Although Italy began to experience industrial
development only at the end of the 19th century, Italian society had been
changing from a much earlier date. The steady growth in commercial farming
from the 18th century led to the development of a land-based middle class,
while the expansion of public administration and the professions (especially
law, medicine, and teaching) after unification gave 19th-century Italy
an increasingly modern and urban social structure. By the end of the century
an aggressive new entrepreneurial class was also taking shape that included
landowners as well as manufacturers, while the development of new industries
brought into being a new industrial working class. Although there were
attempts to establish new industries in the South -- for example, the
Bagnoli steelworks near Naples -- industrialization before 1914 was
concentrated in the North. Even there, factories were often located in
the countryside so that the social impact of industrialization was not
limited to the cities. In many areas of northern Italy commercial farming
displaced peasant family farms, creating in their place a militant and
unionized landless labor force. In central and southern Italy small peasant
sharecropping farms remained more common until after World War II. Owing
to the regime's subordination of economic concerns to its expansionist
foreign policy, the interwar years slowed down the processes of change
and modernization in Italian society without completely halting them.
Since the end of World War II social change in Italy has been dynamic. The expansion of professional, commercial, and technical employment has been complemented by the development of an effective system of free public schooling, technical institutes, and universities that has provided Italy with one of the best-trained workforces in Europe.
Social change in the South has been slower and more problematic. Poverty and the absence of industrial development were the cause of massive emigration from the rural Mezzogiorno and Sicily in the decade before 1914. Mussolini's regime accentuated the dependence of the South on agriculture, which resulted in a further wave of emigration in the 1950's and 1960's. Like the southern economy, the expansion of the middle classes in the South has been heavily dependent on state intervention, education, the bureaucracy, government economic development programs, and public sector enterprises, although there were signs in some regions (especially Apulia and Abruzzi) of more independent forms of entrepreneurship in the 1980's.
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The most obvious distinction between Italians
of today and earlier generations is the impact of modern consumer culture.
Despite the survival of a strong sense of regional identity and marked
disparities in wealth, life in Italy, as in other West European states,
is focused increasingly around the media, sports, and leisure. Except in
areas of commercial farming, the countryside has been rediscovered for
recreational purposes. Levels of consumption are among the highest in Europe,
and Italians are proud of their reputation for excellence in design, fashion,
architecture, and gastronomy. Despite social modernization, the family
remains an important social institution, although many see this as a reflection
of the relatively poor quality of public welfare and health care provision
and, more recently, of unemployment among young people. Here, too, there
are signs of change, and in northern Italy the average family size fell
to 2.8 by 1981. In the South the figure of 3.3 per family disguises a big
gap between middle-class and poor families.
While Italians have benefited from increases in affluence, poverty remains an important issue. Reductions in public spending since the mid-1980's have worsened the situation of the unemployed, while the provision of housing and health care facilities is particularly inadequate in the South. Structural unemployment is a growing problem, and one that has been exacerbated by uncontrolled, clandestine immigration in the 1990's.
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The labor movement began in Italy at the
end of the 19th century, and labor unions acquired great strength in the
first two decades of the 20th century. However, their power was virtually
destroyed during two decades of Fascist government from 1922 to 1943. After
World War II, reorganization of labor unions was one of the first steps
in building a new Italy. In 1944 a new General Confederation of Labor (Confederazione
Generale Italiana del Lavoro, or CGIL) was set up through the joint efforts
of the three largest antifascist political parties: the Socialists, Christian
Democrats, and Communists. In 1948, Catholic workers withdrew from the
CGIL, which had come under Communist domination, and formed their own confederation,
the Italian Confederation of Workers' Syndicates (Confederazione Italiana
dei Sindacati Lavoratori, or CISL). In 1950 a third federation, the Italian
Union of Labor (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, or UIL), was formed by workers
who had broken with the Communists but refused to merge with the Catholic
unions. Its membership is Socialist, Social Democratic, and Republican.
There is also a right-wing labor federation, the Italian National Trade
Unions Confederation (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Nazionali del Lavoro,
The CGIL is the largest of the three major federations, with an estimated membership of more than 4.5 million in the early 1990's. The CGIL was formerly under Communist leadership but included members of the Italian Socialist Party, which continued to cooperate with the Communists at the labor union level after collaboration in other areas ended in 1964. The CGIL includes both industrial and agricultural workers and is affiliated with the European Trade Union Confederation.
The CISL, with 3.1 million members in the early 1990's, is the second largest federation of unions. Although predominantly Catholic, it includes non-Catholics, and members are drawn from both industry and agriculture. The CISL is affiliated with the European Trade Union Confederation and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
The smallest of the three major federations, the UIL, has 1.5 million members. It is backed by Social Democrats and other non-Catholic and non-Communist elements.
Until 1969 the labor unions usually bargained separately with employers. In 1969, deciding to put aside their differences, the unions combined to push their demands, reinforcing them by strikes in all sectors of the economy. These tactics resulted in considerable improvements in wages and working conditions and encouraged the unions in 1970 to start working together in pressuring the government to improve conditions in such fields as health services, taxation, prices, education, and transport.
