The Challenges Of Unions Between AI And Humanoid Robots

In this live stream, I chat with Enrico Coppotelli of Italian union CISL Lazio, exploring the contemporary challenges that trade unions face in the era of Artificial Intelligence and humanoid robots. We analyze the implications of advanced automation on work, the transformations of the labor market and the new skills required. The conversation also focuses on how unions can remain relevant and influential, ensuring workers’ rights and protections in a technologically advanced context. We examine the opportunities and risks of emerging technology, reflecting on innovative strategies for productive collaboration between technology and workforce.

– What are the main challenges that trade unions face in the era of Artificial Intelligence?
– How is advanced automation transforming the job market?
– What new skills are required from workers to adapt to technological changes?
– How can trade unions remain relevant and influential in a technologically advanced context?
– What strategies can unions adopt to ensure workers’ rights and protections in an era of increasing automation?
– What opportunities do Artificial Intelligence and humanoid robots offer to improve working conditions?
– How can we balance the adoption of new technologies with the need to protect existing jobs?
– What are the main risks associated with the implementation of Artificial Intelligence in the world of work?
– How can unions work with tech companies to promote a fair transition to an automated future?
– What successful examples are there of trade unions who have effectively managed the introduction of new technologies in their sector?

Edited Transcript

David: Welcome! We will talk about technology, but as I like it, not only about technology as an end in itself, but trying to understand what the implications are on people’s lives and on society itself, about our communities. In particular, many people are predicting, but many more may not even realize yet, that artificial intelligence and humanoid robots will have a disruptive impact on the way we work or on the concept of work itself. Many people define themselves in terms of their value to themselves and to society in relation to their work, economic production. What will happen to these people when they have to accept a new important challenge of how to redefine their lives? But even in a simpler way, what will happen to the working relationships between companies and workers, employees, workers, when functions that today are carried out by human beings are carried out in a more effective way, almost completely automatically, if not entirely automatic, by artificial intelligence, software or robot, artificial intelligence, hardware? 

My guest today is a trade unionist and I invited him precisely because the trade unions have been the organization that has, through important struggles that started a century ago and continued dynamically, those that have faced this challenge in important changes in the past. Because society and the economy a hundred years ago were very different from what they are today and our way of dealing with the opportunities that society offered us were also different. These transformations have also been analyzed and negotiated through the efforts of the trade unions. So now I welcome my guest Enrico Copotelli who is a trade unionist, the President, General Secretary, of the CISL Lazio. Enrico, welcome.

Enrico: Thank you.

David: You are in a beautiful, appropriately presidential chamber with excellent technological support. So let’s start from where you are, what your role is and the role of your organization, of the CISL.

Enrico: I am in this room which is the room of our trade union organization of the CISL of Rome and Lazio. Imagine the capital of Italy, we are inside our headquarters, among other things a classroom recently modernized through the IT systems we are using today, so they certainly give us a very important perspective. However, it is a classroom that represents themes from the work of a few years ago. 

We wanted some kids from an artistic institute in Rome to refresh this room with themes that recall the work of yesterday and the work of today, because we want the union not just to be a story of the past, but that it can be above all, with the eyes of the workers of the future, an important moment not only for discussion but also for managing change. I believe that today it is not just a matter of analyzing the context, but also understanding how representative organisations, such as the CISL, can lead change.

Over the years, trade union organizations have very often limited themselves to identifying a problem but without then providing a solution. Their future evolution was to analyze a problem but without proposing a solution. I believe that today this slogan of leading change can enable collective representation organizations such as trade unions to be able to accompany the best possible conditions in a world which, as you said before, will tend to change a lot in the coming years, especially as new technologies they will impact the world of work and improve the quality of life of workers.

Erno’s debate is more about how new technologies will act as a substitution effect. But few talk about how new technologies can improve the quality of work and workers. So we would also like to ask ourselves this new vision of understanding the phenomenon and above all guiding it.

David: How did you get into being a trade unionist and what does a trade unionist do all day?

Enrico: So I began my experience in the CISL union through volunteer work. I had some free time, I could choose whether to help people perhaps in difficulty in the various voluntary activities that each of us can nobly decide or decide not to do. The sector that interested me a lot was that of precarious workers, that is, workers who had less protection than other standard workers.

