One of the countries with the strongest unionization, both confederal and structural, is Italy.
To be manned, however, are the ‘classic’ work relationships consolidated with a full time, while absent or almost absent from the confederal protections are the collaborators, the freelancers, who in Italy often have a fake self-employment being forced to be provided of a VAT number, all the problems of very high taxation and a disguised relationship of dependence – often by a single client. That ‘outsources’ the work thus bypassing the fees and costs of a hiring, unilaterally establishing the remuneration and timing of its provision.
#slowwords has already dealt with precarious work, as a freelance, in the world of writing by interviewing those who founded Professione Reporter, an association that investigates how editors or photographers are underpaid and how the publishing market of Italian press organs works.
Today we tell you what happens in the rest of the Italian publishing world with Redacta, an offshoot of Acta, the ‘syndicate’ of VAT numbers in Italy. I met some * activists * in a crowded and very participatory conversation about how we work today for large, medium and small publishers in our country. It took place in a huge and cracked, perhaps for this reason even more beautiful, church in the ancient center of Naples on the occasion of the first edition of a festival of independent booksellers.
Lara and Giulia speak for their entire work group, but do not neglect to tell us about their individual experiences.
Your life in a few lines until it meets that of Redacta
Lara: just turned 37, I was born in the province of Bergamo, I have a historical-artistic education and specialization at Dams in Bologna. I tried for a while to professionally access the contemporary art milieu but I didn’t have the chance to survive with repeated unpaid internships and I accepted for a while to work, underpaid, in museum bookshops.
Seeing no way out, I therefore thought of combining a passion for art and that for publishing and I enrolled in an annual master’s degree at the Catholic University, recovering the money for enrollment here and there, without stopping working in bookshops on weekends. After the master’s degree, I did a disastrous month of internship at the iconographic office of Skira, the publishing house of my dreams (which had by now been broken), after which I moved on to Salani, where I did and learned a lot. Some occasional collaborations followed until I was called by a niche publishing studio that deals with digital education, where they first offered me a project contract and then an apprenticeship.
I worked there for almost three years, they paid me little and I did not have great opportunities for personal and professional development, given the very specific sector and practically modeled on their company, so at the end of the “twenties” I resumed all my old editorial contacts by opening a VAT number. So in 2016 my freelance life begins; I started working from home with mainly editorial duties, also dealing with editing and layout. From 2018 I started working in a coworking; I did it as a test, but I was soon convinced of the importance of contact with other professionals, even from different sectors. I expanded my business by also starting to write for the web.
In this coworking we held the first meeting of Redacta: I was already an Acta member, I had ‘used’ them for a consultancy on tax and non-payment issues and the guy who managed the coworking informed me that some members were performing an analysis of the work market in the publishing sector, inviting me to participate. So here I am on board.
Giulia: I graduated in literature and then in publishing, I’m 34 years old. I stopped a bit between the first and second degree, so I was able to have a direct experience from those who had preceded me and had attended the masters in publishing at the Mondadori Foundation, which I then chose to enroll too.
I did two internships in publishing companies, before and after the master, the second was at Il Saggiatore. That experience immediately allowed me to understand how things worked: old and new interns followed one another in desks dedicated to them.
So I soon wondered if I would ever have the chance to really work in this sector, even though the publishing house had involved me in important projects, mainly on the complete processing of the re-editions. I wasn’t paid a lot, but I had ongoing assignments. Then, thanks to another friend from the university, I had other contacts and therefore new collaborations. It was evident that the only way to find work was not a personal initiative but informal relationships and networking.
One thing is to talk between old friends and discover that the sector does not always work as it should, one other is to widen the circle out of one’s usual contacts and discover so many precariousness in common to each one: it was decisive for inducing me to do something. I already knew one of the Acta partners who had taken the first steps to begin an investigation of the sector, and I soon joined the group.
At that moment a leap takes place in my experience and in my perception of the profession. Changing things was what I had been trying to do for years but I didn’t know many colleagues. Now I work with more clients and better, because I am ready to make courageous choices since I no longer feel alone.
Very often today, talking about a ‘career’ confuses ideas: there is no longer a career based on professional growth and, at the same time, on earnings, but there is only a distortion of both paths. This happens in any profession but in the publishing world it is even more marked.
Have you had the opportunity to understand if it is only an Italian evil or does it also happen elsewhere to people of your age?
Lara: I don’t know many people who work in publishing abroad at the moment. In a previous job almost as an internal one, I had to deal with publishing houses mainly located in London, and there are many young Italians who work there in positions of responsibility, so I imagine that this growth is possible and so is the salary one.
Isolation is one of the characteristics of precariousness that even freelance journalists have told us about. It’s a different job than producing book content, but the graphic designers have also told us the same thing. With remote working now becoming the mantra thanks to the pandemic but started well before, a process of fragmentation of resources has accelerated – a sort of divide and conquer that I do not hesitate to call surgical: in addition to saving a lot of money for offices and utilities to employers allows for the isolation of professionals.
