Excellent booklet on the widespread class struggle in the chemical factories of the Italian industrial zone of Porto Marghera in the 1960s and 70s.
Originally compiled to accompany a DVD which you can download here, the booklet is highly informative in its own right.
1. From reconstruction to the Hot Autumn: The class struggles in Italy 1968 -1973
2. Unions vs. workers autonomy
4. The History of Potere Operaio
5. The History of the Workers’ Committee of Porto Marghera
6. 'The workers should take things into their own hands'
7. The struggle is worth it!
8. The Refusal of Work: Porto Marghera Workers' Committee (1970)
1. The class struggles in Italy 1968 - 1973
In the 1960s the development of industry in Italy lay far behind that of England, France or West Germany. The unions and the PCI were active in the partnership undertaking the reconstruction after the war. In the mid 1950s, the 'economic miracle' mobilised huge numbers of proletarians to move from the countryside into the new factories. Despite the boom, unemployment in Italy remained high, therefore migration continued, not only from Southern Italy to Northern Italy (two million people between 1955 and 1965), but also to West Germany, France or Switzerland. There was a permanent oversupply of labour power and this was used to lower the wages. There were practically no state benefits for the unemployed.
After a long quiet phase, in 1962 begins the first massive class struggle of the new working class composition in the centres of development, especially in Turin. As an answer to the wage demands of the workers, capital went into crisis. A deep recession put the brakes on the new struggles.
The next economic boom relied solely on the introduction of new exploitation methods of long work time and a lot of overtime. Work accidents increased sharply. The wages stayed far behind the drastic increase in work intensity. From 1963 to 1967 the production rose by 26.7 percent, whereas the investment from 1963 to 65 was reduced by one third and the number of employees dropped by 5.3 percent.
The gross domestic product (GDP) of Italy rose by 64 percent in real terms from 1959-1968. Production per employee rose by 73 percent. Industry grew by 64 percent in real terms from 1959-1968 and thereby increased its share of the GDP from 6 to 47.6 percent. The economic growth in the 1960s was to a large extent based on the expansion of state industries, mainly comprising raw materials processing industry, iron and steel production, communication and transport (motorways). Private capital was mainly invested overseas - with the exception of the large family firms like Fiat, Pirelli or Olivetti, which expanded massively.
In the 1960s, a concentration of many large Italian corporations took place; the most important production areas were monopolised by a mere two dozen firms. The state had a stake in 11 of the 22 largest firms. The state holding companies IRI and ENI owned half of Montedison. This immediately brought a strong political element into the class confrontation.
In overall terms however, Italian industry was still characterised by small and medium-size companies. Comparatively few workers worked in the large firms. The 24 largest companies employed only 654,000 workers (blue and white collar) in 1996 (Fiat 128,000, Montedison 119,000 and Pirelli 67,000), which amounted to 10 percent of the Italian working class. This explains many of the particularities of the class struggles in Italy, where the divide between the workers in large companies and those in small and medium size firms posed a significant problem. The wage difference between employees in large and small companies was significantly wider in Italy than the equivalent gap in Germany or France. Pensions were minimal. The 'wage zones' [gabbie salariali] provided lower wages in the poorer regions.
The migration to the cities had triggered a huge housing problem. There was no adequate health provision. The proportion of indirect tax was higher in Italy than anywhere else in Western Europe, and workers paid a disproportionate part of direct tax. White-collar and office workers enjoyed extensive privileges, their wages be ing significantly higher than those of the manual workers. Tbe state determined the conditions of exploitation and the social stratification.
But it didn't take long before the manual workers in Italy began to demand their share of this development. The Italian working class was at the forefront of the worldwide revolt against capitalist exploitation in 1968.
Social mobilisation also began in the universities in Italy, including in Venice, and by the spring of 1968 it already swept into the factories in the Veneto region. For example in Valdagno at the foot of the Alps, in the Marzotto textile factory which had until then had been run mainly on the basis of paternalism and boss-friendly unions, 6,000 workers went on strike for weeks against the introduction of a new piece-work system. When, on the 19th of April, scabs were sneaked into the factory under police protection, the workers toppled the bronze statue of the factory founder from its plinth as a symbol of the firm's despotism and fought with the 1,000-strong police force brought from the whole region. 47 workers were arrested.
On the 13th and 14th of July, in the Petrolchimico factory in Porto Marghera, 4,000 manual and 1,000 white collar workers went on strike for an increase in the production bonus to 5,000 Lire for everyone. On the 1st of August 1968 Porto Marghera experienced the high point of the strike wave with burning barricades on the access road.
The 'Hot autumn' 1969
The general strike in France was limited to 13 days in May 1968. In Italy strike waves blocked the increase in productivity for almost two years. The Hot autumn in 1969 ranks as one of the most intensive collective mobilisations in the history of class struggle. In 1969 over 300 million hours of work time were lost due to strikes, 230 million of these in industry.
The struggle over the renewal of the wage agreement in various industries came to a head in the summer, most significantly in the Fiat factory in Turin. Against the lock-our of 35,000 Fiat workers the unions called for the extension of the strikes. They demanded wage increases of between 15 and 19 percent, a 40-hour week etc. In many factories workers went on strike spontaneously, often against the negotiation logic of the unions. Their demands were no longer centred around productivity growth, they demanded equal wage increases for everyone and attacked all forms of performance wages. Innovative organisational forms multiplied, taken on by the workers from the students. Everyone was equally entitled to talk. In Turin a long meeting took place with workers and students, they discussed what had been happening and wrote up leaflets. Out of this came, among other things, the political groups Lotta Continua and Potere Operaio.
Shortly before Christmas, the metal union managed to settle on a wage agreement, in which all the demands were broadly met, including parity for blue and white collar workers, three weeks a year holiday, abolition of unpaid days and elections for department delegates.
In Porto Marghera there was also an extensive mobilisation by metal and chemical workers. In March the workers at Chatillon managed to enforce a 36-hour week. The firm made concessions while the unions were excluding the left activists. The year ended with a political victory for the unions; but the agreement for the chemical industry did not offer parity for the blue and white collar workers, and so it was seen as a fraud by the workers.
On the 12th of December 1969 the state secret service's strategy of tension reached its first climax: killing 16 people and wounding 87 in an explosive attack at Piazza Fontana in Milan.
After 1975 more advanced forms of workers' organisation didn't show up, neither at Fiat nor in Porto Marghera. The workers had brought production to a total stand still. They had shown that capitalist production also produces death and disease. They had begun self-organisation both inside the factory and in life outside it. Bur revolution in the sense of a material overthrow of relations did not take place. The reform of the unions and the 'green washed capitalism' of today is unthinkable without the struggle of these workers.
2. Unions vs. workers autonomy
After the Second World War, under huge pressure from the D.S., the union movement in Italy split into politically oriented unions in order to isolate the communists. The PCI and its CGIL union confederation played a part in national reconstruction and spoke in favour of forced industrialisation of the country in order to create modern jobs. They supported the policy of linking income to productivity increases. Due to the restructuring of companies for mass production, the old skilled workers, who were the basis of the PCI, lost their central place in the production processes. The newly employed, unskilled workers from the countryside were seen as 'apolitical'. The CGIL lost heavily in the works council [Commissione Interna] elections, especially at Fiat.
In 1962 thousands of Fiat workers protested in Turin against a separate wage agreement, which the UIL union had signed with the company. The workers' protest ended in street fighting lasting for days in Piazza Statuto in Turin, where immigrants from southern Italy and young communist cadres fought side by side against the police.
After the years of recession from 1963-1965, the next round of extensive workers' struggles were not until the end of the 1960s.
The years 1968-1973 changed Italian society. The quickest institution to change were the unions. In the confrontations about the new wage agreement in 1969, the unions faced sharp, sustained criticism from the left groups, and above all the criticism of the workers themselves. The unions were forced to go further than they would actually have wished to, by the ever more self-organised strikes in spring-summer 1969 at Fiat in Turin. The three rival unions CGIL, CISL and UIL agreed upon a much closer cooperation.
The economy was booming and the workers could demand what they wanted from the companies. In some departments better conditions were negotiated without the union's involvement; the union saw this as creating divisions within the workforce. While the union defended the pay given to workers after they completed their qualifications, the 'mass workers' were now demanding, for example, equal wage increases for everyone as well as the free election and retraction of department delegates. By taking up these demands, the unions succeeded in negotiating relatively good wage agreements, especially in 1969. While the left radical groups mobilised principally around higher wage demands, in order to attack the production of surplus value directly, the unions were increasingly mobilising around issues outside of production e.g. for cheaper flats or pension reform.
At the beginning of the 1970s, the long discussed statute of workers' rights was passed by parliament. It was set up to strengthen the collective and individual rights of workers in the companies (entitlement to equal treatment, freedom of political expression inside the company, the right to strike, the right to workers assemblies inside the company, protection against redundancies in companies with over 15 employees, health protection, end of the regional 'wage zones' etc.)
The right to vote for (and retract) the department - and shortly afterwards also the factory council - delegates was inscribed in numerous collective contracts.
The 'union of councils', based on the new councils elected by the shop floor, was supported by many left activists. The main beneficiary was CGIL (particularly the metalworkers union), which through this body was able to use the factory councils to restructure and to win over new cadres.
The question of 'delegation' and 'representation', also the representatives' politics, was hotly discussed amongst the left radicals - while Lotta Continua took part, Potere Operaio criticized the unions and set itself firmly on the side of building up autonomous workers' structures.
Since the publication of the bestseller Empire (2000) by Michael Hardt and Toni Negri the term Operaismus, derived from the Italian operaismo, has been on everyone's lips in the German-speaking world. However most people seem not to be too clear that the term referred to workers. (operaio = worker, hence also the common English translation 'workerism')
At the end of the '50s and the begin ning of the '60s a radical left political current emerged in Italy around the journal Quaderni Rossi [Red Notebooks] and later Classe Operaia [Working Class]. This current rejected the social democracy of the PCI and the PSI and their politics of national reconstruction. They brought theoretical weapons for the radical overturn of relations, contributing hugely to the renewal of Marxism. But above all, they brought a political practice that oriented itself around the actual struggles of the working class.
