A short history of an occupation of empty housing in Italy by workers who had inadequate accomodation. Their direct action and solidarity forced the council to house hundreds of people.
occupation at Via Tibaldi was a great step forward for the tenants’
and homeless movement in Italy. A whole neighbourhood was involved in it :
factories, schools, housing projects took part in the organising of the struggle.
There was a victory at Via Tibaldi because everyone there was fully aware
of the issue: There were 70 families, all immigrants from Southern Italy,
who had been promised a place by the Council and had to be re-housed.
When the confrontation came, it was clear who was on which
side: It was homeless families, workers, and students against the bosses,
the unions, the housing officials, and the police. In the six days of violence
the people occupied everything; houses, the streets, the town hall, police
wagons, and the Architecture Faculty at the University. Thousands of police
were mobilised against those involved in the occupations. In one day there
were two attempts to evict everyone. The forces of repression attacked with
tear gas, clubbing everyone who got in their way. Twice they were beaten back
and after the third attempt to shift them, the occupiers agreed to be re-housed
temporarily by a charity. This was a tactical retreat. The mayor and his mob
were forced to give in. Houses were allocated to the families who had squatted
and to 140 other families who had been evicted and were “living”
in hostels waiting to be re-housed. The alliance of workers, students, and
tenants forged before and during “the taking of Via Tibaldi” shows
how strong the working class is when it fights together. With this alliance
the working class went on the offensive and won a famous victory in June of
The occupation began on Tuesday morning. The squatters
were nearly all Southerners, workers at Pirelli and other smaller factories,
building workers, and unemployed people. Some of the people had been involved
in other struggles: Before this occupation the families from Crescenzago were
on rent strike. The occupation was strengthened by a continual coming and
going of workers (many of them from OM, a large factory only 150 yards away),
students, and local people who supported the action. They offered help, brought
useful materials, and worked alongside the squatters. The workers engaged
in building this block of apartments were also sympathetic. The firm they
worked for was about to close down. Because of the two months of organisation
which had led up to the occupation the whole of Milan knew about it. Aniasi,
the mayor, and the officials of the IACP (the Italian State building authority)
knew about it too. Almost at the same time they both started denying responsibility.
Barricades were built in the streets, particularly by the women and children.
Wednesday: A demonstration was organised
to go to Porta Ticinesewhere there was the Festival of the Navigilo, where
Mayor Aniasi was expected to be in attendance. The families wanted to confront
him and let him know that they were ready for anything. The march was headed
by a banner that read “Homes Occupied “. There are dozens of red
flags. The marchers moved off shouting “We want houses NOW“, “Free
houses for workers!”, and “Long live Communism!” When they
reach Porta Ticinese they found that Aniasi had left. So everyone climbed
up onto the rostrum and occupied it for a while. Then, with more and more
people joining in, they set off back to the apartment building.
Thursday: The families decided that the
struggle must become more militant. Twenty or so people went to the Marino
Palace, to a meeting of the Council. Once again they refused to listen. A
room in the Town Hall was occupied from 5 pm till midnight. When they get
back to the Via Tibaldi there was a meeting of heads of families which decided
that the struggle must continue to the bitter end. Nobody so much as mentions
the idea of abandoning the building. The people of Milan were well aware of
the Via Tibaldi struggle, and new families continued to arrive. The people
who occupied and won the apartments in another street, Mac Mahon, came to
give their support. There was also much discussion about new forms of struggle.
Over the next few days a huge demonstration was organised to show that they
had no intention of giving in.
Friday: The housing official Catalano
arrived to negotiate, sent by the Town Hall and IACP. He had a reputation
for cramming workers into shanty towns after having promised them homes. Catalano
wanted a list of the families involved, which he got, alongside an impromptu
hearing at a People’s Tribunal. The people told him what they thought
of him, that he was nothing but a lackey of the bosses, a rat and an exploiter.
A crowd of workers surrounded him, shouting: “We’re going to have
the apartments, and you can get stuffed for the rents!” He was really
swaggering when he arrived; but by the time he left, several hours later,
he was pale and trembling. And he was forced to give the squatters some solid
Saturday: The mobilisation continued.
In the afternoon another barricade was built in the streets.
Sunday morning: Two thousand police arrived
to clear out the Via Tibaldi. The Town Hall and the bosses decided that they
have to put down these people who, in six days of struggle, have become a
reference point and an organisation central for the entire working class of
Milan. The squatters knew that they had a right to defend what they had taken
and what was rightfully theirs. But they wanted to make sure they built their
strength and used it at the right time. On that Sunday morning they were still
too weak. After long arguments with the police the squatters decided to leave
the building and move to the Architecture Faculty of the local University,
at the invitation of the students.
