Sadly, many Italians still yearn for these “for life” jobs, the ones where you can never be fired unless you murder someone and do so on company time after having used up all your vacation days.  It’s unfortunate, because it leads to a very ossified, static labor market. Imagine someone who would love to quit their job and do something else, but doesn’t because that would lead to a loss of their Permanent Job contract that they might not obtain at the new company.  The result:

  • The company has a less motivated, less happy employee.
  • The other company does not have that employee, who would be more productive and happier in their new job.
  • And of course the employee is stuck slogging through their dreary days wondering “what if?”.

While I may make light of some of the communist rhetoric surrounding labor laws in Italy, it’s a deadly serious matter for some.  Several people involved in reforms of these laws have been assassinated by the “red brigades”.  For instance, Marco Biagi. Luckily, these are just a few crazed extremists, and the vast majority of Italians express themselves peacefully.

Long term, I am optimistic about Italy: there are many smart, hard working, creative, intelligent people here, just as there have been throughout history, and given half a chance, I think they’ll make Italian industry stand proud once again.  One of the first steps is scrapping the system that confounds computer programmers and metal workers.

One thought on “The Metal Mechanic

  1. It is so refreshing to witness how odd, ridiculous and utterly outdated these Italian matters look to an unbiased, foreign observer. It always felt like nonsense to me. Thank you, Mr. Metalmeccanico!


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