They went to the workers' city of Turin to carry out workers' inquiries in the factories there. In Fiat they found a situation of change and upheaval: old communist workers, who had been politically sidelined, young, discontented skilled workers, and unskilled workers, newly moved from the countryside, mostly from the South, working in the factories, some having been peasants before. In 1962, the first struggle broke out. Starting from their involvement on a practical level, the comrades developed a theoretical basis, radically applying Marxist method to start from the workers' perspective.
Class Composition ...
With their inquiry work at Fiat and Olivetti, the group around Quaderni Rossi wanted to create a new political relation to the working class. The problems and struggles of the working class should once again become the central reference point of revolutionary politics. This meant posing all the questions anew and above all (re)searching the real working class. The deep and drastic changes of the '50s had changed the working class; replacement of coal by oil, expansion of conveyor belt production, widespread use of cars, huge migration from the countryside etc. The unionists at electronics company Olivetti never really saw the newly recruited from the countryside as real workers, and those workers themselves did not see their work as real work, but as 'button pushing'.
The inquiries in 1961 attempted to investigate: the origin of the workers, their previous work experiences, their accommodation problems, what they do in their free time and their perception of the power relations in the factory. The first 'co'-inquiries [conricerca] focused on the workers as a whole person. This is in total contrast to the 'factoryism' that much later characterised so many of the 'workplace interventions' by the left, i.e. the reduction of the workers to their problems in the workplace, focusing on the questions of wages, work time, breaks, and work organisation.
Quaderni Rossi upheld the thesis that a new composition of the working class would emerge and that the workers would put up a fight against the exploitation in the new factories. 'Class composition' is more of a fighting slogan than a sociological term; it actually means there is a connection between the mode of production and needs, between work organisation and the organisation of struggle, and between the direct daily activity of the workers and their behaviour or practice.
... instead of class consciousness
In his texts, published later in the book Workers and Capital, Mario Tronti placed 'labour power' and 'working class ‘ in an antagonist relation to one another. first time. Labour power identified " workers as variable capital, factor of production to be exploited. Working class on the other hand is the seizing of a collective political power through the refusal of the expenditure of human labour power. The differentiation provided the basis for methodological differential between the technical and political composition of the class.
By starting radically from the position of the workers, Tronti inverted the relation between 'capital and work' from its orthodox perception: the political class composition is a historical given, that capital has to confront. "The class relation comes before the capital relation". Meaning that the working class precedes the development of capital. And machinery is the capitalist answer. So worker struggle is seen as the aggressive force and not as a reaction to the exploitation suffered. This made Tronti's text immensely attractive. It worked like a drug on the young militants of the 60s and 70s, because it implied the possibility (and feasibility') of the revolution.
Class composition meant the crystallisation of behaviour, needs and the tradition of struggle. It was a material basis that re placed the concept of 'class consciousness' that would have to be brought in from outside of the class. Class composition contained both the technical structure of the class and how it consolidated themself (politically) in its struggles. But the process by which the labour force turns into the working class, remains contradictory in Tronti's writing: at times he conceived of it as an almost mechanical process, in other places he voluntaristically constructs a new political composition. The switching between both interpretations characterised operaismo from the beginning.
As a result of Tronti's distillation of theory (e.g. class struggle as the main driving force of capitalist development), his conclusions became partly arbitrary, turning the biggest defeats into victories (for example seeing passivity as the workers' refusal to struggle'). 'Operaismo as philosophy' is not much good for analysis - even less so in defensive situations. However, there is also a methodological problem: if every action of capital is understood as a reaction to class struggle, then, implicitly, the inner connection between class and capital is abandoned. To see the capital relation as a power relation throws the law of value overboard and ultimately divides economics and politics again. Here we can see the foundations being laid for the ontological derivation of the concept of Multitude, as Negri lays them out in Empire.
The central subject in the struggles in the factory in the 60s and 70s was the 'mass worker': the unskilled worker, who had to perform the same hand movements over and over again in the assembly halls and conveyer belts, a far cry from any producer or skilled worker's pride.
When Sergio Bologna first used the term in 1967 in a seminar in Padua, he wanted to argue against reactivated concepts of Leninist organisation and show that the class composition of the mass worker has long superseded this notion. (The first mass workers' struggle took place in the 1930s in the USA). In the hot autumn of 1969 this mass worker theory was confirmed (not only) in Italy.
Based on this special figure, a new philosophy of history was created. But the acceptance of this new idea in turn forced any further inquiry work into a cage or rigid political framework. New formulations emerged such as 'the law of the movement of the working class' or 'a particular technical composition of labour force necessarily corresponds to a typical system of social practice. It has to correspond to a particular political expression ... '. The continuation was then to form an organisation that was supposed to unify this working class - which was diametrically opposed to the original thinking behind the workers' inquiries.
Workers and workerists
In the last few years lots of books have come out in Italy, going over the history of the 60s and 70s. A few are dedicated to the 'workerists', who have given personal interviews for the first time and told their version of history. Hardly any of these books (with the exception of the one by La Nazione journalist Aldo Grandi!) had bothered to interview also the workers who were the actual protagonists of this cycle of struggles. for a few years, during the 'workers' inquiries' in the 60s and in the years 1968-1973, there was a collaboration between the left intellectuals searching for the revolutionary subject and the workers in revolt, from which both sides profited: the workers found new instruments for changing the world, the intellectuals gained new insights. When this collaboration had come to an end, the first group were still workers and the second still academics. In Italy hardly any of these comrades went into the factories to work there. In Germany at least some did.
4. The organised autonomy of the working class
The History of Potere Operaio
Potere Operaio [Workers' power] was initially the name of a few local groups, who related to the working class independently of the union. Their theoretical point of reference initially came from the newspaper Classe Operaia [Working class], which was founded in 1963 by the interventionist tendency within the Quaderni Rossi newspaper. Going beyond their own inquiry work, they aimed their publications directly to the workers. The editorial group in the Veneto reshaped itself around Toni Negri, who was then a lecturer at Padua University.
In 1967 the last issue of Classe Operaia was published, and shortly after Potere Operaio - giornale politico degli operai di Porta Marghera started up and was published until 1969. The themes of the newspaper were: more money; less work; against piece work; against the intensification of work; against endangering health; against redundancies and short-work; 40 hours week with 48 hours paid; guaranteed minimum wage; equality for all workers; against privilege and against production bonuses. In the same year the first Congress of Potere Operaio Veneto-Emiliano, attended by worker-activists, took place in Mestre.
The national organisation Potere Operaio emerged in 1969 from the connections of local groups in Genoa, Milan, Turin and the Veneto. These groups had made their relation to the working class and the interventions in the factories as their focal point. Shortly before this, in Turin, the organisation Lotta Continua [Permanent struggle] was formed from a tendency of worker and student assemblies, who had agitated at Fiat during the whole Hot Autumn. Up to this point, 'La Lotta Continua' [The struggle goes on] had appeared as a slogan on all the leaflets. In 1969 the first issue of the national newspaper Potere Operaio appeared.
The refusal of work and Leninism
'Cominciamo a dire Lenin' [Let's start saying Lenin], began an editorial by Franco Piperno in 1969. The slogan 'every economic struggle is also a political struggle' was replaced by the idea to build up the organisation in order to reach the economic aim. According to Negri, Leninism was the price to be paid for the political re-composition of the Italian proletariat. 'Politics' now meant Lenin.
While for the rival organisation Lotta Continua everything started from the spontaneity of the workers struggles, Potere Operaio emphasised the aspect of organisation. The political programme spoke of a direct transition to communism from the extension of the struggles to insurrection and organised mass insurgency. At its height, about 10,000 activists were involved in Potere Operaio (to a greater or lesser extent).
The regional groups also represented different social compositions: there was the industrial north with its workers groups, then Rome with proletarian/sub-proletarian groups on the one hand and those from the tertiary sector such as local administration or hospitals on the other hand. The health workers in the clinics were an organisational focal point of Potere Operaio. The influx via the student movement changed the composition even more and thereby the political bias of the group.
The cultural difference between the workers' groups and the groups with more students and academics in Florence and Rome was not free of tension. While the comrades from the latter groups used their time as a group also to go out together or go on holiday and had lots of time for discussions, in Veneto the work in the factory claimed a good part of the time, as did the assemblies after work, distributing leaflets ere. The time for national or regional meetings was pretty tight.
Porto Marghera was 'the' concentration of workers, where Potere Operaio really had an influence, but politically the comrades from Porto Marghera were somewhat on the sidelines of the organisation. At the Potere Operaio congress in Florence in January 1970, it came to a confrontation about spontaneity and Leninism. Finzi from the Porta Marghera Workers' Committee took up the following position: what the workers do, i.e. hold assemblies in the factory, write leaflets etc, is actually spontaneous organising. The workers' committee leads and educates the working class. Revolutionary organising develops within the working class, starting from material needs. The workers' co-ordination is not an information service about struggles, but a political decision making body, a co-ordination of the workers avant-garde. The organisation is merely an instrument for a direct struggle for concrete aims.
It came to a political division between on one hand those who wanted to continue the 'workerist' practice of rank and file work in the factories. And on the other hand those who felt that, after the Hot Autumn of 1969 had ended due to the new collective contract, the time was right to put all their energy into building up an organisation aimed at political overthrow.
September 1970: attempted fusion into political committees with the group called Il Manifesto, which controlled the il manifesto newspaper, which Potere Operaio would have liked to turn into the daily paper of the political committees, in order to spur on the unity of the vanguard. It was not deemed necessary to report on the struggles of yesterday, but rather to offer guidance today on the struggles of tomorrow.