An important element in Italian wage increases was the scala mobile, a system established in 1945 by which wages were increased as the cost of living rose. These cost-of-living increases were calculated on a flat rate rather than as a percentage of the worker's salary; it was the lowest-paid workers who, proportionately, benefited most. By the beginning of the 1980's, about three fourths of Italy's workers were covered by the scala mobile. Following a 1985 referendum, the system was modified and then abolished. While the number of service sector jobs increased, those in industry have contracted, which is why the principal trade unions have adopted essentially defensive strategies. This has given rise to wildcat industrial action by the more militant unions known as COBAS ("rank-and-file committees") that have been responsible for highly disruptive strikes in the public service sector -- especially transportation. Recent cuts and threatened cuts in public expenditure are likely to have serious impact on employment levels and may intensify levels of industrial conflict.
The General Confederation of Italian Industry (Confindustria) is an employers' organization to which the majority of industrialists belong. Negotiations for labor contracts and working conditions are conducted between Confindustria and the labor unions, which act sometimes in unison and sometimes separately. The ministry of labor intervenes only at a serious impasse. In addition to Confindustria, there are more than 100 specialized employer organizations.
The General Confederation of Italian Agriculture (Confagricoltura) is the association of agricultural employers corresponding to Confindustria, but the National Confederation of Small Farmers (Conacoltivatori) is actually a larger, more powerful organization. Although formally independent, Conacoltivatori was closely allied with the Christian Democratic Party and had great political influence. It has strong ties to the firms and agencies that sell machinery and fertilizer to farmers.
Italy's long association with the Roman Catholic
Church has had a profound influence on Italian history and on the attitude
of Italians to the Church. Until the unification of Italy in 1861, the
Church ruled the Papal States, a considerable belt of territory stretching
across the country north of Rome. Although the Church's temporal power
came to an end when Italian troops entered Rome in 1870, the dispute between
Church and state continued until 1929, when the Lateran Treaty defined
their respective spheres of influence and created an independent Vatican
State. The conditions of the Lateran Treaty were reaffirmed in the constitution
of the republic (1948). The Holy See appoints archbishops and bishops of
the Roman Catholic Church, but before making these appointments it submits
the names of the candidates to the government. Roman Catholic religious
teaching is given in public elementary and intermediate schools. Clergymen,
as well as civil officials, may perform marriage services.
Divorce and abortion have been major issues in Italy. Although public opinion was increasingly in favor of legalizing them, the Church authorities firmly opposed both changes. Civil divorce was introduced in 1970 despite Pope Paul VI's contention that such a law violated the 1929 Lateran Treaty. Abortion was legalized in 1978.
Although the great majority of Italians are nominally Roman Catholic, many are suspicious of any interference on the part of the Church hierarchy in civil life and especially in politics or education. Thus, as expressed in referendums, there is a definite anticlerical trend. Anticlericalism is particularly strong in the former Papal States of Emilia-Romagna and the Marches, where memories of former ecclesiastical rule survive. A spirit of protest against the Church is found in left-wing circles, but many people who consider themselves leftists still hesitate to be married or buried outside the Church or to deny baptism to their children. Moreover, women sometimes remain within the Church even when men do not. As a result, the influence of the parish priest is still strong, especially in the South and in country districts. The Church is also influential in cultural and welfare associations and in labor unions and other workers' organizations. Politically, the influence of the Church is expressed through the Christian Democratic Party, which favors state contributions to parochial schools.
A great change has occurred in the status of Italian women since World War II. Before the war, it was not customary for women to participate in public life or to follow a trade or profession. Their large families tied them to the home, and they were discouraged from seeking outside employment. After World War II women in Italy were enfranchised, and women were also elected to parliament. In addition, many young women of the middle and upper classes now continue their education at universities in preparation for careers in teaching, social work, and other professions. However, the proportion of professional career women remains considerably below that of other West European nations. In the early 1950's women still accounted for only one-fourth of the Italian labor force. The proportion was higher in the North than in southern Italy, Sicily, or Sardinia. By the beginning of the 1980's women made up one third of the workforce. Moreover, many women who formerly would have helped with the farmwork or gone into domestic service were now finding jobs in shops or factories. The employment of women was increasing much more rapidly than that of men, indicating that married women were returning to the labor market and that families were drawing on two incomes, especially in northern and central Italy.
Organized extracurricular activities play only a small part in the Italian child's school education, but out-of-school sports, especially soccer, played with the local clubs, enjoy wide popularity. In the universities, the heavy, examination-ridden curriculum keeps the ambitious student hard at work, and sports are unimportant. A relatively small minority of the young people in Italy are interested in politics and join political clubs; the Communists have maintained the most active political youth organizations. However, many students in practically all the universities joined the 1968 demonstrations and sit-ins that protested delays in reforming the antiquated university system. These protests were a new development among Italian students, who had hitherto been mainly conformist in attitude. Demonstrations, including the occupation of university buildings, recurred sporadically during 1969-1970, chiefly at the universities of Turin, Milan, and Rome. Since the 1970's young Italians have shown less interest in politics and religion, while youth unemployment has increased in all sectors.
The state social welfare system covers health
services, pensions, workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, and
family allowances. Social insurance is administered by a number of state-controlled
insurance companies and is based on contributions by employers, workers,
and government. Employers pay the largest share by far. The social insurance
system covers practically all employed and unemployed workers, pensioners,
and many self-employed persons and their families. Health services are
similar to those in other European Union countries, but in Italy they are
handicapped by the lack of modern hospitals and by the low fees paid by
the government to doctors working under the national health system. Some
gaps that exist in the state system are filled by private welfare work
conducted under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church. Reductions in
public expenditure since 1992 have revived interest in more extensive privatization
of welfare services.
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