Do you think that coworking and trade associations may be the only answer, or are there other forms of help? What happens if an association like yours becomes too big? Can you keep the workers together?
A true consultant’s job (for example what I do) was born as such from the very beginning and for me remote working has never been a ‘novelty’. You, on the other hand, are outsourced but have a similar-dependency relationship with your ‘only customer’.
Lara: With Redacta we have not yet touched the risk of an association that is too large, despite the extensions and meetings proposed in various cities. It is a difficult question, now I would not be able to answer you, perhaps there may be a critical threshold beyond which it will no longer work.
Giulia: The coworking is an experience that I have not done in person, but what you say is interesting as related to the comparison between our jobs. Our work should be carried out by people included in a staff, and it is so evident even just from the fact that we spend our days continuously exchanging emails with a plurality of professionals (internal or freelance like us) because the book is a multi-product output made by more hands that once was born in a single company and now no longer.
Even if I would have worked in a coworking, I would not break my isolation because I would continue to relate individually with each of my ‘clients’. At the moment the critical working problem I see is the fact that we are all separate and the internal coordination of the client is very hard to keep everything together. In fact, I am curious and would like to understand how they will move from now on to mitigate this dispersion of energy, time and information compared to when the employees were all in the same place.
It is not certain that Redacta grows so fast without changing something in the sector. We will certainly grow but specific groups are already emerging that deal with individual aspects of the market to oversee every part of it.
To try to answer your question, today I would say that I am not afraid of dispersion.
Have you already planned institutional steps to bring the demands of your associates to the state and parliamentary governing bodies of the sector?
Giulia: with Acta we participate in the Cnel and the Consultation on self-employment and the professions, where the government meets the social partners to discuss issues such as social security and fair compensation. Always at the institutional level, we have close relationships with universities. Our vocation remains the direct relationship with those who work in our sector, branches, meetings and events are used for this. Naples responded very well, for example: we must continue to build a widespread base.
How many associates do you count?
Giulia: even those who approach us and want to become a partner become an Acta member. It is therefore difficult to calculate exactly how many members are interested only in our topics, perhaps the newsletter is indicative. We have around 400 subscribers while we have around 1300 followers on IG. Meetings in cities are followed by a variable number, on average 20 people per city.
What is the most alarming difficulty for which they contact you, beyond the city and the years of experience?
Lara: many people come to us because they are going through difficult moments, they are used – better to say, forced – to work for a single client who may have been underpaying them for years. Suddenly this customer is, for various reasons, withdrawn, and they don’t know how to get out.
Our desk service is one of the main reasons why they contact us. We do it on Zoom on a monthly basis, by reservation, and occasionally also during “physical” meetings. There are requests for tax and legal advice, but also of personal advice. Especially in the last few meetings, many people need to talk and discuss the impossibility of bargaining, which has been going on for years. Or the fact that, although adults, they never manage to make it to the end of the month. In short, we are talking about serious primary difficulties.
A Book and a song that you have in mind now? Even a book by your most hated publisher …
Lara: Book: I’ve been trying to finish a great classic for months, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which I’m sipping also because the conditions of the “poor people” the author talks about, obviously on another scale and with a very different gravity, reminds me so much the condition of the “poor people destined to remain poor” today. The song: much more briefly, stai ma ‘cca of the Neapolitan band 24 Grana I’d recently rediscovered.
Giulia: Book: Insorgiamo a book by Colletivo Gkn (workers of a recently dismissed productive plant); song: Dargen Chips
What are the more or less secret places where you like to take refuge to read poetry, literature, for you and not for work?
Giulia: I recently moved back, after a Tuscan interlude, to Lombardy, where I grew up. The places are those of my childhood: the Ticino Park, its greenery and its river.
Lara: as a ‘pure’ ‘acquired’ Milanese (and as some say, definitely ugly*), my life is too hectic to have time to take refuge somewhere to read. When I was able to do it it was in parks, such as Parco Sempione and the gardens of Porta Venezia.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Lara: At this moment in my life I am quite in crisis, I am mainly working as an editor for a Mondadori brand. Career stress aside, I’m picking up the idea of working for an independent brand that makes fewer titles a year, working more calmly for the first time in life and being happier. Or open my own publishing studio helping publishers to develop new ideas and also sell the complete package: from design to the book that goes to print.
Giulia: It is very difficult for me to answer because I often find myself in front of unexpected career changes. For many years I worked as a rafting guide and canoe instructor, despite my studies I didn’t think I would end up working in publishing! What I know is that I need to do what makes me feel good, I can’t make too many sacrifices to work or earn more. And I need free time to relax, go to the mountains or to the sea.
I will move, I believe, on sight. I continue to see myself as a freelancer, even if for a long time I thought that a permanent job would allow me to enjoy all my things with more serenity in my free time, but in reality it is not. I see myself in this same groove, only if Redacta continues to exist, whatever its shape will be. It is this project that has allowed me not to leave the publishing world and improve its conditions, along with many others.
* quotation from Milanese imbruttito