A joint workers' conference in January 1971 in Milan: 76 workers' groups from Il Manifesto and 68 groups from Potere Operaio participated. From the content of their speeches, it seemed the two groups had an abyss between them.
Potere Operaio delegates emphasised that it was all about tearing away the mask of the state, to make the violence visible that ensured its domination over the working class. In the light of the tremendous levels of struggle the party now had to be organised and the uprising had to be prepared.
Il Manifesto focussed on a drawn-out claiming politics, putting forward demands for the abolition of piece work, shorter working hours and a better work environment. To go beyond unionism requires autonomy and a unified organism of the working class: the political committee as a preliminary form of a party and as a motor for the emergence of an unified organ of the working class.
While the national leadership had al ready given up on co-operation, in Porto Marghera there was a joint intervention in the factories from February to April 1971 with the slogans: 'employ more people and give a 36 hour week to everyone', 'introduce a fifth shift', 'wage increases in inverse proportion to qualifications', 'no piecework nor work intensification', 'no profit-dependent bonus payments'.
At the congress in the EUR district of Rome in September 1971, Potere Operaio actually split around the question: keep organising the mass worker, or anticipate capitalist development in the terrain of the 'socialised worker' (operaio sociale).
In the end, the following position won: come out of the factories, push the organising into the 'terrain'; prepare for the insurrection. Many people did not agree with this and left the organisation.
The drive to build up a party, and ever more national congresses, no longer helped the workers in Porto Marghera. Instead, they built up a network of autonomous workers' groups in Milan, Rome and Naples and published a joint newspaper.
... and break-up
The organisational conference in Rosalina in June 1973 ended with neither a solution nor a new statute. The local groups transformed into the Organised Autonomy. During the youth movement in 1977 there was an influx of a whole new generation of activists.
After the dissolution of Potere Operaio, the 'Negri-ists' met in the summer of 1973 in Padua. They wanted to hold on to the thread of factory struggles. Finzi and Sbrogio represented the Autonomous Assembly. Their attitude was more than ever rigid: only the shop-floor workers were allowed to represent them to the outside, no 'external' members.
'Mass militancy' or armed struggle
After 1969 all the radical left organisations had built up groups of armed 'stewards', who initially safeguarded leafleting actions in front of factories, schools etc. and protected against fascist attacks. After the dissolution of the organisations, these 'military wings' made themselves independent. One part founded the group Prima Linea; the leadership of the stewards of Potere Operaio in Rome joined the Red Brigades.
The History of the Workers' Committee of Porto Marghera
"The split and break-up of Potere Operaio happened on the basis of the antagonism of three positions:
a) The project to build up a new party
b) Glorification of the spontaneity of the socialised worker and organisation of the vanguards.
c) The search for a dialectical relation between new subjects and historical organisations.
Positions a) and b) shared the belief that the time was ripe for the beginning of the revolutionary process, but they differed fundamentally in their idea of organisation; the first had a late-Leninist idea, while the second wanted to connect with the mass vanguard.
Position c) thought that both of these positions were totally unrealistic and presumptuous. Now that the phase of the political groups was coming to an end, it was seen as more useful to analyse the new social dimensions of the conflicts from within, and thereby to look at how the capitalist response to the crisis creates contradictions within class composition. This position wanted to try to open channels of communication, primarily with the unions, who had proven themselves to be more open to the new reality than the parties were."
(Bianchini/Bergoloa, foreword to the reprint of ‘Potere Operaio - giornale politco degli operai Porto di Marghera’ 1967-69), Padua 1980,
5. The History of the Workers’ Committee of Porto Marghera - A Talk by Italo Sbrogio
Given at the presentation of the Augusto Finzi Workers' Archive Marghera, 9 June 2006
In 1952 the first chemical plant was set up in Porto Marghera, the chlorinated soda department, which was to become the motor of growth for an integrated production cycle with other parts such as tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride (from which polyvinyl chloride, PVC, is made by a process of polymerisation).
The workers came from the countryside and therefore had mostly received their skills from self-education, in contrast to the company management, many of whom came from the fascist tradition.
Amongst the workers there were also PCI members. Employed with the approval and guarantee of the priests, the communists were diligent workers, the PCI had taught them that a good worker = a good communist.
We worked with our heads down, but with a huge will to rebel against all the harassment we had to endure every day.
In 1958 there was no CGIL there. It was first created when some communist workers stood for election for the works council, and won a majority. These comrades then formed Potere Operaio. They were joined by comrades from the white-collar departments.
Working in the Petrolchimico was really hard, with the assaults by the foremen and the spying by the factory security; if you were denounced by them for whatever reason you would be punished immediately. The attitude of the company was very varied, ranging from sackings to inexorable paternalism. This was supposed to break the workers' unity, which despite all this actually was making progress.
In 1964 the first so-called intellectuals approached us. I met Toni Negri and Guido Bianchini who had already made contact with a communist worker in Vetrocoke by this time, comrade Pistolato, who was the chairman of a circle which saw itself as a people's university.
In the time to follow I also met Massimo Cacciari, Francesco dal Co and other comrades.
At these meetings we learned to do politics by participating in the debates, everyone at the same level.
From the PCI and its centralised politics we were used to obeying orders and this kind of politics which brought us into a vanguard role was new for us.
Our first leaflet
In 1967 the first leaflet by Potere Operaio appeared in Porto Marghera. It was about the works council elections. The workers already saw us as members of Potere Operaio and we were re-elected with a majority. We distributed the first political newspaper by Potere Operaio in the factory in March 1967 and the second one in May, with Francesco Tolin as officially responsible.
The content of these two first issues was based on reports which workers' autonomy vanguards had collected from across the whole of Italy.
In Porto Marghera (Petrolchimico) the first repression occurred. Comrade Bruno Massa was forcibly transferred to Bussi in Abruzzo [a region in Central Italy]. Augusto Finzi was internally transferred several times. This cruel attack only made us stronger. I too was banished to a punitive department in order to prevent me from having daily contact with workmates.
One of our first goals was to turn the struggles for our material needs into mass struggles. The group of workers who shared our goals organisationally and in content led up to our first factory congress in September 1967 in the suburbs of Mestre. We argued for the strategy that Potere Operaio should intervene in all the factories. As members of the works council, we argued for the equality of blue and white collar workers.
1968: 5000 Lire for everyone This phase gave birth to the first workers' committee. When the production bonus was up for renegotiation in June 1968, we demanded 5000 Lire for everyone. The workers understood our egalitarian demands and engaged themselves in a hard struggle which enforced the principle and managed to squeeze out 1000 Lire for everyone. The rest would also be paid out equally, but remained tied to the development of productivity. In order to achieve this we had held several demos and occupied the train station in Mestre.
The Hot Autumn
The so-called hot autumn brought workers and students closer together; we participated in common discussion groups and took to the streets together. In January 1969 we agitated all across Italy for the standardisation of the wage agreement. We also suggested rank and file committees in all factories with the aim of a guaranteed minimum wage of 120,000 Lire (at the time the minimum wage was 55,000 Lire) a 40 hour week with 48 hours paid, holiday and health insurance at equal levels for everyone.
In June 1969, as the workers' committee in Porto Marghera (a few of us were CGIL-members), we fought against the union caving in and organised struggles in production; not the pinpoint strikes that the union was proposing in order to affect production as little as possible. We directed the workers' attention to the 'wage zones' [in the old wage agreement different wage levels were set for different regions of Italy] and to the possibility of converting the production bonuses to a 14th month wage for everyone. We also focused on exposing Montedison's health risks policies; the company only declared seven departments as health risks - an adjustment to the lowest standard when Edison and Montecatini merged and created Montedison.
In the factory, we did not present ourselves as a fourth union, but rather as an autonomous organisation with the slogan 'less work, more wages'. In July 1969, as the workers' committee of Porto Marghera, we spoke about focussing our struggles on the abolition of the sub-contractors, whose employees worked with shitty conditions and with many daily work accidents, because they were seen as second-class workers. All workers are exploited, but those employed by the sub-contractors are doubly exploited if they work 10 to 12 hours a day and get paid only 130 to 140 hours per month at a rate of 280 or 300 Lire per hour, which also covers holiday pay, Christmas bonuses and the like. Another reason then, to fight together for 1000 Lire a day, for a 40 hour week, for a 36 hour week for shift workers, for equal holiday time, equal health insurance and equal pensions for all, blue and white collar workers.
Between May and June 1969 the CGIL held its seventh regional congress. In the debates delegates showed concern about the re-election of the Potere Operaio representatives in the Petrolchimico. In his speech, the regional secretary of the metalworkers' union indicated that the union did not really play the leading role: 'In several cases we were not prepared for the pressure of the workers with their spontaneous organisational forms'.
Exclusion from the union
Bit by bit the Potere Operaio factory group was expelled from the CGIL. We were accused of not toeing the line. We answered that they were right, we were not in line, because we had always fought against the line of capitulation. More and more workers followed our line: If a worker from the CV5 department (PVC production) was sacked due to false allegations, the union tried to get him back into the factory, but without success. The worker then turned to us of Potere Operaio and asked us for help. We then organised a picket line at 6 a.m. without much advance notice and blocked the factory until the worker was reinstated.
In August 1969 the union ordered the dissolution of the works council and organised re-elections. We decided not to participate. When the votes were counted, over 50 percent of the ballot slips were blank.
