January 30, 2012 12:35PM

Labor Law Professors Defy Death Threats in Italy

Pietro Ichino, a professor of labor law at the University of Milan and a senator in the Italian legislature, is known as the author of several “neoliberal” books and studies recommending that the Italian government relax its extraordinarily stringent regulation of employers’ hiring and firing decisions. As Bloomberg Business Week reports, that means that Prof. Ichino must fear for his life: “For the past 10 years, the academic and parliamentarian has lived under armed escort, traveling exclusively by armored car, and almost never without the company of two plainclothes policemen. The protection is provided by the Italian government, which has reason to believe that people want to murder Ichino for his views.”

They’re not just being alarmist. In 1999 and 2002 leftist gunmen associated with the Red Brigades murdered two other reformist labor law professors, Massimo D’Antona and Mario Biagi. (Details here.) Prof. Biagi, a well‐​known figure nationally, was shot as he arrived at his Bologna home and dismounted his bicycle. While five members of the Red Brigades are serving prison sentences for his murder, sympathizers remain at large, and Ichino’s name appears on a Brigades hit list. A few years back, reports Bloomberg, police broke up a plot on his life that they said involved two students in his own department. Last year another reformist labor law professor, Carlo Dell’Aringa, “received a death threat, written in red ink on the wall of his university’s bathroom.”

Like his slain colleague Biagi, Ichino started out as a man of the Left — a Communist parliamentarian, in fact — who became convinced that the state‐​enforced equivalent of lifetime job security actually worked against the interests of ordinary young workers, who were increasingly frozen out from being offered jobs in the first place. Increasingly, moderate European opinion is coming to see that view as persuasive — even if few show as much courage as Prof. Ichino in voicing it. Reports Bloomberg: “For those promoting changes to Italy’s labor laws, the day of Biagi’s shooting has become a rallying point. Sympathizers gather every March 19 to ride their bicycles from the train station to the dead man’s house.”