After months of intense debate, the referendum on Article 18 of the

Workers’ Statute was held on 15–16 June 2003. The aim of the referendum

was to extend to all workers, independent of the size of the

firm, so-called real protection, that is, the right to reinstatement in case

of unjustified dismissal.1 The result was clear once the polls were

closed and even before the votes were counted. Only 25.7 percent of

eligible voters took part, a significant amount less than the required 50

percent quorum. It meant that the 10 million votes (87.4 percent of voters)

in favor of extending Article 18 had no legislative impact.2 The fact

that the vote was not validated could lead to the conclusion that the

event was insignificant. However, it provides an opportunity to look at

the dynamics between trade unions and politics in recent years, especially

with respect to the debates over labor market flexibility and legislative

proposals of the center-right government. Moreover, the

referendum contributed both to the accentuation of divisions between

the major trade union confederations (CGIL, CISL, and UIL) during the

campaign and then to their attenuation following the vote. Finally, the

referendum, perhaps, brought to a conclusion a two-year struggle for

the representation of labor. It strengthened the traditional ruling group

of the Ulivo and Communist Refoundation while weakening that of

Sergio Cofferati, the spiritual leader of the wider left extending from

the Margherita to the No Global and girotondi movements.