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Ludovico Einaudi

The understanding, in this case, can sometimes be limited, especially for foreigners with irregular status or who have let their documents expire due to lack of information or underestimation of the importance of compliance with procedures. Conversely, a native operator animated by a sense of solidarity and protection may in these cases show more understanding and treat the problem with more urgency. Second, there may be a greater closeness between the foreign operator and the user, especially when the two are co-ethnic or at least speak the same language. An example is provided by a woman whom we repeatedly observed waiting for hours only to ask questions and obtain advice from the operator.


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This situation highlights the fact that, even for people from minority groups with a long history of immigration in Italy, having a compatriot in welfare agencies and similar is perceived as a support. This effect was visible in both the offices that we studied. The presence of Latin Americans in CISL may be explained by religious and cultural proximity, as well as linguistic and identity factors.

This preference, which persisted even after the retirement of the co-ethnic operator, highlights the extent to which the two services are deeply rooted in the territory and are known and appreciated by different user groups.

They have thus managed to consolidate their reputation over time and to feed the flow of users mainly through word of mouth. Third, the presence of foreign operators is functional in giving an image of openness. The organization can therefore be seen not only as a place where services are furnished to foreigners, but also as an employer that provides opportunities for foreigners to carry out more qualified jobs and to develop their careers.

Since the retirement of this operator, however, the number of women involved through CESIL in activities of this kind has decreased. Today, the woman is still active with her own association and actively cooperates with CISL, but now that she is no longer at CESIL, she has fewer chances to meet and involve new people in these activities. Common ethnicity and direct participation cannot be easily transferred by an operator to the others, and the ability of the service to foster active participation of immigrants in other union activities is thus sometimes dependent on personal characteristics, which are not easy to reproduce.

At the time of the study, both unions were using a Chinese part-time operator, with the explicit aim of reaching the Chinese immigrant population who had rarely used its services previously. During the period of observation, some Chinese users came to the offices.

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However, one of the operators admitted that co-ethnic users were not happy because the delivery of service was slow Cisl Hence, the use of a co-ethnic operator, in itself, does not seem sufficient to attract new users. The use of foreign operators may involve risks or disadvantages. First, the service is likely to attract predominantly users of a specific nationality and thus be identified excessively with that group of users, discouraging the access of different groups.


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More specifically, however, the same foreign user may perceive Italian operators as more suitable for handling relations with the police, in the belief that they are better able to plead with the employees of the police headquarters concerning cases that are more complex and difficult to solve.

As we have seen, nationality can affect the perception that immigrant users have of the union in different ways, both positive and negative. By contrast, CISL has capitalized on its historical ties with Latin American users and focuses more on competence and authoritativeness, which are more easily embodied by native operators.

During this observation, we focused on the different attitudes taken by employees and volunteers towards users. We found that, in addition to their nationality, their attitudes and behaviours may promote the inclusion of immigrant workers within the union. In this regard, we identified two dimensions: the degree of distance from the users and the type of support provided to them.

Depending on the degree of distance low or high shown by operators towards the users and the type of support provided global or targeted only on specific areas , it is possible to identify four categories of operators see Table 1. Table 1. Types of social workers in trade unions. Often, operators with this kind of attitude towards users tend to spend more time with them and consequently slow down the service. Moreover, long experience and a certain loyalty of users mean that many users return several times, and the operator needs to address various issues related to the same person or family unit.

This kind of operator is faster and very attentive to the correctness of the procedures and information given. Third, the flexible social worker, like the supportive one, maintains a friendly attitude and close proximity to the user. This implies a certain flexibility regarding the rules and a concern to treat users as persons with different needs.

Finally, the specialized worker is concerned only or mainly with particular categories of users e. The allocation of operators among the different categories varies both according to the individual background and attitudes and according to the tasks and experience of the operators. However, what matters, and what makes the service offered by the two unions effective, is the possibility for users to find the type of operator who best meets their needs related to information, advice and — in some cases — even emotional support.


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For example, the presence of supportive and flexible social workers promotes the image of a friendly union able to care for the user as a person and not just as a worker. By contrast, the technical or the specialized worker positively affects the perception of high competence of trade unions by managing to resolve complex situations and meeting specific needs. In this article, we have sought to show how operators in union services dedicated to immigrant workers manage to build a relationship of trust and loyalty with these workers.

The first step is to understand how different kinds of operators manage to foster the inclusion of immigrant workers within the union. The supportive operator, with greater emotional connection and an interest in the different needs of the user, is able to both create loyalty and promote other union services and structures. If an issue or problem is also shared by native workers, it leads to a general claim; if it only concerns immigrants, it leads to rights claims by migrants. An example of the passage to the class logic is the participation of many users in training courses organized by the CISL commerce, tourism and other services federation so that they can become delegates and defend the rights of all fellow workers.

Among the many possible examples of the passage to the ethnicity logic, one concerns the hidden economy.

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Moreover, immigrant offices function similarly to worker centres by providing information about immigration-related initiatives. For example, the trust and loyalty created by the flexible, the supportive, and the technical operator the specialized operator has a long-lasting relation with very few users improves willingness to participate in local initiatives managed with other organizations and associations dealing with migrants. This was the case, for example, with repeated protests organized outside local prefectures to demand a longer stay permit for job searches.

To some extent, this could be considered a successful example of community unionism. Community unionism is pursued through a network of associations that both unions share, as well as through their own specific connections. CISL, with its authoritative native operators and long-standing ties with the Latin American community, works closely and frequently with a more official entity in the form of the Ecuadorian Consulate. The latter are better addressed through local — though not yet frequent — actions, which open the way to a growing community unionism, where immigrant offices may play a role such as that of the American worker centres.

A more assertive political strategy is needed, with systematic connections between the immigrant offices and other union structures. Italian unions, similarly to unions in other countries, are fully aware that they still have a long way to go before the real inclusion of immigrant workers is achieved. Her research interests concern ethnic entrepreneurship, working inclusion of immigrants and, in general, inequalities in the labour market and social stratification.

Her research has recently focused especially on the role of trade unions in including, representing and defending immigrant workers. Among her publications with M. Ambrosini and S. Pozzi is Sindacati multietnici. I diversi volti di un cammino in divenire Spaggiari Junior, Her research interests concern immigration, and second generation and intergenerational relations.

Recently, she has dealt with the issues of immigrant representation by trade unions, of national belonging and citizenship, and of discrimination, racism and management of cultural diversities. She has also worked on policies of inclusion for Roma and Sinti populations.

Trade unions and immigrants in Italy: How immigrant offices promote inclusion

Among her publications with Ambrosini M. He is the author of more than articles, chapters and books in this field, published in different languages. His handbook Sociologia delle migrazioni has been adopted as a textbook in many Italian universities. Skip to main content. Journal of Industrial Relations. Article Menu.

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Article Information Volume: 60 issue: 1, page s : Article first published online: August 29, ; Issue published: February 1, Email: deborah. Keywords Activism , immigrants , inclusion , participation , services , trade unions. Trade unions, the inclusion of immigrants, and the community unionism approach.

National context and methods. A dedicated path towards inclusion: The immigrant offices. View larger version. Discussion and conclusion. Declaration of conflicting interests. Notes 1 Another exception concerns the increasing number of provisions explicitly referring to immigrant workers within collective national agreements CCNL.