In Italy there is a whole debate on the fact that the union only represents protected workers, the most protected workers, the workers who have profound guarantees. The issue instead of the precarious worker who had to struggle every month to be able to have the contract extended, even with a classification that was not even, in short many years ago in Italy, regulated because project collaboration contracts certainly many viewers know equally well better yet, they did not originally have a contractual regulation, there were no contractual minimums.

Above all, the fact that most of the precarious workers were young interested me a lot because I wanted to try to understand and understand how as a precarious worker I could help other precarious workers. It was a communication with a world of work that needed to be represented. We are talking about the early 2000s, so about 25 years ago. There was still legislation upon entry into our country, in Northern Europe there was talk of flex security, in Italy we perhaps haven’t gotten there yet, not even now. That was my approach, that is, wanting to understand how I can help others through volunteer activity.

David: So at that moment you were also a precarious worker and, feeling first-hand the difficulties, the uncertainties that this category had, you wanted to put yourself into play in a different, complementary form. And perhaps not everyone knows this, there are not very many trade unionists employed as such. Most trade unionists fill this role while doing a completely normal job and then also being a trade unionist on top of that, right?

Enrico: Exactly. In fact it was a different form of representation, because you imagine that at the time, within a workplace, union membership was the first reason why, not in a manifest way, but in a non-manifest way, the employment contract was not renewed. The employer, some employers, opposed the union and therefore perhaps the temporary worker who joined the union did not have his contract renewed.

So the workers were met outside working hours. I had managed to have a room inside a union headquarters where I could receive these workers and with them we began to think about their problems, which could clearly be what they aspired to.

David: We’re talking about the 2000s, not the 1950s…

Enrico: The 2000s, absolutely, in our country this was it. We reached a point where precarious employment was as much in the private sector as in the public sector. You imagine a complete upheaval of the image where the Italian public employee, who is notoriously the one most protected from a certain point of view, even within the public administration began to see the first phenomena of precarious employment. It was seen in the health sector, it was seen in the public sector, in local authorities, in municipalities, a bubble of precarious employment which essentially served in the imagination of the employer to increase productivity, in the image of the worker instead of having a stable precariousness, which seems like a contradiction in terms, but in fact it was the condition we lived in.

However, I want to say one thing just to close everything up a bit. After an initial part of volunteering, I combined my activity as a standard worker with the continuation of time to dedicate to temporary workers. So I was born as a trade unionist for temporary workers, here’s for those who follow us.

David: We also give information on the role of unions not only towards companies and workers, but also towards government, public administration, relationship, role, independence or codependency. And also a mention of the different trade unions in Italy and how they differ.

Enrico: Then consider that in Italy the main trade union acronyms are CGL, CISL and UIL. Clearly the history of the CGL is a story that comes from further afield. In fact, in 1950 the two trade union organizations CISL and UIL separated from the CGL mainly due to different currents of thought.

The union that I represent, the CISL, has a Catholic matrix and is therefore inspired by the social doctrine of the Church in a way that is perhaps different from the CGL which tends instead to have an orientation towards the idea of ​​a political party, which was clearly the case originally.

The type of negotiation you were talking about before is a negotiation that develops at different levels. That is, bargaining within a workplace to improve workers’ conditions, national level bargaining or national collective bargaining. 

In recent years the union, but also the CISL first and foremost, has also been experimenting with social bargaining, that is, trying to act above all in the interlocution of the institutions to improve conditions that are not only salary-related, but also, for example, fiscal. 

We as the regional CISL of Lazio last December signed an agreement with the Lazio region above all on the topic of fiscal taxation, that is, acting on local taxation by reducing it, perhaps above all covering waste, inefficiencies that may exist for the public administration and allocate these savings to improve the quality of life of citizens and people.

I believe that it is also a modern function of the trade union organization which is not limited only to looking at what may be difficulties of workers in a sectoral manner but also acting on the most local and more general level.

David: In this sense the union presents itself as an interlocutor, brutally called a lobbyist, towards the government by representing the interests of a category of workers or of all workers so that labor, tax and welfare policies in general, protect their interests. And it is an evolution compared to a vision that sees unions acting above all towards the company and therefore establishing framework contracts, inclusive of groups of workers with the company. 

