Sessione 8

Old and New Social Risks: Labor Market Policy Preferences of the Radical Right Parties. The Case of the Lega.

(G.A. Giuliani)


The electoral relevance of the Radical Right Parties (RRPs) is far from being a novelty of the 2010s. Nevertheless, it is in the last decade – in conjunction with the economic and financial crisis and the increase of the immigration flows – that the Rightist Wave has achieved massive electoral gain throughout Europe.
This new wave of RRPs has stimulated the academic debate and several works have questioned those factors which RRPs’ mainstream literature has traditionally considered as the main determinants of their success. In other words, the Kitschelt’ s “winning formula” – that is, the combination of “an extreme and economically speaking rightists, free-marketeering as well as politically and culturally authoritarian positions” (Kitschelt and McGann, 1995) – seems to have lost its explicative strength (see: De Lange, 2007; Ivaldi, 2012; Swyngedouw and Ivaldi, 2011; 2013; Mayer, 2013). A recent stream of literature has paid attention on a new, emerging winning formula, the Welfare Chauvinism, i.e., the combination of strong support for economic redistribution with resistance toward distributing Welfare services to immigrants (Mudde, 2007; Van der Waal et al., 2010; de Koster et al., 2012).

Even though this literature has the merit to bring the welfare issues back into the analysis of the RRPs’ success, it tends to a) oversimplify the definition of welfare state policies by focusing only on “old” social risk policies; b) underestimate the role of welfare regime legacies in shaping parties’ preferences; and c) narrow the analysis only to the welfare-immigration nexus.

Indeed, in what Pierson (2001) has labelled as “the Age of permanent austerity”, the welfare state has had to cope with more heterogeneous risks and needs than in the past. Since the 1990s, the welfare state must thus ensure that the old social risk policies continue to function efficiently under greater economic and demographic pressures and that new social risks – emerged from the de-industrialization process – are adequately covered through new policy developments (Taylor-Gooby, 2004; Bonoli and Arminegeon, 2006; Hemerijick 2015). In this new context, new social risks policies (NSRPs) target mainly the outsiders of the labour market, while old social risk policies (OSRPs) tend to protect the acquired rights of the insiders. Guaranteeing the combined protection of the old and the new social risks is an arduous task, in particular in times of austerity and countries have undertaken very different patterns in ensuring this joint protection.

Since that RRPs have increasingly captured the disillusioned industrial low-skill workers – the coalition of new welfare losers – it seems relevant to detect their positions on the new bi-dimensional space of welfare reform (Hausermann, 2010; 2012). Put differently: How have RRPs positioned themselves on the old and new social risk policies? Which “joint position” have they taken?

The paper therefore will assess whether RRPs support the expansion of the welfare state (expansion of both OSRPs and NSRPs), its recalibration (retrenchment of OSRPs and expansion of NSRPs), its retrenchment (retrenchment of both OSRPs and NSRPs) or its protectionism (expansion of OSRPs and retrenchment of NSRPs). It is clear that both retrenchment and protectionism are at the expense of the outsiders who have no access to decent social protection but protectionism can be extremely attractive to those low-skill workers betrayed by the globalization, which hope to see their previous rights restored. It follows that welfare protectionism could be a winning formula for the RRPs.

From an empirical perspective, the paper will focus on the Italian case of Lega and on its positions on the last labour market reforms which took place in Italy – the Job-Act, which displays elements of both retrenchment and expansion – as well as on their proposals of reform during the 2013 and 2018 electoral campaigns. This party – especially after the 2013 elections – can be considered the representatives of the Italian LePenism. Under the new leadership of Matteo Salvini, Lega has softened the traditional regionalist claims of the party and promoted a national strategy, which led to the unexpected success at the last national election. The paper will, first, investigate the extent to which the party has supported/contrasted the retrenchment of the old labour market policy (the abolishment of Article 18 and the further flexibilization of fixed-term contracts) and the expansion of the new labour market policy (first of all, the establishment of a quasi-universal unemployment benefit, the NASPI). Secondly, it will assess the degree to which these positions in the field of the labour market policy are in line (path-dependent) or in discontinuity (path-departure) with the Southern Regime.

From a methodological point of view, the paper will employ a qualitative content analysis of official texts (parliamentary debates, party manifestos and other official documents) in order to locate the party policy positions on the new bi-dimensional space of welfare reform and will inform this data with qualitative information from primary documents.