The Family Gasparazzo goes to FIAT

The final section of chapter 9 of "Storming Heaven".

Submitted by Fozzie on August 25, 2023

Upon their arrival, the latest levy of FIAT workers discovered that the firm had changed quite markedly since the Hot Autumn. Reorganised into eleven operating sectors, the Agnelli family's holdings had become diversified, adding interests in telecommunications and energy production to the traditional preoccupation with vehicle construction (Cipriani 1981). Within the latter field, FIAT had built or acquired automobile plants elsewhere in Italy and overseas. In its Turin plants of Mirafiori and Rivalta, the creeping restructuring which characterised the 'productive truce' of the mid-1970s continued to remove labour-power from those moments of the cycle most directly involved in the production of vehicles (Mantelli and Scianna 1978: 38). As automated systems insinuated themselves into the traditional domain of the mass worker, the ability of employees to utilise the old production norms for their own ends began to melt away:

The 1950s and 1960s were the Tayloristic phase [at FIAT]. Workers knew how much they produced. Controlling this by slowing down or stopping was their power. Now with centralized computer systems and robots, the Tayloristic phase is over. The worker produces so much more that all perspective on work is lost. Between 1973 and 1979, the work time required to produce a car was cut by 50 percent (Marco Revelli, quoted in Barkan 1984: 240)

According to the Turin editors of Primo Maggio, the process by which the factory 'again becomes a universe unknown to the worker' was playing an important part in fragmenting the mass worker. Now its previous collective identity had become a myriad of 'partial and contradictory' points of view (Redazione torinese di Primo Maggio 1977: 25). Faced with such confusion, many of workerism's longheld typologies of class behaviour, if not its basic assumption of 'the hard materiality of production and the workers' relation with labour as the driving axis of the definition and structuring of social antagonism', were less than useless (ibid. : 21). In proposing a return to the tendency's old project of a workers' enquiry, Revelli and his associates were conscious that the experience of Quademi Rossi could not be replicated after a space of 15 years. Once, it seemed, 'The factory produced politics. And the enquiry was struggle.' In reality, however, and despite the commitment of Panzieri's group to 'coresearch', the traditional dichotomies between workers and intellectuals, and between the political project's 'theoretical elaboration and practical realisation', had often reproduced themselves in Quademi Rossi's work (ibid.: 21, 22). Now, by contrast, not only was the enquiry obliged to follow workers outside the factory; many of the workplace militants formed in recent years possessed both the confidence and ability needed to undertake the task of research themselves (ibid.: 23).

During the Moro affair of 1978, while others speculated upon the true identity of the kidnappers, Bruno Mantelli and Marco Revelli sought to gauge the reaction of FIAT workers. Presenting some of their findings to the readers of Lotta Continua that July, they reflected:

When we returned to the gates of Mirafiori - not to 'speak', this time, but to listen and to try and understand - we had in mind two things. The first was the feeling that today the 'enquiry' was an obligatory point of passage, a specific form of political practice without which every other series of considerations remained fatally arid and blocked. The second was the impression that the way of living politics is today the most obscure, yet central, node within the ambit of the enquiry. (Mantelli and Revelli 1978a: 5)

Casting off the misconception 'that working-class opinion could be prefabricated in the laboratories of ideology', and seeking out the views of those 'others' who had never been in the forefront of struggle, Mantelli and Revelli discovered - beneath the initial impression of silence - a Tower of Babel. The opinions expressed as to Moro's fate had varied in the extreme. There were those who enthusiastically supported the unions' calls for protest stoppages. There was also the comrade who argued that 'Look, this is terrorism, the fact that I'm about to enter [the factory] and be held against my will for eight hours, this is a kidnapping' (Mantelli and Revelli 1978b: 12). At the same time, nearly all portrayed political experience, in the formal sense of that term, as an alien, hostile craft monopolised by the parties and unions. Unlike in the past, the mass worker's ability to translate its technical composition into a form of power no longer functioned, with external, socially defined considerations increasingly impinging upon the labour-power employed at FIAT. On the contrary, they argued, a void of working-class initiative had opened up. This was bounded on one side by 'a terrorism that wants to find its own legitimation in the political paralysis of that working class', on the other by a Communist Party that sought 'to establish its own autonomy as a political class on the "centrality" of a silent working class' (Mantelli and Revelli 1979: 197). Given this, Mantelli and Revelli (1978a: 12) could only conclude their survey with a series of questions, the most anguished being: 'What are the steps through which the class can once more render its own material composition politically subversive?'

