Sixteen percent of the country's officially employed workforce just lost their jobs (temporarily for the moment). And as one would expect, they're not happy.
It is a strange experience watching the events currently unfolding in Italy from the relative calm and normality of Catalonia. As I reported in August, Spain's Supreme Court ruled against the use of covid passports to restrict access to public spaces - specifically hospitality businesses (bars, restaurants and nightclubs). Since then the court has scaled back the ruling, allowing certain regions, including Galicia and Catalonia, to use the digital documents to restrict access to bars and nightclubs. But things are still moving quite slowly though I'm sure they'll pick up speed soon. Italy, by contrast, has just introduced the strictest rules in Europe.
"No Jab, No Job" Writ Large
As of last Friday all residents of Italy need a covid passport, or Green Pass, to access not only public spaces but also public and private workplaces. The pass proves that they have either been vaccinated against Covid-19, have recovered from the disease in the past six months or have recently tested negative. And now they need it to make a living, to feed their families.
The "no jab, no job" rule applies to workers of all kinds, including the self employed, domestic staff and even people working remotely. If you'd still rather not get vaccinated, you have the option of showing proof of a negative test every two days. That can cost anywhere between €15 and €50 each time - far beyond the means of most low-paid workers. If you still refuse to get vaccinated or present proof of negative tests, you face unpaid suspension as well as a fine of up to €1,500. Public sector workers have five days to present the green pass before being suspended. Private sector workers without a green pass face suspension from the first day.
Here's more from Politico (comment and emphasis in brackets my own):
By law, all workers must be able to show a so-called Green Pass, proving they are vaccinated against COVID-19 or have tested negative in the past 48 hours. Roughly 81 percent of Italians over 12 are fully vaccinated.
While polls suggest the majority of Italians are in favor of vaccine passes (just as the majority of people in all countries are in favour of vaccine passes, according to polls), there are still 3.8 million unvaccinated workers, many in strategic sectors and public services such as ports, trucking, health care and law enforcement, who will be unable to work.
Massive Cull of Workers
This is by any measure a massive cull of workers. Three point eight million is more than 5% of Italy's entire population and over 16% of the country's officially employed workforce (22.7 million). The total number of people currently unemployed in Italy is 2.3 million. In other words, if none of the unvaccinated workers were to cave in to the government's demands - some will, of course, we just don't know how many - the number of people without work in Italy would increase by well over 150% - in the space of just one week! And as the Politico article mentions, many of these workers are in strategic sectors and public services.
This is all happening as Europe - and the world at large - faces the worst supply chain crisis in decades as well as acute energy and labor shortages. The move also risks giving a huge boost to Italy's already quite large informal economy. Given as much, this is a huge, high-stakes bluff on the part of Draghi's technocratic government, which was formed eighth months ago. If it pays off, the vast majority of Italy's vaccine holdouts will fall into line and go back to work, and other governments across Europe will follow suit with similar mandates. If it doesn't, Italy's economy could be plunged into chaos.
So far, data suggest that the government's "no jab, no job" rule hasn't exactly had the desired effect. When the rule was initially unveiled, on September 16, Italy's Public Administration Minister Renato Brunetta said it would trigger such a "huge" boost vaccination take-up that its job would largely be done before it even came into effect. That hasn't happened. As El Mundo reports, in the week through Oct.8 some 410,000 people received the first dose, according to official data, a 36% drop from the previous week and the lowest weekly count since early July.
Over the last few days the response of many of the affected workers has been to stage rolling strikes and protests across the country. Roads and ports have been blocked. This has coincided with hundreds of flight cancellations due to strikes by workers at the former flagship airline Alitalia, which flew its last flight on Thursday. There have also been violent demonstrations by far-right groups such as Casa Pound and Forza Nuova as well as a 24-hour general strike held last week by unions to protest the government's labour and economic policies.
Since Friday Italy's largest port, Trieste, 40% of whose employees are unvaccinated, has been an important focal point of industrial action.
"There are no blockades, whoever wants to work does," said Stefano Puzzer, leader of the protest against the health pass in the port of Trieste, on Friday. Yet although the strike was reportedly entirely peaceful and workers who wanted to work were allowed to do so, riot police yesterday used water cannons and tear gas to evict the longshoremen.
