"We thank everyone present and the whole city, hoping that we have not created a disturbance," said Lino Enrico Stoppani, president of Fipe Confcommercio – Federazione Italiana Pubblici Esercizi, as he closed this morning's peaceful protest in Milan's Piazza Duomo that called restaurateurs, bartenders and managers to the Lombardy capital, as also happened in 24 other piazzas throughout Italy.
Simple yet powerful words, following the images of devastation coming out of other different regions, and from Milan itself, where other so-called protests have instead resulted in violence and destruction in recent days. They were words full of dignity, reflected by the orderly gathering of professionals present representing the sector (which amounts to more than 1.2 million people in Italy and a total of 340 thousand companies), as they remained seated on the ancient tiles lining Piazza Duomo, in silence.
At 11.30 am "Il Silenzio" was played by a trumpet solo, which marked the official beginning of the event. "We are on the ground and we will be silent for five minutes. Thank you," said a voice through the microphone. In the centre of the square, in front of the Duomo's steps, about fifteen dining places had been laid on the ground. White tablecloths, plates, glasses and flutes. Perfectly laid tables, just empty. Around them, calmly, orderly, seated and socially distanced, there were maitre d's, sommeliers, cooks, waiters, bartenders, and pastry chefs, all dressed in black with masks covering their faces. They held up signs with hashtags that reflected their job roles and the essential role of catering in everyone's life, not just those who work in the sector. Some of the placards said: "We just want to work."
People were sitting on the ground, just as the whole hospitality sector is on the ground. Enrico Stoppani said: "Our sector will close in 2020 with 27 billion less than the 96 billion average annual turnover. There are 300 thousand jobs that risk disappearing forever. The new closure imposed on us at 18.00 alone will cost us 2.1 billion euros per month and prevent 600 thousand people from working. A bitter bill, which the whole country will pay. We are those who form the network of sociality, in people's countries, cities, streets and squares giving life, light, security, decorum, animation and liveability to every corner of Italy."
Every day, before the Covid emergency, public establishments served 11 million people. Every day, before the Covid emergency, Piazza Duomo was much more populated than it looked on this sunny semi-deserted morning. Yet those who came by, and stopped to see what's going on nodded in agreement. "They are right," was the overriding veiled commentary from behind the layers of masks. Stoppani added that public services such as restaurants and bars mean "the first coffee and smile in the morning," but also "the places where the most intimate and beautiful memories of life are made."
"Being here today means having forced our disposition, which sees us increasingly led to protest. But we're here. Numerous, brave, orderly, silent and peaceful because we are on the ground, even morally. We understand and are responsible in the face of a tragic health emergency, but we have long suffered the depressing reality of being involved in activities considered non-essential every time the situation becomes complicated."
"We have committed ourselves, also economically, to putting into practice protocols approved by both the CTS and INAIL. And yet we are not considered allies in managing the emergency, we do not see our social value recognised, but we feel used as a scapegoat once again and forced to respect rules that before being tightened, should be enforced by everyone."
Yesterday, the government launched the new Ristori Decree, allocating 5 billion non-rebate to support the work activities most affected by the restrictions contained in the new DPCM of 25 October, 2020. "We take note of the effort that the government is making. Important measures for a collapsing sector like ours, but not adequate or proportionate to the damage, or the difficulties. Compensation is a due act, not a compensatory measure. Nothing can compensate for the denial of the right to work," said Stoppani.
From the sidelines, Federico Gordini, president of Young Entrepreneurs Confcommercio Lombardia and president of Milano Wine Week, echoed him: "They are paying the wrong entrepreneurs, those who most of all have supported important investments to standardise all the necessary devices in the face of the coronavirus emergency. The 5 billion of the Ristori Decree had to be managed in a completely different way, these resources should have been used to preventively enhance health: we would have achieved a completely different result and we would not be in this absurd semi-lockdown. Instead, the last DPCMs have hit public establishments and the entire cultural sector, creating devastating consequences for activities that have never been places of contagion."
"They have announced hyperbolic measures, when in fact we are talking about the 8% relief on a certain type of intervention. You can not think that catering and public establishments are the scapegoat for everything. The Ristori Decree is better than nothing, it must be said, but it is a demonstration of total improvisation by those who govern us."
"We are challenged by uncertainty and we are demotivated by the instability in this senseless race," concluded Stoppani "We are not the problem, we can and want to be part of the solution instead. That's why we don't give up. We are also here for friends and colleagues who have closed, or who have lost the will to live. Another way is possible, we also want to rise up together for them, with that sense of solidarity that has always belonged to our sector. Together, with dignity, even if seated on the ground."
FIPE's president walked away from the microphone and the whole square applauded. The trumpet played the Italian anthem and the demonstrators, seated on the ground until a moment earlier, stood up. A small and simple gesture, again, but one that demonstrates the boundless dignity of these people, and their respect for everyone and everything. Someone sings Mameli's verses. Will everything (still) be fine? The decorum and pride of those who were in the square deserves the resounding answer: "yes."