Fifteen months later, the editors of Primo Maggio were again to ponder such problems at a conference, 'Old and New Workers at FIAT'. It was a seemingly disparate gathering which came together in October 1979, its almost two dozen speakers covering an arc which stretched from the Communist Party to Autonomia, from the local union left to the many non-aligned positions to be found in the Italian new left. Running through almost all of their contributions, however, could be found a number of shared themes. These included the arrival at FIAT of new workers with their own distinctive view of factory life, the crisis of the older generation of employees' political identity, the collapse of any glibly homogeneous notion of 'working class', and the inability of the union apparatus to address the concerns of the new arrivals. Dismissed contemptuously as 'the bottom of the barrel' by the local PCI leader Alberto Minucci (Revelli 1981b: 99-101), many of the latest recruits to FIAT had played a leading role in the contract struggles of that summer. Against this optimistic note, the wave of arrests that had struck Autonomia six months before lent a certain poignant backdrop to the conference's proceedings. To this had been added on 9 October the dismissal for 'non-consonant behaviours' of 61 FIAT employees, amongst them many prominent workplace activists of the far left (Scarponi 1979).

Examining the make-up of the FIAT workers taken on since 1978, Silvia Belforte (1980: 12) of the workerist-influenced journal Quademi del territorio found 65 per cent of them to be women, usually in their mid-thirties, and married with children. As for the other new starters, many had just left school, or were still studying; most had been born in Turin itself, often of Southern parents (Barkan 1984: 188-9). Some sense of the difference in age between these new arrivals and the older hands can be gleaned from a mass survey conducted by Rinascita in 1979: even counting the younger workers, the average age of male respondents stood at 3 7-38 years (Accornero 1980: 146). Perhaps the most striking difference between the new starters and the generation formed within FIAT since the time of the Hot Autumn concerned their respective attitudes to work and the factory. According to Pietro Marcenaro, the reasons for this lay in the very different processes of socialisation experienced by the two:

Unlike the Southern migrant who came, in the 1960s, to a hostile and foreign city which held no prospect of friendship, and for whom the factory represented practically the exclusive terrain of socialisation, the young new starters enter the factory with a life already rich in relationships. It is not the factory which shapes them according to its needs: unlike the preceding generation, which started work at 13 or 14 years of age, a significant section of young workers enter the factory at 18 or 19, their personality formed in the city and school. If in recent years things have already changed for the mass worker, with the factory no longer determining exclusively the forms of aggregation, now the process accelerates. 'The things which unite workers are not constituted by labour per se.' (Marcenaro 1980: 6)

When asked their opinion, many of the new hands were to define their time at work only in negative terms. In an anecdote of which he never tired relating, Revelli recounted the view of one of his worker-students, who had proclaimed that 'Every day when I leave, I say to myself, I've lost eight hours of my life' (quoted in Barkan 1984: 239). Such views would appear incomprehensible or even hurtful to many of FIAT's longer-serving employees, prompting comments to the effect that 'Before Fiat made us work too much, but with these kids, it's too far in the other direction' (ibid. : 219). Then again, the encounter with the 'older' workers could induce a similar disenchantment amongst the new hands - such as the discovery that, no less than outside, there were 'pigs' and sexual harassers aplenty to be found amongst the legendary workers of FlAT Turin (Deaglio and Manenti 1979: 7). And there were many apparent contradictions in behaviour, too: for example, the young, with their supposed contempt for work, seemed less prone to absenteeism and more committed to union organisation. By contrast, the same 49- year-old who complained that the new starters were workshy could also boast to an American writer in 1979:

I do my seven hours' work in three and a half or four hours. I'm responsible for 78 pieces every day. I work the way I want and decide how to do it. When I finish, I talk or do crossword puzzles, even though we're not supposed to. I walk around. There's also a room for relaxing where we play cards ... Management doesn't react to what we do because of the union. The work times are agreed upon and that's it. (quoted in Barkan: 219)

Nino Scianna (1980: 41) of Primo Maggio - himself a FIAT worker - attempted to make sense of this apparent jumble for the October conference. He concluded that the divisions traditionally established by workerism upon the basis of labour-power's technical composition 'appear secondary' in a factory 'divided into a plurality of subjects, the identities of which are not defined on the terrain of production'. Contemplating a passage 'Beyond the Culture of the Mass Worker ... ', Revelli (1980b: 64) now believed that nothing short of a factory-wide 'cultural revolution' was required if the rich diversity of the new class composition at FIAT was to ward off management's designs. A member of the Genoa dockworkers' collective reminded those present that 'none of us can imagine that they possess an overall strategy' . Instead, he pointed to the risks that faced the most militant sectors of the class if they turned their backs upon the 'old majority' within the proletariat (Amancio 1980: 57, 59). Meanwhile, the major sour note of the gathering was to come from one of the Volsci. Agreeing with the dockworker's warnings, Riccardo Taviani (1980: 64) accused the workerists present of engaging in trasformismo: 'It strikes me as an old way of doing politics, reinterpreting everything from scratch in order to survive as a political class [ceto].'

