The latest victim was a 45 year-old small businessman from Altivoli in the province of Treviso who hung himself in a cabin next to his house [1]. The first of 2012 was a retiree from Bari. On January 2, he threw himself from his balcony after receiving a summons from the Social Welfare Institute [2] requiring him to pay back a considerable sum of money. Between them, a 27 year-old worker who burned himself to death and a Roman picture-framer who also hung himself. The 47 year-old electrician from San Remo from a gunshot wound…

We should add to this litany the resort to social butchery on the part of a government that yesterday removed the exemption for the unemployed from paying the patient’s portion of the medical expenses only to restore the entitlement "technically" several hours later, dismissing as a mere error in the text. This is the human cost paid daily for the economic crisis. They have been referred to as "state massacres" which is accurate because economic policies, the regulations and the failures on the part of public authorities are by no means innocent. But what needs to be added immediately is that these are in fact "market massacres."

If we just read attentively the professional qualifications in this ever-lengthening obituary column, we can see that these are the workers, unemployed, small entrepreneuers and retirees who have been hidden behind the blurry statistics of a labor market whose structure is being redesigned by the government. These tragic deaths tell us just how much these numbers cannot be dissociated from the lives of real people.

When Luciano Gallino insisted that "human labor is not a merchandise" [3], he was not uttering some sacrosanct and useful cultural theory to be discussed amiably in college seminars (except perhaps at the Bocconi !) [4]. He is referring to the extreme and brutal effect that is produced on the bodies of people when work and worker as a bioeconomic unity is fractured; when worklives are reduced to a purely economic calculus subject to the iron laws of the markets without filters, protective umbrellas and barriers against the omnipresent and invasive process of commodifying existence.

The government joker currently in office ignores these deaths, preferring to bury his head in the shifting sands of his excesses, but in 2010 the "market massacres" continued to rise : 362 suicides among the unemployed, 192 deaths of independent workers and 144 deaths of small business people (big businessmen don’t go in for self-sacrifice; they flee the country).

Nearly two deaths a day. The good Professor Monti registered that reality, even if in doing so he used a euphemism that in no way reduces its dramatic import: " lives shut down in despair." He spoke of the "very high price" and reiterated that in Greece the number had already reached 1,725 cases. Which is true, as it is also true that in the eventuality of a default the massacre would dramatically rise here as well, to become literally government butchery.
What was not said by the head of the technicians’ government was that this cascade of Italian deaths as with those in Greece are both the product of the same economic and social culture endorsed by him and that they are the fruit of a world vision and an economic theory which have "failed" yet which are still presented as an absolute dogma. This dogma last week became a constitutional principle following the insertion in the Charter of the obligation to balance the budget. Once again, "The Nomos of the Earth."

It is all in the name of this unspoken, impersonal and cruel sovereignty, one deprived of a future but still utterly exacting in the present, that these "commissars" of peripheral countries are now obliged to run around the world displaying the scalps of their respective "laboring sectors;" holding up the old frame of "rights holders" while still vaguely hoping to get a favorable nod from some sector of the market in a race to the bottom. With this dogma as the premise, we will never get out of the hole.

From this tunnel there is no end in sight. That there isn’t a reset point is more and more obvious. If we want these "market massacres" to stop, we need to limit the market’s hold on life itself. We need to work to create a cultural and social turnaround, a radical policy and not just here in our fragile periphery but at the heart of Europe where the idol holds even more sway.

It’s a daunting task and a very long road. We’d better get moving fast.

Michele Stoddard
Il Manifesto (Italy)

[1This article was first written on 20 April 2012. Seven more suicides have been recorded since then.

[2In Italy, it is called the Istituto Nazionale per la Previdenza Sociale.

[3Sociologist and writer, one of the founders of sociology in Italy, specializing in economic processes and labor.

[4A private (and expensive) university in Milan that specializes in management and economics.