You rightly mentioned what you called precarious workers as an important, emerging category, which will probably affect an ever-increasing number of workers. That was the term you used. And it is a pejorative term in itself, it is contrasted with permanent employment with certain protections already acquired decades ago.

There is a complementary view that labels it as flexible working. The European economy in general, Italian in particular, finds itself in a certain rigidity where hiring, firing, it is more difficult from the point of view of entrepreneurs to see people, their qualities, their ability to carry out the objectives that are given to them assigned compared to contracts that are inflexible. Flexible working has therefore been seen as a tool that allows companies to respond more dynamically to market demands.

One of the factors that has allowed this to emerge in a more important way, and which will probably increase over time, is represented by the digital platforms which abroad have an intermediation role between job demand and job supply and which in Italy have had an interesting journey.

To give two examples, Uber and the food delivery platforms, Deliveroo or others, have spread in a legislative vacuum and then had important clashes in which perhaps you too have participated, where their ability to make contracts on the fly has failed. So how do you see what I have described with a certain type of vision both in terms of not only rights but also opportunities for workers and the encounter between new platforms, new types of work compared to those already recognized and consolidated?

Enrico: The fact that in Italy we started talking about riders, drivers, juicers, essentially happened when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, when people couldn’t go to hospitality, catering and so they ordered food from home and had riders deliver it.

In fact, I always define Covid-19 in Italy as an accelerator of processes, because it was not only an accelerator of processes to make public opinion understand that there were riders, but it was an accelerator of processes, for example on Smart working. In Italy we have been discussing smart working for many years, then the Covid-19 pandemic arrived and smart working was implemented, that is, people also began to understand that it was possible to work from home. Before the pandemic the type of afternoon we are spending together David wasn’t so fluent, it wasn’t so contemplated, it wasn’t so frequent. The remote conversation method was accelerated with the pandemic, so it was certainly a disastrous phenomenon, but on the other hand I always tend to say let’s also look at the legacy that a situation leaves us.

The world of work, even very often the union, realized that there were workers who were governed by an algorithm and the perspective changed. The union has always defended workers across time and space. Now we had to deal with another modality which was the worker who worked remotely or the worker who had an algorithm as the organizer of his work. 

There it is clear that an emergency has arisen at the moment in which there is an emergency but there is also a need on the part of the workers to be represented, to see themselves represented. The union has started to act, the CISL has started to act also and above all to give defense to these workers. 

We had a good experience in Rome with our city in this category that protects riders. A work station was opened where the worker could have access to an electrical socket to recharge his mobile phone, an electrical socket to recharge his scooter, his bicycle, in any case the possibility of having his own vehicle recharged and therefore always efficient. But above all David, it may seem obvious, but he also had a bathroom that he could use. Because very often these workers do not even have the possibility of being able to refresh themselves in the physiological daily needs that perhaps those who live in a standard workplace do not have compared to those who have to spend hours and hours on a bicycle in a street. That is the satisfaction of a basic need. 

I am convinced that what I said just now we had as an idea in our minds but it had never been manifested, that is, for example a physiological need on the part of a person who does that type of work.

David: It’s right that we start from fundamental rights. If I, a university student, tired of studying books, want to be a rider and decide whether I do it two hours a day, three hours a day, three hours a week, I sign up on one of the platforms, can I do it and can I do it or is it only possible to do it if I get hired full time?

Enrico: No, it is also possible to do it by splitting the time. Then I must say that in Italy there was a whole debate especially on the contractual framework, that was more of the issue, that of assimilating it to the logistics and transport contract, there was also a ruling in this regard. 

But it’s clear that I always tend to do this type of reasoning. When I was young… then I delude myself that I am still young, I have to tell the truth but I fully realize that I am no longer. Look, it’s a question of mentality, I always round off and…

David: The current rounding is that I am 60 years old even if I am not yet and a little while ago I decided instead of having 60% of a presumed and optimistic age of one hundred which if I ever reach, to have 6% of a phantasmagoric age of a thousand years. And just that change of mentality and you see that you are very young too.

Enrico: Thank you. So, when I was young, working in the call center was a job very similar to what riders do today, that is, you worked in the call centers to try to be able to combine your study, perhaps university, with a part of additional salary to perhaps improve your quality of life in general. 