One Little Flaw
The ostensible logic behind the government's latest mandate is that by "nudging" almost everyone who can get vaccinated to get vaccinated, it will help the country finally achieve herd immunity and thereby eliminate the virus. Also, work spaces will become much safer places because all workers will either have been fully vaccinated against covid-19, will have natural immunity or will have recently tested negative for the virus.
There's just one little flaw in the plan: the current crop of covid-19 vaccines are rather "leaky", particularly with regard to the Delta variant.
As such, people who are vaccinated are still liable to catch and transmit the virus and in some countries (such as the UK) the vaccinated account for more cases (in nominal terms) than the unvaccinated. In addition, what protection the vaccines do provide tends to wane rapidly. At the peak of Israel's latest wave of infections, in August, half of the seriously ill hospitalized patients had been fully vaccinated at least five months prior, reported NPR.
Which begs the question: if a vaccinated person and an unvaccinated person have a similar capacity to carry, shed and transmit the virus, particularly in its Delta form and even more so after four of five months after vaccination, what difference does implementing a vaccination passport, certificate or ID actually make to the spread of the virus?
Vaccine Passport: An End In and Of Itself?
In sum, Italy just unleashed the most severe de facto vaccine mandate in Europe on the basis of a vaccine that doesn't actually work very well and is still only authorised by the European Medical Agency for emergency use. To give an idea of just how extreme the Draghi government's position now is, the only other country in the world to have introduced a mandatory Covid passport for all workers is Saudi Arabia, reports Thomas Fazi in a recent article:
With these changes, we are effectively stripping citizens who haven't broken any law whatsoever (in Italy, like elsewhere, Covid vaccines are not mandatory) of their basic constitutional rights - the right to work, to study, to move freely. That should give anyone reason to pause and reflect. This kind of discrimination is also in direct violation of EU Regulation 2021/953, which states that "[t]he issuance of [Covid] certificates... should not lead to discrimination on the basis of the possession of a specific category of certificate", and that "[i]t is necessary to prevent direct or indirect discrimination against persons who are not vaccinated, for example because of medical reasons... or because they have not yet had the opportunity or chose not to be vaccinated".
This is also echoed by Resolution 2361 (2021) of the Council of Europe. In fact, the word "discrimination" doesn't even begin to do justice to what we are witnessing in Italy. Representatives of the political, medical and media establishment have openly accused the unvaccinated of being "rats", "subhumans" and "criminals", who deserve to be "excluded from public life" and "from the national health service" and even to "die like flies". Perhaps more worryingly, both prime minister Mario Draghi and the president Sergio Mattarella have accused the unvaccinated of "putting the lives of others at risk" (a claim based on the assumption that the vaccinated aren't contagious).
That claim has now been thoroughly disproved by myriad scientific studies, as Yves painstakingly documented in August. So why do governments continue to repeat it? Why aren't they rethinking their strategy? Perhaps, as Fazi postulates, the green pass is not just a means to an end - mass vaccination - but also an end in and of itself:
The Italian economic-political establishment has a long history of invoking, embellishing or even engineering crises - usually economic in nature - to justify technocratic governments and emergency measures, as well as the sidestepping of the normal channels of democracy. In this sense, it is not outlandish to posit that the country's elites, under Draghi's leadership, may view the current conjecture as a golden opportunity to complete the oligarchisation of the country they've been working at for the past decades (and in which Mario Draghi has played a central role).
A crucial feature of this process has been the transition from a post-war regime based on the centrality of parliament to one dominated by executive, technocratic and supranational powers, in which the legislature performs a marginal role, thus insulating policymaking from democratic processes. As a result, there has been an increased resort to so-called "technical governments" run by "experts" supposedly untainted by political partisanship and unburdened by the complications of parliamentary politics - as well as the transfer of key policy tools from the national level, where a certain degree of democratic control can always potentially be exercised, to the supranational institutions of the EU, which are undemocratic by design.
Now Draghi is even being heralded in some quarters as a possible new figurehead for Europe in the post-Merkel era. The financial and economic elite are no doubt salivating at the prospect.