The complete text of the definitive book on the mass social movements in Italy in the 1960s and 70s in which author Robert Lumley traces their development, growth then recuperation and decline. Highly recommended.
States of emergency: cultures of revolt in Italy from 1968 to 1978 - Robert Lumley
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Acknowledgements and glossary
The bulk of this book was first written as a Ph.D. thesis (finished in 1983 with the title ‘Social Movements in Italy, 1968-78) at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, at the University of Birmingham. The research work was done in Milan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Although that work has been revised and updated, my debts go back to my time in Birmingham and Milan. It was the support and good company of Charlotte Brunsdon, Myra Connell and Janice Winship which made it possible to sustain momentum when writing. I want also to thank Paul Ginsborg, who gave me invaluable help and advice when it was most needed, Liliana Grilli for her kind hospitality in Milan, and Antonietta Torchi for continuous encouragement and ideas. Whatever the value of the book for others, for me the experience of writing it has been important in introducing me to Italian people and their culture. For this I am deeply grateful to Italian friends, and to all those who helped me so generously with my research. Finally, I’d like to say how much I owe to Richard Johnson, who was a stimulating and caring supervisor, to members of the Magpie discussion group, especially Martin Chalmers and John Solomos, and to Malcolm Imrie of Verso, without whom this book would probably have remained a thesis. While I am responsible for what has been written (warts and all), I hope that those who have given me a hand will find something in it which will interest them.
The author and publishers would like to thank the following for their kind permission to reproduce illustrations: Alfredo Chiappori (‘In the commune . . .’, ‘Calm down . . .’, ‘Culture must be defended’); Altan/ Quipos (‘The cost of living . . .’, ‘Hello . . .’); Giorgio Forattini (‘I was white . . .’, Marx crucified); and Elfo (‘Identities, Secrets’). Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders of illustrations: we must apologize to those we have been unable to contact.
Glossary of organizations
Since the reader may not be familiar with the trade unions and political organizations in Italy, which are often referred to in the text using abbreviations (e.g. PCI, instead of Italian Communist Party), this glossary provides a brief guide. It is not comprehensive, but covers those organizations most frequently mentioned.
Italian unions are divided into three confederations: Confederazione Generale Italiana dei Lavoratori (CGIL) Confederazione Italiana dei Sindacati Liberi (CISL) Unione Italiana del Lavoro (UIL)
Each of these in turn is divided into ‘categories’ according to industry (hence FILTEA-CGIL is the textile workers’ ‘category’).
CGIL is the biggest trade union organization, with 2 and a half million members in 1968. Communist and Socialist parties (2/3rds and 1/3rd respectively) are heavily, though not exclusively, represented at all levels.
CISL is the second union organization with about 1 and a half million members in 1968. It was formed as a result of a breakaway from the CGIL in 1948 and for many years it was dominated by the Christian Democrats, though its basis is not confessional.
UIL is the third union, with about half a million members in 1968. It includes Socialists (45%), Social Democrats (30%) and Republicans (25%) in its leadership.
In the engineering sector attempts to overcome this tripartite structure saw the establishment of the Federazione Lavoratori Metalmeccanici (FLM) in 1972, but the majority of members belong first to an affiliate ‘category’ and those who only hold cards of the FLM are a minority. The affiliate categories are:
FIOM (Federazione lmpiegati Operai Metallurgici) is composed of engineering manual and white-collar workers and is part of the CGIL. In 1968 it had 271,000 members.
FIM (Federaziane Italiana della Metallurgia) is part of the CISL. In 1968 it had 170,000 members.
UILM (Unione Italiana dei Lavoratori della Metallurgia) is part of the UIL. In 1968 it had 103,000 members.
ACLI (Associazioni Cristiane Lavoratori Italiani) was founded in 1944 to organize Catholic workers separately from the CGIL. Dominated by Vatican and Christian Democrat Party influences, the ACLI became more independent in the late 1960s.
MO (Movimento Operaio) is the generic term meaning the official workers’ movement. Its British equivalent would be the ‘labour movement’
Internal Commission (Commissione Interna) factory-based representative bodies elected by all workers irrespective of union membership. Their bargaining role was heavily circumscribed and by the late 1960s they were often out of touch with shopfloor opinion. Hence their replacement by Factory Councils post 1969.
Delegates (Delegati) the nearest British equivalent is the shop steward, but they do not in the Italian case necessarily belong to a union. They are elected representatives who came into being during the Hot Autumn mobilizations, and were later made official.
Factory Council (Consiglio di Fabbrica) the successor to the Internal Commission, it is composed of delegates and represents all workers in a workplace. Set up in the wake of the Hot Autumn, it was, however, much more firmly based on the shopfloor.
CUB (Comitati Unitari di Base) rank-and-file workers’ organizations set up independently of the unions in 1968-9, mainly in large factories in the North. After 1969 they were increasingly dominated by political organizations.
Zone Council (Consiglio di Zona) set up in the early seventies as part of the unions’ campaign for social reforms. They were composed largely of delegates from Factory Councils in an area. However, the Zone Councils remained on the drawing-boards, and never took root.
Confindustria (Confederazione dell’Industria Italiana) is the organization of private employers, although up until 1969 it also represented the state sector.
lntersind is the body representing state sector employers.
DC (Democrazia Cristiana) has been the party of government since 1948. Its membership is almost exclusively Catholic and its support comes from different classes, although its policies have favoured free enterprise capitalism. In May 1968 it won 39% of the vote, and 266 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.
PCI (Partito Comunista Italiano) the largest working-class party with a membership of 1 and a half million in 1968, and 27% of the vote and 177 seats in the May 1968 election. It was in the government from 1945 to 1947, but otherwise represented the main opposition force. The party paper is L'Unita'.
PSI (Partito Socialista Italiano) the first workers’ party in Italy, was greatly weakened by fascism. In 1947 a social democratic grouping broke away, rejoined the party in 1966 and then left again in 1969. In 1968 it got 15% of the vote and 91 seats in combination with the PSDI. The PSI participated in government from 1963 to 1972. The party paper is L’Avanti.
MSI (Movimento Sociale Italiano) a fascist party. It got 4% of the vote in 1968, and 24 seats.
PRI (Partito Repubblicano Italiano) a historic lay centre party which took part in the Centre-Left government from 1963. It got 2% of the vote in May 1968, and 9 seats.
PLI (Partito Liberale Italiano) a historic lay right-wing party. It got 6% of the vote in May 1968, and 31 seats.
PSDI (Partito Social Democratico Italiano) a breakway from the PSI. In the April 1963 election it got 6% of the vote, and 33 seats.
PSIUP (Partito Socialista di Unita' Proletaria) was a left-wing split from the PSI following its entry into government in 1963. Its strength was in the CGIL. In May 1968 it got nearly 5% of the vote, and 23 seats.
Il Manifesto was a left-wing split from the PCI of 1969 grouped around a journal of that name. It was important as an intellectual current rather than as an organized political force. It theorized a council communism of Gramscian inspiration.
AO (Avanguardia Operaia) was set up in 1968-9. Although it had roots in Trotskyism, it called itself Marxist-Leninist. It was closely associated with the factory rank-and-file committees (CUBs) in Milan. From December 1968 it published a bi-monthly journal called Avanguardia Operaia.
LC (Lotta Continua) was formally constituted in 1969 as a fusion of elements (ex-members of Potere Operaio, student movement activists), and identified itself with a variety of social movements, of which the Fiat rebellion of 1969 was the most formative. From November 1969 it published the weekly paper Lotta Continua.
PO or Pot. Op. (Potere Operaia) founded in Tuscany in 1966-7 by activists associated with the reviews Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia. Important for its theroetical positions and for isolated but well-publicized interventions in factory conflicts in 1967-8. From September 1969 published a weekly paper called Potere Operaio.
ML (Marxisti-Leninisti ) there were several groups which claimed to be faithful to the political line of the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China, although only the PC d’I (Partito Comunista d’ItaIia - not to be confused with the PCI) was officially recognized. In October 1968 the Unione (Unione dei Communisti ltaliani Marxisti-Leninisti) was founded, with the paper Servire il Popolo, but fell apart in 1969. In that year Movimento Studentesco was set up in Milan. Based in the State University it took its name from the student movement but was a rigid ML sect.
PRI (Partito Radicale) first set up in 1955, it was more a current of opinion than a party. Refounded in 1967 it campaigned chiefly on civil rights issues and against the fascist hang-overs in the institutions (laws, Church privileges). Its influence grew in the 1970s when it promoted referendum campaigns on abortion and other issues.
Today the political arena is covering over with a new flora; we should savour while we can the heady scents of these wild flowers and unruly weeds, so invigorating after so much deodorant and disinfectant. The functionaries and doctrinarians of the former social movements rub their eyes in bewilderment: these struggles are not in the place reserved for them; they do not speak the language they learnt in the last century1 If the multiple points of social contact once characterizing the city can be reawakened under terms appropriate to affluence, then some channels for experiencing diversity and disorder will again be open to men. The great promise of city life is a new kind of confusion possible within its boundaries, an anarchy that will not destroy men, but make them richer and more mature 2
By this time one thing was clear in those mass meetings. The impression all the workers had was that this was a momentous point in the conflict between the bosses and us, a decisive moment , . . And in fact during the meetings frequent mention was made of the word revolution.
We made holes in all the wire mesh grilles and then we made the torches; the torches were made with bits of sheets tied tightly together and then soaked in oil and for this too we agreed a time in the middle of the night we all lit the oil of the torches and we pushed these brands through the holes in the grilles but there was no one there to see this either the torches burned for a long time it must have been a beautiful sight from outside all those torches flickering against the black wall of the prison in the middle of that boundless plain but the only ones who could see the torchlight were those few people driving their cars that sped like tiny darts in the distance on that black ribbon of the motorway several kilometres from the prison or maybe an aeroplane flying above but they fly very high up there in the silent black sky and they see nothing.
The above quotations come from two novels by Nanni Balestrini: the first from Vogliamo tutto, published in 1971, and the second from Gli invisibili, which came out in 1987 1 They deal respectively with the beginning and the end of the period and the movements that are the subject of this study - a beginning that is bright and vibrant with hope and expectation as protest spreads and individuals find themselves through of collective action; an end that is filled with a sense of personal isolation, despair and darkness. Balestrini’s interpretation is, of course, highly individual, and he uses the licence of fiction. Nonetheless (and this is the reason for starting with his words), he reminds us of the point of view, thoughts and feelings of the participants of the movements, those who, in the Italian expression, lived the experience ‘on their skins’, often paying a heavy price for their illusions and their commitment.
However, it has perhaps become possible in the last few years to gain a more detached and analytic understanding of the post-’68 decade without losing a sense of what it meant at the time. There is now no longer the same obligation either to celebrate and justify in the name of a cause or to condemn ’68 and all its works as the postwar equivalent of the Fall. While this divide characterized much of the literature at the time of the tenth anniversary, in 1988 a number of studies appeared which were historical rather than polemical in approach. 2 . Indeed, a note of irony and self- consciousness has crept in, sometimes bordering on cynicism, and this marks a change in what Raymond Williams calls a ‘structure of feeling’.3 Until 1980-81 (though it is difficult to pinpoint a date), there was a certain continuity in people’s conceptions of themselves with the ideas identified with ’68, especially among those who had been participants. Then, from the early 1980s onwards, that past came to resemble a foreign country. It is as if a frontier had been crossed and the language and points of reference had changed.
However, in the Italian case, the significance of the years 1968-9 as a watershed has been hard to forget. The student revolt, followed by the Hot Autumn of industrial disputes in 1969, shook the foundations of the Republic, leading to a decade of intense conflicts. These brought both positive and negative consequences. For a summary of the beneficial effects, it is worth quoting Umberto Eco: 'Even though all visible traces of 1968 are gone, it profoundly changed the way all of us, at least in Europe, behave and relate to one another. Relations between bosses and workers, students and teachers, even children and parents, have opened up. They’ll never be the same again.' 4 As for the regressive developments set in motion in the wake of 1968, the most obvious example is the rise of ‘black’ and ‘red’ terrorism and the formation of a clandestine Italy bent on the destruction of the country’s democratic institutions - what Giorgio Galli has called L’Italia sotterranea.5 And although parliamentary democracy survived these threats, the adoption of draconian legislation and repression produced cruel distortions in the administration of justice, increasing the rights of the state at the expense of the citizen.6
The events of 1968-9 can be said to have led to contradictory developments: on the one hand, to modernization, democratization and the growth of civil society; on the other, to endemic social conflict, continued institutional blockage and a polarization of politics into repression and terrorism. However, it is easy and misleading to construct a simple schema of cause and effect. The problem of analysing the continuities and breaks in the forms of oppositional politics, and assessing the extent to which they contributed to a more open or closed society is a key one for this book. Its focus, however, is on social movements.
Social movements, of course, entered centre stage in this period, not only in Italy but in many other countries.7 The student and worker movements of the late sixties were joined by movements of women, youth, homosexuals, ethnic minorities and others. This phenomenon was important not just for the social groups in question, but for the political, social and cultural life of the societies involved. The meaning of democracy, for instance, was made a matter for debate by the advocates of ‘direct democracy’ in schools and workplaces,8 whereas feminists began to redraw the boundaries of the ‘public’ and the ‘private’. Social movements can be seen, therefore, to offer an ideal vantage point for looking at the changes being brought about in a society, and for understanding the reactions to them. At the same time, the movements are themselves often laboratories of experimentation, incubating future ideas and forms of behaviour.
The Italian case is especially interesting from the point of view of social movements. In the post-’68 period in Italy they were more extensive then in many other countries, spreading into every area of society; they were also often more intensive, including extreme forms of action, and more I sustained, lasting for a longer period of time. Whereas, for instance, the May mobilizations in France were short-lived, in Italy the maggio strisciante was drawn out until the end of 1969, if not longer.9 The movements, moreover, took particular forms because of the peculiarities of the national history and development, as witnessed by the role of southern immigrants in the strikes of 1969, or by the role of Catholicism. While the Italian case belongs firmly to the kinds of social movement which arose in Westem Europe, it had specific characteristics.
The key importance of social movements in recent Italian history can be appreciated in the rich and intelligent reflections and discussions to which they have given rise, These range from debates in the world of art and design,10 through to those in works of fiction, political theory, sociology and semiology, a point that is illustrated by the career and writings of Umberto Eco.
Eco in the early 1960s was a member of an avant garde circle that promoted the subversion of literary orthodoxies and aesthetic canons; in 1968 he championed civil rights and was a participant and interlocutor in " the struggle to change universities, teaching practices, and how the idea of culture was understood; subsequently, as a columnist, he commented on the methods, objectives and messages of the social movements that traversed Italian society. His The Name of the Rose, published in 1980, can be read as a political allegory in which the debates about poverty, authority, inquiry and persecution set in a medieval monastery deal with issues raised by the conflicts of the seventies, especially terrorism.11
However, the most developed considerations on social movements have come from Italian sociologists. Their empirical studies and theoretical work are remarkable by any standards, and hopefully, if it does nothing else, this book will show the value of their contribution. The most impressive single research project is the study of industrial conflict carried out under Alessandro Pizzorno at the State University of Milan and published in six volumes called Lotte operaie e sindacato, 1968-72.12 Otherwise, the leading writers in the field include Alberto Melucci, whose work is slowly becoming available in English, and Francesco Alberoni, whose Movimenti e istituzioni represents a landmark13 Pizzorno, whose approach helped create a school of sociology, developed analyses based on ' concepts of representation' drawn from Gramsci and Durkheim. Melucci, on the other hand, has switched attention away from the relationship of social actors to the political system or market, and towards exploration of the networks of meaning elaborated by and within social movements. In fact, it would be possible to reconstruct the close relationship between the evolution of the movements and the evolution of sociological theory, showing the interaction as a two-way process. Whereas in the early 1970s the sociologists’ interests broadly corresponded to the political orientations of the movements (in the sense of their relationship to the political system), by the end of the decade the concern with subjectivity and social and cultural identity expressed within the movements seemed to make the previous model redundant.14
Yet while there is now a considerable literature in Italian on social movements, there has not been any attempt to provide a synthesis which looks at their development historically. The movements have also tended to be taken singly rather than as an ensemble. One of the objectives of this book is, therefore, to give an overview and to make some critical assessment of the literature in the light of its reconstruction and interpretation of .. the movements for the period 1968-78.
States of Emergency is more or less chronological in structure. Part I covers the period prior to the events of 1968 and aims to uncover the latent tensions which later erupted into open conflict. It provides an introduction to the peculiarity of the Italian crisis, relating it to the country’s historical development as the ‘first of the last, and the last of the first’, a country which only became predominantly urban and industrial in the late fifties and early sixties. Parts II and III deal respectively with the student and workers’ movements in the years 1968-9. This section forms the core of the book as these two movements, it is argued, established the coordinates for the direction political opposition would take in the following decade. It was not just a matter of what actually happened, but of the mythic status that the late-sixties revolt acquired. Part IV is, in fact, l more concerned with the appropriation of that legacy than with measuring the accuracy of reflections on the previous movements. It takes the examples of left-wing terrorism, the youth movement and the women’s movement as three case studies. The focus here is on the formative years of terrorism (rather than its point of maximum development), the so-called ‘movement of ’77’, which saw the emergence of a ‘youth politics’, and the campaigns over abortion, which marked a crucial stage in the development of a feminist politics in Italy. In the final chapter, some concluding observations are made about the relationship of the language of politics in the 1980s to that of the earlier movements.
This study, however, makes no claim to be comprehensive. It is, above all, a study of social movements in the northern Italian city of Milan, although observations are made about the Italian experience more broadly. This requires a word of explanation to help put the Milan movements in a national context.
Taking Milan as the vantage-point from which to survey Italian social movements as a whole inevitably involves difficulties. In fact, the Milanese experience cannot be said to typify or represent national developments. These varied from city to city (not to mention towns and villages). Milan is a city with its own particular social and economic structure, and ’ political and cultural traditions. However, its importance to Italian life, and its role as a centre for a great diversity of activities, meant that Milan was also a centre of social conflict.
Milan has been called the ‘real capital’ (il capitale morale) of Italy because it is a major commercial and industrial centre where many multi-national companies have their headquarters, in preference to Rome. Apart from being the home of La Scala, the opera house, and Il Corriere della Sera (the Italian equivalent of The Times), Milan has a complex cultural infrastructure. This includes publishing houses (these accounted for half the capital and a quarter of the employees in the sector in 1968); three leading universities; and numerous theatres, cinemas, and so on. Histor- ically, Milan had a crucial role in the formation of the nation·state, while its geographical position has helped make it a communications crossroads and the most cosmopolitan of Italian cities 15 In the early 1960s, Milan was the symbol of the ‘economic miracle’ and progressive modernism, But at the end of the decade it became a theatre of urban conflict.
Because Milan was a cultural, economic and political centre in the 1960s and 1970s, it was also a site of a wide range of social movements. The universities and engineering factories were in the eye of the storm in 1968-9, and in the following years urban conflicts over housing and other resources were an important feature in the city’s life. The various movements, notably the feminist movement, built up networks and counter-cultural activities so that an ‘alternative Milan’ came into being.16 Thus, although the Milanese case cannot be taken as representative in a simple sense, the rationale for studying this city lies in the range of the movements which developed there, and the fact that it constituted a point of reference for opposition forces elsewhere in Italy. In 1968-9 only Turin could contest Milan’s primacy.
This study is provisional in many respects, and cannot claim to be definitive. While it aims to provide a historical perspective, it is unavoidably conditioned by the contemporary nature of the events and processes being described and analysed. The difficulties have already been alluded to in commenting on pendulum swings in how ’68 has been viewed from one anniversary to another. The proximity of the events also means that the sources on which this study is based are restricted. Use has been made mainly of contemporary published material - daily papers, magazines, journals, and emphemera such as leaflets, manifestos, and so on. Nor was it always easy to get access to documentation. Libraries and institutes are only just beginning to collect and organize archives for the period, and noserious attempt has been made to build up oral records 17 Therefore, private collections were used, along with tape-recorded interviews and field notes, particularly for PartsII and III; Part IV is more dependent on secondary sources. Future historians will have the advantage of archives, but material will not be available for some time to come (thirty years for the state archives; over fifty years for the Vatican archives). They will also have access to more personal documents: letters, diaries, photographs, and so on. Although much can be done in theinterim in terms of oral historical work, its validity depends on being able to test it with reference to other sources.18
There is growing recognition within Italy of the need to gain a better understanding of this period of turbulent transition running from the late 1960s to the end of the 1970s. A number of conferences organized in 1988 and 1989, 19 and a spate of new publications are signs of this new · interest.20 Moreover, it is a period which is receiving increasing attention from English-speaking scholars. 21 I hope, therefore, that this study will feed into this work. I hope also that it will make a contribution towards current debates about the changing nature of oppositional politics in contemporary Europe 22 and put the spotlight on the cultural as well as political dimensions of social movements.
- 1 Nanni Balestrini, Vogliamo tutto, Milan 1974, first edn, 1971, p. 106; Gli invisibili, Milan 1987, p. 280; in English translation by Liz Heron, The Unseen, London 1989.
- 2 Perhaps the most interesting book to come out in Italy is Peppino Ortoleva’s Saggio sui movimenti del 1968 in Europa e in America, Rome 1988
- 3 Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution, London 1971, first edn. 1961, pp. 64-88.
- 4 Scott Sullivan, ‘Master of the Signs`, Newsweek, 22 December 1986, p. 49.
- 5Giorgio Galli, Italia sotteranea. Storia, politica e scandali, Bari 1983.
- 6 The novelist, Leonardo Sciascia, went as far as writing: ‘If in reply to those in Italy (and I include myself) who ask about Sakharov and the plight of Russian dissidents Chernenko was to suggest looking rather at what is happening to our administration of justice, it would be a correct and well-deserved answer, Nuovi Argomenti, October-December 1984.
- 7The metaphor of the stage should perhaps be replaced by that of the television screen since this was the first time in history that protest across the world was beamed almost live from continent to continent; see Anthony Smith, The Shadow in the Cave, London - 1973, pp. 73-111.
- 8 For the best critical account of the theories of democracy under discussion, see Norberto Bobbio, The Future of Democracy, Cambridge 1987.
- 9 For a comparative study of social conflict in this period, see Colin Crouch and Alessandro Pizzorno, eds, Resurgence of Class Conflict in Western Europe, London 1977
- 10 For the debate on the politics of design, see Penny Sparke, Italian Design, London 1988, pp. 161-97
- 11 The relationship between Eco’s cultural analyses and the social movements is most evident in the anthologies of his articles; ll costume di casa, Milan 1973; Dalla periferia dell ’impero, Milan 1977; and Sette anni di desiderio, Milan 1983.
- 12 The findings of the research are contained in the last volume: Alessandro Pizzorno, ed., Lotte operaie e sindacato: il ciclo di lotte 1968-72, Bologna 1977.
- 13 For the importance of the concept of `social movement’ to the development of sociology in Italy, see Paolo Ceri, ‘l quattro volti dell' anti-socioIogia’, Quaderni di Sociologia, 4-5, 1985, pp. 53-96; and Carlo Carboni, ed., Classi sociali e movimenti in Italia. 1970-85, Bari 1986.
- 1414. See Alberto Melucci, ed., Altri codici, Bologna 1984.
- 15E. Dalmasso, Milan: capital economique de l'Italie, Paris 1971.
- 16 A new development in the genre of the guidebook in the midseventies, the‘aIternative guide’ provided a map of this other city; for Milan, see Giuseppe Ricci, Claudio Marras and Mauro Radice, Milano alternativa, Milan 1975.
- 17 I mainly used the library of the Fondazione Feltrinelli. Hopefully, in the wake of the twentieth anniversary of 1968 more will be done to collect material.
- 18 For the foremost work in the fields of oral history in Italy, see the studies of Luisa Passerini: Storia orale, Turin 1978, and her semiautobiographical Autoritratto di gruppo, Florence 1988.
- 19 For example, the conference organized by the Department of History of the University of Turin in November 1988; 'Universita' e societa' italiana. Le culture e i luoghi' and conference organized by the Istituto Lombardo per la storia del Movimento di Liberazione in Brescia in March 1989.
- 20 The anniversary year, 1988, was marked by a deluge of anniversary editions in the Italian press, especially the weeklies, L'Espresso and Panorama, the best of which were found in the special numbers of the daily paper, Il Manifesto. Books include celebratory ones, like Mario Capanna’s Formidabili quegli anni, Milan 1988, and Nanni Balestrini and Primo Moroni’s L'orda d’oro, Milan 1988, but also Ortoleva’s Saggio sui movimenti del ’68.
- 21 The most notable recent work on the period is Sidney Tarrow’s Democracy and Disorder; Protest and Politics in Italy 1965-1975, Oxford 1989, which came out as this book was going to press. The publication in the very near future of Paul Ginsborg’s Italy since 1943, and Stephen Gundle’s study of the Communist Party and cultural change, will represent major contributions to our understanding.
- 22 A debate promoted by writings such as John Keane‘s Democracy and Civil Society, London 1988, and Boris Frankel’s The Post-Industrial Utopians, Cambridge 1987.
Part 1: Origins of the crisis of 1968-9
In 1968-9 Italy experienced an ‘Organic crisis’, in which there was a massive withdrawal of support for the structures of representation, and an abrupt increase in political demands. The crisis of 1968-9 arose within specific institutional contexts, especially in the universities and schools, and in the factories, as will be shown in subsequent chapters; but to understand its dimensions it is necessary to look at its historical origins. This is not to say that the crisis was an inevitable outcome of Italian historical development; rather, the aim is to highlight some of the features, especially of the postwar period, which help explain the range of probings and testing of the ‘social contract’.
This background to the main study of the social movements will be divided into three chapters. The first will look at the relationship of the subordinate classes of Italian society to the state, taking a cue from some of Gramsci’s writings on the question. The second will deal with the organizations of civil society; it will focus in particular on relations between employers and workers, and between the working class and its representative bodies (the unions and left-wing parties). The third chapter will concentrate on the perceptions of an injustice and the formulation of ‘standards of condemnation’ which anticipated and prepared the mass social awakening and mobilization at the end of the 1960s.
This outline of the period before the eruption of the social movements is necessarily selective and partial; it attempts to delineate developments leading up to the crisis, not to provide a historical account of the postwar period.
Themes are introduced in these chapters from a historical perspective which are taken up and developed in parts II and III. The crisis of reformism is discussed in detail in chapter 4, in terms of the educational policies of the Centre-Left government which provoked a storm of protest from students. Distrust of the State is explored in chapter 11 with particular relation to the conflicting conceptions of law and order thrown up by the student and workers’ movement. The ‘moral outrage’ expressed in the slogans of workers’ demonstrations is connected up in chapter 16 to historical grievances. The importance of the historical legacy will be seen in how the social actors perceived injustices and how the social movements drew on the past to make sense of and ennoble their struggles.
01. A distrusted state
Recurrent questions in Italian historiography and political discussion have included: Why is the Italian nation-state so lacking in social and political cohesion? And what has led to the incapacity of the ruling bloc to modernize Italy’s institutions? Some writers have traced the roots of the problem back to the failure of the attempt to found an absolutist state in Italy in the late Middle Ages, but the usual point of departure for analyses is the Risorgimento, the movement of national unification in the mid nineteenth century. The key theses setting the agenda for debate were set out in Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks1 For Gramsci, the model bourgeois revolution the French Revolution was the yardstick for assessing the Risorgimento, which he called a ‘failed revolution’ (rivoluzione mancata). According to Gramsci, the failure of the Italian bourgeoisie to form a national-popular alliance, involving the subordinate classes in the struggle against the backward landowners, meant that the unification remained formal rather than real. The division between north and south, corresponding to the compromise between northern capital and the southern latifondisti, and the exclusion of the great mass of the population from participation in the political life of the new state, meant that a conservative settlement was eached at the expense of economic and social progress. For Gramsci only the Italian proletariat, in alliance with poor peasants, could make a nation out of Italy. Whether Gramsci’s analyses withstand criticism by historians today is a matter for debate, but the liveliness of the discussion since the mid sixties suggests that they are useful in giving pointers to understanding the contemporary crisis of the Italian state.
One of Gramsci’s concerns, the externality of the popular classes to the formation and subsequent history of the Italian state, is of particular interest. The southern peasantry exemplified this hostility or indifference to nationhood. It was tied by intense local and family loyalties, and shared cultures and dialects having little affinity with a national culture. This peasantry did not identify with Italy as a state, and saw its utopias in the Americas rather than in the peninsula. But the working class of the north, despite its relative privileges, also found itself in conflict with a repressive state 2 The experience of universal suffrage was an interlude between periods of government exclusively by and for social elites. There were only two free general elections before the Fascists took power in 1922. In other words, the Italian working class before 1945 did not develop a strong sense of citizenship through participation in political parties, elections, voting and celebrations of formal freedoms and equalities.
The other major processes whereby the working class in Western Europe was ‘nationalized’ education and war affected Italian workers less than those of other countries. Education had little impact on the predominant use of dialect, and acted more effectively as a channel for middle-class social mobility than as a means of promoting mass civic consciousness. Wars mobilized sections of the population in a way only paralleled by spurts of industrialization, and aggravated class tensions, creating horizontal solidarities that threatened the unity of the state. The debacle of late-nineteenth-century Italian imperialist expeditions at Adowa, the mutinies and non-collaboration during the 1914-18 war, and the disastrous Fascist military campaigns, all proved counter-productive for the ruling bloc. They also fuelled opposition to nationalism in the form of anti-militarism, anti-statism and internationalism.
The persistence of anarcho-syndicalist tendencies within the working class and the wide-spread identification of the state with all society’s evils testify to the traditions of popular anti-statism. In the post-1945 period the relationship between the working class and the state changed. The establishment of a democratic republic changed the rules of political conflict, and the major parties and unions of the working class made themselves the upholders and interpreters of parliamentary democracy. The principal protagonist of the Resistance, the Communist Party, took a leading part in ‘re·educating’ the working class into this role. Togliatti’s reading of Gramsci (whose Prison Notebooks were published between 1948 and 1951) centred on the idea that the working class had the task of forging a national solidarity that the weak bourgeoisie was incapable of doing. It had to represent the ‘national-popular’ and lay the foundations of social and economic reconstruction, as the transitional stage to the construction of a future socialist society. In a speech of June 1945, Togliatti claimed that:
the democratic revolution in our country has never been completed or seriously developed .... In demanding the Constituent Assembly, we find ourselves in the company of the best men of our Risorgimento - in the company of Carlo Cattaneo, Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi, and we are proud of it.3
But the Communist Party rank-and-file had to be taught that the new parliamentary state was ‘theirs’ and that they had to act responsibly - a task that was not always easy. A report at the 6th Congress stated:
The persistence of sectarian positions is seen in the tendency to disrupt other political meetings singing songs with words in bad taste . .. leaving work early to attend meetings, the use of banners without the tricoleur 4
For many, the leadership was only saying these things so that it could fool the other parties, which, it seemed, were happy to work with the Communists for as long as it suited them.
The landslide election victory of 1948 for the Christian Democrat Party finalized the expulsion of the Left parties from government. At this crucial conjuncture democracy as an idea was linked to the Western ‘camp’ and to the defence of Catholicism. Future governments worked to impose their definitions of what constituted ‘democratic’ and 'anti-democratic' forces; the Communist Party was treated as alien, while the CGIL was treated as its instrument in the workplace; meanwhile, the ‘apolitical’ and ‘free’ trade unions were encouraged. Systematic repression and discrimination and propaganda campaigns were used by governments and by managements in the factories to undermine working-class representative structures.
The close cooperation between the state and the employers’ federation (Confindustria), and the exclusion of the working-class parties from government were the two axes on which Italian ‘democracy’ revolved in the period 1948-60.5 Although the basic democratic freedoms were observed, there were some continuities with the Fascist state that help explain the ways in which those freedoms were circumscribed and curtailed. In this perspective, it is the period of postwar collaboration and reconstruction which appears as an aberration. The personnel of the state apparatuses had been mostly employed by the previous Fascist regime, and the Republic inherited laws that were the very antithesis of the constitution. The Rocco Penal Code, for example, includes among its list of 'crimes': the membership of anti-national and subversive associations, the incitement of ‘cIass hatred’ and the defamation of state institutions. 6 Although there were few laws controlling labour disputes, industrial conflict was heavily policed through instructions contained in the reports of the procurators-general, and in the circulars, letters and telegrams sent to them and to the prefects by the ministries of justice and of the interior. During Scelba’s period as minister of the interior these were directed almost exclusively against forms of picketing and ‘political’ strikes.7 From 1948 to 1954 an estimated 75 were killed and 5,104 were wounded as a result of police action directed against forms of protest.8
If the politicized and organized sections of the working class were the targets of repression, governmental policies encouraged private initiatives detrimental to all wage earners. Laissez-faire economic policy subordinated all state intervention to the immediate needs of private capital. Whilst in other Western European countries reconstruction was carried out with the objective of ensuring full employment and full utilization of capital resources, in Italy a policy of deflation and the containment of demandthrough a regime of low wages and high unemployment was actively pursued by Einaudi and his successors. State expenditure went towards the construction of motorways that suited the needs of Fiat rather than towards the creation of a welfare state. 9
The beneficiaries of this economic policy were the big companies and sections of the middle classes. Internal consumer expenditure rose for the small minority of the population that could afford to buy the goods (televisions, cars, fridges, and so on) that symbolized the reign of plenty. In 1960 only 11 per cent of the population owned a fridge. Otherwise production was oriented to the world market. The so-called ‘economic miracle’ was attained on the basis of increases in productivity much greater than increases in wages. In addition, it entailed the mass migration of labour from the south to the northern cities, and to northem Europe. 10 The ‘miracle’ aggravated social tensions, making the existing political arrangements untenable.
