The state of the art (1st June 2012)

On 1st May 2012, the ‘future’ Italian Society for Labour History (Società Italiana per la Storia del Lavoro – SISLav) organized the first meeting at the ‘Sala Santi’ of the ‘Camera del lavoro’ in Reggio Emilia. The participation of proponents and supporters of the ‘Manifesto’ (see for a English version) has been large, enthusiastic, and promising. First, the reasons at the basis of the ‘Manifesto’ have been recalled, underlining the urgent need to establish a collaborative network between groups and/or individual researchers and scholars whose interests concern the labour history and, generally, the study of the ‘work’. Secondly, the participants to the meeting started a broader discussion over important topics concerning the Society which include:

–       the cultural reasons and aims

–       the organizational design

–       the relationships with other International Associations of Labour History as well as with territorial Italian organizations (as Research Centers, Chambers of Labour, Historical Archives)

–       fund raising

–       future plans and activities

Respect to the first point (the aims of the Society), as stated in the ‘Manifesto’, the participants agreed with the renewed presence of various, but disaggregated research around the subject of ‘labour’. The need to create a place for the exchange of communication and information, with the aim to enlarge the scope of the chronological and thematic research on labour history have been underlined. They also recalled the importance to apply an interdisciplinary perspective, starting especially a constant dialogue with social scientists and economists, even in order to limit the dominant ‘paradigms’ and to avoid hegemonic claims. Moreover the inclusion of the ‘pre-industrial period’ as well as the use of new approaches to the ‘history of labour movements’ have been conceived as ineluctable. Regarding the internal structure of the Society, the arrangement of the ‘Statute’ is the first, and most important step. They agreed that the design will be organized in order to allow the good functioning of the Society and to counter-balance the various territorial, scientific and operational segmentations. The relationships with the international organizations and scholars have been considered as one of the main important goals, as well as the link with other territorial organizations. In general, the participants stressed about the need to disseminate as much as possible the ‘Manifesto’ through seminars and workshops.

In order to sustain the exchange of information among those who are interested in labour history a provisional web-platform have been realized. Although a specific ‘web-site’ will be launched as soon as possible, a blog is currently available on The blog includes information on the ‘future’ Society and the contacts to communicate with them and signal calls for papers, conferences, events, books, and articles. The ‘active’ participation is opened to all those who are interested. Finally, the participants agreed that during the next months the activities will include:

a. The constitution of a steering committee that will be devoted to the statutory, organizational, territorial as well as fund-raising matters

b. the organization of a ‘first’ meeting between September and October during which the ‘Statute’ will be presented and voted by the participants (who also will pay the member-fees)

c. the design of a conference to be held in the 2013 to discuss the ‘state of art’ of the labour history in Italy and abroad.

This first meeting has been followed by a working seminar held in Rome on May 25th, at the Library of Senate of the Italian Republic. The seminar, with the title ‘La Storia come Storia del Lavoro’ (‘History as Labour History’) was meant to discuss the main issues at the root of the SISLav project, briefly illustrated by Luca Baldissara introducing the morning session. The contributions addressed the state of the art in the italian Labour studies, (Stefano Musso, who set out a framework for the beginning of the 21st century ); the development of the global  Labour history and its potential for the italian researches  (Christian G. De Vito); the history of the “working class movement” concept in the italian tradition (Michele Nani); the changing perpectives on the distant basis of the Industrial revolution, and  the need to reset its periodization (Giovanni Favero), the  relationship between labour history, working class movement, trades  unions history, and politics in XXth century Italy (Jorge Torre  Santos). On the whole, both the contributions and the debate focused on the widespread necessity to strenghten the links among the  different approaches to Labour History (Pietro Causarano), and to extend  backwards the cronological boundaries of what is considered  “labour”, in order not only to include late modern periods but also to reconsider the legacy of medioval corporative tradition (Angela  Groppi). Suggestions have been made to take into account the connections with other disciplinary fields, such as economic history (Simone Selva).

The afternoon session was meant to explore some of the “open” questions in current researches related to Labour history in a broad perspective. The key role of labour has been examined with relation to the building of the corporative State during the Fascist regime and the corporatist practices before and after its establishment (Laura Cerasi), and with regard to the making of the civil and constitutional laws during the XXth century (Irene Stolzi). The working class movement and the trades unions was instrumental  in the establishment of the Italian Republic after WWII, and its part has still to be examined (Lorenzo Bertucelli), and such is for the controversial and thwarted transition from the Fascist regime to democracy after 1945 (Michela Ponzani). Finally, the relationships between migration and labour has been analysed, with a focus on the birth of a modern social security system in the 20th century Italy (Stefano Gallo).

The day before the seminar, in Rome, some members of the steering committee had gathered to discuss about the Statute, the first plenary meeting for the official foundation of the Society, the website, and other formal activities. In particular, the Steering Meeting urged that the Statute will underline the main aims of the society, stressing about the importance to disseminate the labour history studies in every possible form, inside and outside the academic environment. The meeting for the formal foundation of the Society has been scheduled to be held in Milan between the second part of September and the first part of October, at the venues of the Camera del Lavoro.

Andrea Caracausi

Laura Cerasi



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