Subsequently, the call center’s work was outsourced abroad. Today if we call one of the first things the interlocutor on the other end tells us is whether this call center works in Europe, works outside Europe or works in Italy. So it is clear that the relocation of call centers or very often even the transformation from a physical operator to a virtual operator for a good part of the conversation has been able to greatly replace call center operators. Today there are fewer and fewer of them. 

However, that was a job that was perceived by the worker as temporary work and was needed for a specific period of time. In other parts it was work at McDonald’s. A person who perhaps worked at McDonald’s for a specific period only to improve their quality perhaps in public speaking, language, etc., and then change jobs.

So let’s say that they are jobs that we have always perceived as temporary jobs. We also consider the worker and the rider’s job to be a temporary job that serves as a springboard towards another type of activity. 

So it is clear that the people who turn to us perhaps and currently are riders, we tend above all, and this is the other innovation that the union is having, that of being or rather of defending workers no longer in the workplace but defend them in the work process. Because if today I told a university student that he would do that job for his whole life, on the one hand I would condemn him to unreality, because we know that no one does a job for his whole life, except in very rare cases, but on the other hand it is the worker who today wants to seek increasingly important challenges to improve his quality, above all to improve his salary.

In our opinion it also generates a new vision that the union is having, that of the challenge on skills. Because regardless of what the ambition of each of us may be, we always try to tell the worker: improve the quality of your skills because only by improving the quality of your skills can you be a competitive worker.

The substitution effect that very often happened in previous years, for example company relocations, very often exists because the worker is replicable. If a worker does that type of work in Bangalore in India, in Taiwan, in Hong Kong or in Rome, it is clear that the company will always try to be able to invest where that work costs less. However, when we ensure that the worker is a competitive worker, but above all that work cannot be replicated elsewhere, we have defended the worker and done our job as trade unionists. If we only position ourselves as staunch defenders of the state of the art and the current condition, we will have little credibility over time.

David: For call centers, the ability to structure work has actually made it possible to significantly increase efficiency. By introducing more sophisticated systems that can delve deeper into conversations with call center users, it effectively filters the volume of calls that need to be handled by a human operator. 

This may allow the number of human operators to remain constant in an expanding market with an increasing call volume. While in a market, in a stagnant or even worse, declining economy, it leads in proportion to a number of people needed to successfully complete the residual number of calls which in turn decreases. 

And as an example, in an economy that is expanding, which is the American one, in the last twenty years it has overwhelmed all European economies, regardless of the 2008 crisis, Covid-19, everything. So in an expanding economy, Valentine’s Day represents an explosive time for call centers. In particular, a dominant operator equivalent to the one in Italy, Interflora, in America is 1-800-Flowers, a toll-free number which then relies on very numerous structures and operators in the area. And on Valentine’s Day of those three weeks or that peak month, they hired 3,000 people because they anticipated and successfully managed the peak with an interaction management system sophisticated enough that it could change the destination address of an order for a bouquet already inserted into the system interactively. So you said “yes, I already placed the order” “what is the order number?” “this is the order number” “what’s the problem?” “I want to change the destination address” “I currently have this address, isn’t it the right one?” “no” “what is the new address?” “this is the new address” “ah, perfect, I entered it”. So in a way that goes far beyond what the very stupid chatbots we are used to are capable of doing.

The second very interesting example you gave is that of fast food restaurants where ordering screens have become widespread very recently but universally. And I don’t have the numbers in hand, maybe you have them, but the staff present today is practically exclusively for preparation and there is a person who delivers. And even if there is the option to go and order or pay at the cash register, for those few times I go to fast food restaurants I don’t see anyone doing it, everyone calmly uses the touchscreen and therefore it actually turned out to be an important change compared to how the people within those establishments are employed.

Let’s take a step further and imagine that a much higher number of functions can be carried out with human supervision that today would be classified as a managerial function. That is, an employee or worker by contractual definition is a person who is told what he must do to the point that if I’m not mistaken, the moment a worker or employee has too much freedom in defining what he can do he can sue the company and be framed as a framework or what must correspond to that degree of freedom that he can enjoy.