In 1953 the Christian Democrat government tried to introduce a law (the so-called ‘swindle law’) that would ensure the permanent majority which it had failed to win in the elections, but the attempt failed in the face of a mass national campaign of opposition. From 1953 to 1963 the Christian Democrats maintained power through coalition governments in which they were always the dominant partner holding the key ministries. In 1960 this politics, based on the exclusion of the Left parties, was put into crisis. The possibility of further alliances with parties to the Right was blocked by mass mobilization against Tambroni’s attempt to form a govemment with the neo-fascist MSI, and a wave of strikes showed the strength of the industrial working class, and the need to win its goodwill.
The nature of these mobilizations gives some indication of the evolution of the working class's relationship to the state. The response to the calls by the parties in 1953 and 1960 shows that there was a strong desire to defend democratic institutions from manipulation and authori- ‘ tarianism. However, the actions were largely defensive. They were a response to a continuous war of attrition waged against workers’ organizations. Their point of reference was the Liberation and Reconstruction period, of which the celebration of 25 April and the battle to apply the spirit of the Constitution were important aspects. By way of contrast, the factory mobilizations of 1960-63 were offensive actions. Their chief objective was wage increases, but the mass street demonstrations signalled a revolt against conditions inside and outside the factory.
The Socialist Party response to the working-class mobilization was to use it as a bargaining counter with the Christian Democrats. It claimed to have a programme of radical reforms and economic planning which I would make capitalist development ‘rational’ and beneficial to the working class as a whole. However, the only reforms which the Socialists succeeded in carrying out as promised were in education and in the nationalization of the electricity industry. The 1969 Forecasting and Planning Report revealed that achievement of objectives for 1966-8 was as low as 11 per cent for urban transport, 16 per cent for hospital building , and 22 per cent for school building. 11 This failure was doubly serious because of the inadequacy of state provision of services and their farming out to private agencies. The movement of two million Italians from south to north between 1960 and 1970 created a demand for housing, services, education and basic infrastructures that a laissez-faire government policy had not been able to cope with.
The Centre-Left government created hopes of changes that would bring Italian living standards into line with northern European countries. However, its actions were heavily circumscribed. For the Christian Democrats there was no question of allowing the destruction of the state clientelism that provided one of its power bases (sottogoverno), and for them the inclusion of the Socialists had more to do with isolating the Communists and securing an incomes policy than with a strategy of structural change based on a high wage economy. 12 The imposition of a deflationary policy in 1964 had the political aim of undercutting wage demands by increasing unemployment. This measure effectively asserted ‘ the continuity of a low wage regime, and prevented further reforms on the pretext that reform had to wait for more prosperous times.13
The Centre-Left experiment contained elements of a longer term strategy for bringing the working class into a collaborative relationship with the state, but there was the minimum of institutionalization. Tripartite talks between unions, private industry and the government were rarely carried out, and then outside the planning framework.14 Although the Communist Party cooperated with legislation in parliament, it and the CGIL resolutely opposed an official incomes policy spoke instead of the need for more structural reforms, but little working-class mobilization took place around the issue of reforms.15
However, the idea of reform spread, and citizenship came to be considered not just in terms of formal, legal and political rights, but in terms of material well-being and rights to housing, education, health facilities and other services. The 1963 general strike over housing represented an important step in this direction.16 What was in question during the late 1960s was how changes could be brought about; whether a central government dominated by the Christian Democrats, or indeed any government, had the will and capacity to reform. If it did, how could sufficient pressure be brought to bear on it to do so, and, if it did not, what alternative strategies were open to the working class.
The rigidity of the political structures and their acknowledged inability to reform themselves fed popular distrust and suspicion of politicians and the political system. Power remained firmly in the hands of the Christian Democrats, who successfully prevented an alternation of parties in govern- ment. The resulting operation of the Italian parliamentary system has been compared to that of Namier’s eighteenth-century English parliament in which there were ‘ins’ and ‘outs’, and politics consisted of ‘place-seeking’ and cynical manoeuvring. Percy Allum writes:
the lack of an electoral alternative has led all parties to viewing their role as the occupation of as many posts as possible in the state institutions not for the purposes of transforming society but of accruing patronage... this operation has reduced them to being the defenders of sectional interests. 17
For a short time, it seemed that the Socialists would be different, but the gap between their promises and their achievements widened the longer they stayed in the office. Giuseppe Tamburrano, who was closely involved with the Centre-Left experiment, attributed its demise in the final analysis to the Socialist Party’s failure to mobilize support within the country for its reform proposals. Instead of doing this, it lost itself in a maze of bureaucracy. Its experience seemed to prove the old adage that power corrupts, rather than its own thesis that real changes could only be brought about by being the ‘control-room’ (stanza dei bottoni). Moreover, this failure of the Socialist Party’s reform programme discredited ‘reformism’, and it strengthened the hand of those who advocated extra parliamentary action and revolutionary politics.
- 1 For an excellent summary of Gramsci‘s writings on the subject and assessments of them, see John Davis, ed., Gramsci and the Passive Revolution, London, 1979. Diana Pinto has written of the way Italy, which in the 1960s was held up as a model of ‘modernization’, quickly became a focus of attention because of its crises: ‘Seen as the "sick man" of Europe, Italy has been studied recently as a special case among Westerndemocracies and advanced industrial nations. Indeed its very claim to membership in ‘ the ‘club‘ has been at times reconsidered by Italians and non-Italians alike when Italy was doing well she could be pointed out as an example of Westem strength and success; when she was doing badly, the specificity of her 'case' had to be stressed so as not to bring in question the entire Western frame of reference.' D. Pinto, ed., Contemporary Italian Sociology, Cambridge 1981, pp. 1-2.
- 2 'Italian workers in general, like the hand loom weavers of Biella had their political sensibilities sharpened by always seeing beside the factory-owner . . . the police representative, the 'carabinieri', and behind them the procurator to the king . . . the prison . . . that is, state violence'; Vittorio Foa, ‘Sindacati e lotte sociali‘, in Storia d’Italia, vol. 5, 2, Turin 1976, p. 1788
- 3 Paul Ginsborg, ‘Gramsci and the Era of Bourgeois Revolution’, in Gramsci and the Passive Revolution, p. 43. For an outline of the development of Communist Party strategy in this period, see D. Blackmer and S. Tarrow, Communism in Italy and France, Princeton 1975.
- 4 Giorgio Galli, Storia del PCI, Milan 1977, p. 298.
- 5 G. Pasquino, ‘Capital and Labour in Italy’, Government and Opposition, 3, Summer ’ 1976.
- 6 Percy Allum, Italy - Republic Without Government, London 1973, p. 207. See also C. Pavone ‘SuIIa continuita dello Stato (1943-45)’, Rivista di Storia Contemporanea, 1974.
- 7 Umberto Romagnoli and L. Mariucci, ‘Ordinamento sindacale e sistema economico nella Costituzione’, in U. Romagnoli and L. Mariucci, lo sciopero dalla Costituzione all‘autodisciplina, Bologna 1975.
- 8 D. Blackmer, ‘Postwar Italian Communism’, in D. Blackmer and S. Tarrow, Communism in Italy and France, p. 47.
- 9 M. De Cecco, ‘Economic Policy, 1945-51’, in Stuart Woolf, ed., The Rebirth of Modern Italy, London 1971.
- 10 See A. Graziani, L’Economia Italiana l945-70, Bologna 1972, especially the introduction; also M. D’Antonio, Sviluppo e crisi del capitalismo italiano, 1951-72, Bari 1973.
- 11 11. Gianfranco Pasquino and Umberto Pecchini, ‘ltaly’, in J. Hayward and M. Watson, eds., Planning and Public Policy, Cambridge 1975, p. 138.
- 12 P, Farneti, ‘Partiti e sistema di potere’, in Castronovo, ed., Italia Contemporanea, Turin 1976, pp. 72-3, p. 81.
- 13See A. Graziani, ‘Aspetti strutturali dell’economia italiana nell’ultimo decennio’ in A, Graziani, ed., Crisi e Ristrutterazione nell’Economia Italiana, Turin 1975.
- 14 14. I.F. Mariani, ‘Incomes Policy and Employment Policies in Italian Economic Planning’, in Planning and Public Policy.
- 15 Giuseppe Tamburrano, Storia e cronaca del centro sinistra, Milan 1971, p. 30; Farneti, ‘Partiti e sistema di potere‘, pp. 82-3.
- 16 P. Ceri, ‘L’autonomia operaia fra organizzazione del lavoro e sistema politico’, Quaderni di Sociologia, 1, 1977, pp. 28-63.
- 17 Republic Without Government, p. 92
02. Civil society and its discontents
The brevity and fragility of the experience of parliamentary democracy in Italy before 1945 had severe consequences for the nature and development of civil society. The parties, unions and other organizations of the working class had a longer struggle to establish their rights to exist and operate freely than in other capitalist countries. It was not until after the Milan massacre of 1898 that the ruling bloc recognized the need for a strategy designed to limit class conflict through the legitimation of some of its forms. Giolitti had to teach sections of capitalists that it was in their interests that the state did not involve itself in labour disputes. He personally tried to strengthen relations with the reformist wing of the Socialist Party and the trade unions. However, the primary role of the Socialist Party in promoting unionism, the stress given to general class representation in the context of uneven, regionalized industrialization and of a working class in the early stages of its making, and the continued resurgence of insurrectionary syndicalism - all these factors politicized industrial relations in country and town. In these circumstances, the formal distinctions between the political and economic roles of party and union, which characterized a reformist politics found a difficult terrain in which to grow. Revolutionary ideas flourished,
The ‘Red Years’, 1919-20 were characterized by the confusion of the roles of union and party, and by the rise of the new factory councils that claimed to combine their functions. It was a remarkable experiment in workers’ control which remained a much discussed experience, especially in the light of Gramsci’s writings. Its defeat, however, opened the way to a wholesale destruction of parties and unions, rather than to a redefinition of their roles within the terms of a parliamentary democracy. The fascist regime replaced them by state-controlled surrogates. The objective of the ruling bloc had become the very abolition of civil society as a sphere of independent activity on the part of the subordinate classes. Even leisure, sporting and extra work pursuits that had previously been carried on through the political parties were subjected to state organization and supervision. Within the workplace a new ideology of labour was constructed by the employers.
The success of the fascist regime in actually creating its own culture, and in actively intervening in reshaping everyday customs and practices was in many ways limited. However, its destruction not only of organizational structures of opposition, but of a popular memory on the part of the young and of traditions and skills of organization, had lasting effects. Through the anti-fascist struggle and the period of reconstruction, the working class had to recreate its own organizations, and to rebuild the fabric of civil society itself.
The framework for this activity was established by the winning of political freedoms and civil rights, but the power of the working class lay in its extensive network of local organizations. In particular, the political parties played the leading role. The Communist Party in Milan organized in every quarter of the city and extended its control through recreational centres, cooperatives and organizations like Unione delle Donne Italiane (Union of Italian Women, UDI). Certain working-class areas in Milan like Sesto San Giovanni (nicknamed ‘Stalingrad’) and Rogoredo became Left strongholds. The PCI implanted its cells in the factories, in Milan in 1945 if it had 360, and by 1947 these had tripled in number. It has been estimated that by 1948, 80 to 90 per cent of Milanese engineering workers were in the CGIL.
As has been noted, working-class organizations developed a defensive rather than offensive strategy in the Reconstruction period. Nevertheless, this imposed limits on managements’ ‘right to manage’ in the factories; workers blocked redundancies, imposed consultation and, in the early stages, purged fascist personnel. The concerted political offensive against the Left, that resulted in the 1948 election landslide, was followed by a longer term and more difficult war against working-class organization in civil society. The political victory had immediate pay-offs for the landlords and property owners, who, with police protection stepped up the rate of evictions, cleared squats and affirmed the rights of property. In the factories the opposition was more tenacious.
The years from 1950 to 1959 were characterized by a long-term decline in working class organization and resistance in the face of the employers’ attacks. In January 1955 Dott, Borletti, vice-president of the Confindustria, the national employers’ organization, spoke of their objectives; he said:
We need to bring order back into the factories by re-establishing those forms of discipline without which it is impossible to work; we must eliminate all those deviations and political interferences that the war, the postwar period and revolutionary illusions have introduced into company life.
The first and crucial step was the imposition of mass redundancies. This enabled employers to sack leading militants and to threaten workers as a whole with the prospect of losing their jobs. High unemployment throughout the fifties put pressure on the employed to conform to the orders of management. Those militants who survived found themselves continually under surveillance, moved from one section of the factory to another, and increasingly deprived of rights to represent or be represented in an effective as well as formal sense.
The dismantling of the workers’ representative structures allowed management the freer use of labour within the productive process, and employers increased absolute exploitation by introducing longer and more flexible hours. Managements also brought in new machinery and corresponding hierarchical regimes of control to increase the rate of relative exploitation. The weakening of the nucleus of politicized skilled workers meant that resistance to Taylorization had been undermined. In turn, the changes in the productive process lessened the need for those workers through de-skilling, and opened the doors to the unskilled unemployed. Martinoli, a director of Pirelli, put the case for technological change at a conference on workers’ conditions in industry held in Milan in 1954:
it provides the optimal conditions for the achievement of higher levels of employment because a number of workers look favourably and almost with a sense of liberation on monotonous work; this work does not require responsibility, a spirit of initiative and the obligation to make decisions.
The system of industrial relations created in the 1950s was paternalistic. It heavily circumscribed workers’ freedoms, and punished behaviour which threatened its authority. Independent and active unionism was not recognized. The PCI was excluded from participation in parliamentary government and the CGIL from participation in negotiations within the factory. Union officials did not have permission to enter most Milanese factories between 1948 and 1968. The rights to freedoms of speech and organization sanctioned by the Constitution could not be exercised in the factory. Instead, discrimination and sackings and the careful screening of new employees prevailed.
But paternalism also had its philanthropic aspects. It combined older ideologies of ‘family’ cultivated by earlier generations of entrepreneurs with modern theories of human relations. Companies needed not only to suppress class ideologies but to rearticulate class relations as relations of non-antagonistic reciprocity between employer and employee; the words 'operaio' and 'classe operaia' had to be substituted by 'lavoratore'; a collective identity had to be replaced by individualism. To this purpose companies increased differentials between groups of workers and the variable proportion of the wage linked to piece-rates. The power of foremen to grant personal favours in the shape of job allocation and promotion was increased.
This incentivization of self-interest had a gloss of neo-capitalist consumerism in the bigger, impersonal firms like Pirelli where the management aspired to American Taylorist models in which autonomies and controls in the workplace were exchanged for higher wages. The vogue for human relations spread, but with the emphasis on maximizing productivity through time and motion studies rather than through strategies of job enrichment. Moreover, the tendency was to hold wages down as far as possible, especially among the smaller companies. Older forms of Catholic paternalism held sway especially in the family companies that were still intact in the 1950s. Giovanni Falk, for example, who inherited the Milanese steel dynasty, had a vision of his company as a ‘little country with its enlightened governors and faithful subjects, its glorious history and values to be handed down from generation to generation’. Falk, in his eyes, was the symbol of work and harmony, a solid pyramid that threw out a large and protective shadow. Companies provided nursery schools (usually run by a religious order), holiday homes a for children, medical services and child allowances. The provision of services was especially designed for women workers, to enable them to work, but also to bind them into the company’s family by appealing to them as wives and mothers. The hold of the company ethos, however, was strongest among the white-collar workers, who tended to think of themselves as middle class, and who enjoyed monthly salaries with special secret merit awards for the diligent.
The paternalist strategy aimed to abolish social contradictions. In fact its inflexibility and authoritarianism invested those differences of interest at an economic level with the very questions of power and politics that it aimed to eliminate. Even the big companies did not have the economic resources to act as little states, and gave priority to profit-making. The attempt to cultivate the ‘free’ trade unions, the predominantly Catholic CISL and the Social Democrat and Republican UIL, had some success especially among white-collar workers, but managements preferred to establish clientelistic relations with them rather than to encourage collective bargaining. They therefore built up memberships as a result of preferential treatment, bribery and discriminatory recruitment policies. Whilst this divided and weakened workers’ overall organization in the short term, it did not help create a viable alternative to the left-wing CGIL. Neither did the backstairs bargaining provide an adequate mechanism for dealing with widespread shop-floor discontent. Thus, when conflict occurred in circumstances more favourable to workers, it involved fundamental issues concerning rights and it was infused with political significance.
Statistics on industrial conflict, membership and elections to the internal commissions indicate the extent to which the employers’ offensive did paralyse and dismember the union organization built up before 1948. Strikes caused the loss of 64 million hours a year in 1948-9 and an average 22 million for 1950-58. Industrial conflict in Milanese industry was sustained for a longer period, and the figures for union membership are less disastrous than for some cities. Nonetheless, the percentage of the unionized out of the total employed in the engineering sector fell from 61 per cent in 1951 to 23.7 per cent in 1958. A central factor in eroding unionization was the increase in the number and percentage of unskilled and semi-skilled workers being taken on, especially women and youth. The nucleus of the unionized was based on the skilled section of the workforce who had been the leading protagonists in the antifascist movement. Repression reinforced division between the skilled and unskilled, whilst the growing white-collar section of the workforce remained largely untouched by unionism.
The unions’ response to the employers’ attacks was heavily conditioned by the unfavourable conditions in which they operated during the 1950s. In the CGIL, memories of that period evoke pictures of steadfast heroism. The union activists paid dearly for their beliefs, and it was the strength of their convictions that drove them on. Not surprisingly, therefore, it was party members who made up the backbone of the union organization. A young woman organizer who worked at the Borletti factory from the end of the decade remembers:
Almost all the activists were in the Communist Party. Firstly, they trained in Party schools and then they took their battle into the union ... many were regularly sacked ... it was really a way of selecting militants; the more the bosses hit them, the more they became true political militants
However, the strengths of the inner core of the union did not compensate for its relative isolation from the majority of workers nor for serious inadequacies of analysis and policy.
Some of the deficiencies can be attributed to the very influence of the parties: party political issues such as the Korean War and general programmes for economic renewal did not connect up with bread-and-butter questions: ideological divisions got in the way of organizing around common interests; union activities were constantly liable to outside party pressures. But these have to be related to the fact that most activists were skilled male workers who had participated in the Resistance, whilst the majority of newly recruited workers were younger, unskilled and unpoliticized. These divisions along the lines of age, gender and union experience were aggravated by employer policies of divide-and-rule, and by the introduction of new technologies, which greatly changed labour processes, and therefore relations between sections or workers. The failure by the CGIL to develop analyses and appropriate strategies meant that it was marginalized from the everyday problems and experiences of the workplace. The cultural backwardness (a looking-back to older models of class unionism and Marxist orthodoxies) furnished mobilizing ideals, but weakened the CGIL's capacity to meet the needs of a new generation of workers.
The CISL, by contrast, took the American unions as its model, and tried to break with the Italian tradition of left-wing trade unionism in the name of modernity. It represented its members only, and concentrated on productivity bargaining at local levels. In practice, the CISL was anti-Communist. It was tied to the Christian Democrat Party and under the influence of the Catholic Church. Moreover, its predominantly white-collar membership within industry and the service sector made it even more prone to management pressures. The CISL's negotiation of agreements for its members that excluded the CGIL, its dependence on discriminatory recruitment for its membership and its refusal, as far as possible, to go on strike made it a de facto form of company unionism in the 1950s.
Between 1960 and 1963 this system of industrial relations based on paternalism was challenged from below. The defeat of the Tambroni government due to mass mobilizations, gave workers a sense of power. The decline of unemployment and the economic upturn put workers in a position to bargain with employers. The economic transformation of the 'miracle' years increased the umbers of workers and their relative importance as a group in society in the northern triangle. At the same time, huge increases in investment, productivity and profits had been achieved without reform of a low wage regime guaranteed by authoritarianism within the factory. Rebellion in the factories starting with the militancy of the young workers in the electrical engineering sector in Milan in 1960, expressed a demand for a share in the newly created wealth. They called for wage increases and succeeded in winning considerable concessions. In the struggles the union succeeded in using wage demands as a means of unifying different sections of workers. Differentials were reduced, the principle of wage parity for women over eighteen was established, and a two-hour reduction of the working week was won. On the shop-floor, engineering workers experimented with short, sharp strikes, backed by the CGIL, in addition to the use of national general strikes and demonstrations, which were the traditional form of mobilization. The latter were on a scale that had not been seen on the streets of the big cities since 1948. Students too marched alongside workers.
The shift in the balance of class forces in Italy was reflected in the increased percentage of the Gross National Income accruing to the working class. However, it was a temporary advance that was reversed from late1963 to 1967. Deflationary policies increased unemployment and employers clamped down on wage increases. The gains were whittled away through inflation and once more productivity increases exceeded those of wages. The government did not succeed in establishing an incomes policy, and instead provided the conditions for the strengthening of management’s hand. The unions were too weak to mobilize effective resistance. Above all, the unions within the factories had failed to build up their organization; membership did not increase proportionally to the increase in the working population, and continued to depend on the male, skilled and older section of the workforce for its leadership. Measures of union recognition and agreement to plant bargaining by the internal commissions were circumscribed by both management and union preference for centralized negotiation at higher levels. The unskilled and semi-skilled, the women, younger workers and immigrants were the most exposed to the pressures of the labour market and to changes in the labour process. These workers’ interests were inadequately represented. Union analyses of changes in the labour process led to policies of accepting technical change as good in itself rather than as inherently structured by capitalist relations. Bad working conditions were accepted in exchange for monetary compensation. Wage differentials were accepted as a reflection of objective skills together with the introduction of new grades for the highly skilled. In short, the key mechanisms of division and hierarchical control within the factory were not comprehensively challenged by the unions. The anger and explosive militancy of the most oppressed and ’ exploited sections were treated as an abberration, as evidenced by the . celebrated Piazza Statuto incidents in Turin in 1962.
In the mid sixties economic development centred on restructuring and rationalization of plant to maximize the rate of relative exploitation, without increasing capital investment to the level of the 1951-63 period. Speed-ups of the line and increases in workloads reached intolerable levels in some factories. Managements replaced women and older workers by young semi-skilled men because of their physical endurance. The atmosphere in the factories was no longer one of fear and intimidation, but unions had still not been readily accepted as bargainers within the workplaces. Leopoldo Pirelli, vice-president of the Confindustria, publicly espoused enlightened acceptance of trade unionism, whilst within his factories he withheld recognition from the CGIL. The idea that the factory was exclusively under management control and that it was vital to defend the conquests of the 1950s in this sphere was shared by the ‘enlightened’ vanguard of Italian industry and the small company owner alike. Negotiation was limited to powerless joint consultative bodies. Repression had become more selective, and management was more self-conscious about control techniques, but otherwise the paternalist model remained intact.
The contradictions within the factory were not, however, displaced into the market, nor were workers’ struggles for higher wages transformed into a mechanism for expanding the home market. Carli, president of the Bank of Italy, did not pursue a Keynesian economic policy characteristic of other advanced capitalist countries. The brief experience of a higher standard of living was cut short. The language of class consciousness promoted in the propaganda of the CGIL connected up with widespread resentment over social inequalities. The propagation in the newspapers and on television of ideas about Italian prosperity, and invocations to spend produced ‘needs’ and expectations that were frustrated by the meagreness of the wage packet.
The relationship between the capitalist interest groups and the government was also fraught with differences. The re-emergence of industrial conflict and the demise of an earlier industrial and political equilibrium made some leading sections of the capitalist class look to government for solutions, Fiat and Pirelli promoted the idea of a trade-off involving reforms in exchange for lower wage increases. For these big companies, planned wage increases and additional taxation were worth conceding if they sought social peace, because their chief concern was with the costs of running capital-intensive plant, Moreover, their representatives, like Pirelli, prided themselves on being long-term thinkers and modernizers. On the other hand, the smaller companies that dominated the Confindustria in the 1960s depended on keeping wages to a minimum, and had a laissez fairist hatred of government interference and taxation. The hostile campaign of the Confindustria against the nationalization of the electrical industry, and its attempt to block reforms characterized its unrelenting efforts to sabotage the Centre-Left government. This lobby proved more determined and influential than the reformers.
The big companies did little to support the government reforms, and went along with deflation because the buoyant international market provided an outlet for their goods. The half-hearted attempt to delegate the task of managing consensus to the state was ultimately a failure because the ruling bloc was not prepared to allow it sufficient autonomy to act against some of its immediate interests. However, there were no comprehensive alternative approaches to industrial relations within the private companies; no policy of greater flexibility was designed to involve the unions themselves in the disciplining of their membership. The relative ease with which the counter-offensive of the mid sixties was carried out gave management the illusion that their prerogatives were safe from serious threat.
The unions and the nuclei of militants formed in the struggles of 1960-63 were thrown into confusion by the downturn in their fortunes. Rifts reappeared between the confederations; the CISL and UIL supported the Centre-left government and its proposed incomes policy, whilst the CGIL was split between its PCI component, which opposed wage control without adequate guarantees that there would be far-reaching reforms, and the Socialists who were loyal to their government. In the interests of formal unity the CGIL ended by expressing opposition without mobilizing it. Attention focused on the development of national negotiations, whilst the politicking dissipated the fragile unity among the rank-and-file.
The gap between the representative structures of unions and Left parties and sections of the working class widened. The unions’ introduction of new factory-based forms of representation remained on paper whilst the internal commissions did not revive their plant bargaining activity because of the limits set by national contracts. Within the factories the PCI cells withered, and many of their papers ceased publication. Outside the factory, neither unions nor parties tried to organize the unemployed. The transformation that had changed the composition of the working class through reorganizations of the labour process had also radically altered its housing and living conditions. Massive urbanization and growth of the northern industrial cities destroyed the roots of older political sub-cultures.
In the 1950s the grass-roots structures of the political parties - the parish structure on which the Christian Democrats depended, and the sections of the Left parties - had adapted to the relatively slow demographic changes. A political geography of ‘red’ and ‘white’ zones had been fairly clearly delineated and the associations of civil society were a permeated by political affiliations. Especially in the case of the PCI, party life defined social horizons, and an intense and embattled community spirit was formed. Much political mobilization and activity was functional to the preservation of the organization. In the cities there were quarters where the urban space (the courtyards of the tenement houses, the local osteria) served to underpin social solidarity. However the rapid urbanization of the ‘miracle’ years provoked the decomposition of these communities.
The bases of the Left parties were hit in several ways. Thousands of migrants, particularly from the south, went into peripheral areas of the cities where the parties had no pre-existing organization, or into inner city areas that became heavily overpopulated. The party sections were used to relating to relatively stable communities of families, and were ill-prepared to cope with the needs of the solitary male immigrant. The Church organizations for immigrant workers and the Christian Democrats had more adequate ways and means for dealing with immediate material wants. The letter of recommendation for the job and the provision of charity fitted with paternalist practices in the factory. Then the immigrants themselves made up for all the shortcomings of the welfare services with the organization of self-help, usually on a family basis. ln an atmosphere that was often one of discrimination against the Southerner (terrone), solidarity among immigrants led to a certain ‘ghettoization’. The incapacity of the Left parties to respond to the needs of these people by fighting for the provision of housing, against high rents and for real equalities of living conditions with the older generation of inhabitants meant that they were not attracted to the existing political structures.
Urban development also involved a progressive undermining of the traditional working-class strongholds. Previously peripheral areas of the cities suddenly became relatively central, and prone to ‘gentrification’ by the middle classes, whilst the centre was monopolized by the office blocks and big shops. Then more general changes in society overtook the parties. Within the working class a gap grew up between the fathers whose politics were formed in the period of the Resistance and Cold War, and children who were becoming adults within a world of East-West detente and relative international capitalist growth. Both the ideologies of a Stalinist Marxism that forecast imminent economic collapse, and of traditional Catholic morality were losing their relevance. Communist Party membership figures show a steady decline for the period 1954 to 1968. As a percentage of the industrial working class it was falling, but the fall in the membership of the youth federation (FGCI) was even more dramatic.
The inability of the PCI, and of the PSI (which was ceasing to be a mass · party), to recruit, represent and mobilize workers, and particularly immigrant workers, youth and women, signalled a failure to deal with the major social transformations of postwar Italy. Taylorization, urbanization, mass schooling and mass migration were important aspects of the remaking of the Italian working class in the postwar decades. Yet, the Communist Party did not know how to organize around the social conflicts they engendered. The parties’ and unions’ inability to interpret and represent discontent in civil society was accompanied by their tendency to look to parliament and the state to resolve or alleviate the contradictions that had been accumulated in the period of economic boom. Action in civil society was subordinated to parliamentary manoeuvres, electioneering and forms of pressure-group politics. The PSI was immobilized from 1963 because of its involvement in government, and owed its influence in the CGIL to its personnel in the leadership rather than on the shop-floor, whilst in the constituencies it too used the spoils of office to cultivate a clientelist vote. It underwent the classic Italian political process of ‘transformism’. The PCI remained in official opposition, but within parliament cooperated in drafting legislation. Whilst the PCI remained a mass party of the working class, and its leaders stressed the importance of membership and implantation in civil society, in the period 1954 to 1968 it was undergoing a process of ‘electoralization’. The party’s votes marginally increased, but its membership declined. In 1968 the PCI’s capacity to mobilize subordinate groups had seldom been weaker. It followed rather than led the mass social movements of 1968-9.
This incapacity of the political parties of the Left and the unions to articulate and represent discontent within civil society meant that when people mobilized, they resorted to disruption rather than to the ballot-box or to petitioning. The claims of the politicians and trade unionists about the importance of organization, discipline and alternative reforms went unheard. Where the official organizations in centres of discontent (like large factories and universities) were weakest, the forms of protest tended to be the most unruly. One of the most dramatic examples which showed this in1968-9 was social conflict in Turin; the very factors which had weakened the resistance of workers and subordinate groups - immigration, repressive paternalism, scientific management, depoliticization - created the conditions for a highly radicalized revolt. The steady erosion and destruction of the sense of community within the workplace and the city created a need to build that community through collective resistance. However, there was nothing automatic about this process. Resistance grew up because of changes in how individuals and groups perceived their situation.
03. The agitators and moral outrage
From the end of the 1950s Italy was a country undergoing simultaneous major upheavals in its social and economic structure, so that it experienced change with a sudden intensity. John Low-Beer writes that the
innovative militancy of the Italian labour movement since 1968 may be explained partly by the conjunction of a number of changes in the society in the previous years: the rapid growth of manufacturing in the North and the concomitant immigration from rural areas of the South to the industrial cities of the North; and the increase in the student population and in the number of technicians in the advanced sectors of industry. The spread of values particular to post-industrial society thus coincided with the large influx of young immigrants into semi-skilled jobs. In Britain or the United States, these changes were separated by at least a generation. Their overlap proved to be an explosive situation.
As has been seen, the reorganization of the workplace and the city had contradictory effects; thus, the labour militancy can in part be ascribed to the discontent of the immigrant workers, but immigration also had consequences of making organization and resistance more difficult. The changes provoked fractures between the parties of the Left and the unions and their constituencies, and made their analyses of social realities hopelessly inadequate. So there was nothing automatic about the emergence of the spirit of collective protest and opposition. It grew first of all on the margins of the organizations and in the minds of dissident and disaffected individuals. These figures will be the subjects of this section; firstly, in the shape of intellectuals and, secondly, in that of the worker-militant.
A Dissident Intelligentsia
The period of the 1960s was characterized by a ferment among intellectuals on the Left reacting against the Marxism of the Communist and Socialist parties, and searching for a revitalized theory. Groupings which became known as the New Left set themselves a historic task; it was, in Giovanni Bechelloni’s words:
a political culture which aimed to break with the heritage of idealism (a heritage which appeared in the thinking of the Left parties in the shape of historicism, Gramscianism, neo-realism and philosophical Marxism); to do this, it re-read Marx as the sociologist of capitalist society, but the return to Marx was characterized by a tension between theoretical inquiry and political commitment.
This project’s outcome can be examined in different ways, but here the primary concern is with the New Left ’s critique of the organizations claiming to represent the working class, and with its role in promoting social mobilization. The focus will be on its reviews, and on the political initiatives emerging from them.
The importance of the review in the 1960s needs to be related to the particular role of intellectuals in Italian society, especially on the Left, and to the political debate of the period. Firstly, it is worth noting that the idea of the review as a privileged format for theoretical/political intervention sprang up within the milieu of the city intelligentsia. Becchelloni describes it as being composed of groups of people peripheral to the political parties, who teach in universities, often on a temporary basis, or in a liceo; they have connections with publishing houses, live in the cities of the Centre and North, and many travel to the United States, Britain, France and Germany. Their marginality is significant in that it is also the result of a choice that involves an alternative intellectual route, which is cosmopolitan. It holds the promise of a future that others might not be able to see. In this spirit Franco Fortini wrote in a letter published in the first edition of Quaderni Piacentini:
The history of contemporary Westem societies is the history of individuals and minorities who decide not to bow to the inevitable.... those who in their isolation have decided not to remain alone.
In a similar vein, characteristic of the significance of the visionary in the mythology of the Left, Danilo Montaldi wrote of Lenin as someone who 'did not accept "reality”, and by "dreaming” realized what no “realist” succeeded even in imagining'. The roles assigned to the intellectual were as numerous as the different currents within the New Left, but there was a shared belief in the power of ideas and hence, even if implicitly, in that of their authors and disseminators. A high moral tone and deep seriousness emanated from the pages of the reviews, and dominated the oppositional culture.
It is significant, however, that in the 1960s it was largely through reviews rather than through books that cultural exploration was pursued. This particular cultural vehicle was more suitable to the needs and aspirations of a new brand of intelligentsia. It facilitated the expression of a collective as opposed to individualistic ethos such as that celebrated in the dominant culture’s conception of the artist and thinker. Goffredo Forfi has remarked on the peculiar value of the review:
I have always been convinced that reviews, more so than books, ‘make culture’, if only because very few really important books get published .... Working on a review requires practical knowledge and abilities; there is the exchange of opinions between people, the taking up of positions, the making of decisions in relation to what is happening, the capacity to reason and to choose between proposals.
