The history of the residents in one of Rome's outlying ghettos who had inadequate health care provision. Seizing a government building, they and sympathetic health workers set up their own medical centre and ran it collectively.
In Italy in 1960s and 70s San Basilio, one of Rome’s outlying ghetto areas, a movement was developing of people fighting against their lousy, inhuman living conditions. There were 40,000 people trapped in this slum district. In the previous few months about 100 families had been on rent strike. This started as a spontaneous protest, and was becoming more organised. A real confrontation was building up with the IACP (the Italian State building authority) over exorbitant rents, arrears, and threats of eviction. The rent strike was becoming a major issue for the whole community, with mass meetings, protest marches, and demonstrations. One weekend there was a meeting to integrate the results of a large number of staircase meetings. About 800 families had been involved in these meetings, which were organised by the San Basilio Collective, a group of women and workers from the area, along with a number of students.
At this central meeting there was a discussion of new plans of action and ideas which had been put forward by local people. There was very heavy criticism of the lack of medical facilities in the area; no first-aid station and no clinic, with the nearest medical centre being the clinic at the hospital in Rome. It was decided to start a fight to set up a clinic and a decent medical centre in the area.
On Wednesday, after a deputation had gone to the Council for the nth time and still had not been received, a decision was made to occupy the neighbourhood Ises Centre. The occupation took place after a meeting and demonstration which had gone right around the neighbourhood. The involvement of women, workers, and young people and the support expressed by local residents managed to forestall any action or attempts at intimidation by the police.
The people who took over the Centre formed themselves into a permanent assembly which stayed there all night. They sent out an appeal to all left-wing doctors to get in touch with them. Meanwhile people talked about the inhuman conditions under which they were living, which were the cause of many of their illnesses. They realised that if you were going to get rid of sickness you would certainly have to do away with the exploitation in the factories where people breathe in smog and break their backs on the production lines, and at the construction sites, where people work in rain, dust, and mud. For years people had been lining up at the health-insurance clinics only to be given the usual pill and then told not to be a pest. They were fed up with taking pills and drugs which do little but make drug manufacturers rich. They were tired of doctors and others, living off their illnesses. They were sick and tired of being patched up so that they can carry on working and producing for the boss, then falling ill again and having to go back for further repairs.
People also wanted decent places to live where typhus and hepatitis weren’t rampant because of bad drainage and sewers. And they wanted enough money to buy decent food. There weren’t enough green spaces in the area, and as someone said: “These apartments were built for getting sick in, not for living in.” San Basilio wasn’t built to cater to people’s needs; it was built to satisfy the plans of the bosses. “San Basilio is like FIAT’s shanty towns in Turin”, said one construction worker. “At least it has the same function, to keep the workers out of the way.”
On Sunday there was a huge meeting of all the people in San Basilio, and a festival to inaugurate the “People’s Clinic”, which was by then fully operational. Eighty workers, women, and young people met with the doctors in the main hall of the centre. A long banner was hung up with the slogan which summed up the way people felt: “The only way to get anything is through struggle.”
At this meeting the role of the clinic was defined. As one woman said, “This clinic is more than something which responds to the real needs of the people here. It is a first step toward ending our exploitation.”
The People’s Clinic was run by doctors who lent their services to everyone free of charge, giving out free medicine and medical attention, particularly to the kids who were forced to play in the streets, which were full of broken glass and rubbish. The Clinic was also a centre for political discussion and for organising other struggles which were being waged in the area, whether to the fight against the fascists and the police, or the running of rent strikes, or squatting. The task of the doctors was not just limited to lending their “services”, in fact, but extended to participating in all the struggles in the area and to passing on their specialised knowledge so that the people could learn and begin to take control their own health.