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

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2019)


case study (Lamborghini), industrial relations, industry 4.0



 Research question

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, in the past decade, the social dialogue between parties has been questioned on several occasions (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 the particular regional environment in which it is located (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, with the purpose of disentangling the role of industrial relations in dealing with technological change. More precisely, we investigate whether the presence of a strong and active trade union affects the way innovation is implemented with respect to work organization, labour ergonomics, training and workers’ autonomy.

Methodology and data 

In order to answer to these questions, we rely on different methodologies, from automatic text analysis of bargaining documents to interviews to trade unions and company managers. Starting from the periodization presented in Russo et al. (forthcoming), we focus the attention on work organisation to analyse how the discussion and bargain has changed over time.

Through a longitudinal analysis of Lamborghini bargaining activity, a previous research has proposed a periodization both of the topics at the centre of the discussion and of the ways these discussions took place between the two main social actors, trade unionists and management representatives. Combining techniques of automatic text analysis (Bolasco and Pavone, 2010) and expert reading of individual documents, we obtained a periodization of issues and key elements characterizing the virtuous circle of company development and quality of industrial relations (Russo et al., forthcoming).

The original corpus of documents concerning the whole set of the company industrial relations from 1968 to 2016 has been reconstructed, resulting in the collection of 270 cataloged documents. In addition to second level contracts, the corpus is composed respectively of 64 communications, most of which belong to the first period of Lamborghini and, for the last decade under study, of several written agreements and minutes of the four Bilateral Technical Commissions (whose members are both trade union and management representatives) on work organization, health and safety at work, training and performance incentive.

In order to have a more comprehensive view over the processes under study, we interview some of the main actors involved in focal discussions and decisions on new technologies and consequences on the labour process.


In the interpretation of the documents, it emerges how workers do not perceive themselves simply as “labour force”, but rather as agents acting also within a productive space, with the ambition and the awareness of being able to intervene as experts in the production process. Workers claim to be entitled to open up room for negotiations and advancing proposals throughout the history of Lamborghini, consistently with the local trade unionists tradition (in particular FIOM Bologna's) that, over time, pointed out the necessity of resorting to conflict but also of looking for workers' direct involvement over firm's decisions (Baldissara and Pepe, 2010).

In this scenario, Lamborghini company presents a complex identity, in which its origin and transformation within the systems of small and medium enterprises in Emilia are intertwined with the specificity of the trade union negotiations in Bologna and the comprehensive set of changes endorsed by the Audi VW group (Telljohann, 2015). In fact, with the acquisition by the VW group, a new model of industrial relations has been gradually introduced, in line with the model of codetermination adopted by Volkswagen and with the principles of the Global Charta of Labour Relationships (Telljohann, 2012; Whitall et al., 2017).

Preliminary analyses of bargaining documents and interviews reveal management's perception of the workforce as “repository of knowledge” and, therefore, fundamental to value creation. The way in which Lamborghini deals with these transformations may be rather in continuity with the assumption that a well trained, qualified and stable workforce constitutes a strategically competitive factor in order to achieve and maintain high quality production, ensuring at the same time a cooperative and participatory working environment. Similar findings can fruitfully stimulate alternative reasoning on the relation between technology and work, stressing the importance of looking at interactions among social actors, hierarchical structures and routines (Dosi and Coriat, 1998).


We believe that the longitudinal analysis offers interesting hints to grasp the directions of “Industry 4.0” related transformations, whose technologies seem to characterize the current expansion of the production site of Lamborghini. In fact, the company has introduced in 2018, a relevant product innovation (a new type of car) and, at the same time, a set of process innovations. Therefore, the analysis of the company bargaining history can potentially underline some elements useful to characterize it as a “laboratory” with respect to all the issues related to Industry 4.0. For instance, work organization is one of most cited and recurring topic in the corpus, but interestingly, the way in which it is discussed evolves over time: from an object of conflict and hostile discussions in 80s and early 90s, to a terrain of compromise and mediation from 90s onwards. Moreover, the request for training course and skills enhancement represent one of the most frequent demands of trade unions, often linked to the introduction of technological and organizational innovations. A recent example is the 2016 agreement on “Cognitive Surplus Value”.

The case study under analysis, where well-rooted trade unions meet an industrial relations system inspired by German codetermination, can indeed shed lights on the existence of 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 parties involved in the transformation.



(Paper submitted also for the Gerpisa Young Author Prize)


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