A year later, not only had the workerist component of the Italian far left been destroyed as a political force, but a generation of FIAT workplace activists with it (Guarcello et al. 1990). As Hilary Partridge (1996: 98) would later put it, 'Shop-floor radicalism at Fiat was not so much absorbed or defeated as torn out by the roots.' With hindsight, the path of management's strategy can be mapped clearly: the criminalisation of the 61, around which both the unions and PCI were forced to polarise; the shutting of new recruitment; the creeping retrenchments which removed 20 workers a day for absenteeism; finally, the big push for the 'temporary' layoff of 25,000 staff (Revelli 1989: 84-103). In a dramatic settling of accounts, 10,000-15,000 FIAT workers, with the local PCI apparatus in tow, were to defend the gates of Mirafiori for 35 days. In the end, they would be undermined by the defeatism of a national union apparatus shocked by FIAT's 'counter-mobilisation' of thousands of foremen and white-collar staff (and more than a sprinkling of line workers). Reading over Revelli's almost tender depiction of the 'gate people' defending the pickets, each layer carefully peeled back for examination, one is struck by the enormous distances which Primo Maggio had travelled since the heyday of classical workerism:

Faced with this heterogenous yet compact human totality, we have been forced to admit the schematic nature of our analyses, which sliced up the various strata of the workforce into 'skilled workers', 'mass workers', 'social workers', 'diffuse workers' etc., without grasping the thousand subtle threads that interweave the fabric of the working class, which communicate the experience and language of the old, skilled sections, to the raw young immigrant (transmitting a heritage of experiences that has never been entirely subdued), or which permit the young metropolitan proletariat to go 'beyond' work precisely because, in fact, the area behind the front line is well-defended by a working class strength that has been moulded and formed in work. (Revelli 1982: 102)

In such circumstances, however, the collapse of a theoretical framework, and its principal point of political reference, seemed rather too high a price to pay for such heightened sensitivity. Not surprisingly, the events of 1979-80 were to have a profoundly disorientating effect upon those workerists not directly implicated in the '7 April' case. To Revelli's mind (1980a: 13, 14), the 'traditional terms of the primacy of the factory and of labour' were no longer sufficient to define the behaviour of the waged. Faced with efforts 'to lobotimise' workers' memory of struggles, along with the new relation now demanded between subject and researcher, the role of the latter was increasingly akin to that of the psychoanalyst. Bologna's (1980a: 28, 29) assessment was bleaker still: even as the prosecution of the 7 April case sought to blot out all record of the past 20 years of social conflict, workerism's time-honoured indicators had gone haywire. On the one hand, 'the bosses and machines no longer unite'; on the other, it was increasingly apparent that 'mechanisms internal to the class function in opposite ways: in Turin as dynamism, in Milan as paralysis'. Trapped between the 'silence' of most workers and the 'enormous fragmentation' of the militants, he concluded, 'we have almost theorised disintegration'.

Looking back a decade later, Bruno Cartosio (1987: 13) would consider Primo Maggio's reaffirmation of 'working-class centrality' in the wake of the Movement of '77 as somewhat forced. The journal would have done better, he believed, if it had given the notion of centralita operaia a thorough examination from top to bottom. As Asor Rosa (1987: 100) came to concede, however, Bologna had been right after all in insisting upon the political rather than social basis of the split between the Communist writer had called 'the two societies'. The events of 1977, Rossana Rossanda added, had opened for Italy 'an irreversible crisis for the union, an irreversible rupture between political society and civil society, a very grave crisis of representation' (Adornato and Lerner 1987: 92). For the rational workerists of Primo Maggio, the most enduring legacy of that year would remain the fragmentation of their theoretical apparatus. While conceding that a historiography 'which digs within individual and local things is important', Bologna would confess at the beginning of the 1980s to

a very great need to reacquire a broad dimension, a respite of 'grande storia', a great need to reacquire ... I won't say a theory, but something that doesn't force me into a relationship of abjuration and schizophrenia towards an intellectual course within which general and historical categories were not only well-defined, but functioned perfectly in helping us to understand reality and to participate within it in a militant manner. (Bologna 1981: 17)