And so I ask myself, let’s do an exercise in fantasy economics. As you know Italian companies and the dynamics of the Italian economy, between the two possibilities: one, taking advantage of this new efficiency, Italian companies aim to expand by conquering new markets, increasing demand or satisfying a new demand that arises, or Italian companies decide to take advantage of the new efficiency to reduce the number of people employed.

Enrico: So it’s a topic, a debate on which we are discussing a lot with universities, with scholars and social scientists, with what is already happening within the workplace. 

For example, we are experiencing a situation in our region but which is a bit of a reflection of the country, for example regarding a type of worker who has always been considered very protected and above all high-income, which are bank workers. Can you imagine that there is a theme that we are riding a lot on which is unfortunately that of banking desertification. That is, the fact that today you can easily act through banking for any type of operation, even from the simple payment of bills, taxes, or any type of need you may have. On the one hand, this is true and the quality of people who move less and less to reach the bank branch, the bank in general, is improving greatly. On the other hand, however, it is generating new unemployment which is that of bank workers and we still cannot find a solution to this. Because there is no turnover, that is, between workers who leave and workers who start that type of activity there is a negative balance. So we will find fewer and fewer bank workers at the counter and more and more workers who decide to do another type of activity. Because in fact the banks are abandoning the territories. 

On the other hand, however, we have another model which is that of Poste Italiane. It is a type of service that is filling that part of the work that banks no longer do but are becoming increasingly territorialized. So on the one hand we have banks that abandon the territories and other entities that provide services that are instead colonizing them.

This is an example of how workers enter a circuit and above all from a mental point of view they arrive at the concept that their work risks being a finished job, of being a fixed-term job, of being a job that can be replaced.

To also answer your question, it is clear that companies are acting a lot on the topic of industrial automation to try to make the demand for goods and services increasingly efficient. I won’t touch on the topic of artificial intelligence yet, I would like to make a move on the current, on automation. And therefore there are many companies, especially in the manufacturing sector, that are offering workers incentives to leave and to clearly be able to increasingly automate production processes. 

It is clear that we are essentially acting on two levers there and this, Davide, clearly what is happening today is not a future prospect. Above all, we are trying to negotiate with companies the reduction of working hours for the same salary. That is, increasingly trying to improve the prospects and conditions of workers, but also putting the company in a position to be able to innovate. We are interested in ensuring that the worker is not fired, that he continues to work in the company and that, above all, in these transition phases we can also understand how to change the nature of the worker while keeping him anchored to the company.

So one of the scenarios we will have before us is the reduction of working hours, the worker could work three days a week in the next few years, but no , however our prerogative is that the type of income it takes remains, because it is assumed that the company can have greater profit from industrial automation and therefore that greater profit does not necessarily invest it in financial speculation, does not necessarily invest it in improving its performance, but which can transfer it above all from a social point of view in favor of workers. 

In the coming years, this will make us find workers who have a lot of free time and therefore workers could invest this free time doing other jobs, they could invest it in welfare, in their own situation. For example, I am a worker who would very much like to go to the gym, I don’t have time to go. Maybe I could go to the gym and therefore have the possibility of having other workers who are instructors in the gym…

I’ll give you another example. Life expectancy will tend to grow more and more, because medicine is making progress. So on the one hand we would have people who will live longer and longer, but we would have many other people who will have to take care of the assistance of people who will live much longer, but instead people who will also have to take care of organizing the free time of many elderly people who they are in good health and want to live their lives perhaps by travelling, having a different social life.

On the one hand I have given you a demonstration of many jobs that will be lost, simplifying them, but on the other hand I also have many jobs that will be created and there will be a great need for guidance on this, because there are few people who are able able to read contexts and above all to orient themselves within this new world. 

The union must also be able to fill these needs. Trying to orient, obviously having a much broader and more overall vision, these new jobs that could exist and above all trying to guide that change we were talking about before.

David: I’ll tell you an anecdote and ask you a couple of questions, then we’ll start touching on these points you’re making about the future role of the union, which is very, very important. 

The anecdote is now ten years old. I had a meeting with the human resources manager of one of the largest Italian banks who, with a hundred thousand or so people on his payroll, told me “from tomorrow I could leave 30% of the people at home without anything changing in serving our people. customers, millions or tens of millions of customers.” Evidently ten years ago. And I don’t do it because I know that we have a social calming role. The moment we fired tens of thousands of people there would be riots in the streets. 