November 1969. The wage demand by the chemical workers' union was pitiful: 12,000 Lire more per month, a periodic increase of seniority bonuses between 3 and 5 per cent, increase of the minimum bonus from 2 per cent to 5 per cent, a 40 hour week spread over five days and a minimum of 15 days holiday a year. In addition to that the union demanded an index-based extra payment for health-damaging work [meaning that the more health damaging the work, the more money you get]. In the assemblies, the Petro/chimico Workers' Committee and other groups utterly refused these demands. At that time, the Petro/chimico Workers' Committee, the Rank-and-file Committee Montedison Ferrara and the Workers' Students' Committee Montedison Mantua joined forces and fought for common aims: equal wage increases for all, nobody must earn less than 120,000 Lire per month, a 40 hour week for those on normal shifts, a 36 hour-week for those doing shift work. We wanted everything and we wanted it right away. Because of unemployment, technological development and health damage, and because the factory was more or less like a prison, we wanted to spend as little time as possible inside.
The centrality of the wage
This is why the wage became the central issue. If the wage is too low, shorter working hours will not be of much use. If we lack money we will always be forced to do overtime and the reduction of working time will be no more than a bluff. Therefore we also demanded equal holidays, equal health insurance and equal wage increases according to seniority for blue collar and white collar workers, starting right away. Forms of struggle which disrupt production as severely as possible and which force the bosses to their knees: one day we walked out, the next day we didn't.
In late 1969 the employees of Chatillon in Porto Marghera announced their demands for the collective contract, which already sound familiar: from working time reduction to equal wage increases for all. The bosses answered with open threats. We immediately distributed a leaflet in the Petro/chimico saying that it is in our own interest to join the Chatillon workers with effective forms of struggle, meaning the stop-and-go strikes that we were already familiar with.
The struggle became harder and harder and we reduced the emergency staff responsible for the safety of the plant from 125 to 32, which meant the actual stopping of production instead of maintaining a minimum production. The political impact of Potere Operaio in the Petrolchimico became more and more significant and more and more organised. On 10 October 1969 Fiat in Turin was occupied by the workers and there was internal fighting during the hunt for scabs. As Potere Operaio, we hailed the occupation: we must not suffer any wage cuts as a result of traditional strikes; we have the power to force the bosses to their knees, we just have to use it. Our slogan was: 'United with the struggle at Fiat we will bring the bosses to their knees'.
The union of councils
The reformism of the PCI developed at high speed; the CGIL was the party's transmission belt in its attempt to regain the upper hand over the organising process of the workers. The Commission interne were actually outdated, so a new union representation was established in the factories, based on a fake representative democracy. The first department delegates were elected directly from the shop-floor level and it was possible to vote for non-union members. This was supposed to make them credible to us. We have to admit that with the factory councils they partly succeeded.
In view of this, we, the vanguard, put our back into it and said that the intervention inside the factories would have to be carried to the outside, to the 'social', as well, broaching the issue of the rise of living costs. Some of us did not agree with putting the intervention inside the factory and its demands and representation in second place. We had a general debate and came to the conclusion that the factory councils were not what they had been proposed to be. Some comrades from Potere Operaio got elected anyway, even into the board of the factory council, because the workers wanted it that way. This had been very difficult to achieve against heavy resistance by the union. Many of us perceived these new representative institutions as another challenge, similar to the process of our emergence from the Commissioni interna.
Uniting factory struggles and social struggles
Let's talk about the social struggles. We called for the auto-reduction of public transport fares, of rent, gas, electricity and food prices. We managed to achieve all that in the Petrolchimico and we even managed to drag the union along. The practice of self-reduction then spread in the neighbourhoods including the city of Venice. People lowered rents, occupied empty houses, paid less for their food. We organised all this by establishing local committees in the various parts of town. We even managed to organise a shopping strike which forced some supermarkets (Ca d'Oro, Coop, Pam) to cut prices for basic food (you would save about 1,000 Lire out of 8,000). The committees for self-reduction (Comitati di autoriduzione) spread as far as Chioggia, where about 2,500 families reduced their bills.
In the province of Venice in total about 15,000 families took part.
The committee organised a big self-reduction demonstration, which started from the bridge in Mestre, heading towards the Piazza Ferretto, where we started a huge Fire by burning all the gas and electricity bills which we had reduced. After four months of nationwide protests the government and union signed an agreement which cut the price of electricity. Those involved in the committee said that such a strong bond between the factory and the neighbourhood had never existed before.
Factory work makes you sick!
Let's talk about the 1970s. The health damage in the factory and in everyday life became worse and worse, unbearable, I'd say. The unions remained silent about what to do about it. Accidents and acute poisoning happened every day. Potere Operaio was aware of the problem and picked up the protest of the workers. We said that money cannot compensate for health damage. The workers do not go to the factory to conduct inquiry but because they are forced to. Work is not a way of life, but the necessity of selling oneself so as to survive. By fighting against work, against the coercion to sell ourselves, we offend against all rules of society. And by fighting for less work, so as not to die of poisoning through work any more, we fight against health hazards. Because it damages one's health to get up every morning and go to work, it is harmful to keep to the work cycles, to the methods of production, it is harmful to do shift work, it is harmful to go home with a wage that forces you to go back to the factory the next day.
Strikes kicked off against health damage, hard ones as well. The workers surpassed the absent union, which was contented with the mere fact that now every worker had a health pass. Not only Potere Operaio, but also Lotta Continua and other groups acted against the apathy of the union, and against the apathy of the left-wing parties. The institutions were nearly absent. Our slogan was: closure of the factory, refurbishment of the plant, and re-opening while Montedison continued to pay the wages. The struggles got 'bloody', until nearly the whole factory came to a standstill, including the chemical facilities which Montedison had always claimed could not be stopped without causing their destruction.
At this point we were summoned by the health and safety authorities. After the authority had listened to all parties and understood that dozens of poisoned workers had to be sent to hospital due to daily discharge of gas, it decided that from now on all workers in Porto Marghera had to wear gas masks. This decision sparked great debates. The union tried to appear more left-wing than us and pointed out that this measure would have to include not only the factories in Porto Marghera, but also those in the adjoining areas. They really made a joke of themselves: in the midst of the strike we organised a crucifixion on the square in front of gate 3 of the Petrolchimico. We erected a four metre high cross, a puppet wearing a gas mask was attached to it, symbolising Jesus Christ. A sign said: 'Montedison lets you die a second time.'
The strike during the collective agreement negotiations also included demos inside the factory, copying the demos at Fiat Mirafiori, which for us in Marghera were legendary. It was a form of struggle which expressed the unity of the workers. When they were motivated and angry, the internal demos succeeded, otherwise it was better not to try. As long as the committee had a network inside the factory we could organise these demos and even force the union to support them. With the demos we were able to spot the few work ers who tried to chicken out. Later on in the canteen we ousted these workers by banging our plates, something which I think is psychologically difficult to bear.
In order not to suffer this treatment a lot of potential scabs joined the strike.
Co-operation with il manifesto
In 1970 and 1971, in Porto Marghera il manifesto and Potere Operaio formed the Political Committee, which survived for only a few months. We let people know about it through some leaflets and a congress, which I think took place in the department of architecture of the university in Venice. The stuff that was spoken about during the congress was more up our street. I think il manifesto was looking for allies to help them get their daily news paper going in the Veneto. In Marghera, they were formed by a few comrades who had left the PCI, including only a very few workers. We were closer to Lotta Continua than to Il manifesto.
The reform of the union
During the early 1970s the politics of the union was about the 'structural reforms'. After the tax reform the wage tax was deducted directly from the workers' wage; the employer became an auxiliary of the state. The reform introduced the value added tax IVA, replacing the old sales tax IGE and leading to a big price hike. Then the reform of the health system turned company doctors and judges into combatants against absenteeism.
We perceived these reforms as an attempt to pull wool over the workers' eyes. We wanted to build an alternative to the political line of the union, regarding the forms of struggle as much as the aims. Our alternatives were demands for major wage increases, for the reduction of wage categories and for automatic promotion. Against the health hazards there was a precise demand and a mass struggle: closure of dangerous departments - refurbishment and continued payment of wages - with subsequent re-opening. On an individual level we made use of absenteeism. Against the price increases we proposed reappropriation [collective shoplifting: often referred to as la spesa proletaria, 'proletarian shopping']' the reduction of housing rents and electricity bills. We also proposed harder forms of struggle in the factory: strikes that would actually stop production.
A network of shop-floor collectives
In 1972 we intensified contact with other shop-floor based groups which were not tied to political organisations or which were sick of being their 'mass organisation'. These groups were based in Milan (at Alfa, Pirelli and Siemens), in Rome (the polyclinic, ENEL), in Naples (Uscri) and in other factories. Together we published a few issues of the magazine Il Bollettino degli organismi autonomi operai [Bulletin of autonomous workers' organisations].
In late 1972, the Committee managed to topple the collective agreement for the chemical industry in the company assemblies at the Petrolchimico and at Chatillon. Carried by this wave of success and led by the will to organise independently, the Assemblea Autonoma di Marghera [Autonomous Assembly of Porto Marghera] was established. The core was made up of workers from the committee, from Lotta Continua, workers from the Petrolchimico and Chatillon who had left the union, and metal workers from Ammi and Dimm. The Assemblea was based on the historic aims of the Committee: reduction of the working week to 36 hours at equal wages, because new machines increase the power of dead labour over the workers; wage categories based on seniority rather than formal skills, because the skills which the bosses demand can be obtained after few years in the factory; refusal to work in departments which are hazardous for our health as the most direct way to avoid the damaging consequences; complete equality between blue and white-collar workers in order to be able to fight together effectively.
The other central thread of the intervention was the intention of carrying our topics from the factory to the neighbourhoods: prices, rent, electricity, the auto-reduction of bills as a re-appropriation of the wage. The prime intention was bottom-up organ ising, outside of the union. The Assemblea Autonoma aimed at establishing the de partment committees as capillary organisms inside the factory. We criticised the political groups, including Potere Oper aio, for 'fleeing forward'.