The importance of the reviews and the sense that intellectuals had something important to contribute related to the context of rapid social change, which seemed to call for new maps and compass readings. Bechelloni lists six reviews as being the most influential: Quarderni Rossi, Quaderni Piacentini, Classe e Stato, Classe Operaia, Contropiano and Nuovo Impegno. Of these, attention will be given to Quaderni Rossi (QR) and Quaderni Piacentini (QP), which first came out in September 1961 and March 1962 respectively, and to Classe Operaia. The first task faced by the reviews was to make a comprehensive critique of the traditional Left, and the second (though it did not necessarily follow) was to elaborate alternatives. Bechelloni has written:
The history of the reviews and of the relations (or lack of them) with the parties and organizations of the Workers’ Movement can also be studied as the history of the incapacity for renewal and openness on the part of the leaderships of the latter.
This blockage became particularly evident in the post-1956 renewal of debate on democracy, though it should be pointed out that this was most lively in the Socialist Party where there was a greater range of opinion from pro-Soviet to social libertarian than in the Communist Party. Leading spirits within Quaderni Rossi, like Raniero Panzieri, were former members of the PSI or part of critical minorities within it, like Vittorio Foa. The entry of the party into government in 1963 and the subsequent foundation of the PSIUP further distanced the intellectual dissidents?
There was no equivalent split in the Communist Party until the Manifesto group’s formation in 1969, although prestigious individuals like the philosopher Lucio Colletti left in protest against Stalinism. However, it was an obligatory point of reference and target of criticism as the biggest party and the custodian of Marxist orthodoxy.
The critiques made of the parties were predominantly of what was seen as their ‘social democratization’. This was most evident in the case of the Socialist Party, but was also thought to apply to a Communist Party that was oriented to parliamentarism and losing touch with the industrial working class. This line of analysis had a long history in the writings of the Bordigist and Trotskyist organizations, which claimed to be the genuine heirs to Marx and Lenin. For them, the key to revolution lay in the role of the party and the adoption of the ‘correct political line’. In the 1960s this approach was given a new lease of life with the popularity of the Chinese model following the Cultural Revolution of 1965-6. The Chinese model answered a call for orthodoxy and the wish to believe in a promised land. However, the critiques developed by the Quaderni Rossi, and by Raniero Panzieri in particular, departed from this sterile tradition. They questioned elements of the tradition itself as well as what were seen as its deformations at the hands of the Socialist and Communist Parties.
Panzieri’s critique was far-reaching and had lasting effects precisely because it did not recapitulate the attacks on the parties for ‘betraying’ the working class or for deviating from the orthodoxies. He said quite simply that the problems went back to the founding fathers themselves, whose object of analysis had been laissez faire capitalism. A consequence of this was that they gave disproportionate importance to planning and to the common ownership of the means of production as the defining features of socialism. It was, then, these aspects that predominated in the thinking of the modern parties. They espoused the vogue for technological change, planning and modernization, thereby subordinating themselves to the logic of neo-capitalist development. Panzieri did not spell out his own position, but in his writings others found critiques of the vanguardist conception of the party, ideas for council communism, and the brief for ltalian appropriations of Chinese experiments in breaking down divisions of mental and manual labour. Panzieri did not live long enough to see this happen, and was not a person lightly to dismiss the parties and unions with which he had worked for so long. However, a younger generation had less caution and greater expectations.
The question of alternative organization and concrete political intervention haunted the intellectuals associated with the reviews. Above all, they accepted the Marxist insistence on the unity of theory and practice. However, they were more in agreement over their differences with the traditional Left than in how to act on their ideas. The problem was less pressing for Quaderni Piacentini which assumed the role of a forum and published articles from a range of viewpoints, including the first appearances in Italian of writings by Marcuse, Horkheimer and Habermas. For the Quaderni Rossi, on the other hand, disagreement ended in splits and the launching of Classe Operaia. The editorial group was divided in its estimation of whether the time was ripe for setting up a revolutionary organization; Panzieri and Vittorio Reiser referred to the engineering contract of 1962 as a defeat for both the unions and the working class, while for the future founders of Classe Operaia, Romano Alquati and Mario Tronti, the former had indeed been defeated, but the working class had made a ‘qualitative leap’.
The fate of Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia, neither of which survived longer than a couple of years, would be of little interest but for their place in the history of the Italian New Left. Their role has retrospectively acquired mythic qualities. Particularly celebrated were Tronti’s articles: ‘Lenin in England’, ‘Factory and Society’ and ‘The Strategy of Refusal’, which proved to be founding documents of Italian operaismo. A key formulation was:
We too have worked with a concept that puts capitalist development first and the workers second, and this is a mistake. Now we have to turn the problem on its head . . . and start again from the beginning: and the beginning is the class struggle of the working class. At the level of socially developed capital, capitalist development follows hard behind the struggles ....
From this perspective, the history of recent capitalist development was rethought; the major economic transformations, mass production and state initiatives to underwrite wage gains and job security were seen as responses to working class insurgency in the period following the Russian Revolution. These, in turn, created the conditions for new levels of class struggle. The mass worker of the modern factory, unlike the craft worker of an earlier stage of capitalist development, expressed a radical antagonism to the production process itself. The ‘strategy of refusal’, to use Tronti’s words, entailed the refusal of production obligations (through strikes, sabotage and manning struggles) and the escalation of wage demands. Tronti interpreted these tacit and tactical practices as workers’ struggles to make the fulfilment of needs independent of capital’s requirements. For him the mass worker short-circuited union representation, and traditional party policies.
The concept of workers’ autonomy (autonomia operaia) was not invented by Tronti, but he had an important role in defining a term which was to become a touchstone of revolutionary politics over the next ten years. (A mapping of the different uses to which the term has been put would make an interesting study in its own right. It was important not only for political activists but set the terms of wider cultural debate. In the mid and late sixties workers’ autonomy was understood to mean autonomy from capital (the refusal of workers to define their need and demands according to capital’s need for labour power subordinate to the rhythms of the production process), and autonomy from external organizations (workers’ independence from the parties and unions which were seen to be subservient to capital). As such, it represented the most absolute and essentialist conception of social movement. However, the problem of assessing the influence of the new ideas about political movements remains. How significant were people like Panzieri and Tronti, who were the outside agitators? Did they undermine the old inevitability, and were they also ‘the travelling salesmen of the new inevitability? Most people, if they had been asked this question in 1967, would undoubtedly have dismissed as irrelevant the reviews and the alternative organizations of the New Left. The circulation of the former were highly restricted; in late 1967 Quaderni Piacentini sold 4,000 copies, and Classe Operaia sold a maximum of 5,000 before it ceased publication in 1966.The organizations were weak. An inquiry by the review Nuovo lmpegno in 1967 found that they numbered eighteen, but they had ‘virtually no workers inside them, and little effect on struggles or presence in the factories’. Bechelloni writes that
this political culture was developed in restricted intellectual circles, and, during the 1960s, had only the faintest of echoes in political and cultural debate and in political events.
Moreover, the reviews were taken by surprise by the sudden rise of the student movement. They had paid little attention to the problems inside the educational institutions, or to the protest in the United States. A certain fixation with the factory conflict produced myopia in relation to other social tensions. Moreover, the reformist and modernizing ambitions of the government were taken at face value as the manifestation of neo-capitalist planning, so that their demise was not seriously considered.
However, measurement of influence by circulation and membership figures can be misleading. Quaderni Rossi illustrates this. It was a review with a small circulation, but a disproportionately large readership. It played a seminal role in the emergence of a sociology of the workers’ movement, but the review was also a point of reference and inspiration for a generation of political and trade union activists. It gave dignity and significance to workers’ opinions and experience.
An interview recorded in 1967 with a union activist at the Sit Siemens electrical engineering factory in Milan is interesting on this point. She recalls that when she went to complain to Communist Party officials that they had not understood the problems on the shop-floor (tens of women had been suffering fainting fits and hysteria because of the pressure of work, but the union agreed to compensation rather than a reduction of line-speeds):
they came back at me with ‘that’s what the Quaderni Rossi people say` and so on. I, poor thing, hadn’t a clue who these people were, so I went to find out.
She described how, when she went to speak about working conditions at . meetings, ‘an official was sent with me so that I bore witness to my experience, and he drew the political conclusions’. The Quaderni Rossi experiment, in other words, proposed an alternative method of political work which attempted to overcome this division of labour. The ideas coming from the New Left need to be put in the broader context of their intellectual significance and their fashionableness. They presented challenges to the orthodox readings of Marx, Lenin and Gramsci. They were like a breath of fresh air. For example, Asor Rosa’s Scrittori e Popolo, which attacked neo—Gramscian accounts of the Italian literature, and Tronti’s Operai e Capitale were intellectual landmarks for the younger generation in the universities. Publishers who sympathized with these views, saw the market possibilities opened up by interest in such radical political texts. They promoted and capitalized on the emergence of a new market, and fed the immense hunger for cultural and political discussion with a flow of new publications. Primo Moroni and Bruna Miorelli have written:
A great laboratory was formed in which Stalinists, libertarians, council communists, Leninists, operaisti and ‘spontanists’ all took part. Their strictly political themes mixed with Marcuse, Laing, Cooper, the Frankfurt School. Remember the enormous impact of don Milani’s Letter to a School-Teacher which was printed by a minuscule publisher with organic ties with the community. If it now seems little more than . . . populist, at the time it gave vent to an aggressive radical opposition to the system. Books and symbols of the international struggles in China, Vietnam and Cuba were readily consumed. The Feltrinelli bookshops sold literally tons of Che Guevara posters. The old public made up of intellectuals, trade unionists and party officials was joined by a new type of purchaser - the student and young worker. The old eighteenth century idea of the bookshop as a place of culture was superseded by the modern one of the market opening on to the street.
Of the more established publishers, it was Giangiacomo Feltrinelli who proved most adept at sowing the seeds of new-leftism and reaping the subsequent harvest in the wake of 1968. His story is both intriguing and illuminating.
Feltrinelli, the millionaire owner of one of Milan’s largest publishing companies, was fascinated by the Latin American revolutionary movements and dreamt of imitating its methods of guerilla warfare in Italy. He was, therefore, attracted by elements of the New Left who looked to Cuba and the Third World for inspiration, rather than by the traditional Left. An article in the review La Sinistra in July1967 drew a picture of Feltrinelli:
His hair, long and disorderly like a beatnik’s, his moustache drooping and wearing a very colourful tie . . . he spoke to us of his conversations with Fidel, and of the uplifting experience of a people .. . who generously supported the fight against Yankee imperialism.
Although Feltrinelli’s relations with the New Left were full of contradictions on account of his wealth (these came into the open when a student meeting greeted him with the slogan: ‘Two, three, a thousand million’), nevertheless his readiness to publish its documents and to provide financial support should not be lightly dismissed.
Firstly, Feltrinelli, along with smaller publishers like Samona and Savelli, pioneered the opening up of a new market, and, in the process, gave currency to the new ideas. Thus, the social movements were able to make use of already existing networks linking political initiatives to the publishers. Secondly, Feltrinelli’s attraction to the revolutionary cause illustrates the way that romance and adventure were fashionably associated with the Left in this period. His case is exceptional, but the phenomenon of ‘defections’ by the sons and daughters of the wealthy and influential in Italy was to take on scandalous proportions.
In early 1967 the New Left was marginal to political and intellectual life in Italy, but it was perhaps not as marginal as might at first be imagined. Clearly, the reviews were the preserve of a tiny minority, and the established parties dominated debate. At the same time, as analysis of the student movement will show, the new ideas made considerable inroads into the acceptance of the parties as the inevitable representatives of opposition in the country. More generally, the New Left was a symptom of wider shifts of opinion. Many of the themes developed by the New Left on the nature of modern capitalism and on the reorganization of the factory, touched on problems that were preoccupying people who had to live with worsening working conditions and falling wages. The themes developed by Quaderni Rossi and its operaist offspring were in many ways prophetic. A marginal grouping of intellectuals managed to put their finger on the pulse of discontent and to identify its causes in the transformations of the labour process in the factories, but in addition they anticipated the radical demands. In the mid sixties few listened, but by the end of the decade the call for the abolition of grades, for lump sum wage increases, for the elimination of piece rates, for direct workers’ democracy, were heard in hundreds of workplaces.
However, workers, who had little enough opportunity to come into contact with the new Left ideas before 1968, arrived at radical analyses of society by other routes. For them, the older traditions of resistance - Socialist, Communist and even Catholic - and the ‘moral economies’ of workplace and community - were more important in shaping their rebellion. These agitators were, moreover, insiders rather than outsiders.
The agitators within the factories in the period before 1968 were mainly drawn from, or had been within, the ranks of the Communist Party, and were the backbone of union organization. They were especially well qualified for this role for a number of reasons, which related mostly to their political rather than their trade union identities. Above all, these people resisted the pressures of everyday experience that seemed to say that nothing could really be changed. A woman militant recalls the positive aspects of her experience of the party, which she subsequently left in 1967; to the question: ‘Did you always believe in revolution and the overthrow of the state?’, she replied:
Yes, , . . it seemed that at a certain moment along the road something could happen that had never happened before . . . at one level, ingenuously, I believed that this society is not ours, and we must create a society of our own that is different. This is what the PCI taught and it did it well. It is not by chance that it took the best part of the working class because of its sense of responsibility the militant had to be very serious, honest, humble, conscientious, and present himself to the workers by putting himself at their service.
The life of this particular agitator bears witness to her words, in that she was sacked several times for her activism (a penalty she viewed as an ordinary part of her ‘training’), but her struggle was also against the ‘sense of resignation... the feeling that as a woman you have to accept what you’re given’.
The Communist Party membership and background was, however, no automatic guarantee of a militant’s ability to represent and mobilize fellow workers. When ideology was separated out from, and even counter-posed to the ‘moral economies’ of groups of workers, then it could function repressively as seen in the instance of the response of PCI officials to emotional reactions to working conditions, which was regarded as an economic issue to be resolved by monetary agreement. In the mid to late sixties, a number of agitators found themselves in conflict with the party, which seemed incapable of organizing the intense feelings of resentment and outrage on the shop-floor, and which they felt had reneged on its promise to bring about radical change. For them, immersion in the daily realities of the factory was also an act of purification and a return to the roots of the Communist project. The role of these agitators was enhanced by their political connections, which linked them to outside networks, giving them additional resources of information and moral and intellectual support.
The Marxist tradition, in all its many variants, was undoubtedly the most significant ideology in encouraging the idea of social transformation in the 1960s. A whole history, as has been mentioned, lies behind this legacy. Catholicism, by contrast, was predominantly associated with social and political conservatism. However, radical interpretations of Catholic belief, often influenced by Marxist thought, took shape among workers as well as among intellectuals. Interesting light can be thrown on the role of agitator as evangelist by the autobiography of Antonio Antonuzzo, in whom life in the modern factory provoked deep-felt moral outrage.
Antonio Antonuzzo was Sicilian in origin, but his family transferred to . Tuscany in search of work, a search that eventually took him to Milan. In 1961 he got a job at Alfa Romeo. For the first three years he was the typical, obedient hard worker. He got the job after receiving help from the Christian Democrats and a charity organization for immigrants, and gained promotion to skilled status because of his good relations with the foreman. At work his main concern was self-advancement through hard work, and, although not a scab, during strikes he went with his friends (mostly meridionali like himself) to ‘seek out a woman with a good heart who sells the wares of love’. Their idea of collective action did not rise above bargaining the rate with the women concerned.
Antonuzzo does not point to a single incident as precipitating a change from an individualist, deferential consciousness to a belief that there was a collective way of struggling to save the working class from its subordination. He writes of becoming aware of the disproportion between wages and work done, but more significant is a sense of revulsion at the inhumanity perpetrated in the factory: 'When a machine broke down, you became aware of how little you mattered to the management: a series of technicians rushed to get it working, whilst when a worker had an accident or could no longer work they replaced him by a more efficient one.’ It shocked him that such things were tolerated by the Catholic Church; ‘in the name of Christ they justified the injustices suffered by the exploited. But it was through the radicalized Catholic FIM-CISL that Antonuzzo became a militant. He applied himself assiduously to unionizing others, using his mobility as a ‘jolly’ and his speed as a worker to travel around the factory. Often he wrote articles for the factory union paper in the lavatory. In an attempt to buy him off, management offered Antonuzzo a foreman’s job, but he had already decided against the individualist option so that the offer could only increase his angry determination to foment revolt. His account of the treatment meted out to scabs during the 1966 industrial dispute celebrates an old ritual of collective theatre in which the ‘Judas’ is paid off:
I collected five lire from every worker on my team and I said to every one of them that they should shout ‘scab’ when I threw the money on the bench in front of him.
For Antonuzzo the discovery of the union coincided with the creation for himself of a new identity and sense of belonging. It was deeply personal:
until I joined the union I saw the family as a personal matter. After joining, I came to think about it as something I shared with other people.
His conception of society and of his place in it had been transformed. The experience was something that he felt the need to communicate to his fellow workers. When in 1967 he became a full-time organizer for the FIM-CISI, he was given the possibility of dedicating himself completely to the cause he had espoused. He experienced the joys of evangelism: ‘when I went among the workers . . . I had a host of things to say because I felt one of them and I was happy because they listened to me with attention.’ Antonuzzo’s rebellion against injustice was very particular and his conversion to socialism was minoritarian. It was especially marked by his Catholic faith and his southern origins, and it took place in a period in which the majority of workers appeared to accept their lot. However, his anger and thirst for action were not isolated and hidden obsessions; rather, Antonuzzo could sense himself giving vent to collective feelings. It was a time when the rumble of popular protest could be heard under the surface of the society; it was a time that agitators dream of.
Cracks in the Fabric
In 1968-9 Italy experienced what Gramsci termed an ‘organic crisis’. Social movements broke the mould of institutional definitions of politics, and the insurgency in civil society put the authority of the ruling bloc in question. But, as has been shown in this chapter, the mould was already badly cracked before it was put under the intense pressure of new political demands. There was a massive withdrawal of support and delegation with respect to the structures of representation, especially in the light of the failure of the Centre-Left government to live up to its promises. It was a clear case of the ‘ruling class failing to achieve a noteworthy political enterprise for which it had demanded their approval’. Disappointment and disillusionment were registered in the general elections of May 1968 ·when the Socialist Party votes fell dramatically, and the small rival to the left, the PSIUP, won ground. However, the rift between representatives and represented went further. Emilio Colombo’s summary of the cause of the crisis in progress, given to the national council of the Christian Democratic Party in January 1969, is instructive:
Where have we fallen short? It seems to me that reforms have got nowhere, so the structures of civil society have aged and the whole fabric has deteriorated. Social forces have not found suitable channels for the expression of their sense of freedom. That’s why the moment of pluralism is becoming, in our society, a moment of disorder. The wave of unrest, and even irrationality, is all the more disturbing when sectors which are by nature given to reformist action pursue revolutionary objectives because of their profound disillusionment with the methods and timing whereby reforms have been carried out by the politicians.
The failure of the Centre-Left reforms had particularly serious consequences given the scale and stressfulness of the socio economic changes following the ‘miracle’ years. There was the growth of widespread scepticism about the possibility of redressing injustices and reducing inequalities through parliamentary measures. The Communist Party, too, was affected by this mood, which strengthened the hand of its left-wing and dissident members. In this context, the revolutionary option did not seem very much less realistic than the reformist one, particularly when Italian history seemed to suggest that sudden and dramatic popular mobilizations produced more results than gradual parliamentary reforms. The social contract, in other words, could it seemed, only be redrawn through the actions of social movements. This tradition of popular protest was part of a rich historical legacy that still had adherents within a Communist Party that had been systematically excluded from government since 1947. It was, moreover, the moving force behind the agitators who were heretics looking for an authentically revolutionary communism. With the demise of the political parties, the idea of political action that dealt on the spot with problems and injustices acquired its rationale and legitimacy, even though it appeared irrational to government ministers.
The ideologies of resistance and rebellion, and the moral economies of groups of workers were of great importance to the process of social mobilization which began in late 1967. Without them, the crisis of representation would have produced disillusionment without hope in change. As the interpreters and propagandists of discontent, the agitators played a crucial role, especially in the early stages of the movements. Although the surge of collective defiance surprised most militants in the factories in 1968, nevertheless they were ready, in that they looked to their fellow workers rather than to the organizations as the force for change in the world. Similarly, among students it was the exponents of the New Left who were most prepared to initiate disruption and construct alternatives. The role of the agitators was undoubtedly positive in many respects, though with the proviso that they were in many respects the revivers of an older faith rather than apostles of a new one.
Part 2: The student movement
The student movement in Italy, as in other Western European countries, became the archetypal movement of opposition of the late sixties. It came to represent and symbolize new forms of rebellion and discontent as it was not a residue of older historical antagonisms, and arose in a period of relative growth and prosperity. Education was widely heralded by governments and parties, especially of the social democratic Left, as the means of levelling social differences, broadening the basis of citizenship and guaranteeing future prosperity. However, it produced the bitter fruit of conflict. Youth - the generation destined to create the future utopia - turned into a social problem and the angry conscience of a divided society.
The impact of the student movement owed much to the fact that it was an aspect of an organic crisis. Students were the first social group to mobilize en masse when conflict in the workplaces and in society as a whole was at its lowest level since the mid fifties. Moreover, it was the first time that students emerged as a social subject in their own right. Previously they had acted in support of other groups in a subordinate capacity. They had taken up general political questions. Now, students were important numerically. They were part of a new social grouping - youth - that came into being with the extension of schooling. But the student movement’s novelty and its significance as a model of social action gave it a historical role out of all proportion to the students’ relatively marginal position in society. In this section, the student movement will be analysed in the period starting from its origins in the early 1960s to its eclipse by the workers’ movement in 1969. Chapter 4 deals with the educational reforms of the Centre-Left government, which created or aggravated many of the conditions that provoked the student revolt. Subsequent chapters deal with the movement in the universities, and the emergence of a specific ‘student politics’, with case studies of the movements at the Catholic and State Universities in Milan in 1968-9. In addition there is an examination of the movement in the Milanese schools. Lastly, there are chapters on the student movement’s impact on the education system, and on its more diffused effects on political and cultural life in Italy. Although student politics grew up within the institutions, the development of the theme of ‘student-worker unity’ led logically to more general political orientations. The popularization of ideas about ‘cultural revolution’ meant that the activities of radical intellectuals working not only within fields like theatre but also in the professions were rethought, with important consequences for the spread of conflicts into every sphere of Italian society.
04. From mass schooling to mass protest: failures of the education system
A logical starting point for an analysis of the student movement is the 1962 education reform that established mass secondary schooling in Italy, and led to an expansion of the intake of the further education sector. However, some introduction of concepts is necessary to put the reform in proper analytic and historical perspective. To begin with, as Richard Johnson insists in his important work on the history of education in Britain, ‘education’ and ‘schooling’ need to be distinguished. The two terms tend to be treated as synonymous, thereby assuming that knowledge is primarily acquired within the four walls of an institution. This idea exists not only in the definitions given by teachers and policy makers, but in the common sense notions of everyday speech. The conflation of education with schooling seems to be a ‘natural’ fact, whereas it is the result of a historical process with important consequences for how society’s conceptions of knowledge are constructed. Richard Johnson writes that it has practical effects:
it tends to naturalise existing educational arrangements, and to marginalise and devalue less formal means of learning. It constructs a sharp divide between school (where we learn/ are educated) and life outside those institutional walls (where we work/play). It tends to enhance the role of the professional teacher and the organised curriculum over other sources of wisdom and more practical knowledges. Above all, it tends to hide from view a whole history of the construction of schooling or encourages the belief in some simple history of progress, a history with no costs, no struggles, no ambiguities.
Richard Johnson goes on to develop two other categories from British historical examples to describe the political strategies involved in the social construction of education and schooling.; They are the substitutionalist strategy, which conceives of education in non-institutional terms, and the statist strategy that focuses on schooling. Historically, the pursuit of substitutionalist ideas and practices of education arose with the popular movements of the first half of the nineteenth century. In them, learning was a group activity related to class and human emancipation. Knowledge was valued for its usefulness in changing the world, and education was thought of in the broadest sense as the acquisition of skills and learning through everyday experience as well as through books.
The statist strategy emerged at a later point when ‘capital had secured a , tighter control over the conditions of labour’, reducing the margins of autonomy and the resources of time and income necessary for the earlier experience of popular self-education. It was directed towards
increasing state educational provision and access to it for the working class. By contrast with substitutionalism, the statist approach tended to identify education with schooling, and to delegate power and responsibility to others, namely the public authorities and the teaching profession. Richard Johnson remarks that:
Most forms of statist strategy . . . deepen the separations which constitute the specifically educational forms of oppression. They deepen the divisions between adult and child, between education and the rest of living, and between professional educators and their curricula and the knowledge that is produced outside the academic institutions.
However, he is careful to stress that the strategies should not simply be counter-posed or oversimplified; the statist approach has not concentrated exclusively on the question of access, but has involved struggles over the control of institutions and the nature of the curriculum and of teaching. The very creation and extension of state provision makes certain forms of substitutionalism anachronistic, and substitutionalism has tended to become compensatory. However, Johnson insists that it is not therefore defunct as a strategy. Indeed it can be said that the student movements of the sixties put these questions back on the agenda. But before looking at this movement, it is necessary to outline the previous struggles over education in Italy, and at the reforms carried out by the Centre-Left government.
In an earlier period when the mass of the population was excluded from the vote on the grounds of illiteracy, and when educational provision was minimal, not the school, but the Socialist Party and other popular organizations in Italy were the people’s ‘educators’. An account of pre-1914 struggles for knowledge stresses its political dimension:
Socialism is a school because the leaders of the party are interested in enrolling the greatest number of voters . . . then, for the workers better to absorb the principles of socialism, it is necessary they acquire the habit of reading. Already among the working class itself new personalities are arising who live the same lives as the workers and yet because of their greater intellectual achievement, they become the pioneers.
In this practice of education, learning was collective and functional to the needs of the group rather than to individual self-advancement. It also contained an idea of learning through social practice, which as the aspect elaborated by Gramsci in his factory council writings when he counter-posed the real knowledge and control of the production process by the workers, to the intellectual bankruptcy of the capitalists.
This substitutionalist strategy, which concentrated on creating alternative educational organs such as newspapers, training militants and fostering a socialist culture, was dominant within the working-class movement when it was excluded from full citizenship. With the establishment of schooling for all and universal suffrage in 1945, substitutionalism became a secondary and to a large extent residual element of the strategy of the Left in the educational field. However, it was not entirely superseded. Christian Democrat control of the educational system, the deficiencies of state schooling and the implantation of the PCI as a mass party excluded from participation in government made it both feasible and desirable to sustain some elements of an alternative educational practice. In the 1960s there was a marked decline in the PCI’s activity in this sense, but groups of dissident intellectuals to its Left were active in reviving ideas of autonomous workers’ education.
For the parties and trade unions of the Left a statist strategy prevailed over the substitutionalist. The realization of the demand for free, compulsory state education, even if inadequate and deformed, set the terms for an approach to education based on demands for its extension and reform as a public service. In the immediate postwar period, they lost the opportunity provided by extensive working class mobilization and presence in government to push through radical reforms; the primary objective was to make the existing system function. Lucio Lombardo Radice of the PCI wrote:
It is not a question of whether it is just or not that the best elements of the working classes are excluded de facto from secondary and further education, but of whether the Italian school, as it is organized today, is an efficient instrument for the reconstruction of the country.
This approach meant accepting ruthless selection and the fundamental division between training and education.
This failure to reform the educational system had long-term consequences. The tripartite division inherited from the Gentile reforms remained intact; five years of compulsory schooling for all, in which the post-elementary stage was divided into lower secondary and training. Further education was divided into the liceo and technical institutes, and then there was university for a privileged minority. The class character of the system was very marked, although it was entirely state controlled except for a few Church controlled schools and the nursery sector. In 1959-60, only 20 per cent of thirteen- to fourteen-year-old children got the lower secondary certificate, and at thirteen 49 per cent of children left school. In the fifties an estimated 18 per cent of the population used Italian rather than dialect as their main language; Italian-speakers were largely those who had passed through further education. The Idealist tradition, which drew a sharp distinction between a humanist education and technical training, and gave absolute priority of the mind over the body, had its economic rationale too. Demand was for cheap, unskilled labour, on the one hand, and for an educated minority for the liberal professions. Literary subjects (the classics, history, literature, were taught, though sociology and economics did not appear on the curriculum) were privileged over the sciences. The exercise of the body was not included within school activities; not even prestigious licei had sports facilities. There was no form of sex education, while the teaching of moral values owed much to the Church, which had reinforced its position in the postwar period. It exercised its influence through compulsory religious education, strict censorship of textbooks and interventions in policy-making in the Christian Democrat Party. This also contributed to the patriarchal regime in which the teacher stood in for the father (the vast majority of teachers in secondary schools were male), and ruled with iron discipline. The forms of control extended directly to the family, in that from elementary school onwards all marks on tests and on behaviour were taken back to the parents; this practice was inherited from the Fascist period.
The strategy of the Left parties in the early fifties was based on criticizing the ideological content at education, in particular its subjection to Church influence. In 1959 the PCI moved from a defensive position to the formulation of reform proposals for secondary schooling. It advocated a single compulsory school for all, the raising of the leaving age to fourteen, the abolition of compulsory Latin and the extension of science teaching. The idea of comprehensive education contained in the proposal, which was substantially made law in 1962, was advanced in comparison to other European school systems; Giorgio Ruffolo writes that the reform envisaged:
The introduction of a wide variety of subjects related to the lived culture of our time, the granting of a certain independence to departments, the establishment of extra schooling, and differentiated classes and special classes for pupils in difficulty.
In effect, the reform brought Italy into line with other industrial capitalist states by transforming an elitist into a mass secondary schooling system. The numbers attending secondary school increased from 1,150,000 to 1,982,000 between 1959 and 1969. Between 1966 and 1970 education moved from the fifth to the first most important item of government expenditure - 6 per cent of the Gross National Income, as compared with 5.6 per cent in Britain and 4 per cent in France, was spent on education.
The major shortcoming of the strategies of the PCI and PSI, which were the chief parties promoting educational reform, was their almost exclusive focus on ‘access’. For them the problem was to extend the benefits of secondary schooling to children who had previously been excluded from the system or restricted to training for skilled manual work. The quantitative demand for more schooling and more facilities prevailed over qualitative demands. The issue of control remained marginal, and was framed in terms of public versus private provision, which was significant only in relation to the nursery sector. The curriculum was modernized and made more relevant through the inclusion of more science teaching, but forms of pedagogy were not discussed. Under the rhetoric of egalitarianism that proclaimed education as a ‘right for all’, there was a strong current of meritocratic and technocratic thinking that clouded any perception of the emergence of new forms of discrimination and selection within the reformed secondary school. Moreover, analysis of the relation between the more qualified youth and the availability and types of work in the economy was scanty or utopian. The Project 580 government forecast, for example, projected a single education
system up to the age of sixteen for 80 per cent of youth on the assumption that there would be a massive expansion in demand for technically qualified manpower.
The limits of the reform were also manifested in the forms of action that the parties and unions adopted in campaigning for it. Mobilization tended to be external to the educational institutions themselves. The issue was raised at election times. For the unions, education was significant in that educational qualifications provided the basis for enlarging their definition of ‘skill’ as a bargaining counter with the employers. Otherwise, the unions delegated responsibility for education to the parties, which privileged parliamentary and legislative activity. It was the complex task of winning assent among the parties which shaped legislative decisions, rather than popular mobilization and debate. The strike wave of the 1960-63 period did not impinge directly on the education issue, though it provided the conditions for the formation of the Centre-Left government. The eclipse of substitutionalism as a popular form of educational practice, and hence the decline of a sense that there were alternatives, meant that critiques of the state system lost a popular and radical dimension. Reform was carried out over and above the heads of the mass of the population.
Moreover, the lack of a consistent pro reform current within the secondary schools themselves, and the weakness of unionization by the confederations in the educational institutions, meant that there was no effective alliance between progressive politicians and the profession.
In consequence, the implementation of the 1962 reform largely escaped the control of its political advocates. It was conditioned rather by the traditionalism of the authorities within the schools, by the rightward shift in government policies, and by the changes in the labour market. Contradictions arising from the perpetuation of practices inherited from Liberal and Fascist regimes combined with new ones to produce a long drawn-out crisis in the system.
The majority of teachers resisted the changes in order to defend privileges acquired when they were the prestigious representatives of the state in a largely illiterate rural society. The autonomous professional associations concentrated on representing their corporate interests and did not participate in constructing the reforms. Their relatively light teaching load, averaging fourteen hours a week, was not increased, but the additional work was done through the use of part-time and temporary teachers. The relationship between teachers and pupils in the secondary school kept many of its authoritarian features, which headmasters jealously guarded.
Government policies did little to alleviate or improve the situation. No comprehensive programme of teachers’ training was established, and investment in infrastructures to cope with the increased intake was inadequate. There were serious shortages of textbooks, and class-rooms; by the next decade 14 per cent of elementary schools worked a double shift system or rented rooms. The burden fell particularly on the working-class children, especially those of the south; in 1966-7 failures to get the elementary certificate included 15 per cent of children from secondary schooling. In 1971 three-quarters of Italians did not have a qualification higher than an elementary certificate; 14.7 per cent had a secondary school qualification.