If this already happened ten years ago, let alone today. Since then, many agencies have actually closed. A whole new generation of people also feel more comfortable using apps than going to a bank branch and so the trend is quite unstoppable. 

Compared to the reduction of hours worked for equal pay, there is indeed an important movement towards the four working days a week. And it’s very interesting because naively the first reaction, I think of everyone, is “but it’s absurd, but how is it possible, but it’s unimaginable”. 

And it was probably equally unimaginable to think that there are two days a week that you don’t work or one day a week that you don’t work, even if it is written in the Bible. And yet one day and even two days have been a practically universal achievement, disregarded by work alcoholics, entrepreneurs or workers, but it is something that is commonly accepted. 

So it is not absurd to think that we can move to a norm, to something that is adopted by such a large number of companies that those who enter working life expect it as the natural thing. Yet in France it failed. They tried to introduce it and then backed out. Because they were too far ahead, the time was not yet ripe. What meant that the 35 French working hours did not survive?

Enrico: I believe that today one of the problems, or rather one of the best places for experimentation, is where intense production activity is carried out where automation certainly becomes more used than human force, the workforce. And therefore it is clear that when there is a greater need for automation it is clear that even from a union bargaining point of view it becomes easier to make that type of reasoning also because there are greater profits.

The real issue is that today the two production and manufacturing centers are not in Europe but are the Asian part and the United States part. So today Europe is experiencing great difficulty, so much so that it seems to me that the theme has worked well in Germany, where manufacturing is a much more important activity from a volume generation point of view. 

Yes, undoubtedly we are still in a phase of debate on a topic that could certainly be the future of the business, especially of the workers, but when I previously spoke about improving the quality of life too… We imagine that today we are above all negotiating with the Municipality of Rome a series of initiatives for the Jubilee of the Catholic Church. 

You know that next year there will be the Jubilee in Rome, 35 million pilgrims are expected. You imagine that Rome today is an open-air construction site because it is above all modernizing from the point of view of traffic and general management of the city in order to be ready for next year’s Jubilee event.

So why do I want to say this? Because one of the first issues on which we are discussing with the Municipality of Rome is also that of smart working for the employees of Roma Capitale, of the Municipality of Rome, therefore public employees. Imagine that Roma Capitale has 30,000 employees, plus another 30,000 employees who are those of companies connected to Rome, for example those who do transport and waste. So there are a total of 60,000 people congesting Roman traffic and obviously added to the issue of the road construction sites that exist, I am a city that was calibrated to have chariots, today clearly having all that vehicular traffic becomes quite challenging.

The municipality asks us to negotiate the issue of smart working because that can be an issue that can decongest traffic in the city of Rome. Why am I telling you this? Because this can also be a theme, that is, that the four working days or the three working days cannot necessarily be carried out only by the manufacturing company, but can also be carried out by the public administration to try on the one hand to decongest the large cities, but on the other hand also living in small towns. 

I’ll give you a figure which is that of our region. Every day one million citizens enter Rome to work or study. So there are a million citizens who move and therefore congest the roads, unfortunately creating a series of situations in various ways. And therefore this theme is also a theme above all in relation to public administration which can be a field of work because we go to decongest the big cities but instead we go to inhabit the small towns. Because that million citizens who travel for work every day could instead improve the quality of small towns even with a repopulation of small towns.

I believe, David, that this is a topic and having 360 degree knowledge of it also allows us to remodulate it from time to time with the organizational function that we could provide and have for the workers. 

And I think above all that also this ability to read the moment, because in my opinion it is also beautiful from a novel point of view to imagine what the work of the future could be and therefore also understand what the perspective of the workers of the future could be. 

Some time ago there were almost all new jobs, for example gardener for vertical gardens, what could be coaching activities for people who stay at home for example to do smart working or people who need psychologist because, having no longer lived at home for many years, they have a bit of this internal conflict. And this is clearly the future prospect.

The perspective we have to deal with today is certainly one of great reading ability and we must have future events, but above all try to convince workers that lifelong learning becomes their lifesaver for the future, because otherwise we risk it. We risk having unaware workers who above all do not understand that only by improving the quality of their skills can they be ready to understand the future and above all to be competitive in the world of work.

