The Universal Aspects of Corporatism

Updated: Jul 9

Barnes, James Strachey. In The Universal Aspects of Fascism, 203-214. London: Williams, Norgate, 1928.

The Law of the Corporations, passed on 3rd April, 1926, together with a number of explanatory regulations having the force of law, which have since been authorised, is a lengthy document occupying 36 closely-packed pages in the edition in my possession. Consequently a general description is all that I intend to attempt here.

The general aim of the law is the organisation of the productive forces of the country within the orbit of the State, so that private interests may be more easily made to coincide with the interests of the community; to put an end to class warfare, to promote co-operation between the various factors of production; to substitute the justice of the State for wasteful strikes and lock-outs as the means by which industrial disputes maybe settled, to make productive labour and a sense of responsibility to the Nation as a whole the basis of citizenship.

To this end only those “professional associations” (by which term are included both workers’ and employers’ unions) are recognised juridically, which subscribe to the following requisites:

(1) Each professional association must represent one category and one category only of employers or workers (e.g., mixed unions would not be recognised). The idea here is that each professional association is a class organisation created to protect the interests of that class; and since, if two or more classes were represented in a single association, such an association might become divided in its interests, the unity of the association might be threatened with a collapse and its members thereby lose the advantage of collective bargaining.

(2) There must be only one association of members of a particular category in any one territorial circumscription (district). The main reason for this proviso is the same as for (1). Associations, however, may be organised by Commune, by Province, by Region or nationally; and associations of the same category in different Communes, Provinces or Regions are grouped to form federations of provincial or national extent, according to the peculiar circumstances of the particular trade. Such associations of the same category—single and federal—are classed, in accordance with their territorial extent, as associations of the first and superior degree.

(3) No employers’ association may be juridically recognised unless the members represented employ at least one tenth of the number of workers engaged in a particular category of work within its district.

Similarly no workers’ association may be recognised unless the members represent at least one tenth of the number of workers within its district engaged in a particular category of work.

The object of this proviso is obvious. Organisations insignificant in numbers in relation to the whole number of persons engaged in a particular category of work could hardly be considered sufficiently representative of that category to deserve recognition, if, as will be seen further on, they are to be the only organisations with a legal right to represent that category. A figure larger than one-tenth might have been chosen; but there are parts of Italy where the proportion of organised workers is small, and one of the objects of the Act is to extend the benefits of collective bargaining to all workers. It is important to bear in mind, for anti-fascists have attempted to make out that this proviso implies that the fascist associations represent so few employers or workers that it was necessary to put the minimum proportion as low as one-tenth; or rise very few of the fascist organisations could be recognised. They even try to make out that by this proviso the mass of employers and workers are in fact controlled by a fascist oligarchy representing only one-tenth of the whole! The facts are quite the reverse. The fascist organisations are out of all proportion stronger throughout Italy than any of the other organisations, save alone with respect to the metallurgical workers in Turin and Milan. But even here the fascist organisations contain the majority of organised workers. It is only where the mass of employers and workers in a particular category are unorganised that the number of organised employers and workers corresponds to a small proportion of the whole; but even so, of those who are organised the majority belong almost invariably to the fascist association. Thus the anti-Fascist case in so far as this proviso is concerned has not practical justification whatsoever.

(4) No association whatever may be juridically recognised unless, in accordance with their Articles of Association, they include among their objects, not only the general furthering of the economic and moral interests of their members, but also the taking of an active part in the technical instruction, religious, moral and national education of their members and the support of charitable foundations open to their members.

No association, moreover, may be juridically recognised unless the directors of the association, together with the association’s staff of employees, can provide guarantees of capacity, morality and a firm national faith.

Here, of course, those anti-fascists, who reject the fascist doctrine to the effect that only those who have a national consciousness and a sense of responsibility to the community as a whole possess a right to have a hand in the Government of the community, may be allowed to complain. Here we are up against a question of principle. It is not a question, as some would make out, of securing power indefinitely to the Fascist Party—it is a question of securing power indefinitely to those of high moral character, intelligence and patriotism. Indeed, through this proviso the fascist revolution realises one of its greatest ideas, namely, the reconciliation of Democracy in the sense of une carière ouverte aux talents and of Aristocracy in the exact meaning of the term.

So only those professional associations that subscribe to the above requisites may be juridically recognised. Other associations may be freely formed, and may be recognised de facto, but not de jure.

The juridically recognised associations possess the monopoly of legal representation for the whole class of employers or workers of their particular category within their district, including those employers or workers belonging to the same category, who are not members. The collective labour contracts made under their auspices apply equally to the members and nonmembers of the same category.

They have a right to levy (a maximum rate is fixed both for employers’ and workers’ associations) contributions not only from their own members but from the whole category of employers or workers whom they represent. But non-members equally share in the benefits secured through any action of the association.

Each association is bound to set aside a certain percentage of its revenue to form a guarantee fund; and after providing for the costs of its organisation and for the various forms of welfare work, which it is bound to undertake on behalf of its members, it must subscribe a definite percentage in support of the National After-Work Institution, the National Balilla (Boy Scouts) Institution, the National Institution for the Protection of and Assistance of Mothers and Children, the “Patronato Nazionale” (an Institution the object of which is to provide the worker with legal advice, assistance with regard to any claims he may have respecting insurance, assistance with regard to emigration and a host of similar services), and the corporation of which it forms part.