Sunday evening: 3,000 police arrived
to throw everyone out of the Architecture Faculty. They thought that it would
be as easy as it was in the morning, but they couldn’t have been more
mistaken. While the police squads took up their positions, a meeting of all
the families decided that this time they had to defend themselves, that they
were strong enough to do so, and that the cops were going to pay for the eviction
from Via Tibaldi. Once again all the organisation came from the squatting
families. Women and children stood on the upper floors, with all the men down
below behind the gates, facing the riot squad. At 11 pm the cops charged.
But they got their fingers burned. They hadn’t expected the fierce and
powerful reaction from the people inside the building, or the attack from
behind by people who hadn’t managed to get inside. When they eventually
manage to force their way into the building, the police found no one there.
Everyone had managed to get out and began regrouping in the streets, ready
to carry on the fight. Having run out of tear gas, the riot squad retreated,
completely disoriented, and was charged by the squatters. Participants lost
count of the jeeps demolished by stones. The battle lasted until two in the
Monday morning: Members of all the families
met up on the university campus. They were all there; people decided to go
along to a meeting of the architecture students. Here, in the afternoon, some
of the squatters were chosen to explain the struggle In Via Tibaldi. A proposal
was made that closer links be created between the students’ struggle
and that of the homeless. On the basis of this proposal the meeting decided
that the families should occupy the Architecture Faculty again later that
day. As for the Faculty Board, they decided to initiate a permanent seminar
on the housing problem with the people from Via Tibaldi who are “experts”
on the subject.
At the Architecture Faculty, as always, decisions about
how to carry on the struggle were made solely by the assembly of families,
which met twice a day. During one of these meetings a huge demonstration was
suggested for the following Saturday. This they hoped would help to bring
home the meaning of the struggle to those who weren’t directly involved.
The demonstration was to mobilise 30,000 people!
Wednesday: At five o’clock in the
morning the police surrounded the whole university precinct in three huge
circles. Traffic was at a complete standstill. It was a trial of strength.
250 students were arrested plus a dozen lecturers and even the Dean of the
Faculty! The families were carried off once more in police vans. A few hours
later, a general assembly held at the Polytechnic was also broken up by the
police. Vittoria, the Chief of Police, De Peppo, the General Procurator of
the Republic, and Aniasi, the Mayor, thought that they had finally beaten
what was originally no more than a few dozen families, but what had become
the symbol of Milan’s working class. They couldn’t have been more
Wednesday dinnertime: All the families
ate at the canteen of the ACLI (Action Group of Italian Catholic Workers),
where they have been given shelter. From then on no one could avoid the struggle
in Via Tibaldi. The ruling class were caught in enormous contradictions trying
to reconcile the demands which were coming from every direction - from a section
of the PSI (the Socialist Party) and local councillors; from the Communist
Party, and the ACLI, which they’d always thought were under their thumb;
from the FIM (one of the metal workers’ unions whose members are particularly
militant)... Some orders were coming from Rome and others from local employers.
The greatest danger was that the struggle would spread.
And the families were doing everything in their power
to make it happen by organising Saturday’s demonstration, by going to
the factory gates with placards and leaflets, by sending a delegation to the
congress of the ACLI and to the general assembly of the student movement,
where they were given a tumultuous reception. And before every action was
taken, the assembly of families decided what should be said, what line to
take, and what proposals to put forward.
As for Aniasi and company, had to cave in. Catalano, the
same messenger boy who’d gone so arrogantly to the Via Tibaldi, now
hurried to the ACLI with an offer. “Too vague”, said the families.
“Your words and promises won’t be enough to solve the housing
problem now. We want an agreement written and signed by Aniasi and the Council.”
Two hours later the agreement was there.
Before July 31, the Council had to allocate 200
apartments, not only to the families from the Via Tibaldi, but also to 140
others in a similar situation. Each family received 100,000 lira ($1,665)
compensation, plus 15,000 lira ($250) for each member of the family. There
was not the usual stipulation of three months’ deposit before moving
into the apartments. All evictions and all rent arrears were frozen by the
Council. During this fortnight of struggle none of the squatters had ever
imagined that the workers’ fight for housing would end at Via Tibaldi,
or that the only problem was how to get a new home. This struggle was only
a beginning. Subsequently the families attempted to help organise the struggle
against rents, fares, and prices, and circulate information around local factories.
For this reason the assembly of families from Via Tibaldi became long-term,
involving people from every district in Milan.
Edited and altered by libcom from Lotta Continua. Translated and edited by
Ernest Dowson. Taken From Radical America, vol. 7, #2. Taken from prole.info