I’ll just give you this last joke. When a worker comes to me and says “you know, I changed jobs and today I earn x, so I earn more than maybe 2, 3, 4, 5 years ago”, I always say “it’s not much”, because your ambition is to increasingly improve the quality of your life and of the people who obviously live with you. It means not flattening the worker’s level but above all it means making him competitive in a market that demands competition from you. 

I don’t know if you had an image of the trade unionist that placed in such an important way not so much a worker’s lobby, but rather a bearer of interest of a category that risks being very weak if we are not able to improve the their conditions, not only through our reading ability but also and above all through their condition which must be a condition that points to ever higher skill.

David: You have repeatedly mentioned the role of the union as a coach of workers, of categories, of people who must realize how important their direct role is in defining the future that awaits them. 

In the 1960s a person entering the world of work could easily expect to retire with a certain career which could be within the same company, in a couple of companies, whatever it could be, but which in reality His working life wouldn’t have changed much. 

In the 1980s, the concept of a mid-career training intervention that updated people, especially oriented towards digital skills, in the use of the personal computer, what it could be, to accompany therefore in the last 20 years of their careers people in a way that could be useful and generate value. 

Today, in fact, lifelong learning, therefore continuous training, is a reality that I hope everyone is well aware of, a challenge that more and more people are ready to accept and is also explicitly represented by some companies such as Google for example which have introduced a enormous amount of hours, 20 percent in their case, one day out of five, which people can dedicate to improving their skills, learning, experimenting, creating a project that comes to mind and which perhaps becomes a product.

Gmail, which is now used by tens if not hundreds of millions of people, or maybe billions, I now check it… Sorry, how many users of Gmail are there? I ask Google, a billion and a half. So Gmail started as a project of a person employed at Google who was fed up with the limitations of the email solutions of the time, he tinkered around for a few days, a few weeks, in his time paid by Google, and came up with this incredible stuff that brought in a lot of money to Google itself, of course.

So, two questions regarding this. One, Italy is one of the most unionized countries in the OECD, 35% unionization rate if I’m not mistaken, the CISL has 4 million members, but both this and the other two numbers are decreasing. 

So your challenge is twofold. Not only do we need to change what the union does, but the perception of the union among an aging population, where young people are not used to an environment as it might have been 20 or 40 years ago, must be changed. 

And the second complementary question to this is that there may be people who are naturally inclined to invest in themselves infinitely, let’s say, that is, without limits, who don’t say “ok, thank goodness, I’ve finished school, now never again, I’m not taking a book in hand because I can be a bricklayer all my life, a banker all my life or anything all my life.” And instead there are people who want to continue learning, to invest in themselves to improve themselves. 

A fraction of these define themselves as entrepreneurs and they may be so because they found a startup that becomes a billionaire or they may be so because they open a pizzeria. There is no difference in terms of resourcefulness. And both roles and paths are very dignified. 

And the second question is, that probably enormous fraction of people who have little propensity to invest in themselves and zero propensity, zero resourcefulness, how do we change their mentality? So those are two questions I want to close our conversation with today.

Enrico: I must tell you that in our regional territory the CISL continues to grow in number of members. I’ll also tell you which sectors are in this phase where the worker tends more to join the union. 

The school sector, because there is a significant increase in teachers at the moment. A sector in which we are investing heavily because we think they can be the key above all to decoding the future that we can start with the younger generations. That of making students already understand that only by continuing to train can they be competitive workers in the future.

The second workers who tend to join our union at this stage are workers in the social and healthcare sector because, as I said before, the Covid-19 pandemic has made us understand a lot how important the personal care sector is. And so the healthcare sector is also experiencing great growth in this period, as are trade and service workers.

The international magazine Taste Atlas says that Rome is the best place in the world where you can eat the best. It’s not new, it’s reality. And the restaurant sector in our region is a sector that is growing tremendously. 

So on the one hand it’s true, it’s the place where you eat best in the world, but on the other hand it’s the place where the quality of the food is very variable. That is, there are the so-called gourmet restaurants and there are many tourist restaurants and then there is the more or less in-between part. 