The restriction of reform to the secondary school put great pressure on the upper secondary school (scuola media superiore) and the university. The upper secondary school had a structure which was a century old. In the upper secondary sector, the main division was between the liceo (of which were of two types - the Iiceo classico for the humanities and the liceo scientifico for the sciences), and the technical institutes. The former tended to have a predominance of students from middle-class families, with only 10 per cent of working-class background compared with over 30 per cent in the technical institutes. It was these institutions that had to deal with the influx of students from the reformed secondary schools, who were choosing to continue their studies rather than enter the job market. In 1960, 82,000 out of a total of 311,000 left school for work, whilst in 1968 only 91,700 out of 507,000 did so. The numbers going to the upper secondary school had doubled. The structures, however, were ill-adapted for such changes; a high degree of centralization prevented flexibility: teachers had little autonomy, syllabuses were set by the ministry of education, and heads were directly responsible to the ministry. The result was a fall in educational standards measured in terms of attendance and the ‘drop-out’ rate; a report of 1969 spoke of 10 per cent of liceo classico and 24 per cent of the instituto professionale students leaving at the end of the first year.
The universities also enormously expanded their intake; the number of students increased from 268,181 in 1960-61 to 404,938 in 1965-6. Legislation opened access to science faculties to students from the institutes in 1961, and in 1965 entrance by examination and the fixed quota (numero chiuso) were abolished. The number of students from the working class thereby increased from 14 per cent in 1960-1 to 21 per cent in 1967-8. However, the privileged point of entry into the university was through the liceo. The term ‘mass university’ was misleading when only one in sixteen went to university. The number of women students doubled between 1960 and 1968, but in 1968 accounted for just under one third of the intake.
Although the social base of the university had been broadened, a social and economic selection replaced one imposed by examination structures. The institution functioned as a sort of funnel that was wide at the point of entry and narrow at the exit. The drop-out rate, length of time for course completion and examination results showed up the disadvantages suffered by students of working-class origins. An average 14 per cent of students dropped out, though many fewer did so in the faculties of law and medicine which were predominantly middle class in composition. The problem of course completion was chronic, with two-thirds not finishing in the prescribed time. Examination results and future prospects related to class origin, with a higher success rate in the courses preparing students for the liberal professions. Guido Martinotti compares the Italian and English universities of the late sixties in terms of their social function:
In 1966 about 81 per cent of those with a secondary school certificate went to university, but only 44 per cent succeeded in getting a degree. A comparison between the two systems shows how the two results are virtually identical; whether the selection happens prevalently before or after university, a large part of the student population does not reach the end of the period of study. In the English system this takes place through an evaluation of merit (since the selection largely precedes the university due to a limitation on student numbers). Meanwhile, in the Italian case, selection is left to the game of chance, or, to put it more exactly, to the social factors that intervene to regulate it.
Since only 5 per cent of students received a grant, which was in itself at insufficient to cover the costs of maintenance and study, the poorer students were forced to work in order to study. An inquiry in 1965-6 in five universities found that 14 per cent of students were in this situation, whilst 66 per cent depended entirely on their parents for maintenance. The consequences were lived out in lower educational achievement and the abandonment of further study. Private means grew in importance as the quality of public provision declined. The staff-student ratio worsened to reach 1:60 in the early 1970s, and library facilities and building did not expand to meet the increased demand.
Corrosion and Landslides in the Educational System
The reform and expansion of the education system proved a bitter disappointment to the leading reformers themselves, who had hoped it would lead to the modernization of Italian society, They made up for the shortage of skilled manpower and technicians that had been identified as a bottleneck in the economy in the early 1960s. Yet, in the process, the supply increased well in excess of the demand. Although the reformed secondary school played its part in satisfying demand for young male workers who were better qualified and more versatile, the rise in educational expectations meant that the secondary school acted as a point of departure for further education rather than as a terminal point.
Although economic considerations were important in educational policy-making, these have to be placed in the context of the political calculations and cultural orientations of the politicians themselves. Above-all, education as an issue involved the winning of consent and the forging of alliances. When education was made more widely available it created expectations and hopes of betterment that were important elements in legitimating the system. The Christian Democrats were particularly conscious of such considerations. A humanist political culture was combined in the Christian Democratic Party with a sensitivity to the requirements of patronage. Everything was done to avoid damaging vested interests. After the concession of the 1962 reform, which was one of the conditions for Socialist Party’s participation in government, further changes were piecemeal compromises designed to keep alliances intact. The expansion of state employment (which absorbed 80 per cent of graduates) and of the tertiary sector have been interpreted as an aspect of a strategy of the ruling bloc to maintain its hegemony over the educationally qualified sectors, who were a potential source of social tension. This particular concern for winning over intellectuals has a long history in Italy. A remark by Gonella, minister of education in 1946, is telling:
the social order can be destroyed not only through the revolutionary agitation of the masses, but also through the slow corrosion and the consequent landslide that undermine the moral defences represented by the intellectual classes. If those defences fail, a society can tumble into disorder.
This phenomenon of corrosion and landslide took on crisis proportions in the late sixties, and, because of the education reforms, involved a much wider section of society than that represented by the privileged intelligentsia of which Gonella was thinking. The reforms created a whole series of new problems as well as leaving old ones unresolved. Since only the secondary school was changed, leaving the further education system unreformed, imbalance and bottlenecks developed. The universities could not cope efficiently with the massive increase in intake, and then produced graduates in excess of the requirement for qualified employees.
In the 1960s, it was more the problems within education than what happened afterwards that preoccupied students. There was considerable frustration over petty inequalities and officiousness; for example, students going to university from technical institutes could only study science subjects, whilst those from a liceo could study whatever they wished. But there was also a feeling that this, like the organization of exams, was symptomatic of the irrationalities of the education system. The aura of the university was tarnished in overcrowded lecture theatres where doubts were spread as to the intellectual merits of the professors. The committed students who read the latest publications (Asor Rosa’s Scrittori e popolo, for instance) found themselves better informed than some of the lecturers. The crisis in the institutions was also a crisis of cultural legitimacy; that is to say, of their claim to be society’s depository of knowledge.
To understand how this crisis came about it would be necessary to chart the changes within intellectual fields; to see how orthodoxies were being challenged from within a discipline, or how new sorts of knowledge were being championed. Some idea of what this involved can be seen in the case of sociology. The first faculty of sociology was set up in 1962 at the University of Trento on the initiative of progressive elements within the Christian Democratic Party. They wanted to ‘help Italy catch up with the other . advanced countries, creating a new means of managing a society whose complexity was beyond the comprehension of orthodox economic liberalism’. The model was American. The sociologists at the time looked for a ‘prince’ in the form of government policy-makers, and they defined themselves as ‘experts rather than committed participants of social action’. However, by the mid to late sixties, the founders’ project went very wrong. The faculty at Trento became the epicentre of student protest. Moreover, a second generation of sociologists, sharing in the growing disillusionment with the Centre-Left government, began to look for a new role for the discipline, as a force for social change from below rather than from above. There was increasing criticism of the functionalist school of Merton and Parsons, and a re-reading of the classics, Durkheim and Weber, and a new interest in developing a Marxist sociology. The discipline promoted to help understand and solve the problems produced by the economic miracle became a seedbed of dissident opinion.
However, the 1960s was a period when orthodoxies were widely under threat, and developments within the field of sociology are only one extreme example of this process, about which some general observations can be made. Firstly, in the Italian context there was considerable criticism of how appointments were made on the grounds of political affiliation rather than of merit. It seemed that culture was being debased (losing its essential qualities of autonomy and impartiality) in the political market-place. Secondly, the courses were criticised for being out-of-date. The age of academic staff became a metaphor in a conflict in which a younger generation sought to represent modernity and the future society-in-the-making. Thirdly, there was mounting discontent over what was seen as the remoteness of universities and further education from the rest of society. Their outdatedness was related to their self-containment, and their attachment to a mandarin ethos at a time when knowledge and culture were being opened up to previously excluded groups. These conflicts concerned the education process and some of the earliest forms of ‘contestation’ (for example counter-courses) focused on this. But they also became connected with broader political and social questions; the major mobilizations centred on education as a social and political right.
Student grievances accumulated over a multitude of issues, but it took opposition to the Gui bill to bring them into focus. This bill was designed to restrict entry to the universities by fixing quotas. Students denounced the objective as a betrayal of the ideals promoted by the new government itself. They led the first major opposition to the Centre-Left government. Ironically, it was in the field where it had achieved most that the government was challenged.
Educational reform, not economic policy, provoked a storm of moral outrage from the social group to which the PSI looked for support. To explain this, it is perhaps useful to think of de Tocqueville’s observation about how the French king’s attempts to alleviate his subjects’ sufferings made them more not less aware of the injustices. Educational reforms, by improving the chances of young working-class people going to university, drew attention to the fact that very few did. Students went to university with great expectations and found a tawdry reality. Guido Martinotti summed up the contradictions at the heart of the situation:
The clash is between the expectations created by social demand for education and by the egalitarian ideology implicit in the educational system, and today’s realities of social inequalities that deeply structure the university system. The university has been turned from being the means of substituting economic conflicts, into the site of some of the most violent conflicts in society.
Writing of the French situation in the late 1960s, Pierre Bourdieu gives an analysis of the relationship between the expansion of the student intake and the crisis of the value of educational qualifications which is equally applicable to Italy;
The increase in pupils and the concomitant devaluation of educational qualifications (or the educational position to which they provide access) have affected the whole of an age group, thus constituted as a relatively unified social generation through this common experience, creating a structural hiatus between the statutory expectations inherent in the positions and diplomas which in the previous state of the system really did offer corresponding opportunities - and the opportunities actually provided by these diplomas and positions in the moment in question
The crisis in the educational system was, therefore, part of a wider crisis, indeed it formed a meeting point for a range of social, political and cultural conflicts, which will be examined in the chapters that follow.
05. The end of respectability: the student movement in the universities
Crisis of the Old Organizations
Both legislation on education and counter-proposals coming from the left failed to take into account the opinions of the students themselves. Students were treated as the objects of pedagogic practices and the passive recipients of knowledge. Students in the late sixties rebelled against this paternalistic approach to their problems and asserted their own needs and identities. This rebellion took the form of a social movement which expressed new demands, but not before the older forms of representation had proved incapable of channelling and interpreting student activism.
The first protests against government educational policies emerged from within the student organizations connected to the main political parties. The most radical organization was the Unione Goliardica Italiana (UGI) which grouped together adherents of the PCI and PSI; the Intesa represented the Catholic students and had links with the Christian Democrats. From 1948 to 1968 these organizations took part in the Unione Nazionale Rappresentativa Italiana (UNURI), which was an officially recognized body within the universities and spoke for student interests. In 1963 it negotiated grants with the government. The ethos of these organizations derived from the world of the political and cultural elite; the preamble of UGI’s charter read:
The university spirit is composed of culture and intelligence. It is love of liberty and consciousness of one’s responsibilities .... And lastly it is the veneration of the ancient traditions handed down by our free universities.
The politics of the active university students reflected those of the national parliament. UGI and Intesa stood for election to the Organismi Rappresentativi (OORR), which acted as forums of debate. The elections to the OORR in 1964-5 still showed the predominance of conservative opinions among students; UGI received an average 17 per cent of the vote, which was little more than the fascists and just under half that of Intesa.
However, there were signs of change in student politics. During the strikes of 1960-63 large contingents of students participated in the mass demonstrations, and in 1963 all the architecture faculties of Italian universities were occupied. Above all, mobilization against the Gui bill had national dimensions and a high level of participation, culminating in a march in April 1965. This bill for university reform proposed to limit student intake to the universities and to establish three types of course from one year diplomas to the full degree course. It was attacked by UNURI as unjust, and a committee for the ‘reform and democratization of the university’ was set up in cooperation with lecturers to oppose the bill.
The architecture faculties were especially lively centres of student politics in the mid sixties. This seems to have been due to their keen and critical interest in the Centre-Left experiment, for which planning and building programmes were touchstones. At the Polytechnic’s faculty in Milan, study groups analysed the political functions of architecture and criticized courses and learning methods. In particular, students demanded the coordination of subjects into coherent programmes of study, the integration of research and teaching, and the introduction of collective . study. The emphasis was on education as process rather than product. Radical students connected the role of the institution to national politics. Thus, the Centre-Left was increasingly criticized for its failures to ` introduce urban planning and to improve working-class housing, and the Gui bill was criticized for the way it threatened to separate research from teaching and ‘technicize’ the study of architecture. In 1967 opposition to the government turned into a fifty-five day occupation at the Milan faculty. This in many ways anticipated future student actions. An environment was created which was ‘functional to collective living, debate and shared work’; all major decisions were taken by the general meetings rather than by UNURI; commissions were set up to examine political and .. educational issues with the participation of some lecturers. The authorities ended by conceding to demands for seminars and for greater choice of courses.
Events in Milan, however, were eclipsed by student actions in Pisa which brought the crisis of UGI to a head, and radicalized opposition to the government. The Pisan students put themselves on the political map by stepping up the campaign against the government’s reform proposals. In February 1967 they disrupted a conference of university heads, who were meeting in Pisa, occupied some buildings and clashed with police. Throughout the events the official student bodies were bypassed by the activists, and decisions on action were taken at open general meetings. But what made the Pisan students’ initiatives especially important for the development of the movement was their theorization of a new approach to student politics. The ‘Pisan Theses’ became one of its most influential manifestos.
The Theses applied an ‘operaist’ analysis inspired by the Quaderni Rossi to the student situation. They maintained that the transformation of a free market into a planned capitalism required more highly qualified labour power to meet the needs of advanced technological production, as outlined in the government’s Pieraccini plan. Therefore students, who were now defined as the future qualified workers, were no longer a privileged elite, but were ‘objectively’ members of the working class. The political problem, according to the Pisan argument, was to create awareness among students of their real class position, and that this could best be achieved by fighting for student wages. The struggle would bring students and workers together against the common enemy - capitalism and the state.
Although the demand for student wages was not widely taken up, the Pisan approach had a strong appeal, especially among dissident Communist and Socialist aligned students. Like the Marxist heresies of the mid sixties from which they originated, the Pisan Theses promised a certain ideological purity in their militant refusal of parliamentarianism and reformism. At the Rimini conference of UGI in May 1967 the Pisan Theses formed the basis of a current of opposition to the leadership coming from the PSIUP and the left wing of the PCI. The narrow victory of the leadership in the voting of the motions turned out to be pyrhhic; the failure to respond positively to the growing radicalization among students sealed the fate of UGI, Intesa and UNURI. Attempts to provide new organizational solutions fell on deaf ears; the idea of a student’s union in 1967 of a constituent assembly in early 1968 and finally of an ‘organiza- tion of Communist university students’ in March 1968 all remained a dead letter. By the end of 1968 all the organizations had formally dissolved themselves.
The fate of the para-party student organizations, however, served to conceal the degree to which the new generation of activists was formed within them. Like many of the reviews and political groupings, to which it was closely related, the new wave of student opposition to parliamentary reformism took the form of Communist heresies. This is very evident in the case of the Pisan student movement, which was dominated by the operaist theories which emanated from the Quaderni Rossi grouping at nearby Massa, and which was among the first to get actively involved in industrial disputes, making links directly with workers rather than through the unions. This early association of student politics with workers’ struggles and the popularity of the proletarianization thesis gave the Italian movement its most distinctive character, and had lasting effects on its orientations. However, this approach also tended to obscure the problems faced by students themselves, and it was not until these were addressed that the movement was able to take mass forms.
Student Identity and the Politics of Violence
In the winter of 1967 and the first quarter of 1968, student agitation in the universities grew to national proportions. In November the universities of Trento, Turin and Genoa and the Cattolica of Milan were occupied, and in December the movement spread to the south with the occupation of Naples university. In January 1968 thirty-six universities were occupied. The common denominator of the movement was opposition to the Gui bill under discussion in parliament, but, as Rossana Rossanda writes: ‘the students were first of all against the logic that had produced the bill, the political, academic and social mechanisms that generated it.’ At a student movement conference in Milan in March 1968, Mauro Rostagno outlined the nature of the conflict in progress:
The new type of mass social struggle reveals the nature of the new type of social system; it is a social system that tends to destroy independent areas of activity, subjecting them to a centralized, rigid and planned control. Distinctions between the superstructures and structures, between economy and politics, between the public and private no longer make sense .... Study, work, consumption, free time, personal relations . . . all of them enter into a scheme of inputs and outputs that allow conflict but will not tolerate antagonism.
The new conflict involved all spheres of life and helped forge a student identity and politics. This process will be examined in this chapter in relation to the themes of political violence, and fashion, which provide important insights into the movement’s image of itself in its formative period. (Analyses of the movement at the Catholic and State universities of Milan in the following sections will give a more concrete and detailed picture of its development.)
The student movement’s antagonism to the state had been a major source of its unity ever since the Centre-Left government had tried to reform the universities. Anti-reformism was almost an article of faith. However, it became more vivid, immediate and impelling when students and police joined battle in Rome on 20 March, 1968. Student defiance of a ban on demonstrations was met with tear-gas and truncheon charges. That was no novelty; the difference on this occasion was that the students fought back and drove the police off the streets. La Sinistra wrote:
The fight against ‘academic’ and ‘societal’ authoritarianism is now visibly unified; the whole state apparatus is behind the academic structures not only culturally but physically. The truncheon reinforces professorial concepts, the water-cannon speaks for parliamentary majorities, and the old-style exam stands behind the blanket of tear-gas.
The battle of Valle Giulia was a turning point for the student movement. Guido Viale writes:
The government and the movement, from this moment, found themselves face to face as protagonists of a conflict with national dimensions .... The government did not miss another opportunity to force showdowns with students and workers. And the students responded by forming ‘defence organizations’ (servizi d’ordine) to keep control of the streets. At Pisa, a few weeks later, a student demonstration, which ended by occupying the railway station, was organized and well-equipped; everyone wore the same crash helmets as the Japanese and German students.
On 25 March 1968 Milan had its ‘Valle Giulia’. Students at the Catholic University, who had been locked out by the authorities following their eviction from the premises, decided to reoccupy the buildings near Sant’Ambrogio. Previously conflict had always been non-violent; on the one hand, the police treated students with the respect they traditionally paid to the middle classes and the commissar of police maintained an understanding with student leaders. On the other hand, the students themselves used passive resistance and tried to win public sympathy for their cause. However, on this occasion, these rules of the game were broken as both sides resorted to violent means. Although the majority of the six thousand student demonstrators came to protest peacefully, the politicized activists were determined to reoccupy even if this meant a battle. Mario Capanna, one of the leaders, delivered a dramatic speech and ultimatum to serried ranks of police guarding the university gates, saying: ‘We are giving you ten minutes to leave the premises that you are illegally occupying, or we will have to evict you’ (‘Vi diamo dieci minuti per sgomberare’). The students, in other words, were assuming the role of the police and claiming the right to restore order. The police replied to the provocation with violent charges. The kid gloves were taken off, and the peaceful demonstrators, along with the more militant ones, were severely beaten and terrorized. Sixty students were imprisoned, and forty-eight were charged with serious offences. So, in the wake of Valle Giulia, the terms of student-police conflict changed dramatically. For students, the police became a hated enemy, against whom it was legitimate to use force; whilst the police lost all respect for people they regarded as figli di papa (the spoilt children of the privileged), and willingly taught them a lesson.
Guido Viale’s analysis, according to which the government went out of its way to provoke confrontations, needs, however, to be given more precision. Distinctions have to be made between and within the different state apparatuses which were neither uniformly conservative nor completely controlled from above by the executive. It seems that the Centre-Left government had little to gain from violent showdowns with the student movement, and preferred compromises; following the Valle Giulia events it ordered the release of all those arrested and encouraged the university rector to negotiate with the movement. However, within the state’s repressive apparatuses, conservative and right-wing opinion favoured the use of force to put down disorders. In the heat of events, the latter were able de facto to impose their policies of strong policing, and then to oblige the minister of the interior to defend their actions. The toll of deaths and injuries due to police charges, tear-gas canisters and use of firearms escalated as a consequence, especially from the beginning of 1969. At the same time, it should be noted that the student movement as a whole did not make distinctions between the good intentions of ministers and the actions of the police in Italy. Rather, the bloodshed appeared to confirm analyses of the state, according to which it was an instrument of class rule which was fundamentally repressive. The words of one of the movement’s most popular slogans, ‘Smash the state, don’t change it’ (‘Lo Stato si abbatte non si cambia’), reflected this view. The logical consequence of such thinking about the state was the evolution of theories and strategies within the student movement which made political violence a central problem. Pacificism was pronounced dead by common consent; as graffiti put it ‘revolutionary pacificist is like a vegetarian lion.’ Student activists learnt how to make Molotov cocktails as part of their trade, and readers of La Sinistra could find diagrams and instructions to help them. The idea of violent and armed struggle appeared in the movement’s songs and slogans. A list ofthe most popular slogans in the movement, compiled by the magazine L’Espresso’, shows how dominant the theme of violence had become by the end of 1968.
Revolution, yes - revisionism, no (Rivoluzione si - revisionismo no)
Workers’ power - arms to the workers (Potere operaio - armi agli operai)
Power comes out of the barrel of the gun (Il potere sta sulla canna del fucile)
The Vietcong win because they shoot (Vietcong vince perche’ spara)
Violence in return for violence (Violenza alla violenza)
Two, three, lots of Vietnams two, three, lots of Valle Giulias (Due, tre, molti Vietnam due, tre, molte Valle Giulia)
War, no - guerrilla action, yes (Guerra no - guerriglia si)
Furthermore, the most popular song of the student movement was La Violenza. A verse celebrates clashes with the police: ‘Today I have seen a demonstration - smiling faces, fifteen-year-old girls and workers along- side the students’, then ‘l saw armoured cars overturned and burning, and many, many, policemen with broken heads’ (tanti e tanti baschi neri con le teste fracassate). The chorus-line makes clear that ‘whoever wasn’t there this time, won’t be with us tomorrow’. La violenza, la violenza, la violenza e la rivolta; chi non c’era questa volta non sara con noi domani).
The violence practised by the student movement in its formative stages can be referred to as ‘expressive behaviour as defined by Pizzorno, in that the conflicts with the authorities tended to be ends in themselves and often did not rely on processes of negotiation because their true objective was the constitution of a new identity. But violence was exalted within the political culture of the student movement for several reasons. Firstly, violence, real and symbolic, made it easy to distinguish friends and foes. It drew lines of battle, and enforced alignments. It was a litmus test showing the difference between revolutionaries and reformists. Violence, it was thought, showed the state’s apparatus in its true colours (in La Sinistra’s words, it exposed the ‘truncheon behind the professorial concept’). Secondly, violence had a shock effect that was conceived by the movement to be therapeutic. It not only distanced the students from the bourgeois values of their families, but served to root them out from the inside. Notions of legality, it was thought, had to be overcome, otherwise nothing would change. Thirdly, violence created solidarity: ‘Whoever wasn’t there this time, won’t be with us tomorrow.’ It was a test that required people to prove themselves. Che Guevara’s ‘new man’ had to be created in the heat of battle, and to be like Guevara meant following him down the violent road for, in the words of a ‘68 slogan: ‘Guevara non parla, spara’, (Guevara doesn’t talk, he shoots). Violence meant ‘putting yourself on the line’, and so ‘being taken at your word’. It was a test of trustworthiness ‘now’, in a moment of crisis, and the anticipation of ‘tomorrow’s’ society of fraternity. Moreover, the act of collective violence was an intense physical and emotional experience that summoned up total commitment to the group on the part of the individual. Lastly, violence was group power in action, and the means of its extension. The broken heads of the police showed what could be done if only the oppressed fought back. It was only the beginning, but it was also the prefiguration of future revolt and insurrection. Violence was conceived of as a detonator that multiplied itself and generalized struggles, starting with ‘two or three’ and growing into ‘many’ revolts.
The theme of political violence was crucial to the student movement’s development, but it would be misleading to take it literally by removing it from its proper context. It was by no means the only or predominant political focus, and was more verbal and symbolic than physical and organized. It was, above all, a means of self-differentiation in its extremest form. In this respect it can be compared to the use made of fashion by the student movement, which served to epater le bourgeois, and to assert a common identity.
The Politics of Student Dress
The first shock waves to pass through il Milano perbene (well-heeled Milan) were generated by Italian ‘beatniks’. Their tent-village New Barbonia (New Bumsville) on via Ripamonte provoked hysteria at the Corriere della Sera, whose headlines on the Milan pages played on the fears of the readers for the safety of their children: ‘The Longhairs of New Barbonia Even Celebrate Sacrilegious Weddings’; ‘Provos and Longhairs Threaten A "March on Milan" Tomorrow’. A description of their eviction stresses the danger they represent to public health: ‘Police, waste-disposal services and health officers finally managed to clean up, spraying some .. , 500 litres of disinfectant over the area’. The beatniks’ long hair, in particular, was used to conjure up images of dirt, primitivism, and sexual depravity.
The beatniks were part of a bohemian world which, in Milan, found its centre of gravity in the Brera district and its headquarters in the Bar Giamaica. For them, lifestyle and appearance were at one with their anti- bourgeois, anti-institutional ideas. However, their brand of shock tactics was an extreme form of a more generalized use of clothing and appear- ance for expressive purposes. There was an extraordinary coincidence between the rise of the movement and the mass purchase of new items of clothing. The rapidity of the changes in appearance can be seen by looking at photographs taken in 1967 and in 1968. Photographs of the Architecture Faculty occupation in Milan in early 1967 show clean-shaven male students dressed in jackets and ties. Their dress is of sombre hue - browns and dark greens - and little that is sartorial distinguishes them from the rest of the city’s middle class. Pictures taken a year later show a very different image of the student. This time the Cuban-style beard is in fashion, many men and women students are wearing blu-jeans (as they are known in Italian), men are not wearing jackets, unless they have a military look with cap to match. Some have red handkerchiefs tied around their neck, but the tie has been dispensed with. The colours are brighter. A similar comparison of ‘before’ and ‘after’ can be made with the class photographs of a city liceo; that of 1967 is formal and everyone has a neat appearance, whilst in the 1968 picture the young students look scruffy and wave their clenched fists at the camera.
For demonstrations the movement developed its own sort of uniform. In winter, everyone wore khaki Eskimo jackets, trousers and long scarves. The common rationale given for wearing this clothing was that it was practical; the Eskimo had lots of pockets and was tough, warm and water- proof, and the scarves were useful for masking the face and for protecting the eyes against teargas. However, this does not explain how a certain wardrobe and repertoire of hairstyles and gestures developed within the movement. To do so, it is necessary to look at the emergence of its image of itself, and its attempt to define itself in the eyes of the world. The dress of the Italian student movement was marked by the desire to project a political self-image. Style took on political connotations, in that the activists often wore their clothes as if they were carrying a banner. Commitment was worn on the sleeve for all to see. Politics was no longer invisible to the eye, a private matter of conscience to be guessed at by the curious stranger; it was made public for all to see. Whilst in previous political movements people had worn emblems, carnations for instance, usually the class connotations of appearance were already sufficiently identifiable; workers, for example, frequently attended demonstrations in their overalls. For students, however, it was vital to dress differently in order to distinguish themselves from the middle classes from which most of them came. In fact, it was almost obligatory not to dress in a traditional manner in the student ambience to avoid being taken for a Fascist.
The new appearance cultivated by the student movement was experienced as an immense release from the constraints of dull respectability. Young men experimented by wearing bright colours, which had long been denied them. For women, the new fashion of the natural appearance released them from the pressures to use make-up and wear high heels (many wore trousers and did not wear a dress again for several years). For the men it led to the cultivation of the wild and unkempt look, especially on the more libertarian fringes. The movement, in addition, encouraged a certain theatrical imagination, which perhaps explains the temporary vogue for Carbonaro-style mantles that evoked romantic images of revolt. However, the movement also created models of what a comrade should look like, and implicitly invested them with moral values. In fact, this will to set up new standards, as well as the willingness to criticize the dominant codes, differentiates the relation of fashion to a social move- ment from other forms of fashion. Thus, it was not like those fashions described by Alberoni in which: ‘every individual, although behaving in the same way as the others, is, in reality, concerned only about himself’ because the style for the student movement was a means of ‘participating in a wider solidarity’. Then, unlike deviancy, there was not only a conscious breaking of the hidden rules governing appearance, but an alter- native set of norms. Interestingly, in Milan a strange man known as Sacha took particular pleasure in attending student demonstrations and occupations dressed in the height of elegance in a blue suit with shirt and cravat, or wearing a smoking jacket. His deviant imagination could be satisfied only against the backdrop of a student generation that had turned its back on middle-class fashions. Although there were some who delighted in cutting a fine figure, the moment for doing so had largely passed (such a moment was Feltrinelli’s return to Italy from Bolivia at the beginning of the previous year dressed with Cuban flourishes); now it was more important to share a common identity.
The student movement dealt with the question of fashion in largely negative terms. Appearance and clothes became issues in as far as they represented the consumerism, wealth and ostentation that the movement opposed. Thus, before the Christmas of 1968, students picketed the department store Rinascente, not only in support of the striking shop- workers, but to oppose Christmas consumerism. Earlier in the month they attacked the opening night of La Scala in protest at the luxury and finery exhibited by the Milanese bourgeoisie. A strong streak of puritanism ran through the movement, which also reflected a masculine ethos according to which expenditure on clothes and appearance was fundamentally wasteful. It was basically thought that clothes should be practical and economical, and that appearance should be natural. The utopian idea informing the new fashion was that in an ideal society there would be a rough-and-ready equality; dress would really be of little importance in judging and distinguishing people. It was an artifice that had to be minimized in order to achieve a collective identity. The movement’s idea of clothing and appearance, in other words, was an aspect of a naturalistic aesthetic which aspired to make the relationships between people trans- parent. Ultimately, the movement condemned the very idea of fashion, and would have liked to have abolished it as seemed to have been done in China.
A Moral Panic
By the first months of 1968 the student movement in Italy had radically transformed the student image and identity. Students looked and behaved differently from the sons and daughters of the middle class who had gone to the liceo and the university before them. Over the period 1968-9 students became both hate-figures and fashion-setters in the eyes of the media-consuming public. Liberal progressive opinion, represented by the weeklies L’Espresso and Panorama, was given pictures of an exotic and exciting world and of struggles against the conservative establishment. L’Espresso specialized in guides and maps designed to help the reader decode the movement’s signs (the insignia of different political organizations, their origins, and so on). By contrast, Il Corriere della Sera, the Milan-based daily, thrilled and shocked its readers in turn with stories about student outrages. Whilst L’Espresso tried to make the phenomenon comprehensible, the Corriere dwelt on its incomprehensible features. The campaign of the Corriere della Sera had all the characteristics of what Stan Cohen has called the ‘moral panic’:
Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereo-typical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteri- orates and becomes more visible. Sometimes the object of panic is quite novel and at other times it is something which has been in existence long enough, but suddenly appears in the limelight. Sometimes the panic is passed over and is forgotten, except in folklore and collective memory; at other times it has more serious and long-lasting repercussions and might produce such changes as those in legal and social policy or even in a way society conceives itself. In England the ‘folk devils’ studied by Cohen in the late sixties were mods and rockers; in Italy, the reds were traditionally the devils, but in 1968 students assumed the role, provoked a panic about the infiltration of Communism and permissiveness into Italian institutions. The Corriere della Sera usually referred to movement activists as ‘the Chinese’ (i cinesi) a term which conjured up the red menace and the yellow peril in one. Its coverage of student politics gained a certain notoriety for its sheer vituper- ation. However, it was not only the right which condemned the movement. The moral panic was mainly felt by the political and religious establish- ment and traditionalist middle class, but it also cut across political cultures. One of the most notable statements directed against the move ment came from Pier Paolo Pasolini, who was a Communist Party sympathizer. In June 1968 he wrote a poem expressing his loathing for the figli di papa:
Now all the journalists in the world are licking your arses… but not me, my dears. You have the faces of spoilt brats, and I hate you, like I hate your fathers .... When yesterday at Valle Giulia you beat up the police, I sympathized with the police because they are the sons of the poor.
In the same month Giorgio Amendola, a leading member of the PCI, described the student movement as a re-edited version of irrationalism and infantilist, anarchist extremism. He called for a fight on ‘two fronts’, which meant counterposing the patrimony ‘accumulated by us over tens of years of hard struggles’ to dangerous student extremism.
In 1968 it is possible to speak of a moral panic of which the students were the principal protagonists. They aimed to shock and disgust sections of public opinion and they succeeded. But unlike the folk devils studied by Cohen who delighted in infamy without pretending to destroy society, the student movement was a movement and not a set of deviant activities. It aimed to subvert the existing institutions, and, if possible, to bring about revolutionary changes. By themselves students were powerless, and their actions provoked a moral panic of limited proportions. But when they joined forces with the workers’ movement that panic became more general; it became a ‘crisis of hegemony’.
06. Religion and student politics: the catholic university
Conflicts within the Catholic World
The occupation of the Catholic University (the ‘Cattolica’) on 18 November 1967 sent shock waves through Italian Catholic society. Until then the university had not been touched by the political ferment of the state-controlled institutions. It was set up by the Church in 1921, as a crucial part of its strategy to create a nucleus of Catholic intellectuals to intervene in lay culture and politics. Secondary education was largely in the hands of the state, so the Church attached particular importance to control over its own university. It had always remained under the close supervision of the bishop, and many of the leading members of the Christian Democrat party were its former students. The authorities reacted to the prospect of ‘subversion’ and the infiltration of Marxist ideas into the cloisters of Sant’Ambrogio by calling in the police. The ‘ringleaders’ were expelled.
However, what was seen by the authorities as an alien intrusion was the product of conflicts within the Catholic world in the 1960s. The student movement at the Cattolica is of particular interest for understanding the change of conscience into political consciousness, and tracing the development of Catholic radicalism.
