The leading organisation representing private employers in Italy is Confindustria. Although Confindustria recruits only a minority of all Italian businesses (Lapalombara estimated 80 000 out of 680 000 in the 1950s),8 it recruits the overwhelming number of those employing twenty or more people.
In his magisterial study of Italian interest groups, Lapalombara identified Confindustria as the leading example of the type of alliance between an interest group and the bureaucracy he termed clientela. Confindustria enjoyed a permanent alliance with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. Confindustria needed this alliance in order to ensure that laws and regulations targeted on business were acceptable. The Ministry would also act as Confindustria’s voice within government. For its part, the Ministry needed the technical assistance of Confindustria. The Italian bureaucracy has generally lacked, even disdained, technical or statistical knowledge; it is, after all, dominated by southern Italians in search of a gentlemanly profession not a meritocracy. In consequence, as one bureaucrat told Lapalombara, Not a single ministry . . . has at its disposal . . . the number of technicians and research facilities Confindustria has organised in this postwar period.’9 The clientela relationship rested on several factors.
The first was the political acceptability of the interest group, guaranteed in part by the usual if unstable alliance of Confindustria with the CD. The second factor, easily achieved for busirless, was a feeling that the interest group spoke for an important sector of Italian society. The third factor was the ability of interest groups to supply technical information. The final factor was that the interest group enjoys a monopoly in its field. In the case of Confindustria both the interest group and the bureaucracy worked to maintain this monopoly. Confindustria, according to officials of Confapi (the Italian Confederation of Small Business) would refuse to make agreements with government when they were included in meetings or on committees, Lapalombara found the officials of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce would ‘go to sortie distance to support and reinforce’ the status of Confindustria. Because Confindustria enjoyed a monopoly in representing the general interests of business, it was the forum in which the great issues of business politics were resolved in the 1950s. An important example was the debate about whether the Italian economy should be, as in the Fascist period, relatively sheltered from trade, or should aim more adventurohsly at larger growth in the context of integration into the world economy. Finally, business groups could win the fav(jur of bureaucrats by asking them to address prestigious gatherings or by giving them bustarella (graft, literally a little envelope).
Lapalombara wrote before the term neocorporatism was popularised. liciwever, the clientela relationship clearly involved elements reminiscent of neocorporatism. The cooperation betweqn bureaucrats and Confindustria and the reinforcement of Confindustria’s status by the bureaucracy would be familiar in neocorporatist nations. In contrast to the situation in mimy countries, the relationship between Confindustria and government became less rather than more neocorporatist in the 1960s and 1970s. Several factors undermined .the status of the organisation. In the first place, Confindustria, a noted earlier had always been challenged by Confapi, arguing that it alone represented smaller businesses. Similarly, Confindustria had been dependent on the goodwill of the bureaucrats to prevent individual corporations such as Fiat from dealing direct with government instead of through Confindustria. Perhaps because of the evolving political situation as the dominance of the CD diminished, the bureaucracy ceased to provide as much protection for. Confindustria. In the third place, as we have noted earlier, the relationship between CD and nationalised industries became more organic as the CD used patronage from the nationalised industries to prop up its support. The nationalised industries have their own representative organisation. Finally, to an important degree that perhaps Lapalombara understated, the links between the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and Confindustria when his research was conducted in the 1950s represented a continuance (though declining) of the relationship created under Fascism when corporatism was official doctrine.
Challenges to Confindustria and broader changes in Italian politics have eroded its standing since the 1950s but Confindustria remains one of the most developed business organisations in western democracies, and perhaps the most important interest group in Italy.