Against the 'flight forward
In May 1973 the congress of Rosolina took place. By then the different tendencies and local branches of Potere Operaio had only little in common. We from Marghera went to the congress determined to speak for our own practice, that is, to point out all the factory collectives which were constantly being organised outside of the political groups and had demands beyond those of the union, and which wanted to organise and coordinate themselves [just like we did. There was no space for the Party of Insurrection and for escapist moves towards a militarization of the conflict. We thought that it was correct to speak of the socialized worker instead of the mass worker, but we completely disagreed when it came to the question of how to organise the socialized worker and ourselves. At that time, we were utterly rigid. Only people who worked in a factory themselves, no 'externals', were allowed to speak for the Autonomous Assembly. We wanted to go back to the basics and return to the times when the vanguard of an organisation would be formed by those people who, in the material sense, fought the battles in the schools and factories - not by those who only instructed them. We wanted to break with the tendency of delegation where the independent vanguard creates facts and the group then fights over the leadership.
Up to 1974 the workers' committee and later the Assemblea Autonoma used the magazines Potere Operaio del Lunedi and, later on, Rosso. We used them in order to substantiate and generalise our own analyses and to communicate with other groups. We then started to publish a little zine of about 30 pages called Lavoro Zero [Zero Work]. We wrote, printed and distributed it ourselves. It was our response to various needs and was supposed to serve various goals, first of all organising. We wanted to create a reference point and a certain unification amongst the struggles in the departments which became very frequent during this stage and were organised by us. A factory newspaper capable of expressing and combining the interest of all workers, publishing not only leaflets from the struggle but also a general analysis of the situation. For us this level of political practice was already the 'Party': from the struggle in the department towards a general analysis of the situation, in order to combine the economical and the political. On those levels we contributed all we could. On the other levels, though, we either just went along with things, remained passive, or disagreed outright.
During those years living costs sometimes increased by about 15 to 16 per cent a year, although inflation compensation partly cushioned the impact. The bosses claimed that the inflation was itself caused by inflation compensation, and many reformists (political parties and others) shared this position. Back then compensation for inflation was calculated based on the wage category, so that those who earned little also received little compensation. They also told us the fairytale that 'you must not demand higher wages, because the inflation will swallow them anyway'. We thought we should in tervene outside of the factories as well, in order to make our point of view heard. Some female comrades and women from the proletarian areas of Mestre tried to combine this struggle with the demand of a wage for housework. During the following years the 'Committee for struggle against price increases' organised the auto-reduction of rent and occupied houses. That was us!
In 1976 the political climate was terrible. Between the 'Historic compromise' and 'the politics of sacrifice', the PCI under Berlinguer had lost its track completely. The union, with its leaders Lama, Carniti, and Benvenuto, became the transmission belt for a responsible politics in the face of the severe economic crisis. Inside the factories they enforced the EUR [part of Rome where the union congress had taken place] politics of sacrifice by signing strangling agreements intended to curb wage costs and increase productivity. The sellout of the workers got worse and worse; the division between 'permanent' and 'casual' workers was bearing fruit. We didn't manage to organise struggles with a promising political perspective any longer.
In late 1976 the law to cool down compensation of inflation passed. In January 1977 the employers' association and unions signed an agreement which stipulated amongst other things:
- abolition of automatic compensation for inflation,
- abolition of seven annual holidays,
- the right to relocate workers inside the
company if required by shift-schedule and overtime,
- measures against absenteeism.
In addition there was stepped-up state repression (the Cossiga law allowed for nine years of pre-trial confinement), Calagero's theorem, the collaboration of the PCI massacres organised by the state ...
On Saturday the 7th of April 1979 Padua public prosecutor Calogero attacked in a blitz-like action: dozens of people in Milan, Padua and Rome got arrested, all former members of Potere Operaio and now militants of the Organised Workers' Autonomy. On Monday the 9th of April, the headline of ControLavoro read: 'The election campaign has started', the elections were meant to be held in May. The debates evolving around the arrests dealt with the question of how we should react. We decided to take part in the information campaign concerning the 7th of April by establishing one of the many 7th of April committees, and to carry on with our political work.
On the 21 st of December 1 979 the next wave of repression took place, with arrests in Milan, Rome, Padua and Venice. This time we were directly affected, Augusto Finzi and other comrades got arrested. On the 24th of January the third blitz struck, with arrests in Milan, Novara, Como, Genoa and Venice, our comrade Gianni Sbroqio amongst them. On the 29th of January the Red Brigades killed the vice-director of the Petrolchimico and the entire press linked our arrests with this murder. The same equation was made some months later when the Red Brigades killed the boss of the anti-terrorism department in Venice. The media continued their public trial against us: ControLavoro, Lavoro Zero and the COM2 publishing cooperative were accused of being the driving force behind the murders, and the arrested comrades were portrayed as terrorists.
The circle closed. We got crushed between the armed groups and state repression. There was no space for the autonomous struggle of the working class any more.
Nevertheless there could be an extraordinary finale for a story which had begun years earlier. Despite all individual and collective attempts to edge them out of the historical picture, the mass workers - de-skilled, rootless, not respected, responsible for having disorientated the left-wing parties and their political models - constituted the driving force behind the intertwining of a great cycle of struggle for a different life in the factories and in society.
In the early 1970s an important chapter in the history of class movement was closed; all processes of centralisation and elaboration of a party form which were adequate to the quality of the movement (not just those initiated by Potop) failed. It ought to be stressed that in 1968/69 all these attempts to make a revolutionary tension last, were backed by a majority and had mass character. Their failure appears as a loss of social representation of the extra-parliamentary left, as its Diaspora: but it is also a backwardness of the entire left in relation to the processes of de-composition of the class driven by capitalist restructuring on a world scale and in the developed centres. The official workers' movement is incapable of consolidating its reform project as a response to capital's initiative.
Bianchini/Pergola, Preface to the reprint of Potere Operaio - Giornale Politico degli operai di Porto Marghera 1967-69, Padua 1980
6. 'The workers should take things into their own hands'
Excerpt from an interview with Gianni Sbrogio about politics of representation and the attempt to implement the refusal of work inside the factory.
One of the most interesting bits in the interview with Augusto Finzi deals with your effort to organise yourselves without a political layer ...
This has always been our obsession. We managed to put this idea into practice by organising the Assemblea Autonoma. We were always obsessed with refusing representatives. We wanted the workers to refuse to hand over the responsibility to others, to the unions or the political Party. We did not want to hand them over to a structure that was different from us. This was our position, so our big political grief has always been, whether as Potere Operaio, as the Porto Margheta workers' group or as the Autonomous Assembly of Porto Marghera, that in the end the workers would turn us into delegates. This has al ways thrown us in to crisis because we refused these politics of representation but in the end the workers wanted to see us in this position, as delegates. We wanted these workers, who agreed on a minimum of debates and demands, to take things into their own hands, from A to Z, from the struggle to the drafting of demands.
But you did not always agree on this subject. Germano Mariti talks very positively about the department delegates and about the factory council. He percieves them both as a conquest of the workers, Augusto Finzi, on the other hand, sees that the unions were able to use these bodies to regain control over the struggles
Yes, we had two hearts beating in our chests. The factory councils were established in Italy in 1969, at the end of a big cycle of struggles. Politically they were the institutional attempt of the unions to contain those struggles which developed outside of their organisation. For many workers who were organised in the unions, the factory councils allowed them to debate with each other democratically.
The establishment of factory councils was a need of the rank-and-file and became a need of the leadership which in some way or the other bad to modify the organised level of workers' struggles. Potere Operaio was completely opposed, our position was that the factory council was a structure in the hands of the unions and functional for them. In Marghera intensive debates evolved around this issue. On one hand we saw the establishment of the factory council as an attempt to assimilate the factory struggles. On the other hand we noticed that the workers used it and therefore we accepted this organism in order to say what we had to say, despite the fact that we ourselves bad no interest in being inside the factory council. To put it another way: we knew that once we got elected into the factory council (at Ammi Germano got elected as a department delegate and I got elected as a representative of the white-collar workers) everything depended on being organised outside of that body, in order to carry the so-called political line (which had been laid down externally), i.e. the choice of goals, into the council which would then adopt them.
Our political goal was to organise the autonomy of the working class. In the end, the factory council, which had been formed as a democratic possibility to advance the workers' rank-and-file needs, became more and more an instrument of the union apparatus. Some council members had to be union members, which initially had not been the case. When the three union federations agreed on a common deal an even more. restrictive phase begun and the structure became even more bureaucratic. In the end all decisions were made by the council board whose aims rarely differed from the official union line.
[i] Refusal of health-damaging work [/i]
Why did it take such a long time in the Petrolchimico for struggles against the health damaging chemical production to erupt? At which point did the workers refuse to accept their flue? What kind of forms of struggle did they come up with?
We have to distinguish between the metal and the chemical industries. The danger that the metalworker is subjected to is much more visible and more immediate: ranging from dust to noise. For the chemical worker the danger is much more insidious. Here the health hazards were uncovered later, partly due to the fact that they had been kept secret. A metalworker working in front of a furnace knew what he had to fight against - noise, dirt, heat - and therefore it was possible to organise a struggle against it. Of course, the chemical workers knew something, but caught between the low wage and the union which had adopted the bosses' point of view they accepted the health hazard bonus. We were around during this phase. This is why we said: no, this kind of work is unacceptable! And we tried to express the line of the refusal of work, which came from Potere Operaio, this slogan, this project which we thought was indispensable. The worker had to put himself into this contradiction, he had to say: we have to produce, but how, what and when? And with these three questions we started the debate on the refusal of work.
No worker thought of us as idlers or of people who don't want to work, because we said: 'We work even more than you do, we work inside the factory like you do, after the work we go to the assembly for three hours and after that we organise the struggles. We work much more than you! The work which you are forced to do is one thing, the work which you choose to do is another. You are forced to work on a low wage in a health-damaging environment, therefore the refusal of work means starting to change the very organisation of work.