Individuals who pursue more than one regular calling may belong to two or more associations. A juridically recognised association may have no members below the age of 18; but women have the same rights of membership as men.

Associations are juridically recognised by the Minister of Corporations after fulfilling certain formalities.

The associations of employers and the associations of workers engaged in the same industry are grouped together to form a corporation. This is a State organ and, beyond the representatives of the associations composing it, the State provides for the cost of its administration by means of the quota reserved to it from the associations’ receipts.

Its duties include the supervision of its associations to the ends that they answer to the requirements of the law and fulfil their duties according to the law and their Articles of Association; the establishment of labour exchanges and the keeping of statistics of the employed and unemployed; the co-ordination, encouragement and subsidising of the welfare work of the associations; and the conciliation by means of their good offices, when seized with the task by the parties concerned, of any labour dispute.

Professional associations of the liberal professions (doctors, engineers, artists, ect.) though in other respects they resemble the other associations, form part of the corporations in so far as they may be considered an essential part of a given industry. On the other hand, co-operative societies (including guilds) have their special status. Those exercising a liberal profession or an art must inform their communal Authorities.

Employers of labour, whether they belong to juridically organised associations or otherwise, are bound to make a return to the government department concerned of the numbers of their employees or workers.

The Minister of the Corporations, after fulfilling certain formalities, has, in circumstances of mismanagement, fraud or the violation of the law and regulations, the faculty of delegating plenary powers to the Secretary of the association, or, for a period, to a government commissioner, or even, according to the gravity of the case, of dissolving the association.

The associations of government and local government servants do not come within the scope of the Act, but are provided for otherwise.

If the conciliatory machinery provided by the corporations fails to settle a labour dispute, the question goes for final settlement before one of the sixteen ordinary Appeal Courts of the Realm. The judge in such cases is aided by two assessors, chosen by the judge, from a list of experts on the particular matter under dispute. Lists of these experts are compiled by the Courts and revised every two years. They are chosen from among ordinary citizens and are divided into groups and sub-group according to the subject of their expert knowledge.

The Court decides on the interpretation of existing contracts in accordance with the law of the land and the regulations regarding the interpretation of collective contracts.

The Court also decides the conditions of new collective contracts in accordance with principle of equity and with those laid down in the Labour Charter (q.v., Section VI).

Strikes and lock-outs are severely forbidden and liable to very heavy penalties.

Strikes and lock-outs are classified under three heads; those having a political object or with the object of putting pressure on the State; those concerned with the working of public services (a schedule of what constitutes a public service is annexed to the Act); and those having an ordinary economic object concerned with industries not scheduled as constituting a public service.

The degree of penalties varies in severity with the nature of the strike or lock-out as classified. Each class of strike and lock-out is defined. I will give here the definitions of those that come under Class III:

  1. Employers of labour, who, without justifiable motives and with the sole object of obtaining from their employees (or workers) a modification of the conditions of the actual collective contracts in force, suspend work in their factories, businesses or offices.

  2. Employees or workmen who, numbering three or more and by previously concerted action, abandon work or do their work in such a way as to disturb its continuity or regularity, with the object of obtaining different contracts of labour than those actually in force.

Thus the professional associations are the foundations of which the corporative State is being built. Each local professional association is grouped into a federation of associations of the same category - provincial, or national federations, as we have shown. The whole are then grouped to form twelve confederations, six for employers and six for employed, representing industry, agriculture, commerce, transport by sea and air, land and internal water transport, and banking. To these two groups of six each is added a third group of free professions, composed (at present) of three bodies: Artisans, artists, and the professional callings. Each of these three groups forms a Union, to which is added the Union of Co-operative Societies (including Guilds). The whole are co-ordinated through the organisation of the Corporations, which, as I have stated, are organs of the State, under the supreme direction of the Ministry of Corporations, which keeps also in direct touch with the individual needs and aspirations of the various categories of production by means of a Council of Federations.

It proved a long and difficult task to classify all these activities, to constitute the various professional associations and to complete the hierarchical organisation. Subject to certain modifications that may yet be introduced, the edifice is by now sufficiently advanced to have allowed the Government to prepare the scheme on its basis for the new Parliamentary representation, which is dealt with elsewhere.

Things, indeed, are now beginning to work fairly smoothly; and with this I think there is only one more point in connection with this vast and revolutionary ordering of society that need be mentioned here. The members of the professional associations have no need to belong to the Fascist Party, nor indeed to call themselves expressly fascists. Nobody is pressured to join the juridically recognised or, if one prefers to call them the fascist associations. At the same time nobody is refused who applies to join, provided he or she has nothing against him morally, and is not known as a public agitator in favour of class warfare and other ideologies expressly condemned by law. He or she is not required to sign any undertaking. As a member he or she may be regarded as at least acquiescing in the scheme, and that is all that is required. The guarantees required with respect to the Secretary of the association, etc., and the very nature of the organisation itself are its own safeguard against the objects of the scheme being defeated. The benefits which the scheme is affording both employers and workers are daily turning doubters and the half-hearted into enthusiastic members and supporters. As Rossoni, one of the principal authors of the scheme has said; “We are in no hurry to get everybody within our ranks. We have abundant numbers to enable the scheme to be worked without the introduction of all the country's workers. It is better that these should come in gradually as they become convinced of its merits. Meantime those who remain outside are no great losers, for they participate equally in all the essential benefits.”

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