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4 Feminizing the Inflexible

Molé, Noelle J. Indiana University Press ePub

The company that bought us has a very precise philosophy: total flexibility.

—From I Like to Work: Mobbing (Mi Piace Lavorare: Mobbing, 2004)

I want more autonomy, more flexibility.

—Giulia, self-identified mobbee

You can’t have the keg full and the wife drunk.

—Veneto saying

Neoliberal work regimes reduce labor costs not only by outsourcing, but also by building and sustaining a growing body of peripheral or semi-permanent labor, often dubbed flexible labor (Harvey 1989; Sennett 1998; Collins 2006). Within the semantic architecture of flexibility is the figure of a pliable, adaptable, docile worker. However, for working-class and middle-class workers in Italy, the idea of flexibility has been reframed, rapidly and publicly, as precariousness: as high risk, estranged, uncertain. From a moral standpoint, the discourse of precariousness casts flexibility as an immoral and intruding social value incompatible with Italian notions of just welfare citizenship and with Fordist orders. Mobbing, if understood as a strategic and covert means to reduce the number of permanent and even semi-permanent employees, would thus be a process able to generate a regime of labor of precariously employed workers. But a close investigation of mobbing shows it to be far more circuitous and less linear, yet consistently gendered. National reports about mobbing and gender vary widely; however, some statistics indicate that as many as one in three Italian women have been mobbed, and 39 percent were mobbed by other women (ANSA 2005b). Researcher Elena Ferrara, a contributor to the European Commission’s Daphne Report, dedicated to “raising awareness of women and mobbing,” reports that 62 percent of mobbing victims are women (Ferrara 2004: 21). Like other mobbing literatures, the report em phasizes women’s tendency to mob other women due to jealousy, hypercompetitiveness, and deviance from gender norms.

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1 Toward Neoliberalism

Molé, Noelle J. Indiana University Press ePub

While mobbing is a term recognized throughout the European Union, it has come to have a particular urgency and salience in Italy. Mapping the field of Italy’s dynamic political, social, and economic orders uncovers the historical conditions and tensions from which mobbing emerges. The discourse about mobbing reflects cultural apprehensions about the worst of global capitalism, reiterating its risks, effects, and human costs. The rapid replacement of Italy’s protectionist labor regime, once one of the world’s strongest, with neoliberal economic and social policies has played a significant role in shaping how workers might experience a sense of persecution and harassment at work. The social and economic history of stable work, as well as the speed with which neoliberalism has been implemented, has played a critical role in generating a set of moral orders in which the hasty removal of secure labor breeds fear, anxiety, and dread. Only in the context of Italy’s moral economy, in which protected labor has been seen as a right of citizenship, could precarious work be recognized as unethical and even health endangering.

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3 Existential Damages

Molé, Noelle J. Indiana University Press ePub

There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor.

—Ecclesiastes 2:24

Putting the soul to work: this is the new form of alienation.

—Franco “Bifo” Berardi

The soul that we are constantly constructing we construct according to an explanatory model of how we came to be the way we are.

—Ian Hacking (1998)

Mr. G worked as an engineer for Telecom in Pisa, where he was responsible for the Tuscan maritime area (Tribunal of Pisa, April 10, 2002, in Meucci 2006: 490). He had been instructed to minimize the overtime of his staff and had taken measures to follow those orders. However, his actions provoked a union reaction and, in response, Mr. G filed suit to protect his job position. Following disciplinary action by Telecom, Mr. G was transferred to Florence in June 1999 and was told, informally, that this was done to appease the National Union Coordinating Group. He was moved once again to Pisa by the next month. At that time, Mr. G was denied the monthly raise in salary that his colleagues had received, and he filed suit in the Florence Tribunal (which he later won, in January 2001). In January 2000, Telecom hired a new engineer for the Tuscan maritime branch and Mr. G was stripped of his professional role. Although he presented his case to the attorney general’s office (procura della repubblica), he was still fired later that month. He was rehired in February and transferred, once again, to Florence, and Telecom took legal action to justify the legitimacy of the transfer. At this point, Mr. G sued for mobbing, professional damages, and loss of dignity, and he contested the transfer. As part of his ruling on the case, Judge Nistico, citing Article 2087 of Italy’s Civil Code, reflected on the case:

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5 Living It on the Skin

Molé, Noelle J. Indiana University Press ePub

An institution, even an economy, is complete and fully viable only if it is durably objectified not only in things . . . but also in bodies.

