Three workers from FIAT Mirafiori in Italy describe the experiences of the Southern immigrant coming to work in the industrial cities of the North. The conversation was recorded in Turin during December 1970.
It was only after the summer of 1969 that people in Britain began to hear of the struggles at FIAT. Was there a tradition of struggle before the middle of 1969, or were these clashes the beginning of the revolutionary movement of FIAT?
LUIGI: You mean was it that they broke the lethargy of the last 20 years here? Yes, it was. Of course, there were struggles before this time, but all were dominated by the unions. And they were struggles that came around at fixed intervals when the unions set them. So every two or three years, when the contracts were about to expire, we would have the classic sort of struggle you know, two or three days of strikes, all kept within union channels, and then the boss’s repression would begin all over again. And the little politicization achieved through those two or three days would be blocked for the next three years of boss’s rule.
But then, in about 1966, the immigrants from the South began to arrive. And the whole social situation in Turin blew up, what with (the shortage of housing, lightning price increases, building speculation and so on. All of a sudden there were 10 to 15 thousand people arriving in the city, and quite apart from the way the prices rocketed. there were not the facilities to cope with them.
When did the three of you arrive in FIAT?
LUIGI: These two are young. For my part, I’ve been at FIAT for twenty years. This lot is the new generation who’ve broken with everything that we’ve become used to.
TONI: I’ve been here for two years and I joined FIAT right at the time that the struggles started.
When you two arrived in Turin, what was it like for you?
NINO: I’ve been here for a couple of years now. For most of the time I’ve worked in small places you know, sweatshops, always inside Turin, and then I was taken on at FIAT, in the beginning I didn’t know anything about anything. But the political work there was already well underway, and there were students doing leafleting at the factory, explaining a few things to people, like what the union was all about. Then we had that whole big explosion during 1969. Everything went up. Boom!
TONI: I’d never seen anything like this in all my life. Because, as you know, I come from Calabria and my town’s a pretty small place. It’s ruled by God, you might say: Three or four priests, who were all a bunch of shits, brought us up to be boy scouts and the like, and told us all about what they thought democracy was. Then there were the four or five Communists and the seven or eight fascists, and that’s it. Really Calabria is still a region that’s in the hands of the counts and barons that ran the place in the time of Mussolini, and who did very well out of him, what with their power, their villas, and so on. That’s the way Calabria is.
Anyway, down there, even if I only had 50 lire I could always buy myself a cheese roll or something. But I come up to Turin and fuck it: I find I’m paying out 200! It was all crazy to me. Then I began to pick up on the politics that Lotta Continua were into. At first, you know, I really didn’t understand too much, I used to read their leaflets, but only in a sort of informative way, so as to know what they were saying. One day one of the student comrades from Lotta Continua hunted me out and began talking to me. He really attacked me because I was still in the union. Before I worked at FIAT I’d worked for a few months at other little factories, and all that I’d heard was that the unions were there to defend the workers. Of course, down in Calabria we don’t even know what a union is; people don’t know that they exist! But gradually I began to understand what they really are. There are so many things I’ve learned that I didn’t know before, and I hope to be able to pass them on to all my workmates in the factory, and help them understand for themselves what I’ve learned.
At the beginning, when we were few, we started our struggles going round the factory in huge processions that you would think were never going to end. We used to call them “Snakes”. One time there were three hours of official union strike called. This was about the time that all the big strikes were happening, in autumn 1969. A few of us got together with other militants and asked ourselves what we were going to do. We decided that the best thing would be to have a Snake a big march round the factory, pulling out everyone we could. So there we were, with the three-hour union strike, and the two of us got together with five or six other comrades and contacted a few people from Lotta Continua. Then we set off; just the seven of us. And by the time we got to the head offices where all the staff hung out, there were about seven thousand of us! Bloody beautiful it was. The staff were all looking out of the windows, and saw us down below. They didn’t know what to do. And the few guards on the doors were terrified. It was beautiful. Now when the next lot of contracts comes along, well, this year we started with seven of us and ended up with seven thousand. Next time we’ll start with seven thousand and end up with seventy thousand, and that’ll be the end of FIAT. Goodbye, Agnelli.
There’s another time that I remember was really fine. We’d been in and out on strikes for a couple of days, and then we were having one of those marches inside the factory. And people started saying: ‘Let’s kick out the supervisors, they’ve been around giving orders for about a hundred years now, and we’ve had enough!” So we went down and started muting them out. People were looking at them, jeering, spitting on them, and they looked back as if they wanted to kill us, but there wasn’t a thing they could do. They just didn’t know what was happening. There’s them who’ve worked their asses off to become supervisors, and there we were treating them like shit.
LUIGI: It was these young people who began the fight, spontaneously and we logically found that this was a sort of alternative to the usual union struggles, an alternative which went along with the contacts growing at the same time with the students. As you know, from 1967 the university movement joined up with the struggles of the workers.
What has been the relationship between the revolutionary workers and the militants from the student movement?
