The first shipload of Fiat 500L production models has just arrived in the USA - from Serbia.
Why Serbia? Originally, Sergio Marchionne, the boss of Fiat, wanted to make it at the Mirafiori plant in Turin (readers of a certain age may remember the Fiat 131 Mirafiori, named after its birthplace). However, some Italian trade unionists, who live in the same universe once inhabited by Arthur Scargill, promised a wave of strikes, saying that the rights of the workers were being threatened by new working practices.
In 2010, Marchionne ran out of what little patience he possesses, and announced that production would move to Serbia. The result is that the Italian workers lost the prospect of making 190,000 cars a year.
Expats working in Italy say it is like going back to Britain of the late 1970s. For example, last March, there was a month-long strike of car transporter drivers. During the strike, a militant Fiat union, FIOM, called a separate strike, but found its members had already been laid off. The union then complained bitterly that it would have to delay its own strike until the first one had been settled.
There is a brilliant Anglo-Italian documentary called Girlfriend in a Coma, with the girlfriend being a metaphor for the country. It includes a horrifying list of Italy’s economic performance: of 179 countries measured by the World Bank, Italy was 169th for economic growth since 2000, and 160th for effectiveness of the legal system (the average civil case takes over three years).
However, most Italians are bizarrely unaware of their plight. As an Italian comedian once said (before she lost her slot on Italian TV), "Italy is ranked No. 49 in press freedom. But you wouldn’t know that – if you did, we would not be No. 49."