In the immediate postwar period the Catholic Church in Italy had to defend itself from three chief threats - Marxism, demands for the ending of the Concordat, and the secularisation of society (what Pius XII referred to as lo spirito del secolo). This it did with remarkable success through a full-scale mobilization of the faithful in the parishes - a success which was crowned by the Christian Democrat electoral victory of 1948. The PCI was isolated (Communist voters were threatened with excommunication), the Concordat renewed, and sections of the middle classes previously aligned with the secular Liberal and Republican parties shifted their allegiances, and educated their children according to Catholic principles.
It was not until the thaw in the Cold War and the more liberal policies of Pope John XXIII, who lifted the veto on the Communist vote, that Catholics were able to speak more freely about their tasks in society.
Within the Church the most important developments occurred in Latin America, where some priests were active among peasant movements and theorized convergences between the teachings of the Gospel and of Marxism. Given the especially strong links with Italian missionaries, and the sympathy aroused for Latin American struggles against imperialism they became a point of reference. Exhibitions mounted at the Cattolica in
1967 publicized the suffering and oppression of the Third World, and appealed strongly to themes of social commitment. Dissent within the Church in Italy, however, was marginal and heavily dealt with by the hierarchy. It was only able to come into the open when the ‘ice’ of conformity had already been broken by the social movements. One of the most celebrated cases of dissent was the rebellion of don Mazzi, a young priest at Isolotto, a working-class parish in Florence. When the bishop sent him a letter warning him against the use of the Church for political purposes, radical Catholics occupied Parma Cathedral in protest.
However, the major source of dissent was not within the Church, but among lay Catholics. On the one hand, there were shifts in middle-class opinion away from subordination to clerical influence expressed by the spread of ideas of ‘modernism’ (especially those of the ‘permissive society’), on the other hand, the very success of the Church intervention in politics had had a secularizing effect on its own conduct and image because of its involvement with the Christian Democrat party and big business. The ‘revolt’ among sections of the laity can be seen as part of an older cycle of disenchantment based on the discrepancy between the morality of the Gospels and the activities of the Church. What gave it political significance in the late sixties was the tendency towards independent action by lay bodies with close affiliations with the Church, and towards the setting up of new lay groupings. An inquiry of 1968 into the formation of groups and associations spontaneously set up on direct democratic lines and with left-wing political projects showed that 36 per cent were of Catholic origin.
The CISL, which did not recruit on the basis of religious beliefs, but which had the mass of its support among Catholic workers, had already committed itself to joint action with the Communist-dominated CGIL in response to pressures from its membership. What was more serious for the Church was the radicalization of the Associazione Cristiana Lavoratori Italiani (ACLI) which was the Catholic pressure group within the world of organized labour. In 1968 it broke its links with the Christian Democrat Party. The emergence of ‘class’ and ‘exploitation’ as terms within Catholic denunciations of capitalist society, showed how Marxist ideas were being taken up, sometimes with even greater enthusiasm than within the historic organizations of the Left.
Within the Catholic student organization, Intesa, there had been a tradition of cooperation with the Left, which became closer with the increasing disappointment in the government. The Gioventu Studentesca (GS), a Catholic association of students which had no official political orientation, became a cauldron of open debate and discussion at the Cattolica. The return of sponsored missionaries from Brazil, the summer work camps in the poverty-stricken areas of Calabria and the initiation of play projects among the children of the Milanese hinterland - all these experiences, which had been promoted out of a spirit of caritas, excited ‘Communist sympathies’ among students in the context of the growing dissent among Catholic intellectuals and organizations. Humanist and populist ideas linked up with Marxist theories, and evangelism took on the form of overtly political activism.
Mobilizing Moral Outrage
The flashpoint at the Cattolica was the issue of a 50 per cent increase in student fees. The university already had higher fees than the average, and the cost seemed greater because an unusual number of the 20,000 students were from outside the province, and there were 8,500 ‘worker-students’. However, it was not so much the sum of money involved by the autumn rise in fees as the principle at stake which concerned most students. There was widespread anger at what was seen as hypocritical behaviour by authorities who prided themselves on providing an educational ladder down to the poorest parishioners. It was described as an attack on the right to education (diritto allo studio). The student representative body organized an extraordinary general meeting of all student organizations, the publication of a report (libro bianco), a public debate and a demonstration of protest. It won the backing of the youth federation of the Christian Democratic Party as well as that of the PSIUP.
The first protests, in the shape of strikes during lectures and examinations, were not popular because they were identified as ‘left-wing’, and education was not yet seen as political. But. when the rector refused to enter into dialogue with the students, a call for an occupation won the support of two-thirds of the students. When police arrived on the scene, there was outrage at the authorities’ readiness to use force, break the rights of sanctuary, and to involve the state despite the university’s continuous reiteration of its free and independent status. The use of passive resistance, following the example of the US movement, under-scored the legalism and the peaceful intentions of the Cattolica students, and highlighted the hypocrisy of the rectorate. A motion approved by the general meeting of the students in occupation expressed: ‘indignation, suffering and deeply troubled human, civil and Christian feelings in response to the authorities’ behaviour towards the occupation. It went on to say that police intervention ‘is particularly offensive to our university, which likes to regard itself as free and Catholic’. The degree of support for the action, which split the teaching staff, reflected the injured sensibilities of middle-class adults, who resented being treated like children. Had the police not been called, it seems likely that the mobilization would have fizzled out, especially in the absence in mid November of a wider national movement.
The occupation was the form of action that served most to group together the dissident students. The first occupation in November 1967 involved from 100 to 200 activists, who were prepared to defy not only the authorities, but their own families by staying overnight in the university. With the closure of the Cattolica for a week after the eviction of the occupiers, they carried out an information picket (picchettaggio di informazione), and distributed a daily bulletin. The main decisions were taken at the general assemblies of all the students, whilst a committee of agitation ran the everyday activity. ‘Commissions’ were formed to hold seminars and organize specific activities. The movement began a protest guided by the belief that the authorities would see reason, and act according to their educational and moral ideals. However, through the occupation it developed its own structures and independence based on direct democracy and self-managed learning.
A motion put to the general meeting of the Cattolica by students representing the student movement (movimento studentesco) slate in the university elections shows a particular concern for the issues of selection and authoritarianism. It was passed. It lists the demands of the movement as follows:
1. The recognition of the autonomy and self-government of the student movement.
2. The withdrawal of disciplinary proceedings against activists.
3. Freedom of speech.
4. Provision of facilities and timetabling for student movement activities.
1. The recognition of experimental courses promoted by the student movement.
2. The generalized use of seminars.
3. Free debate within courses.
4. The establishment of inter-disciplinary and experimental courses open to all.
5. The democratization of all controls (over attendance and examinations).
1. The recognition of the power of the student general meeting over all important decisions concerning administration, teaching, etc.
2. The publication of all official documents.
The Right to Study
1. The progressive reduction of all fees
The ideas of anti-authoritarianism and democratic self-management were particularly central to the student movement at the Catholic University. The whole political style was very different to that of the movement at the other institutions. There was no left-wing tradition; no Marxist intellectuals like Stefano Levi, a leader in the architecture faculty of the Polytechnic who was called in to advise during the first occupation; no experience in political organizing. But these deficiencies were made up for in other ways; the politics were less orthodox and more experimental. This can be seen in the charismatic leadership of Mario Capanna. He spoke in a way that everyone could understand and yet his speech was full of irony and vivid imagery. He made people laugh, and made them feel they had something to say. His flair for invention contrasted with the monotonous rhetoric of a Left which aped a humanist model da foro (based on the forum ideal). Capanna succeeded in interpreting an untutored enthusiasm for politics, which expressed itself in a movement and not in a party political form.
Anti-authoritarian politics was especially important at the Cattolica because it related directly to the students’ resistance to surveillance and control by the authorities, who were concerned about the souls of their pupils as well as about their education in a narrower sense. Much of the student movement’s stress on free speech and debate within courses was informed by a struggle against religious dogma. This concern with the religious question was peculiar to the movement at the Cattolica. It is worth considering not only as a special issue, but in relation to how politics itself was invested with ‘religious’ meanings.
The challenge to Catholicism by the students was aimed against the Church as an institution rather than against religion. Students occupied churches and interrupted masses with iconoclastic enthusiasm. Censorship and the sterility of cultural conformity were attacked in Dialoghi,a student paper; one issue protested against interference by consisting entirely of blank copy. Demands were made for the end of Church juridical control over the university, and for the abolition of the requirement that entrants should be Catholics. A student leaflet pointed out that, in the Gospels, it was the poor and oppressed who were the chosen ones. Students demanded the right to control Gioventu Studentesca, the student organization, without interference from the bishop. Proposals were also put for seminars on the Faith to replace the theology lectures. Demands focused on the accountability of the hierarchy, and on the need for the Church to fight oppression in the world. However, it is notable that the movement made no mention of the Church’s crucial role in the regulation of sexuality in the university and in society generally. Rigorous moral codes were applied within the institution; lecturers and students found to be ‘living in sin’ were expelled, and women students living away from home were placed with families to prevent them falling into sin. Although women participated in the movement (a fact which shocked the authorities), there is little sign that feminism played any part in the demands or actions of the movement.
The simplest course open to dissident Catholic students was to resolve or relegate the religious question as a priority by ceasing to attend Mass. Thereby, belief was either made personal and withdrawn from the Church’s tutelage, or it was discarded. This step was one taken by many young Italians in the 1960s, and was one aspect of the secularization of the society. However, in the late sixties, energies and enthusiasms that had previously been channelled through the Church’s organizations took political forms. This development has already been mentioned in relation to the radicalization of the Catholic-based lay bodies such as ACLI, the CISL and various community ventures, but it was also a more general phenomenon that affected secular politics. This can be shown by looking at ‘Letter to a School-teacher’, which was possibly the single most influential text in the student movement, and by showing how radical Catholic and Marxist ideas converged in this period.
Letter to a School-teacher denounced the selective and discriminatory nature of education, using the experiences of the small Tuscan village school at Barbiana. The themes being dealt with had a direct relevance to a movement which was fighting for everyone’s right to education, and which had made teaching into a political issue. Indeed the book anticipated the movement. lt was easily translatable into Marxist terminology, and was adapted and selectively used by its extensive readership.
However, much of its appeal derived from its difference from standard Marxist accounts, which spoke of the objective mechanisms whereby capitalism reproduced its labour power (for example, the Pisan Theses).The Barbiana letters focused on the individual experience of education and spoke through the voices of children excluded not only by economic but by cultural processes. Tullio de Mauro has suggested that don Milani’s discovery of the politics of grammar, and of the knowledge and use of words resulted from his critical appropriation of his priestly functions. Firstly, the Church taught don Milani ‘intimately to adhere to linguistic obedience’; the Church’s language, which served to bring individual consciences into conformity with etiquette and principles of belief and to free its own functionaries from the ties of social and geographical origin, taught don Milani about the power of words. He rebelled against that use of language, but with the power of having mastered it.
Secondly, don Milani, according to De Mauro, was above all a preacher, who wanted to change things. In this respect too, the ‘linguistic school of the Evangelists’ prepared him in that it insisted on the power of ‘the word’, and on the need to emancipate the oppressed from the burdens of cultural deprivation. For don Milani it was vital that the poor should rely on their own powers to speak and write, and should free themselves from the oppressive notion of ‘correct Italian’;
We need anyway to understand what is correct language. The poor create languages and then continue to renew them. The rich crystallize them so that they can take advantage of whoever doesn’t talk like they do. Or they fail them in exams.
In his work at Barbiana, he attempted to overcome these inequalities by encouraging collective authorship and linking learning to a participatory notion of democracy.
Although not exclusive to a Catholic culture, don Milani’s sensitivity to certain forms of oppression was perhaps best represented by radical Catholic currents. It was characterized by attention to culture as a political problem which required specific forms of action and analysis and by its focus on experience and the personal dimensions of oppression. More-over, don Milani’s example stood out for its moral commitment and appealed to feelings among students that the culturally privileged should ‘go to the people’. Rossanda wrote that the letters from Barbiana were perceived as evidence of the need for an Italian version of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Yet, by contrast with appropriations of Chinese slogans and sloganizing style, don Milani offered a vivid insight into the lived experience of injustice. The book touched a generation’s sense of moral outrage and had echoes far beyond the world of the university activists. It showed the power of a religious culture to generate and activate moral standards of condemnation.
There were specific reasons for the popularity of the Letter to a School-teacher, but these need to be placed in the broader context of the convergence of radical Catholicism and Marxism in the late sixties. This relationship has not received much critical attention; Catholic intellectuals have perhaps shown more interest in the interaction of religion and politics (or in the similarities of political and religious militancy) than Marxists, who have been anxious to defend ‘science’ from ‘contamination’. Whilst it is true that many of the overtly religious elements that appeared in the movements of opposition were of tangential significance, the ‘religious structure of feeling’ was of considerable importance in the making of 1968. This structure of feeling had been a part of Marxist and Socialist movements from early in their history, but it had been contained and marginalized by parliamentary parties that feared uncontrolled enthusiasms. In 1968 it was recreated and reactivated in the student movement.
In this light it is possible to understand how the radicalization in the Catholic world could lead to a rapprochement with Marxism, without requiring the total abandonment of a structure of feeling based on faith and commitment to an ideal. Indeed, it could be argued that politics offered even greater possibilities for self-sacrifice, the service of others and for apostolic militancy and, therefore, for being a more genuine Christian. However, the majority of new adherents to revolutionary politics experienced their conversion as a break with Catholicism and with their own pasts. They turned religion on its head, and dismissed it with Marx’s peremptoriness as an opiate. This had serious consequences for the student movement, and generally for the relations between Catholic and Marxist cultures in the subsequent period. The moment of rapprochement was succeeded by one of division and mutual animosity.
The crisis and decline of the student movement at the Cattolica was bound up with this breakdown in dialogue between Marxists and practising Catholics among the students. In the early stages of mobilization in 1967-8 the militant and politicized minority had been sensitive to religious feelings and beliefs. Thus, after the clashes with the police in March 1968, meetings were held of the Assemblea Ecclesiastica, and care was taken to elaborate biblical justifications for rebellion and for the use of violence. However, splits developed among activists on whether to continue to organize around religious issues, and between the politicized minority and the mass of students at the university. By the end of 1969 religion was no longer a terrain of struggle between dissident students and the authorities, largely because radicals directed their attention to other problems without linking them up to Catholicism. Above all, they abandoned the university and student struggles in favour of political agitation around the factories, which became the centres of social conflict from the autumn of 1968. Thus, the movement evacuated its own stronghold and left a free hand to the authorities to restore the status quo.
The rector at the Cattolica had consistently opposed the student movement, and had frequently resorted to repression in attempts to root out dissent. Over two years tens of students were expelled from the university. The police barracks, which conveniently faced the main entrance to the university, acted as a constant pillar of strength to the authorities. There was no question of giving way to the student movement and allowing the university to be subverted from within. There was too much at stake. The importance of the university to the Catholic Church was evidenced by the national annual Giornata della Cattolica, a day given over to collecting funds from the faithful to support their institution, and by its function in educating its lay political elite. The weakening of the students’ movement was therefore seized on by the authorities to drive it from Sant’Ambrogio as Christ had driven the money-lenders from the temple. Over a two year period it disappeared from the Cattolica and Catholic dissent irremediably lost a crucial stronghold. Instead the university became a springboard for the launching of Comunione e Liberazione. This was the Catholic Church’s successful youth organization, which showed a skilful adoption of themes and structures developed by the student movement for the purposes of re-establishing the role of religion in daily activities. Although Catholic dissent continued to grow in the wake of the social movements, and gave rise to organizations such as Christians for Socialism, the cruel irony of the dramatic echoes of the student rebellion at the Cattolica was that the Church learnt more from it than did its opponents.
07. The spread of student protest: the state university, schools and institutes
Politics as Entertainment
The student movement at the State University (‘La Statale’) formed in the wake of the occupations at the Catholic University. It did not play a leading role nationally, nor did events at the Statale have a resonance within a specific cultural orbit equivalent to the mondo cattolico.
However, this section of the movement rapidly dominated student politics within Milan. Its influence grew when the national movement was in crisis in the summer of 1968. The particular interest of this case lies in examining how the Statale became so central to the social life of the student movement.
The medical students were the first to occupy their faculty when, in mid February 1968, they took action in protest over overcrowding and the high examination failure rate. A few days later science, arts and law faculties were occupied. During March, April and May student occupations and police evictions produced a ding-dong battle. At the Cattolica there were seven occupations in 1968-9, and the students at the Statale took action with equal regularity. Moreover, as will be seen below, schools too were swept into the fray. There was no let-up in hostilities in 1968 until the June examinations, which at the Cattolica were presided over by the police. Each confrontation led to an escalation. Fascist attacks and the arrival of students at the gates with police escorts demanding the ‘right to study’ led to a militarization of conflict, especially following the battle of Valle Giulia. On 25 March 1968 street battles broke out involving over a thousand students, when police evicted the occupiers from both the Catholic and State universities. Repression, expulsions and legal action against students provoked campaigns against victimization, and hardened feelings towards the authorities. Students responded by locking up the rectors of the two universities, and by putting ‘reactionary’ lecturers on trial. Writing on the walls pointed the accusing finger. For example, a certain Bonicalzi was addressed: ‘Bonicalzi, you who love prefabrication, tell us about building speculation.’ Graffiti also contained ironic advice to workers on how to go to university: ‘Workers, you too can go to university - join the police.'
Whilst the struggle for the control of space was lost at the Cattolica, the students at the Statale managed to assert their hold over their territory. The Cattolica activists were relatively isolated from the bulk of the student body by the time confrontation took a more violent turn. Their most effective and popular methods of struggle involved passive resistance, and they were not sufficiently prepared to do battle for a political autonomy which required the free use of institutional space. Moreover, the authorities at the Cattolica held firm. At the Statale the student movement could count on a broader area of support, and had fewer scruples about violent action. It was already more politicized in the early stages, due to a history of organization and activism that was lacking at the Cattolica. Then, the authorities of the Statale were more ready to accept incursions on their prerogatives rather than have more conflict. The students at the Statale effectively made the university into a base for the movement, but their success needs also to be related to their exploitation of its topographical centrality. The Ospedale Maggiore site, which has formed the core of the university since its foundation in 1924, is in the centre of Milan. It is a five-minute walk from Piazza Duomo, where political and trade-union rallies historically follow on from marches through the city streets. The student movement quickly transformed the nearby Piazza San Stefano into its place for meetings and rallies. Students from all the educational institutions came to the Piazza, and to the university for city-wide demonstrations, debates or to coordinate strikes and protest action. When the Statale students occupied the buildings others joined them and helped repel attacks.
However, the attractions of the State University were not only political in narrow sense. Occupations provided excellent opportunities for an exciting social life including free rock and jazz concerts. A Corriere della Sera report entitled the ‘Nights of Mao’ gave a voyeuristic insight into the carnival atmosphere which reigned during an occupation of the Statale:
this is how the pro-Chinese (filo-cinesi) elements pass the hours of the cultural revolution - they play poker, dress up in lecturers’ robes, use crucifixes as weapons, listen to Bach and make toasts with wine from Puglia.
Indeed, an important part of the new politics was precisely these sorts of taboo-breaking acts. Hardly a statue escaped mockery - white marble was desecrated by colourful daubs, heads acquired hats and inscriptions were ‘corrected’. And, unfortunately, students also left their mark on their surroundings by destroying and vandalizing them. The fine Renaissance courtyards and Della Robbia sculptures suffered considerable damage.
The State University, at the height of the student movement, afforded numerous opportunities for entertainment, and drew crowds of young people looking for excitement and wanting to see for themselves what the press had made so notorious. The buildings and courtyards, which had been taken over for educational purposes, once again teemed with a sort of life they had known in previous centuries. The university took on some of the features of a market-place and hostel. Student control over the entrance halls, combined with the free flow of persons in and out of the buildings, made them ideal spots for trading and illicit dealing. Most of the goods on sale consisted of books, newspapers and other political paraphernalia, but itinerant street-vendors, mostly Southerners, also came to sell their contraband cigarettes, watches and other things, whilst students themselves made and sold jewellery and leather articles. Sometimes the vendors showed a rare eye for a captive market; before each clash with the police, a small cart would suddenly appear loaded with lemons, which students would use to diminish the effects of the tear-gas. Students turned the university into a hostel for the poor and needy, who spontaneously gravitated to a place where they would not only get free meals at the canteen and a roof for the night, but where they would be humoured by their hosts. Well-known city drunks and even patients escaping from mental asylums drifted around the university.
For students the cobbled streets adjoining the university contained good-quality cheap restaurants and several bars, which they continuously frequented. One of the favourite student places was the ‘Strippoli’ in Piazza San Stefano, which had excellent food and wine from Puglia. But it was the atmosphere that gave it life, and made it like one of the old fashioned osterie, which had all but disappeared from Milan. In fact, the whole area around the university was transformed by the presence of the student movement. Expectation hung in the air. News concerning the movement travelled down the wires of bush-telegraph run by networks of activists. Bits of information would be exchanged in the entrance hall to the university, whilst posters on the walls just outside announced the next demonstration or meeting. At the ‘Strippoli’ there would perhaps be discussion of recent events. All in all, there was a feeling that to be at the Statale was to be at the centre of action, even when the air was clear of tear-gas and the scream of sirens.
Changing Social Relations
The State University in Milan became a centre of a new form of sociality. The idea of fraternity was no doubt idealized within the movement, but it nonetheless pointed to an aspiration which tended to broaden the possibilities for social exchange. This has already been suggested in relation to the changes in dress and appearance - changes which facilitated social and political identification. It was also indexed by changes in linguistic usage. The familiar tu form of address was widely adopted within the movement for all exchanges, whereas previously it would not have been used except when addressing a friend, close acquaintance or member of family. This deliberate informality, which was associated with popular traditions, served to dispense with what were regarded as bourgeois distinctions between people, while the withdrawal of courteous forms of address such as the use of titles (Dottore, etc.) was a way of snubbing figures of authority. The movement, moreover, created its own peculiar slang (gergo), a strange mixture of swear-words and political jargon, which was later dubbed sinistrese (left-talk). It had none of the richness of an argot, and it bore the imprint of educational institutions in which it was formed, especially in its more verbose and sententious manifestations. However, like the slogan shouted on the demonstration, this slang gave a sense of group identity, but was not exclusive in that it was easily picked up. Thus, joining the movement was made easy even for outsiders; it was sufficient that they learnt a smattering of its terminology for them to be able to engage others in conversation. Above all, it was a sociality based in political activity and discussion, and relied on the most public of vocabularies.
The new sociality produced through the student movement was more extensive than that which preceded it. The activist was at the centre of an intricate web of social relations. A student who was at the State University in 1969 recalls that her diary contained the numbers and addresses of some three hundred people she had met through the movement, the great majority of whom she thought of as her friends. For her it was a period of happiness because ‘you were at home everywhere in the city’. Moreover, activists travelled frequently from city to city to attend conferences and demonstrations, and went to Paris, Berlin and other centres of the student movement. Telephone calls through the interfaculty information centres maintained regular contacts. It was a sociality that was made possible by the time and freedoms enjoyed by students, but in turn that time was organized into a relentless timetable of commitments. The interests of the collectivity were made to prevail over those of individual. Above all there was an idea of ‘solidarity’ informing social relations. This meant that demonstrations could be organized with lightning speed. A series of telephone calls, a roneoed leaflet and a crowd of several thousand could be gathered to protest outside the San Vittorio prison against arrests which had occurred a couple of hours previously.
The student movement made sociality more public by channelling it through political activity, and in the process deeply affected the private and personal lives of its protagonists. Its ideal of how a comrade should aspire to live was represented in the oft-quoted words of Che Guevara:
Marxists must be the most courageous and the most complete human beings, but always, and above all, they . .. must live and pulsate with the masses ....
They must be tireless workers, who give themselves utterly to the people, and sacrifice their hours of rest, their families and even their lives for the revolution, yet who are never indifferent to the warmth of human contact.
This heroic model, which closely resembles Christ’s conception of the apostolic mission, had a considerable resonance in the student movement. There was a streak of fanaticism about the militant’s lifestyle. People were judged according to their political identities or their degree of commitment to the movement. A person was either a comrade or not; and if not, was excluded or marginalized from the activist’s social circles, which were constructed largely on the basis of political activity. Thus, during
1968-9 many friendships which antedated the movement, and many family relationships, went into crisis. It was an embarrassment to have a relationship with a revisionist (a member of the Communist Party), and there was a reaction against parents, especially when they were wealthy or held conservative views. Although there was a variety of factors involved, such as teenage rebellion against fathers, it is notable that these conflicts were thought of in a political framework.
The student movement not only rejected certain traditional forms of sociality (mostly those premised on hierarchy and authority), but it gave rise to alternative models and experiments, which liberally interpreted Che Guevara’s injunctions. The examples of the commune and of attitudes to sexual liberation offer some insights into these developments.
The most celebrated commune to be established in Milan came out of the occupation of the State University’s student hostel (Casa dello Studente) in May 1969. A meeting called for free beds, the extension of services for women students, the evaluation of requests for lodging on the basis of need rather than merit, and job security for all staff. The action led to almost total student control over the premises. However, most students lived with their parents in Milan, so communal living was a marginal experience, especially for those attending the Cattolica. There was no equivalent to the US or British campuses. Moreover, by contrast with the North American movements, the few communal houses shared by activists served mainly as bases for other activities. Little time was spent at home, little space was left for private, personal relationships. The prevalent idea was that everything had to be shared.
Sex too was thought to be something to be shared among comrades. Free love and sexual liberation were facets of the student movement in Italy as in other countries. It was, likewise, a contradictory freedom. A leaflet written by education students at the Statale gives a slightly confused picture of this:
talking about freedom and revolution without living them in our everyday lives leads to fascism .... That means to say, that for women, if they don't 'masculinize’ themselves along authoritarian lines, nothing remains but the task of duplicating, of being the ‘duplicating angel’ (angelo del ciclostile). . . . The system wants us not to make love. . . . The bourgeoisie is not interested in the creation of a new relationship between men and women because it would lead to its self-immolation.
Criticism was also directed against the authoritarian and repressive aspects of the Chinese Revolution such as ‘the repeated invitations to marriage, maternity and chastity, that is to the prohibition on the rational self-management of one’s life’. The leaflet celebrates love-making as anti-authoritarian and anti-bourgeois, but it also suggests that women were being squeezed between older and newer forms of oppression. The vogue for Reichian ideas reinforced those tendencies within a student way of life
which exalted self-expressivity.
The idea of sexual liberation was spoken of positively by both men and women in the student movement, but it was often experienced at the time as unpleasant, especially by the women. They were obliged by social pressures to give freely of themselves. During occupations sexual intercourse was actively canvassed, and the women, who were always in a minority, found it difficult to say ‘no’ for fear of appearing ‘repressed’. Within the movement, masculine values, such as the courage and daring of a Mario Capanna in the face of the police, and the masculine image, exemplified by the virile, bearded look, were hegemonic among men. It was the men who were the leaders, and women students were required to dress and behave like them in order to win respect; otherwise they tended to be glamorous appendages of the male leaders (la donna del leader). The women activists continued to do the humbler tasks of duplicating and preparing meals. Their role in the movement was subordinate and invisible. The specific nature of women’s oppression remained unrecognized; so whilst students were intensely aware of class discrimination and inequalities in education, they were largely oblivious to both the public and private humiliations endured by women as a social group.
The new sociality brought into existence by the student movement was, therefore, a contradictory mixture of freedoms and oppressions. Participation involved extending circles of friendship and breaking down the barriers between people of different ages and classes; at the same time, friendships were circumscribed by political definitions and confused with the category ‘comrade’. Public life became more intense, but at the expense of personal concerns. Interpretations of freedom, fraternity and equality claimed to be in the interests of all, but they reaffirmed male powers to define social relations. The repressive and moralistic elements of the new sociality came to the fore when the movement went into decline.
At the Statale the student movement succeeded in maintaining its grip on the institution, which functioned as the headquarters for the movement as a whole. However, at the end of 1969, the movement was subordinated to the newly founded political organizations of the extra-parliamentary Left, which replaced the loose structures of grassroots democracy with their versions of Leninist democratic centralism. The most regressive and which the outlook repressive elements of the new sociality were formalized and institutionalized by the political sects. At the Statale the Movimento Studentesco (now a party) fought tooth and nail to drive out rivals, and to establish the supremacy of Marxist-Leninist dogma and organization; the statalini even resurrected Stalin as ‘the symbol of intransigent struggle against the bourgeoisie and fascism, as the rejection of the line of the Western Communist parties, and as part of the fight against Trotskyism’.
Although the Movimento Studentesco was perhaps an extreme example of political puritanism, it nonetheless represented wider tendencies that developed out of the movements of 1968-9. Above all, it entailed the construction of a closed political subculture in which narrow political definitions governed the social existence of its members. A Movimento Studentesco document makes this clear, by posing an alternative for school students between a life of militancy and the escapism of bohemianism:
it is not surprising that the bourgeoisie favours a false anti-conformism . . . comics, detective stories, television, the guitar and long hair are for many young people the only form of social and cultural existence. Through these instruments, the bourgeois ideology of violence . . . pansexualism and escapism is transmitted.
However, in the wake of the movements there was also a reaction to this new conformism, especially among women and youth, who struggled to assert identities which the Left and student politics had repressed or refused to recognize. Tiny minorities anticipated these developments in a confused way in 1968-9, but they were isolated and marginalized. As will be shown in part IV, it was not until the development of the new social movements in the 1970s that the themes of personal and sexual identities were explored and used to redefine politics itself.
Revolt in the Upper Secondary Schools
On 26 January 1968 the students of the Liceo Berchet occupied their school with the help of city-wide support from university and secondary school students. A month later the Liceo Parini was occupied and the structures were set up, through meetings at the Statale, of a Milanese ‘coordination’ for the Movimento delle Scuole Medie. The movement spread to all the main upper secondary schools, firstly to the liceo classico and liceo scientifico, and subsequently to the technical institutes and vocational training schools. The movement started in Milan, but quickly assumed national proportions with a wave of occupations, demonstrations, strikes in the spring and then in the autumn. It was very much an offshoot involving teenagers who quickly learnt the political language of their elder brothers and sisters, but while the student movement in the universities went into eclipse, it put down its roots in the schools.
Unlike in the universities, where students were recognized to be citizens with the right to speak, meet and organize politically, in the secondary schools there were heavy restrictions on such activities. Some student associations and publications existed, but under close supervision. An authoritarian regime prevailed in the majority of schools. One of the movement’s central objectives was precisely the recognition of school students’ adulthood and citizenship. This was true not only in the earlier stages of mobilization, but throughout the struggle with the rigid and intransigent authorities.
Even before the student movement gathered momentum in the universities, a major scandal blew up in a Milanese Iiceo over the issue of freedom of speech, and provoked a national debate. Students at the Liceo Parini published an article in their paper, La Zanzara, on changing attitudes towards sex among their fellow pupils which provoked protests from some parents. A police inquiry resulted in arrests. The article itself was in the form of a report on the findings of a questionnaire asking about sex before marriage, contraception and divorce. It reflected tendencies in favour of women’s equality in sexual relations and careers. It criticized the Church’s role in defining social relations in terms of the ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’, and for causing a sense of guilt about sex. One reply called for ‘total sexual freedom and a total change of attitudes’, but the overall perspective was one of bringing Italian education in line with the ‘majority of civilized countries’ and forwarding ‘democratic development’. The reaction it provoked was one of moral panic, especially in the Catholic establishment and in the public prosecutor’s office; the prosecution evoked the spectre of an Americanization of Italian youth:
The sexual problem must be scientifically dealt with or we will reach a situation in which the girls will go around with contraceptives in their pockets and a sleeping bag under their arms . . . I am speaking on the behalf of the sane society, the healthy society.
In response to the threat, the article in the Fascist penal code on crimes of opinion (reato d’opinione) was used against the editors of La Zanzara. Camilla Cederna, writing in the enlightened middle-class weekly L’Espresso, observed how in Italian society ‘the mechanisms of repression are unloosed when the taboo areas - sex and family, hierarchy and army - are touched.
What emerges clearly from the Zanzara case is the rigidity of the institutions when faced with criticism. The authorities did their best to keep schools free of what they saw as the dangerous influences at large in society. For them, the school was a bastion of civilized values against the onslaught of a new barbarism. When there were strikes by students at the Liceo Galvani in 1966, the headmaster issued a statement:
Absenteeism from lessons is a painful business which is neither justified not acceptable. In school there must be a relationship of trust, respect and confidence, a dialogue between pupils and teachers. These conditions enable the young freely to inform their superiors of the wants, hopes, doubts and difficulties which they come across in their school life.
But it was just this paternalism which the students found repugnant. Attempts to punish and repress in cases where dialogue broke down only provoked further disaffection. The Zanzara incident, for example, led to petitions, demonstrations and mass attendance at the trial. The school was made into a political battleground. Students demanded that:
the school be thought of and organized not as preparation for society, but as part of society. The school should not be a place for listening but for active participation.
The language of a student report denouncing censorship in schools published in 1967 is full of words and phrases like ‘growth’, ‘maturity’, ‘democracy’, ‘participation in civil life’; these indicate a commitment to rights and responsibilities, showing the extent to which students were influenced by the political culture from which this vocabulary derived. But the cultural life inside the upper secondary schools was not always so respectable.
During the mid to late 1960s Iiceo students were reading existentialist literature (Sartre, Camus) and Pavese novels. There was a cultural climate in which the rebel, the outsider, and the loner were the heroes who rejected respectable and bourgeois society. Well before 1968, radicals and anarchists organized meetings against the Concordat and the Vietnam War. Anti-authoritarian ideas and behaviour, stimulated by the youth culture imported from Britain and the United States, were fashionable before they became aspects of the student movement. Students wore long hair and baited the authorities with disrespectful behaviour.
