Integrating direct employee voice within the framework of worker representation: the role of an Italian trade union in organising disintermediation


2020 – In the journal ‘Economic and Industrial Democracy’, Armaroli describes cases in the Italian region of Brescia in which the trade union FIM-CISL, operating in the metal industry, applies a new strategy: ‘organizing disintermediation’.

A new strategy
‘Organising disintermediation’ is the synthesis of Organising against
disintermediation’ on the one hand and ‘Partnership in the disintermediation’
on the other. This new strategy implies that the employers’ narrative is
neither rejected nor accepted, but that it is contrasted with a trade union
narrative, with regard to direct employee participation (employee voice) and
the proactive role of employees and the union in innovation of the organisation. In this case promoting the employee voice is an intrinsic goal of the union.

The Brescia region
Until then, hardly any formal social dialogue took place in the Brescia region. For years there has been animosity between the various unions for metal workers. This recently became apparent when determining the strategy for digitisation, in which two unions did and one did not participate in the ‘Working table on Industry 4.0’.
The metal sector in the region is characterized by a few large Fordist-organized companies with a control-oriented management style on the one hand and many small, artisan (family) companies with a paternalistic management approach. Few investments are made in craftsmanship, labour relations or in the gathering of knowledge through collaboration with research institutes of universities.
These cases are therefore an exception.

The cases
At four small and medium-sized companies in the metal industry in the Brescia region, the FIM-CISL trade union was involved in projects of organisational innovation. In the period May 2016 to April 2018, researchers from the universities of Turin and Milan conducted case studies there through participatory observation. These companies already had a collaborative organizational climate. In the companies groups of employees and line managers were formed for continuous improvement and there was a tripartite steering committee consisting of company management, union representatives and external experts. Ultimately, a project plan for improvement was drawn up and laid down in a corporate collective agreement. By law, the company could receive a tax break if it had come to such a corporate agreement.
The project plans were not implemented in full or not at all. Sometimes it didn’t work out because rival trade unions put a stop to it. Then there was a new (HR) manager who did not like the plan and boycotted it.The author does not clearly present the complete results; she does explain the course of events historically and theoretically.
However, she reports that the process that fits this strategic concept is being applied in a growing number of companies in the region and continues to this day. 

Armaroli, Ilaria: ‘Integrating direct employee voice within the
framework of worker representation: the role of an Italian trade union in
organizing disintermediation’
, In: Economic and Industrial Democracy 1 –
27, 2020. Invited Review.

Themes: Industrial relations, Employee voice, Innovation &
Innovation competences.
Sector: Metal
Source: Article