Why do I give you this example? Because that type of worker is one of the weakest workers ever. Because there is little comparison, because inside a Roman restaurant there is the cook, there is the waiter and there is the owner. Very often the owner is also the cook and therefore it becomes difficult to have a comparison. And therefore that type of worker remains crystallized, caged within his condition for many years. 

And when a cook, a chef or a waiter are not happy with their job, the customer understands that he eats badly because he is served badly, because the person who serves him is grumpy, not empathetic. And there we are trying to do a great job to make people understand, especially through interprofessional funds, which are these funds generated by employers and unions, to be able to create funds to train these workers.

And so you will realize that on average the Roman waiter is the one who barely speaks English, barely French, barely German and doesn’t know Asian at all. And sometimes he only speaks Roman, Romanesco, sometimes he doesn’t even speak Italian, this is true, so he speaks in Roman. And so there too, try above all to see how very good we are at cooking and catering but how much less welcoming we are compared to, for example, German places, French places, Spanish places.

David: This is a very interesting example because it actually unites the interests of the entrepreneur and the worker at a time when Italy loses positions in the number of visitors for world tourism and is beaten by France or Spain. Anyone who knows Italy realizes that it is absurd that it should not happen and that it is due to the infrastructural and very strong unpreparedness of the quality of services that the modern tourist expects, whether in Romagna, Rome or anywhere. Therefore training, the improvement of the conditions of all those who participate in the system has a common interest in this sense, a perfect example.

Enrico: I also ask our trade unionists a question and tell them “in your opinion, what is the most visited city in Italy?” Whoever says it is Rome. Rome is fifth because the first most visited place in Italy is the Dolomites, in second place is Venice, in third place is that Emilia Romagna you were talking about before, in fourth place is Tuscany and in fifth place is Rome. 

So to make you understand how such a beautiful city, unique in the world, if it invests little in its main core business which is tourism, risks being a sleeping beauty in the woods in a few years, that is, very beautiful but very asleep on the development of its economy .

And so to also try to answer your question, what we can continue to do is above all to identify each individual context and make the worker understand that only by trying to analyze together with others, because I am very convinced that in a world where the separation between people, people’s competitiveness risks being a bit of a sort of utilitarian familism, amoral familism, in the sense that people are put in competition and you see the other as an enemy…

We would like to try, I hope it is not utopia David, to once again make people understand that the problems of workers are somewhat generalized for all workers and that only by being together and aggregating can workers better understand what their conditions may be, not to return to the twentieth century where the union was an antagonistic, maximalist, anti-capitalist union which clearly saw a great contrast between those who contributed capital and those who provided labour.

Above all, the modernity of the CISL is that of proposing instead, in order to try to govern these processes, also the participation of workers in company choices, in the organization of work, in company profits, the presence in supervisory committees, as for example they manage to do very well The Germans are certainly much better than us and have a penetration capacity that is certainly very different from ours.

Then I would like to say this at the end of this wonderful chat we had today. In my opinion, joining the union in Italy is one of the greatest manifestations of freedom and democracy that there can be for workers, because membership is free. It’s not like in Germany or Northern Europe for example where joining the union allows you to renew a national contract or allows you to hook up to the renewal of the national contract. 

If we renew a national contract we renew it for workers who are members of the union and for those who are not members of the union. So a worker who freely decides to allocate 1% of his salary to the trade union organization, I believe, must be very motivated to be able to do so.

And knowing that today Italy is one of the countries where the union is most representative despite what I told you before, it is completely free and there is no coercion, it is not governmental. To be able to do my business, I do it above all thanks to the workers who pay for the membership and pay for union membership, I don’t have any public funding, so it means that our work continues to be a job well done.

We will have to clash and this is certain with the modernity of our time, with the modernity of future times, trying ever better to intercept the needs of the workers and translate them into concreteness because today the workers ask us this – to be concrete, to be practical and to be able to really improve their condition. And I believe that if we grow as members we are doing so but we must try to do it in an increasingly ambitious way.

David: More than a question, I want to visualize a provocation from Emiliano who follows us and who says “the CISL should put an artificial intelligence model to help workers understand their role in the economy”.

Enrico: We are starting with a model that is not so much understanding what their role is in the economy but an initial response to their needs before clearly taking charge of the person in flesh and blood, therefore a support with respect to our ordinary activity .