In January 1968 students of Milan’s upper secondary schools and institutes occupied their buildings and carried on a struggle against authoritarianism just as did the university students. Often strikes were coordinated throughout the city’s educational institutions. Formal structures to organize the movement’s activities were created in the wake of spontaneous sympathetic action. When on 7 March 1968 police evicted students occupying six schools, the next day 10,000 students struck in protest. However, it was not until the autumn that the movement spread from the most active schools to involve the majority of institutions. On 28 November 10,000 school students demonstrated for political rights, and every day brought news of an occupation or picket.
The movement’s objectives were summed up in a leaflet of the action committee of the Liceo Berchet as follows:
the control and eventual elimination of marks and failures, and therefore the abolition of selection in school; the right of everyone to education and to a guaranteed student grant; freedom to hold meetings; a general meeting in the morning; accountability of teachers to students; removal of all reactionary and authoritarian teachers; setting of the curriculum from below.
To gain these objectives, the leaflet concluded that it was necessary to unite with the working class, since to ‘change the school, society must be changed’. The demands that were felt to be the most important, and around which students mobilized, concerned political rights and the autonomy of the movement within the institutions. They were also the questions which could be acted on directly; thus meetings were held in school hours, papers were produced and students came and went from school and class when they wanted to - all without prior permission.
Mass disobedience unhinged the normal methods of exercising authority in the classroom and school. In the celebrated case of the Liceo Parini, the head, Mattalia, tried to open a dialogue with the students who had occupied the school in March 1968. For his pains, he was suspended by the minister of education, who ordered the police to repossess the premises. The resort to police intervention in response to ‘illegaI’ student meetings, the suspension and expulsion of activists and attempts to evoke parental support for the restoration of order - all these measures intensified the students’ campaign for political rights. When in October 1968 students at the Liceo Einstein were suspended, 1,300 out of the 1,700 students went on protest strike.
The movement in the schools rapidly developed its own organization, which started in the class and extended to the city-wide coordinating body. As in the universities, the key unit was the general meeting. A statute of the Cattaneo technical institute sets out the standard organizational structure; the general meeting was the sovereign body, and from it were elected commissions and study groups with special functions. Thus, there was a press commission, an administrative commission and so on, and study groups on subjects decided by the general meeting. Each class had a monthly meeting to plan and decide on teaching questions. There was also a paper, which was directly accountable to the general meeting. So, far from being an echo of the university movement or a temporary revolt, the school students’ movement established a permanent presence in its own right. The tasks of holding meetings and demonstrations, and of producing leaflets and distributing them, entailed a whole process of political education that pushed formal education to the margins of many teenage lives. At the same time, the ostensible seriousness of the political literature hid the theatrical and entertainment aspects of student politics. A rare report from a study group admonishes fellow students for their very lack of seriousness about themselves:
it is a paradoxical fact affecting all students that they know how to talk about Dante and Cicero, about Milan and lnter, but they don’t know how to talk about their own situation and work. The proof of this is that in certain moments meetings are made into a hell-hole. People shout and clap as if in a stadium.
The ideas of anti-authoritarianism and student power gave legitimacy and new meaning to a whole traditional repertoire of informal resistances in the classroom. Thus absenteeism or the playing up of teachers took political forms and came to signify the refusal of bourgeois ideas.
Although the school student movement privileged the fight for political rights, and was obliged to by the recalcitrance of the authorities, it also thought in terms of alternative methods of learning. A report to the general meeting of the Giorgi technical institute, for example, made four proposals. It called for group work, greater student-teacher cooperation, joint meetings and group meetings with teachers to decide the assessment of marks. As in the case of the universities, great importance was attached to collective work as opposed to individual competitiveness, and cooperation was seen as an end, and not just as a means. Marks were therefore regarded as a divisive instrument of social control from above that had to be neutralized by collective pressure, and then dispensed with. In part, this strategy complemented the fight for political rights because it sought to protect the individual and the group from discrimination in the classroom, and to prevent reprisals against those dedicating time to the movement instead of to their own studies. But it also sprang from a desire to put useful knowledge and real learning before institutional requirements. There was widespread opposition to compulsory Latin and religious studies, and interest in making other subjects ‘relevant’.
The idea of alternative learning was especially significant in the liceo and technical institutes in 1968-9, because education was regarded as potentially positive and liberating. Hence students campaigned to make the institutions accessible and relevant to everyone. These relatively privileged students looked ahead to further study in the university and could expect to get work without too much difficulty. In other words, there was not yet that pessimism about the point of studying because of lack of job prospects.
The late sixties was a prosperous period. However, attempts to develop alternative educational practices foundered in difficult institutional circumstances. Apart from the hostility of the authorities, students lacked the support of sympathetic teachers, who were indispensable to any viable strategy for transforming the educational process within schools. Such teachers were usually isolated individuals. There was little unionization (not counting the professional associations), and no strong network of radical teachers. In fact, it took the student movement to create a generation of teachers committed to more democratic and egalitarian methods. As a consequence, alternative study proved delusory and students adopted a cynical, instrumental approach to their studies; activists channelled their energies into political mobilization outside the classroom. These tendencies were aggravated by the university movement’s decline in late 1968, and the domination of the movement by the organizations of the New Left.
08. A lost opportunity? the education system after '68
The student movement’s impact on Italian society was considerable. It ‘showed the country a different image of itself and socialized knowledge of how that society worked’. But the effects were most deeply felt in the social groups and institutions with which students were in closest contact.It was not factory workers so much as teachers, the liberal professions, publishers and researchers who were directly challenged by the movement, and whose ranks were subsequently joined by ex-student activists. But first of all it was the education system which felt the impact of the student movement.
The student movement’s effects on the educational system can be judged by asking the questions: ‘Did it make education more democratic and egalitarian?’; ‘did the movement change who entered further educational institutions, what students did inside them, and what qualifi- cations they got on completing their studies?’. Finally, it will be asked whether the movement changed how the very concepts of education and schooling were understood. The effects will be considered, in other words, in relation to access to further education, the nature and control of the learning process, and to the forms of qualification obtained in the insti- tutions. The more general question about changing conceptions of intellectuality will be examined in chapter 10 in terms of the student movement’s impact on intellectual and cultural roles in society.
The student movement’s first important campaign was over access to the universities. It proclaimed everyone’s right to study and symbolically opened the gates of the faculties to all-comers, and welcomed workers to participate in seminars, discussions and meetings. Students demanded the establishment of the ‘mass university’, meaning a university open to the ‘masses’. In their campaign they won the propaganda war against a government which held out the promise of education as a right, but then reneged on it. The PCI and the unions were persuaded to oppose the Gui reforms, but ultimately the wave of student occupations made it impossible for the government to limit the numbers entering the univer- sities. However, the student victory was limited. Students exercised a veto in the name of a general principle, but they did not address some of the immediate and resolvable social and economic problems behind inequalities of access. Firstly, although the movement resisted increases in fees, it did not campaign systematically for student grants. The winning of a living grant would have allowed poorer students to study full-time without having to do other jobs, and would have allowed access to those whose families could not afford to support their children’s further education. In addition, financial independence could have released students from dependency on the family. However, the movement did not take up the issue seriously because, in its eyes, the demand smacked of a narrow economic corporativism (perhaps because the leading activists were mainly drawn from middle-class families they were less concerned about financial difficulties).
Secondly, the movement did not propose legislative reforms that would facilitate access to the universities. Its anti-reformism and anti- parliamentary politics precluded such a strategy. In other words, the movement rejected a statist orientation that was a necessary part of any moves to make what were state institutions more accessible. This rejection also had negative effects on the attempt to democratize the upper secondary school. A reform bill of 1967 which proposed to open these schools to everyone and to raise the school-leaving age to sixteen was brushed aside by the student movement.
The movement therefore managed to win tactical victories, but not to open up further education to the working class. Although the elite university was transformed into a mass university in that student numbers increased fivefold from 1965 to 1979, to reach nearly a million, the percentage of students from working-class backgrounds increased by only a small amount, and remained lower than in other industrialized countries with quota systems. Moreover, the privileged route to the university via the upper secondary school remained intact.
The impact of the student movement was more dramatic in relation to life inside the educational institutions. There was no return to a pre-1968 situation, either in the teaching and studying methods, or in the political relations between the students and authorities. Not that there were no attempts to put the clock back. A right-wing government in 1972 carried out a harsh law and order campaign; in an interview Giovanni Gozzer estimated that in a period of three months, 1,200 schools, institutes and universities had been occupied, and that the conflict resulted in ten thousand disciplinary proceedings, three hundred arrests and the resig- nation of thirty-eight headmasters. However, most of the demands for a new pedagogy made by the movement in the universities were conceded. Examinations were adapted to student needs rather than vice versa; written (as opposed to oral) examinations and certain subjects were no longer compulsory; attendance was no longer checked; seminars and collective study were introduced. The education process was liberalized to allow greater student participation. Similarly, students in the upper secondary schools as well as in the universities were conceded political rights. At first these were informal, but in 1974 they were written into a charter of rights, which created elected representative bodies in the schools.
The students’ successes in undermining traditional authority structures and in establishing grassroots democracy within the institutions were remarkable. They showed the power of a substitutionalist strategy in action. Students set up counter-courses involving collective and inter- disciplinary study, and then called for them to be recognized. They held meetings and opened the doors to outsiders without requesting permission from above. ln doing so they questioned the whole nature of the educational process as it was constituted within the institutions. The movement challenged divisions created or sanctioned by past statist educational practices, such as those which induced competitive relationships between students or those which separated schooling from other social and political activities. However, the movement`s substi- tutionalism also carried severe limitations.
Firstly, the enormous energy expended by the movement in encourag- ing educational ‘self-activity’ by students could not last indefinitely. It could not make up for the structural problems arising from overcrowding, lack of investment and absence of postgraduate research possibilities. If anything, these difficulties were aggravated by the increase of student numbers and the resistance to change on the pan of powerful vested interests. Secondly, the movement’s substitutionalism rapidly led to a narrow and instrumental politicization of educational processes. This was evident in the movement’s fascination with the ideas of the Chinese Cultural Revolution which drew sharp distinctions between bourgeois and proletarian culture. Luciano Aguzzi cites a case when subjects were divided into three categories according to political criteria. Greek and Latin were classed as ‘pre-bourgeois remnants’; History was ‘purely Ideological’; physics, chemistry, mathematics and philosophy were ‘indirectly ideological’. The abolition of history was proposed as it was of less importance than the study of the present. This is an example of especially crude thinking, but most analyses assumed that the educational institutions were functional to the capitalist system in some simple sense. Ideological certainties substituted empirical inquiry. Students fought a propaganda battle in which slogans substituted for study, or they left further education in search of ‘real knowledge’ learnt in general political struggles.
The liberalization of studies within the universities and schools produced interesting experiments, especially where genuine cooperation was developed between students and teachers. In Milan, the architecture faculty of the Polytechnic was a good example of this, as was the political science faculty of the State University.7 However, the potential of alter- native courses and methods of study remained largely unrealized. An account by a teacher in Milan gives a dismal picture of developments in upper secondary schools:
the slogan we all shouted in ‘68 ‘Smash, don’t change the bourgeois school’ has done the student movement more harm than even the Christian Democrat Ministers of Education themselves.
Too often student demands concerning education served short-term laziness rather than radical objectives. Or rather, a refusal to be educated was interpreted simplistically as a radical political act in itself. An account from a student journal, Le Formiche Rosse (The Red Ants), celebrates this form of insubordination:
It’s when you prefer to go out and smoke a cigarette and talk about your problems that you discover that all the other students are there too .... Occasionally the headmaster passes and sends everyone back into the class- room .... Do you then have to follow the lesson? No. You only need to enter the room to see that only a few arse-lickers are paying attention and . . . that the rest are reading the paper or talking about sport.
The effect of this sort of action, according to Aguzzi, was to make the school an ‘empty box’ which served only to waste time in. Far from having radical political consequences, this student resistance reinforced social inequalities in the distribution of cultural capital.
Although different because of its political language, this attitude to school (and to the hard-working student) closely parallels the pupil resistance in British schools observed by Paul Willis. Similarly, the opposition of the students to mental work expresses a class antagonism and critique of relations of authority, which simultaneously reproduces relations of subordination. Willis writes:
Mental work demands too much, and encroaches . . . too much [on] those areas which are increasingly adopted as their own, as private and independent. ‘The lads’ have learned only too well the specific form of mental labour is an unfair ‘equivalent’ in an exchange about control of those parts of themselves which they want to be free .... Resistance to mental work becomes resistance to authority learnt in school. The specific conjunction in contemporary capitalism of class antagonism and the educational paradigm turns education into control, (social) class resistance into educational refusal and human difference into class division.
Aguzzi treats this educational refusal as an aberration resulting from ‘bad’ politics, but it needs also to be understood in Willis’ terms. It was a refusal which in the mid and late seventies connected up with a refusal of work and the development of a youth movement?
Finally the student movement’s effects on the educational system need to be related to the forms of qualification obtained in the institutions. Again, the movement’s successes were double-edged. In the upper secondary schools it played a major role in making it difficult for teachers to fail students. The struggle against selection processes ended in the virtual elimination of examinations, which became mere formalities. The failure rate dropped dramatically. This had the positive result of making it possible for more students to go on to university, but was negative in that no new forms of assessment were established to enable students and teachers to evaluate performance and aid learning without resorting to discrimination. In the universities, it also became easier for students to acquire a degree, but these steadily lost their value both in the eyes of employers and of the students themselves.
The overall impact of the student movement on the education system in Italy turned out to be negative in as far as the institutions showed themselves incapable of responding positively. On the surface it appeared more democratic and egalitarian due to the destruction of authoritarian forms of selection and social control, and the absence of a quota system. Yet the class inequalities survived. For example, only the children of the middle classes could afford the years of study needed to become a doctor or engineer. So far, attention has been drawn particularly to the short- comings of the movement itself in developing an adequate strategy for transforming education. Above all, it has been pointed out that its refusal to make demands and campaign for substantial reforms had debilitating consequences. It entailed isolating other social groups from participation in changing education and it enabled the government and educational authorities to avoid taking action, thereby protecting vested interests. The movement’s creative substitutionalism was defeated by the sheer weight of structural obstacles and because it did not connect up with wider educational transformations. However, to attribute responsibility to the student movement for not reforming the educational system would be to overlook the role played by those with the power to make such changes.
Giorgio Ruffolo writes that:
the Italian ruling classes’ response to the students’ revolt accorded with a time- honoured and happy-go-lucky tradition of making paltry concessions rather than genuine changes; instead of building more schools and extending partici- pation, the government offered some more grants and easier examinations.
The concession of the 150-Hours Scheme, which facilitated paid study leave for workers lacking in basic educational qualifications, was perhaps a partial exception; it was the most innovative reform in the education field of the l970s. It demonstrated what possibilities for change were open if the intelligence and organization of social movements were given space, time and money to develop. The scheme promised to release educational practices from their imprisonment in the formal schooling system, and to create an alternative to the either/or between statist and substitutionalist options. The roles of student and teacher too were put in question. However, the scheme also served less idealistic purposes. It was designed to make up for the inadequacies of the schooling system, and this was a way of doing it cheaply (especially via employment of part- time teachers). Furthermore, the scheme was isolated and marginalized rather than used as a spring-board for changing the educational system. Otherwise, during the 1970s the schools and universities were mainly left to rot.
Attempts at reform were swallowed up in the quick-sands of corporate interests. The impasse of the political system was paralleled in the place- seeking and time-serving of academia. The average student in the universities rarely attended courses, and the notion that further education was a ‘parking-area’ for the future unemployed signalled a cynical awareness of the devaluation of qualifications on the labour market. The student movement of 1968 perhaps created a unique opportunity to carry out systematic reforms against the interests of university barons, backward- looking headmasters and teaching staff, and a hundred-and-one petty feudalities. Its defeat meant that the situation which generated the social conflicts in the 1960s got worse. The figure of the unemployed, casually employed or unemployable student became emblematic of the political and cultural crisis of the late 1970s.
09. Going to the people: students and workers
The theme of worker-student unity recurred throughout the development of the student movement. Students participated in the vast demonstrations that accompanied the strikes of the early sixties and student politics was predominantly shaped by the organizations and ideologies of the Left. However, the idea of unity was interpreted and acted on in different ways. Three phases can be identified. First, in the early and mid sixties student unity with the working class was mediated through institutions, namely the parties and trade unions, and was conceived as an alliance between different social groups. In the second phase, unity was theorized in terms of a direct, unmediated relationship between the student movement and workers. The notion of alliance was discarded, since it implied differences of interest, and was replaced by an idea of unity based on shared oppres- sions. Student struggles against educational and state authoritarianism were perceived as parallel to those of workers and against a common enemy. In the third phase, unity came to be interpreted as student mobiliz- ation and organization against the exploitation and oppression in the factories and workplaces rather than in the universities and schools. This chapter will deal with the theory and practice of student-worker unity in the second and third phases. The focus will be on the student movement and its development, and not on its influence on workers’ struggles, which will be considered in Part 3.
During the waves of student occupations at the beginning of 1968, the idea of unity with the working class was continuously reiterated. As has already been written, not only Marxist ideas, but emblems and symbols such as red flags were borrowed from the workers’ movement. Students’ assertion of their identity through their dress, participation in collective action and pursuit of new social and moral values was done in opposition to bourgeois norms and in the name of working-class ideals. Student perceptions of their objective class position also changed. Either they rejected their privileged backgrounds out of choice, and conceived of a future among the ranks of the wage-earners. Or, alternatively, they inter- preted their professional work as a means of destroying privilege from within.
Student documents from the March 1968 occupation of the Statale make frequent reference to the change in students’ economic prospects. This feeling was perhaps strongest in the movement in the humanities faculty, which was one of the least career oriented; its programmatic statement read:
Students know that the jobs they will get when they graduate will not be ones of power, but will mean obeying other people’s orders. A law faculty leaflet claimed that only 6 per cent of graduates acceded to the profession, and the rest ‘are absorbed by the labour market as lowly paid clerical workers’. Among engineering students only one-fifth were thought to be likely to get jobs in the profession. A document called the department a ‘dream factory’. Fear of unemployment does not appear much in the student publications, though there is an acute awareness that students were no longer a protected and privileged elite, and a supposition that their futures lay more with a working-class than a middle-class destiny. Thus unity with workers was not thought to be a purely ideological question, though few seriously considered material and social consequences of proletarianization. In the heady days of student activism this did not create much anxiety about personal prospects. Calculations about career opportunities were thrown to the winds in preference for living for the moment and for a utopian future.
However, some groups of students looked at their training as a means of putting special skills to the service of the working class. The medical students are an especially interesting example in this respect. They were the first to occupy their faculty at the Statale, which was especially surprising given its predominantly middle-class and conservative nature. The action committee raised issues concerning students' own situation - it denounced the baronial power structure, the high student-teacher ratio, inadequate facilities and ruthless selection - but it also criticized the organization of medicine as a social practice. They published a pamphlet, translated from French, which questioned the Left’s quantitative approach to health, which consisted of demands for more medicine and more hospitals. Such demands, it claimed, were based on the acceptance of rigid hierarchies, narrow definitions of health and on an ideology of scientificity. The pamphlet called instead for an attack on the causes of ill- health (for example, industrial accidents), for a decentralization of services into the community and a diminution of the divisions of labour among health workers. L’Unita’ reported nearly a year later that, during a subsequent occupation of the medical faculty, open seminars were held on the theme ‘Medicine and Society’. It involved ‘study groups with the direct participation of factory workers and the inhabitants of quartieri in Milan’, and the discussion of health at work and preventative medicine. The challenge, which started in the university, had extended outwards.
A key notion among medical students was the idea of putting themselves ‘at the service of working class’. This entailed providing a service which was not only free but given without the expectation of prestige or honour in return. The idea of ‘service’ stemmed from the Chinese model of the ‘barefoot doctor’ and of the intellectual who worked in the fields and learnt from the peasants. According to this approach, it was the workers who had the collective power to improve health conditions by fighting the causes ill-health, which were rooted in the capitalist organization of society. The task of the radical doctor was to increase awareness of the class dimensions of health, and to help people be confident of their judgements. In Turin at the Molinette hospital students gave leaflets to visitors explaining how ‘the bosses destroy our health and then try to patch us up’. Together with some of the doctors, they organized meetings to which Fiat workers were invited. In April 1969 one meeting drew some two hundred workers and four hundred students and set a precedent for the impressive worker-student assemblies which met during the Hot Autumn. The student movement’s ideas about democracy, accountability and participation were being applied to break down the corporative privileges of student and doctor in the interests of a general social transformation.
The movement in the engineering faculty at the Statale made similar critiques of the role of engineers in sustaining the dominant ideology. A document produced during the occupation of the faculty in March 1968 made no concessions to the ideals of the liberal professions:
the nucleus of bourgeois ideology is the concept of technical rationality and efficiency. This means the conditioning of the student’s mind to the conception of the engineer as God, presiding over every cog in the productive process. The idea is also reinforced by other incentives such as grades, degrees, the profes- sion, social status and wealth.
As in the case of the medical students’ critique of medicine, the role itself was being attacked. It was not a question of appealing to the social conscience of doctors and engineers, or of winning them over to the side of the working class, but of prefiguring their supercession as professions set above other forms of work and other workers. The vision involved both self-abasement and the learning of humility in the existing society, and the anticipation of the utopian unity of the future society. Again, the Chinese model was the source of inspiration, which was counterposed to the modern capitalist factory. In China. according to one student document:
the factory . . . is not a purely economic unit ..,, It is the place where illiterate workers learn to read and write, and where the workers can perfect and extend their skills .... Often houses. schools and recreational facilities are built around the factory by them.
The document went on to describe how inside the factory there were no bureaucracies, nor systems of material incentivization, such as piece-rates. Leaders were elected and there was a high degree of equality in society. In this framework, the machinery, which in capitalist factories was used to subordinate workers, was subordinated instead to their needs. This vision provided the means to judge the contemporary divisions of mental and manual labour, which the student movement identified as the funda- mental barrier to unity between workers and the future technicians, lawyers, doctors and engineers in the universities. When students put themselves ‘at the service’ of the workers, they were therefore negating their assigned role as the agents of domination.
From the summer of 1968, the student movement in the universities ceased to concentrate on political activity within the educational insti- tutions. The movement continued, but many activists looked to the industrial struggles for a lead. The national conferences were dominated by discussion of worker-student unity, and the ‘worker commissions’ at the universities became the main locus of activity. Guido Viale recalled that:
after the struggles of '68 a large number of students were no longer interested in the university it was no longer where they socialized and its struggles appeared to them to be futile and folkloristic.
Instead, according to Viale, student militants were following one of three paths: Firstly, they were leaving their studies to take up jobs in factories; secondly. they were becoming professional militants' in the student movement, and thirdly, students were addressing the question of student- worker unity by working with clerical as well as manual workers, and by examination of their own material situation as part of the proletariat. Each of these options is worth examining to see the way the student movement related to the working class outside its own institutional context.
The decision to take a factory job is more interesting for its symbolic significance than for its political effects. Very few students decided to become workers, but these few realised a fantasy that was entertained by thousands of others. They were literally stripping themselves of their class privileges and plunging themselves into the exploited class. It was an act of total negation of the student identity, and a crossing of the frontier between mental and manual labour at the point where the divide seemed deepest. The case of Andrea Banfi, a student from the Statale who left his studies to take a job at Alfa Romeo, gives a glimpse of this unusual inter- pretation of student-worker unity. Andrea Banfi created a storm, however, when it was discovered that he was not a semi-educated son of a peasant as he had declared, but an ex-student and, furthermore, the son of a PSI senator. The company promptly promoted him to a white collar job, and then sacked him. A fellow worker commented:
We immediately went on strike and the whole of the second shift stopped in protest. lf a bourgeois wants to renounce his class privileges to fight and pay in person, it’s not that he thinks like one of us, he is one of us.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there were student activists who concentrated on developing alternative educational practices. The movement at the Statale, which established its hegemony over most of the Milanese movement, worked to build up links with the unions. However, this orientation towards the official workers' movement was not acceptable to many students who regarded the unions, along with the traditional Left, as reformist and revisionist; they sought direct links with workers.
The events at Pirelli, where workers had formed a ‘rank-and-file Committee’ independent of the union, and the mobilization of white-collar workers in Milan during the autumn of 1968 created a favourable atmosphere for student-worker unity. Students provided a service for workers by making available facilities for meetings and helping distribute leaflets, and they joined picket-lines and demonstrations. Students from the Catholic University worked through the FIM-CISL, with the help of Bruno Manghi and other radical lecturers who collaborated with the union. The idea that students should put themselves at the service of the working class predominated, especially in 1968.
Statements by students exuded humility and a willingness to learn;
we students refuse to be either tomorrow’s agents of exploitation in the hands of the bosses, or to be exploiters ourselves ..., In the struggle against exploitation the most important role will be played by the working class . . . we want to know and discuss your problems so as to learn how to struggle against capitalism and to teach the lessons to younger students.
However, students also played a more active and interventionist role, which was implicitly vanguardist. Student activists felt that they were qualified to be teachers and educators. The student movement had acquired considerable prestige, especially in the eyes of younger workers. Its activists were skilled organizers, public speakers and leaflet-writers, and some had the advantage of having studied the Marxist classics. After a year of frenetic political agitation involving occupations, demonstrations and clashes with the police, such individuals could claim to have taken risks and made sacrifices for the movement. Moreover, it seemed that in many respects students had anticipated the demands, forms of action and organization that were being learned by a workers’ movement in the early stages of mobilization. Students had been the first to insist on grassroots democracy based on general meetings, and on the effectiveness of direct action. They had organized themselves to deal with police attacks.
To what extent student interventions influenced the workers’ movement will be considered in later chapters, but it is important here to point out that students and agitators could not help but think that they had had a significant part in setting the ball of mobilization rolling. Throughout 1969 students and workers participated together in vast demonstrations and mingled their collective enthusiasm in meetings held in schools and universities. In the excitement, groupings of workers and students were formed in the main Milanese factories. Political fantasies took flight. A document produced by students at the Statale, for example, spoke of the rise of urban guerrilla warfare in the metropolitan countries, where the complexity and precision required by capitalist organization laid the system open to attack. The student movement was described as the guerrilla force:
only the working class can make the revolution, but whilst capital has its police . . . the student movement is the guerrilla force of the working class in as far as it creates disorganization and disorder.
Student activists perceived of themselves in a variety of ways - as detonators, ideologues, leaders, and even as guerrillas, but less than ever as students. After the dramatic events at Fiat during the industrial dispute of June-July 1969 when mass meetings involved thousands of workers and students, it seemed that the overthrow of capitalism was a real possibility.
Through the rebel factory workers students lived out their fantasies and their dreams of revolt. And, vice versa, workers were attracted by the outside agitators who handed them leaflets at the works entrance and engaged them in conversations about revolution, China and Marxist theory. It was a strange encounter. For the most part, the students were from middle-class backgrounds and enjoyed the educational and other privileges of their class. lf it had not been for politics, these social groups would have scarcely have come in contact with one another socially. Through politics there was an exchange which involved much more than conversations about Marx. It was not simply that the agitators were preaching the gospel; they themselves had come to learn ‘what it was really like’ to be a worker. It was a situation not unlike that analysed by Jacques Ranciere in terms of the ‘thoroughgoing reciprocity in which workers and intellectuals figure in each others’ imaginations in endless circularity’.
Unfortunately these reciprocal fantasies have not been investigated; it can be guessed that they were filled with images and ideas stranger than anything hinted at in contemporary political discourses. Not least, meetings between students and workers had distinct sexual as well as class connotations. This desire on both sides to make a new social identity - to imagine ‘the self’ as different through ‘the other - was in many ways liberatory and positive. It meant escaping from the prison of a preconstructed social identity. It meant conceiving of a life that was free from the seemingly inevitable constraints of the existing society. And, in practice, the meeting of workers and students entailed a crossing of social and cultural frontiers. New possibilities were opened up for living a life in which every sort of person met socially. The promise was there of rich and diverse experiences which a class society prohibited.
The coming together of outside agitators and workers had its positive, A utopian moments - moments which prefigured an egalitarian society. The relationship, however, was not always reciprocal in an egalitarian sense. The students were often more fascinated by their image of the working class than interested in getting to know workers as individuals. They thrust them back into a class identity which was imprisoning in so far as it denied individuality and disqualified dreams and ambitions which deviated from proscribed notions of class consciousness. Thus, student activists, who had started by demanding education as everyone's right, ended by telling workers that the pursuit of learning and culture was an illusion. Vittorio Foa wrote of this attitude:
that workers’ dream and desire for books is rightful even when the books themselves are full of lies. Culture and books can be criticized when they have been mastered, not by rejecting them a priori, and then delegating the leadership of one’s struggles to the offspring of the capitalists.
The middle-class utopian thinkers who went to preach to Ranciere’s proletarians looked forward to guiding a working class which was industrious and disciplined. A class that was above all productive. By contrast, many Marxist intellectuals and students in Italy in 1969 admired workers’ disruptiveness. Although their situations were very different, they saw a common enemy in ‘the system’ and authority.
In Italy, the interaction and joint action between students and workers in 1968-9 reached levels unique in Western Europe, and the subsequent development of social movements in the seventies bore this imprint. Indeed, the Italian movements acquired aura and status internationally for their working-class involvement. However, this did not result just from the influence of the agitators, though it seemed so at the time. An understanding of the Italian case needs to take into account two important historical considerations. Firstly, the fact that one cannot talk about a consolidated working class and working class culture in Italy in the way that has been done for Britain, France or Germany. As Maurizio Gribaudi has shown in his study of Turin, social mobility meant that many families experienced a working-class condition as a ‘stage’ rather than as the basis for a fixed identity. There have been virtually no cores of heavy industry where strong ouvriereisme has developed, meaning a working-class identity counterposed to the influence of other social groups. Secondly, the development of Italian trade unionism and socialism has been characterized by the unusually high degree of participation by middle-class activists, and this remained the case in the post-war period. The openness to ‘outside’ ideas and organization therefore has historical and structural explanations. In the 1968-9 hiatus this was given a new twist by the simultaneity of the crisis in relations in the education system and in workplaces, which meant an encounter not just between individual members of the middle class and workers but between students and workers as two groups sharing homologous situations. However, the student movement was superseded by a number of political organizations which claimed to represent the working class. Political groups such as Lotta Continua, Avanguardia Operaia, Potere Operaio, Il Manifesto and the archipelago of other organizations came into existence because of the students’ movements. Not that a New Left did not predate 1968, as has been seen, but it was isolated. The movement not only popularized the ideas of its forerunners, but provided the leadership, cadres and the bulk of the membership of the groups. At the same time, the political groups put an end to the student movement as an autonomous force; student issues were subordinated to strategies relating to the industrial working class; the ideas of the party and political leadership, which the student movement had criticized, were re-established as orthodoxies. The new organizations claimed to represent the working class. The worker-student unity developed by the movements of 1968-9 gave way to a hierarchical relationship in which the ex-student activists were usually the leaders. For a large part of the movement (though not all if it) the liberatory utopianism it generated was destined to collapse under the weight of a new orthodoxy.
10. Dreaming of a cultural revolution
The student movement's critiques of the educational system, for its exclusivist and hierarchical structures of access and control, extended beyond the institutions themselves. The movement had always insisted that schooling was not so much a means of changing society as of legitimating existing inequalities, and that therefore the forms of knowledge that it passed on to students were partial and limiting. Instead, it proposed a strategy of 'education through struggle' that connected the different spheres of society through a political movement. As has been seen, students of medicine at the State University in Milan linked their struggles over course contents and teaching methods to the organization of health in society. Architecture students related their studies to the politics of housing, and the movement at the Catholic University questioned the role of the Church in supporting the status quo. The student movement created an acute awareness of how knowledge and skills were socially constructed and transmitted, and how they were made to serve class interests in the hands of the doctor, engineer or teacher. Students, moreover, represented a pole of attraction for those involved in cultural production.
Pierre Bourdieu has commented interestingly on the role of youth within modern European culture:
It is clear that the primacy the field of cultural production gives to youth can, once again, be traced back to the basis of the field in the rejection of power and of the 'economy'. The reason why 'intellectuals' and artists always tend to align themselves with 'youth' in their manner of dress and in their whole bodily hexis is that, in representations as in reality, the opposition between the 'old' and the 'young' is homologous with the opposition between power and 'bourgeois' seriousness on the one hand, and indifference to power or money and the 'intellectual' refusal of the 'spirit of seriousness', on the other hand. The 'bourgeois' world' view, which measures age by power or by the corresponding relation to power, endorses this opposition when it identifies the 'intellectual' with the young 'bourgeois' by virtue of their common status as dominated fractions of the dominant group, from whom money and power are temporarily withheld.
This observation does not perhaps apply to all intellectuals and artists in the wake of 1968; Pasolini for example had little time for the student rebels. But at a European level it is possible to see cultural alignments crystallizing out along these lines. This was particularly apparent in France, a country in which intellectuals were historically prominent in revolutionary upheavals, but in Italy too, film-makers and others rallied around the forces of opposition to the status quo. The idea of cultural revolution galvanized the left-wing intelligentsia.
The cultural challenge represented by the student movement was central to the development of a counter-culture in the 1970s. In every Italian city (and perhaps more so in Milan than elsewhere) bookshops, cultural centres, political centres, bars and eating places testified to the existence of a world separate from and in conflict with the dominant urban institutions. Its boundaries were often marked out by graffiti. But the cultural revolution also penetrated the practices of those working within the dominant institutions, especially the professions. As will be seen, it was an experience which was both positive and negative. In the 1970s the contradictions of the 1968-9 years were lived out in the cultural and intellectual field.