Within Potere Operaio we were often seen as the 'right-wing', because we talked about the refusal of work in a reformist, rather than a revolutionary way. Because we 'took apart' the refusal of work, because we did not only talk about a struggle which was supposed to topple the system. We were seen as the 'unionists'. Who knows, looking back from today's perspective maybe we would have made good unionists if we had not chosen different paths, but in reality we often functioned as the critical consciousness of the union. We opened the eyes of the workers and demonstrated that it was possible to organise in ways different from the unions.
[i] Direct reduction of working time [/i]
How did you enforce the 36 hours week? Is it true that the workers had to work only six hours but could not go home afterwards, that they had to stay in the plant [or another two hours?
This was in the zinc electrolysis department. This struggle was the attempt to put Potere Operaio's slogan into practice: reduction of the working-time as an expression of the refusal of work and of the struggle against health-damaging work. A demand for the immediate improvement of the quality of life. We thought that the demand would go down best in those situations where work was the most damaging and hard. This was in the zinc electrolysis department, where sheer zinc is produced by electrolysis from zinc oxide dissolved in sulphuric acid. In this department it was very damp, there were electro-magnetic fields and sulphuric acid vapours. The zinc is produced in a system where cells filled with the solution are energised. The sheer zinc accumulates at the aluminium cathodes. Every day, the workers had the six-hour duty to strip the zinc off the cathodes. Afterwards the anodes had to be cleaned from encrustations, which took another hour and a half.
We organised a medical check for the workers in these departments in order to show that the work was damaging. It became clear that a lot of workers had developed problems affecting their mouths, noses, throats and ears because they were exposed to sulphuric acid and noise. We organised a struggle for the reduction of work pressure through the reduction of working hours. We chose very hard forms of struggle together with the workers who stopped stripping the cathodes.
The management had to switch off the electricity and the machines stopped producing zinc. If the management had not switched off the electricity, more and more zinc would have accumulated and finally destroyed the facility. So they were forced to stop the machines. This went on for some days, I think at some point the production lay idle for ten days in a row. We achieved the rule that the workers only had to strip the cathodes for six hours without having to knock off the anodes afterwards.
Previously they had had a break after six hours of work and then cleaned the anodes for another hour and a half, which amounted to eight hours. After the struggle they worked only six hours, then went to catch lunch in the canteen and did not return back to work afterwards. The cleaning of the anodes was done by another group of workers which the employer had to hire for this purpose. We finally put this down in a department level agreement which officially did not exist because the union did not support the demand. But then the union decided to sign the contract after all and it became official. The union did not want to make the achievement public. We, in contrast, tried to make it known by all means imaginable.
Until 1975 the workers sat in the canteen and played cards, but they were not allowed to leave the factory. Therefore we organised a struggle for the right to leave the factory. The form of struggle was to leave after lunch without punching out. The management posted letters of dismissal, justifying it by the fact that the workers had left their work place before end of shift. At this point the union had to intervene. In the end, the solution was that on bank holidays workers were allowed to leave one hour earlier, on normal working days half an hour earlier. The employer had to hire new workers to clean the anodes. It remained that way as long as I worked in the plant, until I got arrested in 1980. After that they somehow restructured things.
'Processo Petrolchimico' - The trial against Montedison and Enichem
Gabriel Bortolozzo, born 1934 in Campalto close to Venice, was a chemical worker at the Porto Marghera Petrochimico for 35 years. In the 70s he learned of the cancer risk in PVC production and noticed that more and more of his colleagues were dying of cancer. Soon afterwards he started his investigation. In a survey conducted in the department that polymerises MVC (monomerical vinyl chloride) in autoclaves and so turns it into PVC, he counted 149 workers dead and more than 500 suffering from cancer. From 1985 onwards he worked with the magazine Medicina Democratica which published his report on the deaths in the petrochemical industry in 1994. Bortolozzo repeatedly took action to point to the deadly threat. He also filed numerous charges.
The chemical trade union FULC defamed Bortolozzo as a spy paid for by overseas competitors to harm the Italian industry with his investigation. Bortolozzo's action received committed support from prosecutor Casson, a PCI member who had previously investigated the Gladio affair. When an announcement was published in Venice's two daily newspapers asking all the sick and the bereaved relatives to get in touch to report medical histories and working conditions, new evidence continued to come to light and 507 people joined the action.
Bortolozzo did not live to see the opening of the trial. On the 12 September 1995 he died in a car accident.
The trial of 31 top managers, including the leadership of the Italian chemical industry, began in March 1998. The charge: 'negligent causing of mass mortality' and 'being responsible for an environmental catastrophe' by disposing of dioxin and other poisonous chemical waste in the waters and surroundings of Venice.
Only a few weeks after beginning of the trial the company bosses admitted partial responsibility and offered a 30 million settlement to the bereaved relatives of the MVC victims. Many accepted the settlement, as they did not want to wait their whole lives for payouts, as in the cases of Vajont and Seveso. Apart from the Italian state, the local authorities, trade unions and associations like the democratic physicians only 15 people continued to pursue their claim, amongst them Gabriele Hortolozzas sons.
In the address by the counsel, the prosecutor found all of the 28 accused convictable of several homicides through negligence and of an outrage against the environment. Casson demanded 12 years imprisonment for each of Eugenio Cefis, former president of ENI and Montedison, Alberto Grandi, former CEO of Montedison and vice president of Montefibre, and professor Emilio Bartalini, head of Montedisons central health service. He demanded 185 years imprisonment in total for all of the accused.
Against all expectations, the accused were acquitted by the court on the 2nd of November 2001. The court dismissed all evidence which had been presented and gave as grounds for the verdict that in the early 70s, when the deaths started, the accused could not have known of the production's deadly impact on the workers. Outraged, the joint plaintiffs filed an appeal together with prosecutor Casson.
The second trial commenced in the winter of 2003/04, ending on December 15th with a ruling acquitting the accused of the main points of the prosecution. A few were convicted to a sentence of one and a half years on probation. In the civil proceedings a few workers managed to receive compensations of various amounts.
All facts about the trials: http://www.petrolchimico.it/
There is a documentary feature about Bortolozzo's struggle against Montedison:
Porto Marghera un inganno letale
(Porto Marghera - a deadly deceit)
7. The struggle is worth it!
Speech by Gianni Sbroqio in March 2006 at the University of Padua as part of a seminar on the workers' fight against death caused by asbestos. Workers from Porto Marghera and Sesto San Giovanni were present on the podium. In Italy the use of asbestos was only prohibited from 1992 (Germany: 1993, U.K.: 1985 outlawing of amphibole asbestos). Workers' deaths from the malignant tumor mesothelioma, which grows in the pleura, peritonea or pericardium, continue. Cases are expected to peak between 2070 and 2015. It is hard to diagnose this illness early and it almost always ends fatally. The workers concerned were working with asbestos mostly in the '70s: at Eternit, Breda (shipbuilding), in train construction and at the Petrolchimico.
I want to read to you a few sentences from the flyers we made back then.
November 1972, analysis of the working conditions at the factory:
"It emerges from the new meetings of the new departments at Petro/chimico that the conditions when compared to the al ready dramatically bad situation at the old plant are terrible. Everything is there: health hazard, huge workloads, noise and authoritarian conditions. A brief overiew over the work conditions in the new departments:
TOI (phosgene production): already 750 poisoned workers at the end of 1972. At the CR department the noise and vibrations caused by the huge compressors are unbearable. After eight hours of work, the workers lose their sense of balance.
At the DL department, where perchloroethylene is produced, 70 people have already been poisoned. In August, a cloud of chloride from the CS department, where chloride and caustic soda are produced by electrolysis, covered all of Porto Marghera."
The Autonomous assembly of Porto Marghera wrote in 1974: "The workers do not go to the factory to conduct inquiry but because they are forced to. Work is not a way of life, but the necessity of selling oneself so as to survive. By fighting against work, against the coercion to sell ourselves, we offend against all rules of society. And by fighting for less work, so as not to die of poisoning through work any more, we fight against health hazards. Because it damages one's health to get up every morning and go to work, it is harmful to keep to the work cycles, to the methods of production, it is harmful to do shift work, it is harmful to go home with a wage that forces you to go back to the factory the next day. "
And then, in March 1975 the collective against health-damaging production wrote a pamphlet and printed it together with other factory groups, in which they notified the population and workers of the constant, i.e. 24/7, emission of vinyl chloride, a cancer-causing gas all over the areas of Marghera, Mestre and Venice. At the time, 4000 kilogrammes daily were emitted, that's 3000 kilogrammes per inhabitant per year in the municipality of Venice.
In this situation the union asked for more money for the workers - it wanted to solve this problem by means of hazard pay only. The hazard was already obvious back then and it still is now, as in many factories it has by no means been solved. We said it can't be done like that. You can't just take a little bit more money and leave everything as it was. We invented slogans, aiming to ask how work in the factory could be organised differently from the way we have to endure it now. We said: an end to health hazard pay and we tried independently to find out how we could organise in order to spend less time at the factory.
At the Petrolchimico the workers organised for themselves different working hours in an obstinate, precise and concrete manner outside of and without the union. The work at the Petrolchimico was organised in shifts, just like today. And in order to spend less time at the factory the workers made a shift plan as a form of struggle, consisting of five instead of four shifts. So that one only had to work 36, rather than 40 hours. Thus the contractor had to find other workers during the week, in order to fill the remaining jobs. This struggle went on for a good while, then it receded. In other factories we were able to win the reduction of working hours permanently. At Ammi the workers in zinc production had organised themselves and pushed through to work six, rather than eight hours a day, with the same pay, of course.
