From wage bargaining to the negotiation on “cognitive surplus value”: reflections on a laboratory for Industry 4.0 in Lamborgh

40th IWPLMS - International Working Party on Labour Market Segmentation
September 9th & 10th 2019, in Düsseldorf
The search for security under disruptive technologies and deconstructed labour markets

Margherita Russo*, Pasquale Pavone, Armanda Cetrulo^
*       Department of Economics Marco Biagi and CAPP – Research Centre for the Analysis of Public Policies, Modena and Reggio Emilia University,
   CAPP – Research Centre for the Analysis of Public Policies, Modena and Reggio Emilia University,
^     PhD student, Istitute of Economics, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa,



In the last fifty years, the nature and quality of industrial relations in Italy have changed considerably. The national bargaining process has been weakened and social dialogue between parties has been questioned (Fiorani and Simonazzi, 2018). In this context, the existence of some divergent realities, such as Lamborghini, settled in the industrial district between Modena and Bologna, is extremely interesting, both because of its particular regional environment (Russo, 2008) and because of its troubled ownership history, ended in 1998 with the last acquisition by its actual owner, the Audi VW group.

In this work, we propose a further extension of our previous analysis presented in Russo et al (forthcoming), with the purpose of disentangling the role of industrial relations in dealing with technological change. We investigate the ways in which the presence of a strong and active trade union affects the way innovation is implemented with respect to work organization, training and workers’ autonomy. To answer to this question, we rely on different methodologies, from automatic text analysis of bargaining documents to workers interviews.

Through a longitudinal analysis of Lamborghini bargaining activity, our previous research has proposed a periodization of the fundamental topics and of the ways discussions took place between trade unionists and management representatives. The original corpus encompasses 270 documents, concerning the whole set of the company industrial relations from 1968 to 2016.   From the analysis of agreements, commission minutes and communications among parts, it emerges that workers do not perceive themselves simply as “labour force”, but rather as agents acting within a productive space, with the ambition and the awareness of being able to provide a competent contribution when dealing with changes  of the production process. Contracts also reveal management's perception of the workforce as “repository of knowledge”, fundamental to value creation. For instance, work organization is one of most cited and recurring topic in the corpus, but the way in which it is discussed evolves over time: from an object of conflict in 1980s, to a terrain of mediation from 1990s onwards. Moreover, the request for training course and skills enhancement represents one of the most frequent demands by trade unions, often linked to the introduction of innovations. A recent example is the 2016 agreement on “Cognitive Surplus Value”.

Similar findings stimulate alternative reasoning on the relation between technology and work, stressing the importance of looking at social actors, hierarchical structures and routines (Dosi and Coriat, 1998). We consider these elements useful to characterize Lamborghini as an interesting “laboratory” for Industry 4.0, whose technologies characterize its current plant expansion.

The proposed case study, where well-rooted trade unions meet an industrial relations system inspired by German codetermination, shed lights on different mechanisms through which innovations take place within organizations, where power distribution between parts becomes a fundamental element to account for (Braverman, 1974). This perspective raises some doubts on mainstream explanations that assume a deterministic path of technological change, implicitly neglecting any possible negotiation of meaning and opportunities for the parts involved in the transformation.


Keywords: industrial relations, industry 4.0, case study (Lamborghini)


Braverman, H. (1974), Labor and monopoly capital, New York: Monthly Review
Coriat, B., and Dosi, G. (1995), “Learning how to govern and learning how to solve problems: on the co-evolution of competences, conflicts, and organizational routines”.
Fiorani, G., Simonazzi, A. (2018), “Industrial relations and social dialogue in Italy”, Economia & lavoro, Rivista di politica sindacale, sociologia e relazioni industriali, Anno LII, n.1, pp. 71-85.
Russo, M. (a cura di) (2008) L’industria meccanica in Italia: analisi spaziale delle specializzazioni produttive 1951-2001, Carocci Pressonline, Roma.
Russo, M., Pavone, P., e Cetrulo, A. (forthcoming), “Conflict and participation in bargaining at company level:  the Lamborghini case”, Economia & Lavoro.