The idea of counter-information has a long history which antedates the student movement. It was at the heart of struggles for freedoms of speech and opinion which in Italy were closely associated with the radical wing of the movement for national unification. Then the workers' movement from the time of the early Socialist Party put great energy into producing party, union and other papers. The movements of 1968-9 revived the campaigning spirit of more heroic times. But counter-information was seen as more significant and was more self-consciously undertaken than at any time since the Resistance. (The word controinformazione itself was coined in the late sixties.) The new importance of the mass media in society was highlighted by its role in representing contemporary conflicts, whilst the student movement led the way in exposing and counteracting their disinformation (disinformazione ).
The student movement was hostile to the national press. Students read the papers voraciously to see what was happening in the world (it was a period of dramatic advances by the North Vietnamese, of street insurrections in Paris and so on), and also to read accounts of events in which they themselves had participated. They were, therefore, unusually media-conscious and aware of how they themselves and the movements with which they identified were being reported. They were in a position to make 'oppositional readings' of the newspapers not only on the basis of ideological positions, but through personal experience and oral accounts of demonstrations and occupations. The formation of a collective identity through the movement created a heightened sensibility as to how that identity was represented by the dominant groups. Thus the reports in the Corriere della Sera, which spoke of the students as 'Chinese' (cinesi) and which constructed a stereotype of the movement activists as alien and threatening, provoked anger, scorn and, on one occasion, petrol-bombs. At the information centres in the universities there were boards with the day's press cuttings concerning the movement, where students wrote up their opinions and comments.
Two of the movements' graffiti about the press give an insight into its critique of the mass media. Firstly, some writing on a Milanese wall explained: 'The difference between balls and pillocks is as follows: the balls are written by the Corriere and it's the pillocks that read and believe it.' A second piece of graffiti examined the difference between two papers: 'For a falsely objective version read the Giorno, and for an objectively false one read the Corriere'. These comments are interesting for their very format and style. They are sprayed on to the wall for all to see, and address the passer-by directly and succinctly. They involve the reader in a little puzzle or play with sexual swear-words in ways that make the reader appear cleverer than the pretentious readership of the Corriere. Then, because they are memorable, the graffiti are likely to be copied and recounted. As for their message, these graffiti spell out the movement's total opposition to the press. It does not call for fairer reportage or more objectivity, but seeks to destroy the myth of objectivity and disinterestedness.
The movement attacked what it regarded as the inevitable disinformation coming from papers like La Stampa, owned by Fiat and other corporations. These were thought to black-out news or to distort and manipulate information according to the needs of the owners and the capitalist class in general. This power resulted from economic leverage (the ownership of the means of communication), and from the servility of the journalists, the 'bosses' lackeys' (servi del padrone). This model of media manipulation fitted with the complementary notion of false consciousness, and with the Marcusean analysis of the 'one-dimensional society', according to which consensus was achieved by the ruling class through its control and manipulation of various private and state apparatuses, (for example, the Church, the media and educational institutions). Symptomatically, Marcuse's book One-Dimensional Man, published in 1967, sold 150,000 copies within a year.
This model of total social control from above did not, however, induce a sense of pessimism or hopelessness among its promulgators in the movement. Rather, it heightened awareness that every aspect of life was affected by cultural domination, and of the need 'to get rid of the policeman in our heads' (eliminiamo il poliziotto che e' nel nostro cervello), as one slogan put it. The movement's responses set the agenda for the creation of communicative strategies from below in the following decade. These can be considered under two headings: counter-information and counter-culture.
The counter-information developed by the movement ranged from individual, improvised acts to more collective and long-term action. The most common forms of counter-information used the walls of the city and the roneo machine to communicate messages. Graffiti appeared everywhere; a survey carried out in 1969 in the university and polytechnic areas of Milan counted 868 examples; in the hottest months of student revolt, the signposts near the university had to be replaced every fortnight because of graffiti; in January 1971 the prefect of Milan called for action against graffiti, which according to a municipal estimate, totalled thirty one thousand in number. The graffiti about the press, which have already been mentioned, were perhaps more subtle than the majority of examples, but even the crudest and simplest ones expressed the desire to have a say. Instead of passively reading the publicity in the underground trains and stations, young passengers added their own 'bubbles' with comments, carrying on a conversation in graffiti with a previous wall-writer. The roneoed leaflet was another form of counter-information developed in 1968, which had a democratizing potential in that it was cheap and easily produced, though it seems that often the sheer ease of reproduction resulted in overkill.
The leaflets dazibao, slogans and graffiti of the movement enabled the collective and individual expression of feelings and opinions on a massive scale. However, it was the weekly newspaper which became the preferred vehicle for the movement's propaganda. It represented a more durable challenge and the first step in the construction of an alternative circuit of information to that constituted by the national press. The most successful of these was Lotta Continua, which first came out in November 1969, but it was joined by Il Manifesto and others at local and national levels. They were the organs of the extraparliamentary political groups which were mostly formed in 1969.
Their most important campaign of counter-information concerned the events of late December 1969 - the Piazza Fontana bombing, the so-called suicide of Pinelli, and the witch-hunt that put Pietro Valpreda behind bars. Whilst the Corriere della Sera and the national press blamed the anarchists and the Left for the terrorism and supported police action against them, Lotta Continua in particular played a crucial role in telling a different story. A group of journalists wrote a book called The State Massacre (La Strage di Stato) in which they exposed the fascist nature of the bombing, and the connections between its perpetrators and high state officials. A remarkable feat of investigative journalism, selling over 100,000 copies in two years, it established the importance of the development of alternative sources of information, and hence of papers written from within the movement. It set in motion grassroots investigations in factories, schools and neighbourhoods into local Fascists, whose names were then published in papers and leaflets.
Radical journalists working within the commercial press were also encouraged to investigate corruption and the abuse of power. They organized the Committee Against Repression to defend freedom of opinion when editors of the minority press were charged under the surviving articles of the Fascist penal code, which included the 'crime of opinion' (reato d'opinione) and 'criminal incitement' (instigazione a delinquere). In a country in which the press had been traditionally tied to the interests of the state and to political parties, the growth of radical journalism under the impact of the new counter-information campaigns was an important change.
The growth of counter-information was not without its negative aspects. The tactics of exposure and denunciation sometimes bordered on symbolic lynching in which moral outrage was whipped up at the expense of rational criticism and understanding. The hounding of the police chief thought (erroneously) to be responsible for Pinelli's death is a case in point, while aspects of Red Brigades' propaganda fit this model, and an instrumental Zdanovite conception of cultural action gained an unfortunate ascendancy within much of the extraparliamentary Left. However, counter-information also gave a fillip to the critical study of the media which Umberto Eco pioneered in Italy. His Towards a Semiotic Guerilla Warfare, published in 1967, anticipated developments, while his institute at the University of Bologna produced a number of studies concerned with critiques of the dominant media and the means of developing alternatives.
Refounding a Popular Culture: The Case of Radical Theatre
The campaign in the defence of Pietro Valpreda, lasted several years, saw some inspired acts or counter-information, including the adoption of the prisoner as a parliamentary candidate. A memorable song told the story of Pinelli's death and the tragic episode was the subject of Dario Po's play Accidental Death of an Anarchist. In this period, counter-information linked up with the development of a wider counter-culture based on the movements of opposition. Playwrights, actors and actresses, film-makers, cartoonists and others channelled their energies into political work. In the light of the student movements critiques or the traditional role of the artist and intellectual, their commitment was not restricted to signing petitions and fund-raising. Goltredo Fofi outlined their new role within the movement;
no cultural revolution is possible without a direct relationship with the masses, and the only real relationship is through political militancy, even it today this must be mainly an individual connection with particular struggles given that there does not as yet exist a party to unify the different activities.
The new role can be seen at its most creative in the theatre of Dario Fo. Dario Fo and Franca Rame had been performing an experimental theatre which dealt with political issues since the early 1900s; on one occasion Fo was even challenged to a duel by an artillery officer for slighting the honour of the Italian army, and he was also arrested in Siena for abusing President Johnson in a play. However, they were working within traditional theatre and therefore to privileged middle-class audiences. In 1968 they decided to leave it 'because', writes Franca Rame, 'we had realized that, despite the hostility or a few, obtuse reactionaries, the upper middle class reacted to our "spankings" almost with pleasure'. The mass movements of 1968-9 put their political integrity in question. According to Franca Rame:
You are allowed to mock authority, but if you do it from the outside, you will burn. This is what we understood. In order to feel at one with our political commitment, it was no longer enough to consider ourselves democratic, left-wing artists full of sympathy for the working class and the exploited ... The lesson came to us directly from the extraordinary struggles of working people, from the young people's fight against authoritarianism and injustice in the schools, and from their struggle for a new culture and relationship with the exploited classes ... We had to place ourselves entirely at the service of the exploited, and to become their minstrels.
The decision to take theatre to the workers and make it part of the movements of opposition meant changing that theatre. Firstly, the plays had to be performed wherever people met socially; to begin with, the locations were workers' clubs, bowling alleys, occupied factories, suburban cinemas, and only rarely theatres. In their first year they performed to over 200,000 spectators, of whom 70 per cent had never previously seen a play. Secondly, the plays were written and performed as political interventions. (And they were very much the product of collective decisionmaking, even if Fo was the charismatic leader.) This was the case with Accidental Death of an Anarchist, put on in Milan during the trial of Lotta Continua for its part in blaming the chief-of-police for Pinelli's death. But many other performances were adapted to take account of the particular local struggles. Thirdly, Dario Fo and his company, Il Comune, developed a special relationship to the audience. During performances of the plays, which were mainly farces, the audience was invited to participate as in an English pantomime, and afterwards there were discussions about the issues being dealt with. Moreover, the takings would often be contributed to solidarity campaigns and strike funds.
The work of Dario Fo and Il Comune was especially important because it represented a developed cultural politics - a cultural politics which predominated in the social movements in the first half of the 1970s. It was not merely an example of agitprop theatre used as a tactic; it was an expression of a more ambitious project of refounding a popular culture. Fo himself was an exceptionally brilliant and lucid spokesman for a conception of theatre and art which Il Comune attempted to enact through its performances. Speaking at an event in France, he outlined the origins and history of popular theatrical forms. For Fo, the heyday of popular theatre was during the Middle Ages (in Paris in the fifteenth century, he told his audience, there was one juggler to sixty inhabitants), and it was this tradition which provided the raw materials for the reconstruction of a living theatre. This popular theatre had, according to Fo, been killed off by the bourgeoisie and the problem was to undermine bourgeois artistic norms in their turn. Brecht had argued along similar lines, said Fo:
You always go back to Brecht; he explained it well, but it's a little difficult to understand. He said that you must always act in the third person, escape from individualism and egoism... be someone who is on the outside, and who presents the person as a chorus. The comedian must destroy the figure of the comedian himself, and then recompose it in front of the spectators.
But Fo argued that epic theatre was not Brecht's invention; it was part of popular tradition which needed to be resurrected:
Really to understand epic theatre, it is enough to see the people. The people always hold to a different ideology from the bourgeoisie. There is a collective spirit: we talk about ourselves, our problems, the problems of the community. We aim to create a community like the community of the theatre in the Middle Ages .... You must act with the public, listen to its rhythms, improvise . . . you must change at the drop of a hat, cut, and alter your timing.
In the Middle Ages, according to Fo, 'the people's culture' was autonomous from that of their rulers, and this is what modern theatre has to recreate - an autonomous culture. The intellectuals' task was to help rediscover popular history, language and culture, and to free it of 'bourgeois baubles'. To make his case, Dario Fo refers to Mao Tse-tung's and Gramsci`s ideas, thereby claiming legitimacy for his theories within the Communist tradition. Yet it is Rabelais who inspires him:
When Rabelais speaks French he carries out an operation which has been lost to us. He takes up several expressions from dialects and enriches his own language, thereby making something un-bourgeois. He sought to make a sort of lexical revolution, and that's an example we must follow.
But more often Fo refers directly to contemporary events as a source of ideas and a context for creating a new set of relations with the audience, giving back to 'the people' what he has learnt from them:
I feel myself part of the people, and when I'm going to write a play, I go to the people, not to flatter but to learn .... When the movement calls us because there is a trial, we turn up the day beforehand and reconstruct the event. I play the judge, the lawyer plays the lawyer, the workers play the workers, some comrades play the police, and the show is on. And when the real spectacle is on - that's to say the moment of judgement - there are some cracking jokes because the public understands the hypocrisy of power.
The test of this idea of theatre was measured by its capacity to generate audience involvement, and its power to entertain and educate at the same time. This was a test in which Il Comune and Fo triumphantly succeeded. What is more problematic is whether this theatre contributed to a transformation of the cultural situation over a longer term. The role of Fo's theatre can be compared to the role played by don Milani in providing a critique of the dominant culture and a model for a popular culture. Although they belong to different worlds -don Milani to a Catholic world and Fo to a secular, socialist tradition - there are close parallels in their work. Both see 'the people' as the creators of language, which the rulers then formalise, suck dry and use as an instrument of domination (in the shape of the bourgeois school or theatre). The people use words in a simple, concrete and direct way which describes reality truthfully and with beauty, but they are made to distrust their own sensibilities by cultured elites. Those that work the soil or work in the factories are somehow closer to Nature (to the 'nature of things') than those who rule over them, and the rhythms of their labour resonate in the deeper structural movements of the culture, which, however, are hidden from them by the cleverness and artifice of those who do no work. Popular culture is without boundaries (or rather it is potentially universal) because it springs out of everyday life, whilst Culture with a capital 'C' is closed within the walls of museums and theatres or within library tomes. As the originators of language and the 'rooted' members of society, the ordinary people bear within them the traces of earlier cultures; they have a history which makes the history of the ruling group into the fabrication of parvenus. All these elements, (albeit with different stresses and combinations), underpin Dario Fo's and don Milani's visions of how to change the order of things. Whilst it gave them great strengths, it also entailed severe weaknesses.
The strengths can be seen in the degree of influence exercised by the work of don Milani and Dario Fo within the social movements, and in the mobilizing qualities of the ideas of popular creativity, autonomy and self- activity. Labour was invested with dignity and culture was divested of mystique. A widespread desire by factory workers and others to have their say brought the sound of unheard voices into a cultural world built on their exclusion. The ideas of popular culture celebrated not the enfranchisement of the masses and their inclusion within the formal domain of the cultural (the schools, universities, and so on), but the destruction of the frontiers of knowledge policed by academics, doctors, lawyers and politicians. They envisaged the return of distinctively cultural practices to the fields and workplaces, and the re-establishment of a new harmony of head and hand. It was a utopian vision of considerable appeal, which went beyond the immediate situation. It drew on a rich vein of radicalism in Western European culture, which can be identified in writers as various as Rousseau, Marx and Bergson.
The weaknesses of this project of cultural revolution are intertwined with its strengths. Its appeal to myths inspired enthusiasm by providing epic narratives for class struggle in culture. But the evocation of a golden age and of an image of a pure popular culture served also to limit and even stultify cultural innovation. Just as the notions of reliving the Bolshevik or Chinese Cultural Revolutions blinded activists to social changes and complexities, so myths of a past popular culture made it difficult to work within a contemporary environment.
The particular predilection for myths is clearly manifested in the fascination for China. China acted as a sort of spiritual homeland for a generation which could no longer believe in the USSR. Much of the young Italian intelligentsia of the period greatly admired the Chinese Cultural Revolution; China represented a model of how intellectuals could work with and among the people (the students who worked in the fields whilst the peasants studied; the 'barefoot doctor'; the poet or painter whose art 'served the people'). At the same time, Chinese culture was presented as the combination of popular wisdom and a sophisticated but simple Marxism. Brecht's poems, inspired by Chinese subjects and the writings of Lu Hsun, became enormously popular. Above all, there was an image of Chinese people as hard-working but happy. Intellectuals who travelled there (especially women, it seems), wrote about this:
In China there are no signs of alienation, nervous disorders or of the fragmentation within the individual that you find in consumer society. The world of the Chinese is compact, integrated and absolutely whole.
What is significant, of course, is not what this tells us about China, but what it tells us about the writers and readers of this literature. Umberto Melotti draws attention to the historical precedents:
It is worth recalling how this mythology of 'Socialist China' has emerged historically. In many respects, it is reminiscent of the eighteenth-century mythology of 'good and just government in China`, which was spread on the basis of similarly insufficient evidence among the enlightenment philosophers and men of letters.
The Chinese myth was believed in by those who wanted to create a simple, humane egalitarian society in the place of the divided and competitive society in which they lived. It made it possible to criticize the existing order of things with reference to an ideal just as Montesquieu, Rousseau, and others had done in the past. However, the dream of a unified popular culture was backward-looking. It harked back to Communist and Socialist traditions at a time when they no longer connected up with the everyday experience of the majority of people. The ideal of a class-based, autonomous culture did not help make sense of a situation of cultural diversification in which identities were constructed across classes and across national frontiers. The Chinese myth was more a throw-back to a golden age than a future-oriented utopia.
The idea of remaking a popular culture entailed celebrating older technologies and the close relationship between producer, product and consumer which they realized (Fo's theatre was typical in this respect). This was regarded as authentic by contrast with the mass culture produced by the modern media which, however, had effectively marginaized older cultural forms. This New Left, like the traditional Left, dismissed mass culture as part of the capitalist 'consciousness-industry'. There were intellectuals who took a more critical view and refused the either/or choice between being apocalyptic or conformist (to borrow the terms of Eco's famous study Apocalittici e integrati) in their attitude to mass culture. Apart from Eco himself, Francesco Alberoni stressed the way mass culture promoted change, rather than simply confirming the status quo. However, their rationalism and cosmopolitan outlook was marginalised in the wake of the movements. Far more representative of the general rejection of 'mass culture' and espousal of 'popular culture' was the charismatic figure of Pier Paolo Pasolini. Through his writing, films and journalism, Pasolini gave passionate expression to his disgust for consumer society and all its works.
However, whereas Pasolini's vision was fundamentally at odds with the imposition of any kind of uniformity, for the most part the search for a 'genuine' popular culture was strangely provincial and backward-looking. When cultural exchanges across frontiers were multiplying as never before, and when the plurality of signs and images defied simple categorizations according to class origin, there was a longing for cultural purity - for the 'compact, integrated society' in which community appeared as a simple, organic set of relations between people. The disorder of the city was rejected in the name of an ideal, organic society which was rural in its inspiration. It was utopian, therefore, in the pejorative sense, because it attempted to deny the complexity, diversity and conflict of modern societies. Moreover, it conjured up a relationship between intellectuals and 'the masses' which was untenable.
A Culture of Guilt
The student movement of '68 did not by itself produce a radicalization within the professions and the development of an extensive counter-culture, its impact must be taken in conjunction with that of the workers' movement, and its importance needs to be understood as symbolic.' '68' is used here as a shorthand way of referring to all the various radical currents which surfaced in the late sixties and early seventies. It is a term which covers a considerable range of strategies for change - a range which resulted from the reactivation of older civil-libertarian as well as the creation of new forms of resistance. '68 brought into the open a plurality of politico-cultural positions, and marked a break with the clear demarcations into 'camps' that had been inherited from the Cold War period. lf the old alignments were still visible, they were now criss-crossed by differences within both the Communist and Catholic 'worlds'. Moreover, a radicalism which was more typical of the United States was beginning to get a foothold in Italian society, as the development of a sexual politics in the early seventies was to show. However, it was not until the mid seventies that the richness and diversity of cultural changes became fully visible.
In many respects, the cultural changes immediately following on from the social movements were not as innovative as they seemed at the time. Or, rather, there was a widespread misrecognition of what was 'old' and what was 'new'. The first stirrings of a post-'68 feminism and youth politics (which are dealt with at greater length in part IV) were frequently ignored or regarded as a sixties hangover, whilst the rediscovery of Marxism was seen as something quite novel. A description of the rebirth of Marxism written by Perry Anderson in I974 sums up a perspective common to the New Left in Western Europe:
The advent of a new period in the workers' movement, bringing to an end the long class pause that divided theory from practice, is now however visible .... The chance of a revolutionary circuit between Marxist theory and mass practice, looped through real struggles of the industrial working class, has now become steadily greater. The consequences of such a reunification of theory and practice would be to transform Marxism itself - recreating conditions which, in their own time, produced the founders of historical materialism.
It was a perspective which recapitulated the historical model. All the heresies of the New Left, from the Trotskyisms, which were stronger in France and Britain, to the Marxist-Leninisms which dominated in Italy, proclaimed that the moment had come for the refounding of the Communist project and the establishment of a new and fruitful relationship between theory and practice, between intellectuals and masses.
How the relationship between Marxist intellectuals and the working class was to be changed was a matter for debate. There was no uniform position. But it Italy, where the Chinese model of cultural revolution was so influential, there was little space for the intellectual mandarin. As has been seen in relation to the student movement, populist evocations of 'mass practice' tended to prevail over theoretical concerns. Discourses were above all moral.
A number of positive consequences flowed from this orientation. Intellectuals and professional people turned their backs on the privileges and status accorded to them in society, and sought to redefine their roles in terms of social cooperation among equals rather than of competition between individuals and corporate interests. They sought to undermine the culture which exalted mental labour and despised those who worked with their hands. However, the search for what Goffredo Fofi called a 'direct relationship with the masses' was a contradictory phenomenon with some decidedly negative features. It was caught between a desire to lose a class identity and yet to preserve the intellectual's special mission in society.
The contradiction in the left-wing intellectual's self-image following '68 is interestingly dealt with by Richard Sennett in relation to Jean-Paul Sartre. Although the analysis focuses on him, it deals interestingly with the relationship of culture and radical politics:
What then is the role of the intellectual gauchiste? Gerassi asks Sartre and the philosopher gives a peculiar answer. The only writing worth doing, he says, is the political tract, because the position of the intellectual has changed: 'He must now write with the masses, and through them, and therefore put his technical knowledge at their disposal. In other words, his privileged status is over. Today it is sheer bad faith, hence counter-revolutionary, for the intellectual to dwell on his own problems.' Sartre now believed the intellectual must sacrifice himself for the workers; 'he must be dedicated to work for their problems, not his own.
When asked why he had just finished a two-thousand-page book on Flaubert, Sartre accused himself of 'petty-bourgeois escapism'. And when asked about his support for a Cuban poet imprisoned for counter-revolution, he explained that all genuinely revolutionary governments honour creative freedom. He contradicted himself. Sennett comments:
In his guilty confusion, Sartre shows himself to share two assumptions about workers .... First, that the man of culture - the poet, philosopher, social visionary - inhabits a world that cannot be assimilated to the realities of working-class life. Sartre apologises for thinking about Flaubert. He respects the work workers do, indeed he idolises it; he is afraid he will alienate them by his work. Yet at the same time he is afraid his work is innately privileged and may have rights against the revolution... culture and the masses, if not necessarily enemies, have at best few interests in common .... Second the basis of rebellion is still a calculation of material interest. Material hardship caused by the system makes people rebel, material reward makes them defend . . . [he]does not really believe that the aphorism, Man lives not by bread alone, applies to workers.
In the post-1968 period in Italy the idea of cultural revolution was heavily impregnated with the attitudes implicit in Sartre's answers. Intellectuals did indeed 'sacrifice themselves for the workers', and the political tract became the privileged vehicle for cultural and political writings. They felt anxious about bourgeois and signs of individualism. Intellectuals wanted to abolish themselves as a caste and to become honorary members the working class which they sought to serve. When in 1973 the 150-Hours Scheme was established, giving workers the right to study-leave, it was welcomed as a chance to do just this:
The presence of the working class and its struggles has really made itself felt. lf until now it only affected a few more class-conscious intellectuals, now there is a refusal to delegate even in this sphere, (i.e. the workers are taking over education themselves). The struggles are also invading the cultural field and transforming interpretations of reality into a social need to be put alongside other needs (housing, services, etc.).
The intellectual, in the old sense, would be replaced by a new 'collective intellectual' combining the 'Intellectuals, technicians and workers'. This vision of the transcendence of divisions of mental and manual labour appears to subvert the Sartrean dichotomy. However, the initial l50-hours courses reproduced it in another guise. The project of creating a 'working-class culture, and criticizing culture 'from a workers' point of view' was approached in such a way that courses dealt almost exclusively with the factory. The preferred themes included health hazards, the labour process and trade union history. In other words, worker-students did not study philosophy, literature. languages or other subjects which were usually regarded as Culture with a capital 'C'. Those organizing the courses (the trade unions, teachers and political activists) either assumed that workers would not be interested, or that they would be alienated by such things. Instead, they applied their operaist version of materialism to return the workers 'in theory' to the factories they had escaped from for a few hours, while the l50-hours courses were often useful to political militants and factory delegates, they often did not respond to the needs and secret desires of the majority. Instead of liberating workers from the thrall of intellectuals, the scheme in its initial years fulfilled the fantasies of operaist theorists rather than those of the operai and operaie themselves. The old divisions between the educators and the uneducated were far from abolished.
This narrow materialist conception of culture infected not just those working in education, but artists, writers and filrn-makers who associated themselves with the social movements. Notions of 'political relevance' pressed down on them, and it became difficult to do work without an explicit political theme. Content was considered all-important and form was treated as secondary - indeed, formal experimentation was regarded with suspicion. It was thought that the workers would not understand or like cultural products which were 'difficult'. Intellectuals and artists should, in other words, give up self-indulgence and the preoccupations of their subculture and class, and put themselves at the service of the masses who did not want to read Dante or see Godard films. Both the bourgeois culture learnt at the liceo, and the culture of the avant garde were to be rejected in the name of 'cultural revolution'.
In a survey of cultural production in the wake of '68-9, Luigi Manconi describes the period from 1967 to 1974 as the 'dark years', whilst there was some ferment in the fields of music, theatre, poetry, reviews and publishing, there was little of significance produced; the results of work in photography, cinema and the novel were 'undoubtedly modest':
The reasons for this: the years 1967-9 effectively represented an unprecedented break with the previous thirty years in terms of ideologies and culture. And this was a good thing; but it also drained the expressive energies of the future generations for a five-year period. From this resulted a condition of 'memory-lack' for a whole stratum of young people, especially in relation to their own historical/social identity .... Moreover, the culture industry was hostile to innovation.
This explanation for the cultural poverty of the '68 generation is not adequate, however. It is necessary to show how a certain conception of politics and of the relationship between intellectuals and the working class paralysed or hampered creative activity. Whilst someone of the independence and inventiveness of Dario Fo could still work well, a younger generation found itself merely imitating him. Above all, it was caught in the impossible contradiction of Sartre's position. Intellectuals felt that they only had a right to exist in so far as they were being useful, and usefulness was defined narrowly. Cultural practices had to produce political messages. Pedagogic modes prevailed, and a moral universe was created with its good and bad characters. Thus, Goffredo Fofi, who was an important critic and spokesperson on the cultural politics of the Left, wrote a book on Italian cinema in 1971 in which he judged film-makers according to a grid of political correctness. The cinema journal which he edited, Ombre Rosse, actually ceased to talk about films and dealt instead with directly political issues. This was symptomatic of the way in which the specificity of the cultural was reduced in this period to a notion of class struggle which allowed little space for fiction. Whether in film or writing, a narrow realist interpretation of 'documentary' held sway.
The 'dark years', however, hid undercurrents within Italian cultural life which were to break the surface in the mid seventies. The Sartrean position was extremely fragile. Manconi has written that behind the screen of the 'monoculture' many 'cultivated their own secret vices in clandestinity' or sought to infiltrate them into the dominant political discourses. When the hold of the narrow notions of the political was put in crisis (the so-called 'crisis of militancy'), it was through appeals to those things which had been sacrificed in the past - personal and private life, poetic and literary forms, notions of creativity. Furthermore, it was discovered that the young workers, who were said not to be interested in such things but only in working conditions and factory struggles, were much more attracted to the world of youth subcultures and, in the case of women, to the feminist movement, than to the extraparliamentary Left. Whilst '68 did represent a break within Italian culture, its full implications did not become apparent before the emergency of the new social movements in the 1970s.
Looking back over the 1970s it is possible to offer a tentative evaluation of the cultural changes brought about by or through the social movements which dominated the horizons of a generation. Goffredo Fofi has commented that it was a decade in which there were lively experiments, but that many opportunities were lost and that little of lasting cultural significance was produced. The revival of cultural activities in the mid seventies and the proliferation of small publishers gave rise to
a production which was very immediate, tied to the ideas of the moment and lacking in reflection ... it was partly a pursuit of fashion and partly a response to real needs.
The lack of a major film or written piece should be explained in terms of the preference for producing the ephemeral (whether in the shape of radio, music or theatre):
The 'cultural product' of the movement was directed towards the immediate. It sprang from the desire for direct participation in making culture ... so that the result was fragmentary, uneven, instantaneous, inconclusive and without respect for canons governing writing or performance.
While this approach to cultural life and activity had its moments of genuine innovation (as in Dario Fo's theatre), it was vitiated by assumptions about the relationship of culture to class politics and the role of the intellectual or artist in this relationship. This weakness in the foundations of the counter-cultural project has made it an easy target for the critical attack by members of the cultural establishment, and has led to its abandonment by many of its leading proponents. But whether this crisis and re-evaluation leads to important contributions in the future by the generations of the '68 and '77 movements in the scientific and cultural fields, as Fofi hypothesises, is an open question.
Radicalization within the Professions
The concept of 'cultural revolution' was important in post '68 oppositional politics in Italy because it stood for total change. It embodied the aspiration to transform daily life in all its aspect, so that politics was no longer separated from ordinary decision-making. Some of the strategies for making a cultural revolution centred on the construction of alternative and oppositional areas; creating counter-information and popular culture were both projects designed to autonomise the production and consumption of cultural goods from the laws and ideas of the market. They were, above all, extra-institutional. However, other strategies involved the 'long march through the institutions'. They entailed taking the struggles of 'outside society' inside the corridors, courtrooms and classrooms of the powerful. This other aspect of the cultural revolution was especially significant for radicals working within the professions.
The movements of 1968-9 swept the professions into the political fray. Doctors, lawyers and teachers as well as journalists and film-makers were drawn into the social conflicts, and new conflicts erupted within their ranks. Not that they had previously been detached from politics. On the contrary, different tendencies jockeyed for power in their representative bodies. The Left had its advocates, even though they had none of the influence of groups like the Freemasons. However, the movements not only aggravated existing divisions, they created new ones by questioning the privileges, lifestyles and mystiques cultivated in the professions. They attacked the professional ideologies (for example the journalists's concept of impartiality or new values), which the traditional Left had by and large respected.
The new wave of radicalism driven on by the student movement was radical in a root-and-branch sense. It reiterated themes with a longer history such as secularising calls for the use of vernacular and the elimination of mystifying rites and rituals. But it framed these in a new way; for example, in terms of the abolition of the hierarchies of mental and manual labour. There was the emergence of a new conception of the relationship between intellectuals and the 'the masses' which was founded on particular competencies. As Michel Foucault has written:
A new mode of 'connection between theory and practice' has been established. Intellectuals have become accustomed to working not in the character of the 'universal' and the 'exemplary' ... but in specific sectors where they are situated by their professional conditions of work or their conditions of life ... And yet I believe they have become closer to the proletariat for two reasons: because it has been a matter of real, material, everyday struggles and because they often came up against the same adversary, even though in a different form.
This change in the role of the intellectual can be seen in a number of fields. Most obviously, radicalized teachers in schools and universities found themselves having to work in new ways not only with students, but with parents and in the community. A massive number of ex-students went into the profession in the early 1970s (the education system above all produced teachers) and took with them the ideas which they had fought for in the movement. The profession which, more than any other, had had the historical mission of creating generations of loyal Italians was joined by an army of subversives with very different intentions. But other professions were similarly if less dramatically affected.
Radical doctors, for example, played a vital role in struggles over health and safety at work. They put their specialized knowledge at the disposition of workers who were already defining health as a psychic and social as well as physical condition. Then in the mid 1970s doctors participated in and supported the campaign for abortion. The women's movement, by developing a politics of the body, made medicine a key arena of social conflict, and had far more profound implications for how medicine was conceived as a system of knowledge and power than any previous movement. But this was also an aspect of the fact that medicine had become a crucial metaphor for the exercise of power in modern capitalist societies. The conflicts over the control of the body and over definitions of normality and deviancy suddenly grew in importance. The struggles of the 1960s such as those over psychiatry (which in Italy were associated with the work of Giovanni Jervis) were merely the anticipation of this.
However, this section will focus on the battles in the legal profession. Law Students, like medical students, were traditionally conservative in their lifestyle and politics. They were almost exclusively from middle-class backgrounds, and a large percentage had fathers in the profession. They were, in other words figli di papa - though rarely his daughters. Nonetheless, law students too were active in the movement (though it should be noted that a large number opposed it). At the State University of Milan they occupied the faculty, and were responsible for the kidnapping (sequestro) of a law professor, who was put on trial for his allegedly reactionary behaviour. At both the Catholic and State Universities, law lecturers broke ranks and supported student occupations. As the mock celebration of the beginning of the legal year in 1969 showed, the pomp and circumstance of the law did not go unquestioned. On the contrary, the law was in the eye of the political storms of 1968-9. To understand this development, it is worth putting it briefly into historical context. More so than in many countries, the legal system of the Italian state was an object of suspicion rather than veneration for wide sections of the population. Liberal-progressive intellectuals looked back to Beccaria to ground their arguments against the persistence of Fascist penal codes, while popular antagonism to the law and its representatives could draw on a rich store of sayings and proverbs. There were divisions within the paese legale, but above all there was the divide between the paese legale and the paese reale. The events of 1968-9 brought these divisions into the open.