Another thing we wanted to defend was the workers' very spontaneous work attitude back then - but I think it still exists today: absenteeism. In order to protect oneself against intensification of labour, the hours, the endangering of health and against this unbearable organisation of work, the workers stayed at home and used illness as a spontaneous form of defence against the hazardous nature of work. As the Autonomous Assembly we published a small pamphlet explaining how we needed to organise so that the absentee worker could not be punished. The contractor and the health insurances would send examining doctors to check whether the worker was really ill. And we organised a kind of 'red aid', as a way of pre-empting the bosses' repressive action against this spontaneous struggle. We were supported in this by a few lawyer comrades, who defended any sacked abenteeist workers for free. Obviously these were very defensive forms of struggle against the endangering of health. It was more important to avoid the health hazard of the factory completely. That's why, via a departmental committee, we contacted work medicine in Padua. Doctor comrades from there then undertook investigations in the factory for their research and we used the doctors to inform the workers of all kinds of problems they had at work. Our demand: closure of the plant, sanitation according to the technical-scientific state-of-the-art, re-opening of the plant. Wages were to be guaranteed during the whole closure time.
My question is now: is the situation today really so different from the one back then? Yes, the developed countries have made sure that all noxious work is out sourced to the underdeveloped countries. At the same time, capital has made use of precarious and illegal employment to take working conditions backwards in many sectors. Therefore not all that much has changed. But it seems to me that the will to struggle has diminished. A lot of people think the working class' problems can be solved in other ways, but you young people can experience for yourselves how work is getting more and more precarious - if there is any - and how conditions have worsened. Wage rises don't even cover inflation any more.
The struggle is worth it!
I think one of the main reasons for today's situation is that they somehow managed to persuade us that struggling doesn't pay off! But I think the contrary is true: struggling does payoff! I want to emphasise another thing: capital has developed because there was a workers' struggle. In reality, each form of struggle, each demand by the workers leads to a jump in the development of capital, clearly accompanied by an improvement of the workers' living conditions. There is always the other side of the coin: in a certain way the boss succeeds in capturing the workers' struggle in order to increase his power or somehow to keep hold of it, and the working class - even if the term is a bit out of fashion today - succeeds by struggling to improve its living conditions. Surely our living conditions are not only a quantitative but also a qualitative issue. I am convinced that it can only be improved by joining forces, establishing aims and forms of struggle through which power can be taken from the bosses.
8. Porto Marghera Workers' Committee (1970)
In 1973, Merve Publishers in Berlin published Toni Negri's small book Crisis of the Planner-State: Communism and Revolutionary Organization in German. Its appendix contains texts by Ferruccio Gambino (Against factoryism, for political wage), by the Porto Marghera Workers' Committee and by Augusto Finzi.
We translated the text by the Workers' Committee because here workers formulate the central claims of operaismo:
- workers' struggle is immediately political struggle, i.e. a struggle for power;
- workers are forced to work in order to control them;
- workers are a special force and stand against society in its entirety.
We did not have space here for Augusto Finzi's text from 1972 in which he argues for the formation of Political Committees and which served as material for the debate on the nation congress of Potere Operaio. You can read it [in German] at wildcat-www.de. If you have read it you will understand better what Augusto Finzi had in mind with his self-critique of 'sectarianism' in the long interview which is in the DVD as a special feature.
What does it mean to destroy the power of the bosses? Who are the bosses and what do they want? These questions seem stupid but really they are fundamental if we want to lay down our political line against work. First of all we have to say that the common sense claim that the bosses exploit the workers in order to enrich themselves is wrong. Of course this is true but the wealth of the bosses is in no proportion to their power. Agnelli for example would have to walk around dressed in gold in proportion to the cars he produces, but instead he settles for a boat and a private aeroplane, something the boss of a much more modest factory than Fiat could also afford. What Agnelli wants is to keep and develop his power, and this coincides with the development and growth of capitalism. Capitalism is an impersonal force and capitalists act as its functionaries. Actually, capitalism does not even need capitalists any more. In Russia, for example, there is capitalism although there are no capitalists. The existence of capitalism in Russia is revealed by the existence of profit. It is probably distributed 'more justly but the communist revolution does not aim at making the distribution of social profit more just, it aims at overturning the very capitalist relations of production which create profit. A social system that ensures that people are forced to work must be overturned. In this sense the experiences of the Chinese and Cuban revolutions have to be taken into account as well.
More than anything it is in the nature of capitalism to try to conserve this power relation against the working class and to use its development to strengthen this power more and more. This means that all the machines, the technological innovations, the development of industries, just as the underdevelopment of certain areas, are used to control the working class politically. By now, there are classical examples of this capitalist behaviour; the introduction of the conveyor belt in the 1920s, for example, was a response to the revolutionary wave which shook the world in the years immediately after the First World War. They wanted to get rid of the kind of skilled working class which had made the Russian revolution of 1917 and the factory councils movement all over Europe possible. The conveyor belt deskilled all workers, pushing back the revolutionary wave and even changing the appearance of class struggle; in many countries, all this led to a definite political defeat because there in the absence of any political organisation able to adapted its intervention to the new type of workers' behaviour.
Now however, this technical structure has turned against capital by producing a massification of wage demands, and one of the main reasons for that is the flat structure of the cycle of production. Capital is therefore revolutionising this structure, and in the meantime it tries to get rid of workers and to create much wider wage differentials than currently exist, by introducing automation literally as a political attack on the working class.
In the United States, this manoeuvre has already taken place, and the only reason the bosses haven't repeated it in Italy is that they aren't sure they can control the workers' response to the attack. This shows that progress, the development much flaunted by the bosses, is nothing but an ongoing attempt to adapt the organisation of collective capital to working class attack. Technological progress is never neutral or inevitable, as the bosses and the unions have told us it is every time there is talk of redundancies caused by the introduction of new machines. Exactly because they believe in the fairytale of the neutrality of science, the unions limit those struggles to the defence of jobs and never approach the problem from the point of view of the reduction of the working day. They believe or pretend to believe that the bosses are telling the truth: that the introduction of some machine in some department means that there is work for only let's say 100 out of 200 workers and that the rest will have to go as victims of an inevitable progress.
But the workers have a completely different logic: according to them, the introduction of the aforementioned machine could mean that instead of 100 people working 8 hours there might very well be 200 people working 4 hours. Apart from making it more bearable to remain in the factory this logic would also solve the problem of unemployment. Thus the workers are not against the machines but against those who use the machines to impose work on them. Some people say that work is necessary. We reply that the sheer amount of accumulated science (see for example the missions to the moon) is such that work can immediately be reduced to a merely peripheral aspect of human life, rather being conceived as the 'very reason of human existence'. Some people say that man has always worked. We reply that according to the Bible the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it. Before Galilei, this was reality, it had always been like this, it was the scientific point of view. But rather than giving scientific demonstrations the problem is revolutionising the current social order and asserting the interest of those who have materially created the conditions which make a better society than the currently existing one possible.
Therefore the workers need to create an organisation which is capable of fighting back against the bosses' political control, capable of taking all the power necessary to make class interests triumph. Right now everything is useful for the bosses and their mechanisms of power, from science to workers' struggle itself if it does not really aim at destroying the relations of production, that is, at escaping from the political control of the bosses.
The bosses are even willing to spend money to control the workers politically and keep their power. In America, they are the ones who are going against 'progress'. For example, some factories where worker numbers had been reduced through automation were forced to return to old productive systems to re-employ workers, under massive pressure from the struggles in led mostly in America by the black unemployed. Obviously this doesn't mean the black unemployed had aimed for this result, but it shows how the bosses are using science to exercise political control over the working class. The bosses' behaviour shows two things: firstly, that progress is not neutral at all, that it is decided exclusively from the point of view of politically controlling the forces that might curtail capitalist power; secondly, that this control is exercised mainly through work; in fact there was no way the bosses of these American factories would have reduced the working day for all in order to give work to the newly employed. They kept up the old working day even at the price of going back to working conditions which had existed before the automation of the plant. Thus capital is willing to go back, to build technically superseded machinery just to control the workers politically; to this end it is even willing to pay people whose work is completely void. This is where the question of the refusal of work becomes central. With the current development of machines, it is possible to work much less, provided that the machines invented by modern science do not become the exclusive monopoly of the United States and the Soviet Union as currently happens, but are instead available for use throughout the world. We need to impose the workers' logic according to which many machines should be invented in order to reduce the working day more and more, tendentially making it disappear. The workers' needs are communist needs.
At this point we cannot speak of socialism any more. Socialism is what exists in the Soviet Union, a new organisation of work, but this is not what the workers want. The workers want to work less and less until anything which effectively means coercion to work disappears.
It is not true that in this society we are free. We are free to get up to go to work every morning. 'If you don't work you don't eat!‘ Is this freedom? There is one thing which restricts our freedom: work. In reality, we are forced to work. The saying according to which work ennobles is an invention of the bosses. When all people are free from the need to work because there is enough for them to eat, dress and satisfy their primary desires, then there will be real freedom! We claim that already now, with the existing machines, it would be possible to realise many of those things which seem like science fiction when we talk about them like this. In the CV 16 department, for instance, during the last 'collective agreement' strikes of 1969, management kept the autoclaves running by using new instruments for the automatic operation of the facilities. The workers were at home and the facilities kept producing. On that occasion, the bosses wanted to show they were stronger, so they didn't care if they delegitimised all their talk about the need for human labour. In the Montedison nitrate plant they are using an electronic computer which automatically runs the ammonia production facilities: there too they are trying to raise productivity without any thought of reducing the working day. In plants like these it is much easier to show that the interest of the system is in using work as a form of political control over the workers. As a matter of fact, there are very few manual operations and very little psychological stress involved; all that is left is the physical presence of the worker next to the machine, the capitalist violence which wants humans to be conditioned to and enslaved by the machine.
