The Republic of Labin, 1921

Hammer and sickle from the Republic of Labin

A short history of a short-lived uprising of coal miners in Croatia following an attack by Italian fascists, by Steven Johns.

Labin ("Albona" in Italian) is a small town in north-west Croatia, in the centre of the country’s coal mining region, Istria.

After World War I, Istria became part of the Kingdom of Italy.

By the early 1920s it was home to around 2000 miners of various national origins: Croatians, Hungarians, Slovaks, Poles, Czechs, Italians, Germans and Slovenians.

In 1920 the Biennio Rosso (Two Red Years) in Italy began, with mass strikes and factory occupations sweeping the country. These arrived in Labin, and many strikes broke out for improved pay and conditions.

As elsewhere in Italy, alongside worker militancy there was a wave of employer-backed fascist reaction.

On 1 March, 1921, miners’ union leader Giovanni Pipano was attacked by fascists and severely beaten at the Pazin train station. The following day miners found out and were furious, and called a meeting for 3 March.

On 3 March miners gathered and decided to occupy their mine with the slogan “Kova je naša” - the mine is ours”. Peasants arrived from the countryside to support them, and armed detachments of Red Guards were organised to keep order.

On 7 March the miners declared the foundation of the Republic of Labin, and raised a red hammer and sickle flag. They formed a central committee as a decision-making body, with mass assemblies for discussion and complete equality between the different nationalities of worker. They formulated and presented demands to their employer, Societa Arsia, including demanding a pay increase.


The hammer and sickle flag of the Labin coalminers

As the bosses refused to give in, on 21 March the miners decided to restart coal mining under workers’ self-management.

A month on, the company made the decision to cease negotiations and instead call in the army.

On 8 April, around 1000 soldiers and police attacked the mine by land and sea. The miners, taken by surprise, retreated towards Štrmac, where they continued to put up resistance. But poorly armed and untrained they were forced to surrender.

Two miners - Massimiliano Ortar and Adalbert Sykora - were killed with dozens arrested.

52 miners were later charged with a litany of crimes including the establishment of a soviet regime, rebellion, possession of explosives and others. But due to miners’ refusal to testify against one another, a robust legal defence and support of the local population eventually none were convicted.

Later when Mussolini’s fascists came to power, the working class and peasants of Labin continued to resist.

Sources

  • La Repubblica di Albona - T. Vorano (retrieved 03/09/17, citing F. Čulinović, Revolucionarni pokret u Istri 1921. godine, Zagreb 1951; G. Scotti, L. Giuricin, La Repubblica di Albona e il movimento dell’occupazione delle fabbriche in Italia, Rovinj 1971; Labinska republika 1921., zbornik radova, Rijeka 1972; R. Martinčić, Labinska republika 1921., u: Radnički pokret i NOB Općine Labin, Rijeka 1980; M. Jurkić, Neki pravni aspekti optužnice i presude labinskim rudarima na procesu u Puli 1921. godine, u: Radnički pokret Labinštine 1921–1941. sa širim osvrtom na Istru, Labin i Rijeka 1981.)
  • Balcani: “La miniera è nostra!” Storia della Repubblica di Albona - Riccardo Celeghini (retrieved 03/09/17)