—Pierre Bourdieu (1990)

It was the spirit of capitalism made flesh.

—Upton Sinclair (1906)

It seems that Italian offices are, in reality, sick from mobbing.

—Barbara Ardù (1999)

Mobbing’s endangerment to health has been foundationally part of its national and transnational circulation, as in Italy’s minister of health’s proclamation that cigarette smoking and mobbing were among Italy’s top national health problems in 2000 (La Repubblica 2000b); and the 2001 European Parliament resolution which called attention to the effect of mobbing on workers’ health (Mobbing in the Workplace, A5-0283, 2001). These high-profile political actions reiterated and established a greater legitimacy for the notion that mobbing is indeed imperiling the health of workers, and in quite grave ways. But even though attention focused on mobbing as something that correlates with poor health, mobbing had not been distinguished from other work-induced factors for poor health, such as stress. So when, in 2003, the state occupational insurance agency, INAIL, codified a new illness, organizational coercion pathology (OCP), that resulted from mobbing, the terrain shifted dramatically (INAIL 2003).1 In less than ten years, mobbing had become not only a salient way of describing a set of vexing practices within the work environment, but also a psychological and physical medical pathology that could be grounds for workers compensation. While there was clear evidence that mobbing has consequences for workers’ health, such bare facts did not necessarily mean that it would become an institutionalized and codified way of engaging with the state. Workers’ bodily symptoms, bolstered by the robust authority of medical knowledge, allowed subjects to know mobbing, and they became a stable indicator of an otherwise elusively defined labor practice. The mobbing-related occupational illness OCP grants workers new discursive pathways and institutional mechanisms to critique neoliberalism and their own devaluation, while also resulting in both increased state monitoring and demands for biological proof for all claims. Mobbing, already linked to vast neoliberal economic changes and Italy’s historical labor protections, has become inextricably tied to bodies and health. The medicalization of mobbing has expanded the potential for workers to receive benefits and resources, even as it produced new structures of state surveillance that limited such possibilities. As workers struggle to define an agent behind their ill health, the body’s everyday breakdown becomes a way of knowing one’s subjectivity as a worker and a citizen. Quite ironically, then, precisely at a moment when the post-industrial workplace poses less visible physical risks, “health becomes the locus for discourses on civilian versus state rights and responsibilities” (MacEachen 2000: 323). The management of health becomes a vital technique of neoliberal governance, as Nikolas Rose suggests:

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7 Project Well-Being

Molé, Noelle J. Indiana University Press ePub

Italy never wanted a state. It has always been a land of communes and corporations.

—Umberto Eco (1994)

How does the subjection of desire require and institute the desire for subjection?

—Judith Butler (1997b)

“Protecting the health of the worker must be understood as their well-being [benessere] and not just as an absence of pathology” (Lavoro Oggi 2005). In 2005, two years after the official recognition of a mobbing-caused work-related illness, Italy’s Workers Compensation Authority (INAIL) publicized a message to health institutions to focus on well-being, not pathology. A concentration on well-being as a key objective for the workplace was not limited to this institution. Rather, there was a more enduring change in the management of mobbing—and labor regimes—in Italy as the focus switched toward the promotion of good health rather than resolution of work harassment or conflicts. In October 2006, for instance, the region of Lazio together with the province of Frosinone co-funded a conference called “Mobbing: Educating Yourself for Prevention.” Medical professionals attended panels such as Preventing Mobbing: The Role of the Occupational Doctor, Mobbing’s Psychological Damage, Legal Medicine, Mobbing and Safeguards, Organizational Well-Being, and Corporate Conduct Codes.

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