But which are the means to abolish all this? The goal is to break the control mechanism which capital has subordinated workers to. Workers are against society in its entirety, they are different from all the others because society in its entirety is structured against them and has even perfected itself as an answer to the movements of the working class. As we have seen, the struggle of the working class is actually the most important driving force for the development of capitalism. Think of the French May where the small factories fell into crisis: this crisis contributed to the concentration of capital and to the development of monopolies. Think of the USSR where the 1917 revolution has accelerated capitalist development so much that a backward country like czarist Russia could become one of the strongest capitalist countries in the world. Thus, capital is a power which reproduces itself independently of the volition of single individuals; therefore, abolishing capital does not mean abolishing private property but destroying the relation of production itself, it means to destroy the need to work.
Nobody can say what concrete effects this revolution will entail. Even less can we answer the question of those who ask us with what we want to replace that which we want to destroy. This is not the problem. In none of the great revolutions in history did people know beforehand with what they were going to replace that which they were about to tear down, because in revolutionary times the characters of people, the relationships between the classes change so radically that it is impossible to establish any historical hypothesis.
In order to abolish capitalism, the workers will have to change human history much more profoundly and radically than the French revolution, therefore it is impossible to predict what will happen afterwards. Rather, what is important now is to see how we can destroy the existing.
9. A few Biographies
Born 1941 in Venice to Jewish parents who took him to safety in a refugee camp in Switzerland after the armistice on the 8th of September 1943, when the Nazis expanded Jewish deportation policies to Italy. After the liberation he returned to Venice. He graduated as a technician in 1960 from the Institute Pacinotti in Mestre. He then worked for 18 years as technician at the Petrolchimico, also at the department for PVC production CV6. Initially he sympathised with the PSIUP and was a member of the CGIL.
In 1967 he discovered at the company's library an article published in Chemical Abstracts, which confirmed that the production of MVC had been classified as cancer-causing in Russia in 1946. Thus began his lifelong campaign against death caused by the chemicals industry and the senselessness of capitalism. During the conflict about the "harmonized" labour agreement after Edisons takeover of Montecatini, Finzi went from being a lone critical thinker to being a workers' leader and organiser. After his expulsion from the trade union he helped build Potere Operaio in Marghera. In 1972 he played a decisive role in the temporary fusion of Potere Operaio and Il Manifesto in Political commitees. Later again he was involved in the fusion of Lotta Continua and the workers' co-ordination in the Autonomous Assembly of Porto Marghera. He was aiming for a new form of workers' organisation without separate political leadership. Finzi was co-publisher of the workers' newspapers Lavoro Zero and ControLavoro.
He left the Petrolchimico in 1978 with no other work lined up. On the 21st of December 1979 he was arrested in the course of the 7th of April investigations. He was held on remand for two years and eight months. He was eventually convicted, and a day-release prisoner for a few months after the trial.
From the 80s onwards, Finzi had been increasingly interested in herbal medicine and healthy food. He founded the club Amina : friends of nature - in 1997. He gave talks and held courses on herbal medicine.
Finzi took part in the court cases against the Petrolchimico. After 10 years of court proceedings, it was established on the 7th of April 2004 that he had been made ill by asbestos, but the company was not held responsible for the deadly tumour which killed Finzi in June 2004. He left behind numerous pamphlets from back then as well as his own notes on the workers' organisation in Porto Marghera, which now form the basis for the 'workers-archive' which has been named after him.
Born 1934 in Favaro on the Venetian 'mainland'. He started to work in the Porto Marghera industrial zone in the 50s and later worked for Petrolchimico. Member of the PCI He was voted into the Commissione Interna in 1960 via the CGIL. Later he took a PCI seat on the city council of Venice, where he was the only worker. The party even talked of sending him into parliament in Rome.
In 1964 he first came into contact with intellectuals in Veneto (Negri, Cacciari, Bianchim), who introduced a new kind of debate, diametrically opposed to the PCIs, where the apparatus passed the political line downwards, expecting obedience. Sbrogio left the PCI in 1967 and started building the group Potere Operaio at Petro/chimico, together with Finzi and Massa. In 1967 they published their first flyer and their first newspaper. He was expelled from the union in June 1969.
Within Potere Operaio he was a strict exponent of the workers' line. In 1995 he published a book about his history and Porto Marghera. As part of the 7th of April he was investigated for several years, but finally acquitted during the trial. He is one of the founders of the Augusto Finzi' workers' archive.
Born 1937 in Venice. His father ran a grocery store, where he helped out. He 'escaped' from a carpenter's apprenticeship into the zinc factory at the age of 19; initially this was liberating compared to his previous personal dependencies. He worked in the electroplating shop. In 1969 Gianni Sbrogio started working as an accountant at the same company; he was already a member of the Political committee of Potere Operaio at this time. As a non-union member, Mariti was elected to the first factory council at Ammi in 1970. Activist at the Autonomous Assembly of Porto Marghera. When his comrades were already in prison he continued to publish ControLavoro until 1981. In the course of the 7th of April he was being investigated for many years, and it was only in 1993 that he was finally fully acquitted. Today he is active in the rent struggle and in Solo l'inizio, an association that runs a food co-op and organises political events. He is a co-founder of the 'Augusto Finzi' workers' archive.
Gianni Sbrogio (is not in the film)
Born 1946 in Favaro in the Venetian hin terland. Higher education was out of reach and he enrolled in the business school, so as at least to be able to become a white collar employee rather than a blue collar worker. In ] 962 he was employed by the COIN department store group chain. In 1964, when he was 19, he was made manager of a sewing department with women - a role which soon made him feel uncomfortable. He started attending evening school in 1966 and gained an accountancy degree in 1967. He was a member of the PCI in his hometown, where his brother Lino led the division. He experienced the student movement of 1968 mostly through reading L'Unita and through the debates in the local PCI section, where slogans such as 'be wary of provocations' were spread. He joined his brother Italo's group in Porto Marghera late. He felt close to the struggling workers and no longer wanted to stand 'on the outside'. There was also a strike at COIN in 1969 - he was the only white collar employee to take part and the workers called him 'the foreman who was also on strike' from then on. He left the PCI after its na tional congress in 1969. At the end of the same year he was employed by Ammi (formerly Monteponi Montevecchio). Together with Germano Mariti they built their own factory committee. Produced flyers against health-damaging work.
In the course of the investigations of the 7th of April he was arrested on the 24th of January 1980, charged with 'forming an armed gang' and 'attempted robbery' at Ammi.
In the nick he met lots of old comrades. Together with non-political prisoners they fght for better conditions in the prison. In 1983 he took part in the initiative for dissociation from the armed struggle and was relocated to Rebibbia (Rome). He was sentenced to a long period of imprisonment in 1984, but because of the long time he'd already been on remand the sentence was finally halved. Only by means of a hunger strike was he finally able to bring about his release on bail after four and a half years of imprisonment.
Technician at Petrolchimico, member of the Workers' committee of Potere Operaio. After the struggles of 1968 he was punished with transferral to a factory in Abruzzo. He resigned and worked as librarian at the university of Venice. He joined the PSIUP an organisation close to il manifesto and later the PCI. Died 2003.
Born 1926 in Verona, he was one of Italy's youngest partisans. He lived in Ferrera, and Padua. At the end of the 1950s he was a member of the PSI, where he met (?) and Quaderni Rossi. Co-founder of the Potere Operaio Veneto Classe Operaia editorial group. He was involved in operaismo from the earliest beginnings and earned his his money as pharmaceuticals salesman for a long rime, until he found a job as a technician at the university of Padua; simultaneously, he did workers' inquiries in Veneto and Emilia-Romagna. He was one of the people already distributing flyers outside the Petrolchimico in 1964. In the early 1970s, in Quaderni del Progetto, he introduced things like the diffuse factory and the socialized worker (operaio sociale) into the discussion. He was arrested in the course of the 7th of April 1979 and 1980. While in prison he graduated in chemistry. He was acquitted in the trial. Bianchini died in 1998 in Padua.
Born 1933. Became a member of the PSI-left in Padua, edited its weekly paper Il Progresso Veneto. In the editorial groups of Quaderni Rossi, Classe Operaia, and Potere Operaio. Temporary chairman of the national organisation of Potere Operaio.
In 1967 he became professor at the Institute of Political Science in Padua. Arrested on the 7th of April 1979 and charged with forming an armed gang and high treason. Released after being elected to parliament on the Radical Party list. Escaped to Paris, where he was tolerated by the Socialist government, along with many other exiles from Italy, and worked as lecturer at the university. In 1997 he returned to Italy and was arrested again. Spent some time in prison and then lived freely in Rome. Today he lives in Venice. Numerous publications, including many available in English. Today he is well-known mostly because of the book Empire, which he wrote with Michael Hardt.
Massimo Cacciari (mentioned)
Born 1944 in Venice. Philosopher and currently mayor of Venice. He was a member of Potere Operaio and then joined the PCI. In the 70s he was in charge of the industry commission of the PCI in Venice. Between 1976 and 1983 a member of parliament in Rome, and also member of the industry committee. After the death of PCI leader Berlinguer, Cacciari left the party and joined more moderate currents of the centre-left-coalition. Politically he now belongs to the Margherita ('Daisy') alliance of parties. Mayor of Venice from 1993 until 2000 and again since 2005.
In the 1970s he became known in the German-speaking world for his essay Qualification and class compossition, published in 1970 by Verlag Neue Kritik, and The problem of organisation - Germany 1917-21 on European council movement in relation to Linkskommunismus, published by Merve in 1973.
Worker at Breda, member of CGIL and PCI
Worker at the SAVA aluminium factory. Member of the CGIL.
Born in 1936 in Mestre, worked in Porto Marghera since the 1950s. Active in the factory council. In 1965 started distributing poems as leaflets to the workers. Bortelli made songs out of some of them.
Gabriele Bortolozzo (mentioned)
Born 1934. Employed at the Petrolchimico for 32 years. An activist against the deadly work in the factory since the 1970s. He set in motion the legal case against the management of the Petrolchimico. He died in a car accident in 1995. The court opened the case in 1998.
Text version from www.classagainstclass.com, with a large number of corrections by libcom.org