LUIGI: It’s been a sort of team effort really, them outside and us inside. At the start we would work on all the antagonisms inside the factory, using them as a lever. For example, say FIAT hadn’t provided some work clothes. We would kick up a fuss, and the students would support us from the outside with loud hailers, gate meetings, leaflets, big posters, and so on.
Usually what we do is find out the facts of the situation, write them out in rough form, and give them to the external militants to print because they’re good at that sort of thing and they have more time than we do to work right through the night. We hope that later on we shall begin to do the leaflets ourselves, and already we are starting to do more of the work like typing and so on, as well as some of the distribution outside the gates. Once upon a time it was the ex-students that held the leading role in Lotta Continua, and we were the ones that carried out programs. Now we are beginning to take the leadership. There’s a bit of confusion about this at the present, as to whether we should have the leadership of the organization, because they still control a lot of the apparatus, like the national newspaper, the duplicators, poster printing facilities, and so on. However I’d say that by now there’s really joint leadership.
So you can really say that the new wave of struggle arrived with the immigrants and the students?
LUIGI: Yes. Italian students understood very early on, first with the Movimento Studentesco (Student Movement), and then with the ultra-left groups, that the only way they could expect to have any life at all was by allying themselves with the struggles of the workers. So that was really how it all started. Apart from very early factory leafleting in isolated areas, like Pisa from 1964, it was in 1967 that the really massive work began in front of the factory gates. And this was exactly when all the new workers began to be signed on, all the workers from the South, cut off from their own roots who had burned their bridges behind them and come here to Turin to find themselves without houses unfit to live in, with sky-high prices and so on. Add to that the students outside, who were focusing on these problems, pushing them toward eruption, and of course everything exploded. But it exploded in ways that were sometimes very disorganized, very unconnected, sometimes a real mess.
Now the spontaneous struggles are over. I’m convinced of it. Now, when the struggles start again, they’re going to have to be struggles for organization. Last year we were fighting seven or eight at a time, limited to single shops, all of us at Mirafiori linked through Lotta Continua because we’d had enough of the unions. But now we’re moving toward a situation in which we’ll have the factory coordinated shop by shop. When we decide at a certain point to launch a strike, we’ll start with an assembly in one shop, say Shop 55. Then we’ll begin the roundup, setting off in a Snake toward, say, the Varnish Shop, before we used to waste two or three hours getting everyone together. And by that time, as we were going round collecting the comrades, the anger would somehow melt away. To coordinate the struggle inside the factory means that when we decide on a Snake, it no longer takes half an hour to get it moving. Every group, every shop moves together. And when we start, we can come to a certain point where we can decide on what objective we are going to be heading for. We can decide to leave the factory grounds and tie up with other area factories, radicalizing the struggle outside the factory so as to involve other places.
What has been the role of the unions during these struggles?
LUIGI: The unions are there to make sure that workers are kept inside the system, and have less possibility of beginning to challenge it. The unions are the political extensions of the sicknesses that exist inside the government; the “long arm inside the factories” of political parties. Every group, every political party has a little hand inside the factory. The Christian Democrats have CISL, the Communists have the CGIL, SIDA are the Fascists, UIL is the Social Democrats, even some Republicans. . . every one of them has a certain presence inside the factory to control the situation. Now a lot of workers understand this. However they don’t as yet have an alternative. Inside FIAT the unions don’t count for anything, and everyone’s well aware of where they stand. But at the moment they are the only organization with a voice, they are the only ones that can say anything when it comes to dealing with management. So what’s really necessary at the moment is that we begin to create inside the factory agitational nuclei, or revolutionary committees, that are so strong and so well-rooted among the workers that they are an alternative to the internal commissions and the delegates that the unions have set up. Thus we can begin to create a point of reference in the factory to which the less politicized workers can look, so that they can escape from the control of the unions, can talk together, and can politicize themselves further. That is exactly what we’re engaged in at the moment: to form nuclei, to come to some agreement among ourselves, to study and understand the situation, and to provide inside the factory a focal point. These agitational nuclei are composed of normal workers inside the factory, but the best of them, the activists. It must be said that these nuclei are being formed not only from members of Lotta Continua, but also from workers who are not members but who have understood this need and who come along with us because of that.
What are your aims with these agitational nuclei inside of the factories?
LUIGI: With the nuclei and with the revolutionary committees if we manage to create them, we are trying, not to be another union, but to provide a political, revolutionary perspective for the workers. We must not fall into economism, into parochialism. We must not say “Look, we must fight for five lire more, or for ten lire more, or to work one or two hours less.” We are fighting and of course we are not going to achieve it tomorrow, for power, because the working class without power isn’t worth a thing. Of course we won’t dissociate ourselves from the economic struggles, because for most workers the economic struggles are the beginning. However, the economic struggles must go hand in hand with a revolutionary development of understanding, of politicization, of awareness on the part of the mass of workers. Only then can we hope for the taking of power, because that’s what we’re aiming at. The point is to take the factory, because it’s the factory that creates value, and it’s us that should have it, and not them.