The clashes between students and workers and the police were also clashes between different conceptions of law and order. Implicitly, the former made recourse to notions of 'natural justice' as embodied in the popular maxim of the time: 'It is right to rebel' (E giusto ribellarsi), or even to justifications for revolt based on the rights of the poor to steal rather than suffer hunger contained in Catholic theology. On the other side, the police were given the task of upholding the law, although in 1968-9 this frequently involved administering punishment in the street. In other words, mass social conflict brought the question of the law out of the court-room and into the piazza; and, vice versa, the passions and disputes of the streets were taken into the seats of judgement. The law did not stand above conflicts, but was invested by them. Indeed, the drama of social conflict in 1968 was marked by the trial of leading militants.
It is an important feature of social movements that they seek to right wrongs in society as a whole. The idea of injustice is intimately bound up with how the social contract is defined, as much informally as formally. The ordinary subject is also a legislator and never more so than when participating in a social movement. Nonetheless, a movement has to face the law as an institution which imposes codes and practices. movements in brief, need lawyers.
The necessity of using the law as well as fighting against it was made apparent in 1968-9 when charges were brought against tens of thousands of students and workers who had been involved in demonstrations, occupations and strikes. Lawyers were required to defend them, and to block attempts by employers and other to have certain forms of protest declared illegal. By the end of 1969 the 'campaign against repression' (as it was called) became a political priority. After the Piazza Fontana bombing there were widespread fears that civil liberties would be suspended and that the conditions would be prepared for a coup d'etat (see chapter 15). It was recognised that there were laws which had to be defended and extended so that the conditions favourable to political activity could be created. There were, therefore, ambiguities in the attitude of the social movements towards the law as an institution. It appeared, on the one hand, as an instrument of capitalist rule, and on the other as civil rights. Whilst the radical lawyer or magistrate could only function because of the second conception, this was not automatically the assumption which informed his or her way of working. In fact, two organizations - Soccorso Rosso and Magistratura Democratica - were set up in the early 1970s which expressed the different political approaches to the problem. It was a difference with far-reaching implications.
Soccorso Rosso (Red Aid) was an organisation of professional people (lawyers, doctors and others) who gave their time and specialised skills to help victims of repression and oppression. Its name, which was the same as that of an organisation founded in 1922 by the Third International to aid victims of reaction, points to its general political alignment. Although Soccorso Rosso combined different outlooks (much more so than a political party), it was primarily oriented towards using the law in whatever way possible to defend the factory militant or political activists. It did not concern itself with changing the law nor with campaigning around civil rights as a general political issue. Such an approach was regarded as basically reformist. The legal system could, it was thought, only be changed by exposing it as the embodiment of class rule. The defence of the individual offered the opportunity to denounce class injustice. The only real justice was popular justice carried out in the class war. A number of activists in Soccorso Rosso saw their role as 'serving the people' in two senses; firstly, as the partial, limited and, in the long term, inconsequential defence of the accused; and secondly, in the construction of a 'people's justice', which entailed making the accused into the accuser. Between bourgeois justice and proletarian justice there could be no meeting point. The idea of the law as independent from politics was a fiction which could only be unmasked by openly subordinating it to politics with the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Magistratura Democratica (Democratic Magistrature) represented an approach which Soccorso Rosso deemed reformist. It was an organisation within the legal profession which sought change through and in the institutional. It meant making the law, as an institution, more responsive to the interests and the values expressed by the social movements. In other words, the law had to be brought closer to the needs and aspirations of the paese reale and, therefore, detached from its associations with the ruling order. Magistratura Democratica organized a current of opinion which encouraged a more liberal interpretation of the law, and which canvassed legal reform. Among its successes can be counted the implementation of the 1970 Labour charter; whilst in the postwar period managements had enjoyed legal advantages and cooperation from judges, in the 1970s the legislation was successfully used by unions to protect workers rights. More generally, Magistratura Democratica played an important part in arguing the case for civil rights in the mid to late 1970s, when they came increasingly under attack from both Left and Right. It argued, moreover, that the law as an autonomous institution was a necessary part of any strategy for radical social transformation of the state if it was not to end up in totalitarianism.
The experience of radicals working in the law in the years following 1968 seem to bear out Foucault's general observation about the changed role of intellectuals: namely, that they had more to gain and more to offer in the struggle against the dominant power structures in so far as they worked radically in their specific situations. It can perhaps be judged one of the more positive aspects of the cultural revolution. The influence of radical teachers, lawyers, doctors, social workers and others increased knowledge and awareness of the new complexities and forms of power within society.
The idea of cultural revolution inspired by Chinese examples went into eclipse by the mid-1970s. The notions of popular culture, of the relationship of intellectuals to masses, and of what a utopian society would look like, had become barriers to understanding an action. It would be wrong, however, simply to dismiss them as irrelevant. The negative and guilt-creating experiences, as well as those which were positive and liberating, taught activists a great deal. The answers proposed along Chinese lines resulted in a moralistic and dogmatic cultural politics, but the questions raised about how to change society remained crucial.
Part 3: The workers' movement
After a period of relative quiescence in the workplace, the years 1968-9 were turbulent. The scale of industrial conflict during the Hot Autumn of 1969 made it the third largest strike movement recorded in history in terms of lost working time (after, that is, the May 1968 general strike in France, and the British 1926 general strike). However, Italian workers not only withdrew their labour on a massive scale, but challenged the organization of work and the system of authority within the factory. In some cases, workers rebelled against the factory system itself and its hold over their lives. Industrial workers created a movement which overturned many of the rules and assumptions governing everyday behaviour and the regulation of conflict.
The following chapters will attempt to explain why it was that in Italy industrial conflict took on such radical forms; why it was that workers defied managements and rejected negotiation; why questions of pay and conditions turned into sources of a more general attack on social injustices. Some of the answers, as has been seen, lie in the longer history of class conflict in Italy, which made the factory a site of political and social antagonism. However, the social movement itself drew on and interpreted those traditional antagonisms in new ways. It is necessary to see how the movement developed in its early stages to understand its most dramatic manifestations during the Hot Autumn. Although description and analysis will focus on the struggles of autumn 1969, the first chapters will deal with the mobilizations, starting in early 1968.
The movement 's development can be roughly divided into four phases, and the chapters are organized accordingly. In the first phase of mobilizations, which was given a fillip by the turn-out for the general strike over pensions in March 1968, workers took action and made demands along fairly normal lines. In the second phase, which covered the period from autumn 1968 to spring 1969, industrial conflict took an unprecedented turn when workers organized themselves independently of the unions resorted to forms of direct action. However, the conflicts tended to be localized until the Hot Autumn of 1969 when different struggles converged in action over national contracts. After the signing of the agreements, a fourth phase followed. It is more difficult to date, but can be characterized as the period of the movement’s institutionalization.
The chapters are organized chronologically to chart the phases of the movement's development. Thus, chapter 11 deals with the first signs of revolt in the workplaces, whilst chapter 17 outlines the processes of institutionalization. However, they also examine certain exemplary cases of industrial militancy such as the Pirelli company’s disputes in Milan (chapter 12), white collar agitation (chapter 13), and the Turin events (chapter 14). These respectively raise the issues of the development of grassroots organizations, the role of the so-called ‘new working class', and The ‘refusal' of the factory system. While the focus is on Milanese developments, these are put in a national context, and the workers' movement is assessed more generally in terms of its role in representing oppositional forces in society.
11. Breaking the ice: spring-summer 1968
The term ’maggio strisciante’ was coined to describe the development of social and industrial conflict in Italy in 1968-9. Literally translated as the ‘Drawn-out May", it points to how the movement in the workplaces was a process stretching over months, rather than a phenomenon identifiable with a major event. Whereas in France a massive general strike followed student insurrection, in Italy the social crisis was more diffused and prolonged; a series of conflicts, from the jacquerie of the Marzotta factories of Valdagno in late March, to the street battles between Fiat workers and police in Turin in July 1969 (episodes which will be dealt with in the following chapters), marked important shifts in the development of industrial and social conflict. The student movement had important consequences for setting the stage and heightening social expectations, but these resulted from the continuous mobilizations rather than any particular confrontation.
The most significant single event in the early stages of the movement was not a spontaneous revolt, but the general strike on 7 March over pension reform organized by the CGIL. It coincided with the parliamentary debate on the subject, and followed the breakdown of the negotiations with the government that had initially justified the postponement of the strike in November 1967. The other confederations withdrew from strike action at last minute, but participation was not limited to CGIL Members. Mobilization in Milan involved three hundred thousand engineering workers alone It signalled a radical change of mood in the work- places; Rina Barbieri recalls:
There was something in the air that encouraged workers to take back what they had lost in the previous few years . . The strike for pensions, that’s what happened in 1968 that really changed things… There was huge participation , far beyond our expectations, including that of the white-collar workers … it was an issue that affected everyone.
The strike had a special significance because it expressed a surge of unity from below, and protest against the Centre-Left government. It was also a sign of general moral outrage at the treatment of pensioners. Despite the recalcitrance of the CISL and the UIL, workers belonging to those confederations joined the action. In Milan the FIM-CISL defiantly called for participation, and, in addition, many non-unionized workers took part. The ideological differences that divided the official organizations were shown to count for less among ordinary workers than they did among their representatives. Disillusionment with the government’s capacity to introduce reforms made strike action the only alternative. At this point, it was still largely conceived of in terms of applying pressure on the state from below, but the scale of mobilization revealed a newfound strength which militants channelled into collective bargaining. The expansion of the welfare sector, which was meagre in Italy by comparison with other Western European countries, remained an objective of the movement. However, industrial action in the workplace had the advantage of giving quick and tangible results, which could not be expected from Italian governments.
Company Collective Bargaining
The early months of 1968 saw the development of collective bargaining to a degree not experienced since 1960-1, reaching the highest level in the post-war period. The phenomenon of ‘wage drift’ - the difference between nationally fixed wages and those won through company and plant bargaining - was a normal feature of most other advanced capitalist economies, but it was new in the Italian situation. Here national contracts for each sector and a highly centralized bargaining apparatus set limits to local agreements. Traditionally, industrial conflict coincided with the calendar of contract renewals, which were usually every three years. The movement of decentralized bargaining, which sprang up mainly in the larger factories of the manufacturing sector on rank-and-file initiatives, therefore had a peculiarly destabilizing impact on industrial relations, causing problems for the unions as well as for managements. In 1968 a conjunction of factors combined to produce the first signs of a movement of shop floor rebellion, which gathered momentum in the course of the year.
The first conflicts developed around traditional issues: the key demand coming from workers was for wage increases. Since 1963 real wages had been in decline. Although no formal incomes policy had been implemented in Italy, governments' deflationary policies had effectively curtailed wages by weakening bargaining power. Firstly, the postponement of the engineering workers' contract (the pace-setter for other sectors) from 1965 to 1966, and then the meagreness of the 5 per cent increase stretched over 3 years (conceded in 1966) lowered living standards. Production rose steadily after 1964 but without proportionally reducing unemployment, and profits recovered dramatically. ln particular, companies were able to raise prices because of favourable international conditions, and to benefit from an inflation which reduced real wages. Then, payment systems within factories were changed to remove or lessen wage-linking to productivity.
Resentment over wages had already shown itself in 1966 during the struggle for the renewal of the engineering workers' contract. In the aftermath, there was considerable bitterness at the way unions had signed the contract prematurely (it was labelled a contratto bidone), a ‘rubbish agreement‘. The disproportion between the scale of mobilization and the paltry results was especially great because of the cost of strikes to the workers themselves. There was no system of strike pay or state benefits for strikers' families in Italy.
In 1967 there was widespread discouragement and loss of confidence, especially among activists on the shop-floor. This was not dispelled until the general strike in March, which showed the growth of a new awareness of bargaining power among workers. Explanations of this change point to two developments: to the consequences of a spurt in production because of a buoyant international market; and to the changed position of workers in relation to the labour market.
Until the beginning of 1968 production increased without significant recourse to additional labour. Then for two years ‘manning' levels rose, especially in the engineering sector. Fears over job security subsided, and workers found themselves in a position to ask for wage increases, taking advantage of changes in the production process to press their case. At Alfa Romeo, which had two car plants in the Milan area, the lively commercial boom began in 1968, in the first nine months sales increased by 36.6 per cent with respect to 1967. The increase was determined by and, in turn, determined a continuous reorganization of the labour process; the intensification of line-speeds and continuous technological innovations provoked stoppages and strikes. But the company, in its concern to maintain continuity of production, was prepared to make concessions to prevent strikes.
Although employment rose in 1968, employment in industry over the year did not increase much above its 1964 level. In other words, explanations linking bargaining directly to employment levels are inadequate. It was not the removal of a ‘reserve army of unemployed' that unleashed industrial militancy, as in 1959-60. Rather, it was the blocking of that mechanism due to the ‘compartmentalization' of the labour market. Industry no longer required raw recruits from the countryside, as it had done in the 1950s. From 1963 Italian capitalism entered a phase of ‘precocious maturity' characterized by the demand for a new type of labour power: Massimo Paci has written:
the workers required are those who possess certain qualities: they must be men, not too young and not too old; preferably they are married, have a certificate from the lower secondary school and have already been socialized into an urban-industrial environment.
Those made redundant in the mid sixties - the young, women and older workers - were not therefore the type of labour needed to sustain the heavier workloads and speed-up of production. Furthermore, the limited movement of labour between the sectors and the tendency to stay on at school in order to escape the prospect of manual work increased the difficulties of the employers in finding the right kind of new employee. In Milan and the industrial triangle the difficulties were especially great.
The change in the market position of semi-skilled workers explains the spread of collective wage bargaining. The unions pursued increases in production bonuses and piece rates. The Milan area had a leading role in clocking up agreements. L'Unita’ reported in late April that in three months sixty engineering companies had been in dispute in the Province of Milan, and that in four to five months one hundred agreements had been signed, covering seventy thousand workers, mainly in the large factories.
L'Unita’ reports in April and May speak regularly of thousands of workers in dispute and of the ‘leapfrog' effect of agreements. They give the impression of a harmonious relationship between workers and unions going forward together; the agreements are the fruit of constant and massive pressure by the workers and exemplary organization and guidance by the unions. The unions did show flexibility, they promoted strike action during negotiations in the wake of workers' spontaneous refusal to abide by the traditional truce for talks. Where the unions were strong (in the Milanese area unionism had survived the worst effects of management repression and the CGIL had kept its majority position), bargaining was orderly, and often did not go beyond the threat of action, as in the case of Alfa Romeo. Moreover, the demand for more money was a traditional demand that could be channelled without difficulty.
However, the most significant industrial conflicts for the future development of the workers' movement took place where unions were weak or unable to articulate the demands of the workers, and where continuities with the paternalist/repressive industrial relations of the 1950s were greatest. In these instances, wider issues concerning management powers and authority were at stake. Nationally, the struggles at Marzotto, at Fiat in Turin, and at Montedison of Porto Marghera were particularly important. Within the Milan area there were no equivalent rebellions, but an examination of particular factories is useful in showing the dynamic of the shop-floor movement.
Rebellion at Marzotto, Fiat and Montedison
On 19 April workers from the textile factories of Valdagno in the Veneto pulled down the statue of Gaetano Marzotto from its pedestal in the town square. Throughout April and May Fiat workers in Turin took industrial action in pursuit of a company agreement for the first time since 1954. At Montedison's Porto Marghera petrochemical plant wildcat strikes in the spring led up to months of confrontations in which workers showed themselves ready to destroy plant by totally withdrawing their labour. Each of these moments of conflict made headline news and were symptomatic of a radicalization among workers that went beyond the demand for wage increases alone.
The insurrection of Valdagno had many of the characteristics of a jacquerie. What started as a series of stoppages over work conditions beginning in late 1967, escalated into a total strike which was followed by a lock-out in April. In the street battles which followed the workers were joined by students from Padua and Trento and police reinforcements had to be called in from Padua. It was an exemplary case of a struggle against a paternalist system in a company town. Resentment over exploitation in the factory rapidly grew into a rebellion against a virtual ‘truck-shop’ system, and against the symbols of the Marzotto family's dynastic rule. Although the particular form of the rebellion was isolated, and had parallels in the assault on municipal buildings in the South rather than in the conflicts of the industrialised North, its significance was more than picturesque and symbolic. Firstly, the paternalism at Marzotto was an extreme case of a type of regime that continued to be more than a residual form of industrial relations in Italy, especially in the ‘white' areas (areas of strong Catholic traditions and support for the Christian Democrat Party). Secondly, the rebellion had also been against the local moderate CISL union, and became a point of reference for radical elements in that union. And finally, the events of Valdagno came a fortnight after the Valle Giulia street fighting between students and police in Rome. They highlighted the repressive intervention of the state in industrial disputes, and underlined the new unity between students and workers. It was the period when the theme of the legitimacy and political value of proletarian violence was much debated.
The strikes at Fiat over piece-rates were not marked by particular innovations in either the demands or forms of action. Their importance lay rather in the fact that a long period of inaction had ended. Events at Fiat had great symbolic importance. In the post-war period, the elections to the internal commissions at Fiat were reported as if they had been general elections, and the clashes of Piazza Statuto in 1962 had been interpreted as the first sign of a new type of working-class insubordination. Sections of the student movement and political groupings in Turin took the strikes in the spring of 1968 as a cue for intervention in support of workers' struggles.
At Porto Marghera, an industrial estate at Mestre where the Montedison petrochemical plants employed fifteen thousand people, disputes over grading in the spring, and then over a production bonus in July, led to exemplary instances of industrial action in the most advanced technological sectors. The high capital intensity and the continuous production process at the plants made them particularly vulnerable to disruption. Against the wishes of the unions, which felt obliged to honour the ‘peace formula' in the 1966 contract, independent mass meetings called strikes on alternate days. In July pickets prevented maintenance men from entering, thereby risking the destruction of the plant by their refusal to identify with the interests of the company. Throughout the disputes decisions were taken by open meetings, which short-circuited the unions. More heed was paid to proposals coming from the political group Potere Operaio and from students than to union officials. In response to a management offer of a 1.5 per cent production bonus increase, workers took up Potere Operaio's call for a 5,000 Lire increase for all. The ideas of workers' autonomy theorized by the operaist groups, seemed to have its practical demonstration. According to these, the struggles exemplified the autonomy of self-organization and the autonomy of workers' forms of action and objectives from the cycle of capital. In other words, workers' action was not thought to be recuperable either by unions or by the company. This version of ‘workers' autonomy' (autonomia operaia), which was first theorized by Mario Tronti and others in the mid sixties, gained credibility and influence. Its promulgators canvassed action that escaped union control and introduced a revolutionary perspective into industrial disputes.
A correlation of the degree of conflict in industrial disputes in twenty-four engineering companies in the Milan area with the presence of the FIOM, shows a correspondence between relatively weak unionization and high levels of conflict. In these cases, the discontent over the erosion of real wages was particularly great because managements had minimized bargaining and cut down piece-rates whilst increasing workloads, thereby taking advantage of the weak organization and division of the workforce. In the more favourable bargaining situation of early 1968 there were outbreaks of often violent action. A brief outline of events in some of the Province of Milan's main engineering factories during the spring of 1968 will give a picture of the early mobilizations.
The Magneti Marelli light engineering factories at Crescenzago had a workforce of four thousand in 1968. A fifth was composed of skilled fitters, checkers and maintenance men, whilst the majority of workers, 40 per cent of whom were women in the lowest two grades, did ‘parcellized' and repetitive jobs on automated and semi-automated machines on production lines. In 1960-62 the workers of Magneti Marelli played a leading role in the strike movement, but the management had used the recession to re-impose hierarchical control from above. A measure of its success was the fact that heavy overtime was being worked at a time when workers were being temporarily laid off (cassa integrazione). Attempts at industrial action were met with lockouts, and wages were held down through failures to honour agreements, aided and abetted by the only recognized union, the UILM.
The end of layoffs, the take-on of workers and the success of the pension reform strike put new heart into both workers and unions, but the radical impetus to the strikes for wages and bilateral assessment of payments came from the newly employed young male workers. This group had no fear of management and was angry over the disparity between their qualifications and the de-skilled nature of the jobs they found themselves in. Moreover they suffered from discrimination; because of their age they received lower wages for the same work as done by older workers. When students at the factory gates called for a march to the city centre, the young workers took up the idea and made the unions accept it at an open meeting. It was the students with their experience of demonstrations rather than the unions who organized the march from Magneti Marelli, which was the first since 1949. However, the formation of an ‘autonomous grouping' outside the unions was too weak to promote alternative initiatives. The twenty days of strikes ending in an agreement in May did not drastically alter the balance of forces in the workplace, though they led to greater bargaining activity, and hence the recognition of the unions.
The Innocenti company at Lambrate was divided into three separate factories; one heavy engineering (with just over 1,000 manual workers and 700 white-collar); the Lambretta motor vehicle plant (with 1,400 workers); and the car factory (with 1,500 workers). Each factory was different in terms of economic situation, labour processes, the composition and traditions of the workforce, and these provided the conditions for the diverse timing and trajectories of mobilizations. In early 1968 it was the heavy engineering factory with its highly skilled male workers, who averaged forty years of age and were of northern origin, who took action rather than the young, semi-skilled southern workers of the car factory. Traditionally the former had not been militant. They had enjoyed some of the benefits of the paternalist/repressive system at Innocenti (such as high overtime rates and ‘merit awards'), because of the relative scarcity of their skills. They were proud of being skilled. The turn to industrial action in 1968 was provoked by attacks on their privileges. Production increases were sought by management through the introduction of night shifts and the employment of additional skilled workers at higher rates. During an episode of drunken bravura a worker told a manager that they wanted 100 lire an hour more, and instantly, ‘like a spark in straw' (una scintilla in un pagliaio), the word spread, bringing the heavy engineering factory to a stop. In the ensuing dispute the workers responded to a breakdown in negotiations with spontaneous acts of violence; internal marches within the factory and offices drove out the white-collar workers, the majority of whom opposed the strike, smashed windows and organized mass pickets. Finally they went on all-out strike (sciopero ad oltranza) until the signing of an agreement. From the beginning to the end, the timing and forms of action and the main demands came about ‘spontaneously', in the sense that the unions followed the decisions which had already been taken. However, the ‘autonomy' shown by the workers of the heavy engineering factory was of a limited kind. Above all it showed a power based on the solidarity bargaining position and sense of independence of the skilled workers. The intervention of political groups from outside (Potere Operaio) met with no response, and the strikes did not break the repressive climate in the car factory where most workers were not skilled.
The Autobianchi car factory at Desio had about 2,600 employees. An unusually low percentage of these were skilled due to the importation of ‘kits' for the Mini from Britain, which meant that there was mainly a requirement for assembly work. The siting of the factory in a ‘white area' was part of a deliberate policy of excluding trade unions from the plants, and in the 1960s a paternalist regime prevailed. The level of conflict remained low and there was little bargaining activity since management preferred to take decisions unilaterally. In 1968 a big expansion of production, intolerable speed-ups of the line and grievances over hours (which were longer than in other companies in the sector and did not include the payment of lunch breaks) fuelled shop-floor discontent.
However, the crucial change in the situation resulted from the takeover of Autobianchi by Fiat, since workers took the opportunity to demand parity of conditions with their other factories.
In mid February 1968, after the refusal of parity with Fiat, the internal commission organized strike action. The workers" response was unprecedented in terms of participation and militancy. In March there were lightning strikes instead of the traditional twenty-four-hour stoppage; mass pickets prevented entry to the factory and the cars of two scabs (crumiri), who climbed over the wall, were set on fire. Anger over the White-collar workers' refusal to join the strike ended in the invasion of the offices and destruction of office equipment. On one occasion, the personnel manager, who had a reputation for terrorizing employees, was dragged into a field. A worker recalls: ‘He stayed in the rain for two hours whilst workers threw insults and punches at him; it was unbelievable.’ Violent incidents followed the breakdown of talks and attempted lockouts but the agitation otherwise remained under union control. The leading activists within the factory were the skilled workers of the fitting shops (reparti di preparazione) and their concern for wages rather than for conditions prevailed in the formulation of demands, which were mostly met in an agreement drawn up in April.
Sit Siemens, a partly state-controlled company, was the biggest Italian enterprise in the telecommunications sector and enjoyed a monopoly position in the market. Unlike most engineering companies, it had been in continuous expansion during the recession of the mid sixties and had almost doubled its output between 1960 and 1968 due to the telephone boom and switch to STD. The number of employees rose by 600 between 1967 and 1968 to reach 7,900. In 1969 there were 8,550 employed at factories in Milan and Castelletto. 51 per cent were women workers who were engaged in mass production and assembly work, 30 per cent were skilled male workers with jobs in fitting maintenance and testing, and there was a section of semi-skilled men engaged in heavier production work. There were technicians in the laboratories at Castelletto, while the majority of clerical workers were in Milan. The workforce was highly stratified according to the organization of the labour process, and this was reflected in its relationship to the unions. Among the women workers there were high turnover rates and low levels of unionization, whilst the core of the union membership and leadership was found among the securely employed skilled men.
Unlike the other engineering factories which experienced outbursts of militancy in the early months of 1968, Sit Siemens management was not known for repressive and paternalistic practices. However, the gap in representation between the union and the shop-floor meant that mobilization took uncontrolled forms, especially through the autonomous action of different shop-floors. Already in 1966 a strike committee had been organized independently of the union during the national contract dispute and had managed to promote an embarrassing demonstration at the Milan Trade Fair. Although this grouping disintegrated after the signing of the contract, it had effectively identified the main grievances, especially those of the women workers; these resulted from speed-ups which provoked exhaustion and even hysteria, and worsening conditions of work. The cuts in the piece-rates (by an average 6 per cent over 1967) aggravated resentment over the poor 1966 agreement, which had allowed productivity increases without doing much to improve wages.
The failure of a strike call over production bonuses in November 1967 showed that the majority of workers were concerned about conditions rather than the question of pay in itself. A member of the internal commission explained: ‘[the workers] told us: what we take with the right hand is taken away from the left by the bosses who cut the time on the piece-rate.' Demands drawn up and presented to management in February 1968 were the first attempt by the unions to confront the different conditions of work in the various sections of the factories. Upgrading for workers in the lowest grades, the elimination of health hazards and bargaining over the fixing of piece-rates were all issues that evoked a crescendo of participation in strikes. These were organised at shop level and included internal marches and invasions of the offices. Particularly surprising was the participation of about 30 per cent of the white-collar workers, despite their exclusions from drafting the demands. Although the agreement reached between management and the unions was considered inadequate (‘extra money from piece-rate changes can only buy another cup of coffee a day'), no effective proposition emerged because the internal commission's bargaining position and prestige among the mass of workers was greatly reinforced.
From developments in Milan and elsewhere it is possible to make some observations on the first phase of workers' mobilizations. These can be grouped in terms of the demands, forms of struggle and organization, and leading protagonists involved.
The main demand in this period was for greater production bonuses and revised piece-rates; demands for union rights and better working conditions remained secondary. In other words, workers sought to improve their situation within the existing pay structures and working arrangements. The only new element was the demand for across-the-board lump sum pay increases. To begin with, it was put forward without any particular gloss, but it quickly acquired anti-capitalist connotations, especially in the eyes of operaist theorists. Its great advantages were seen to be its egalitarian effect of benefiting all workers whilst reducing differentials, and the fact that it was easily understood by everyone, not requiring the mathematical expertise needed to work out percentage wage increases.
The forms of industrial action in this first phase showed a continuity with past practices. Workers left the workplace during stoppages and carried on the dispute from the outside. However, some things had changed: picketing had become more violent; there was an increase in the number of demonstrations, and these often involved student participation; there were no more truces for negotiations. In this period, the workers acted through the unions, the most dramatic exception being the independent mass meetings at Porto Marghera. However, there were straws in the wind which suggested that workers were dissatisfied with their representatives. The feeble implantation of the unions in many factories, and the relative isolation of the internal commissions, meant that they had inadequate channels through which to feel the pulse of the workplace. This was especially debilitating when many union officials were frightened of the risks of defeat, and sceptical about the spirit of militancy.
The leading protagonists in the mobilizations tended to be the skilled workers, who were often also the more politicized and unionized. Certainly, they enjoyed more bargaining power than other groups. In certain instances, as at Innocenti, they used their advantages to benefit themselves alone, but skilled workers were among the radical leaders at Porto Marghera. However, the prominence of these workers was related to the timidity of the semi-skilled, who were less experienced and confident, and whose interests were inadequately represented by the unions. It was not until the autumn and spring of 1968-9 that these workers acted independently in pursuit of their own interests.
12. Pirelli: a case of permanent conflict
The period from autumn 1968 to the opening of the 'contract season' a year later has been described as one of structural crisis for the industrial relations system in Italy, and for the relationship between the unions and the mass of workers. This crisis was most dramatically experienced at the Pirelli rubber factory in Milan, which was torn by disputes from September 1968 to December 1969, and at the Fiat plants in Turin, which were hit by wildcat disputes in April I969. The emergence of the semi- skilled workers of the large factories of the manufacturing sector as a leading protagonist of industrial action, and the generalisation of conflict to groups of workers previously little involved in disputes, like white-collar workers, radically transformed industrial and social conflict in Italy.
This chapter will focus on the conflict at the Pirelli company which became a cause celebre in late 1968, and will be followed by a chapter on white-collar and technicians' struggles. However, it is necessary first to put these developments into a general political and economic context.
In the last quarter of 1968 and throughout 1969 output in the economy continued to increase, and new workers were taken on in large numbers. The multiplication of company agreements signalled an accentuation in the wage drift; at Alfa Romeo the number of agreements tripled in 1968. At Sit Siemens the 130 agreements of 1968 rose to 250 in 1969. In the face of this movement, the Confindustria and the government lacked coherent strategies of containment and control. The Confindustria adopted a line of maximum resistence, particularly with regard to incursions on management prerogatives, and called for government support in outlawing wildcat strikes. A traditional suspicion of unions, particularly of the communist-dominanted CGIL, vitiated attempts to encourage them to discipline their memberships. The government, however, refused to enter the lists on the side of the employers. Throughout the industrial disputes of 1968-9 it tried to avoid partisanship. It tended to intervene in cases of deadlock in the private sector at the behest of the local authorities, or acted 'indirectly' through the managements of partly state-controlled companies. Its pluralist policy was outlined by Donat-Cattin in a debate on the Labour Charter (Statuto dei Lavoratori), which the Socialists in the government keenly supported;
Our assessment of conflict must change. It is a physiological not pathological aspect of an economy undergoing continuous and accelerated change. Conflict must neither be repressed nor checked; rather it is a good thing that it is openly expressed. Although one should not deny the importance of preventing conflict, more emphasis should be given to its regulation by the parties concerned than to state coercion in the resolution of the differences leading to conflict.
This statement of principle contained a recognition of the de facto freedom of collective bargaining won by workers on the shopfloor, and looked forward to an institutionalization of conflict underpinned by the legislative protection of trade unions. Furthermore, the attempts to form governments without Socialist Party support or participation failed, showing the difficulties of the Christian Democrats in obtaining a consensus for more right-wing policies. However, no new reforms were forthcoming from the Centre-Left government. Two general strikes were called by all three union confederations on 14 November 1968, and on 5 February 1969, before the government agreed to index-linked pensions. Without the traditional arm of deflation, government economic policies consisted of riding out the storm.
In the eyes of the majority of the population, the state remained unpopular. The stalemate of the May 1968 elections meant that there was no immediate prospect of new government policies. Then two police attacks on picket lines added to the history of bloodshed that stained labour relations in Italy. At Avola, a town in southern Italy, two farm- workers were killed by police during a demonstration on 2 December; at Battipaglia near Naples in the following April two more people were killed by police during a dispute over a factory closure. The response in the factories in the north was massive and immediate; workers took strike action and held protest meetings. The killings were interpreted as symptomatic of the state's repressive character and of the inherent violence of exploitation. In their aftermath the union confederations adopted the slogan 'Disarm the police'. Importantly, the PCI entered into full opposition to the government and consistently blamed the police for all outbreaks of violence during demonstrations and pickets. Although at ministerial level the aim was to depoliticize labour disputes, at a local level prefects and police acted according to well-established precedents, and managements brought charges that by October 1968 involved a total of ten thousand workers and students. It was in this setting of escalating political and social tension that industrial conflicts focused issues, linking generalized discontents to the particular disaffections of the workplace. The Pirelli rubber company became emblematic in this respect. Years of pent-up hostilities surfaced in a dispute which riveted local and national attention for months.
An Outline of Events
On 13 February 1968 the three union confederations and the Pirelli management signed a national contract for the rubber sector. The agreement, like those to follow in 1968-9, did not have the support of the mass of Pirelli workers and gave rise to further disputes on unresolved issues. The factories consequently became the sites of what came to be called 'permanent conflict' (conflittualita' permanente). The causes of frustration and discontent on the shopfloor were similar in many respects to those that troubled the engineering sector, and the unions were similarly out of touch with shopfloor opinions. However, at the Pirelli works in Milan industrial conflict took new forms which set an important example to the movement of opposition in the workplaces.
Firstly, some workers at Pirelli organized an independent rank-and-file grouping calling itself a CUB (Comitato Unitario di Base - 'unitary base committee'), which was heralded nationally as a model of workers' autonomy; secondly, their 'output-reduction strikes' (sciopero di rendimento and autoriduzione), signalled a breakthrough in the invention of new forms of industrial action. These two phenomena will be looked at separately, but first it is necessary to place them in the context of the chronology of events and specific situation of the Pirelli company.
A key source of disaffection at Pirelli was the piece-rate system; 80 per cent of the eight thousand manual workers of the Bicocca factory in Milan did piece-work, and it was responsible for a large proportion of their wage packet. Incentives, combined with fines for bad work, were an important element in the Pirelli management strategy for controlling the workforce. Relatively high wages linked to productivity paved the way for the drastic reductions in the workforce in the postwar period. The number of employees fell from twenty-one thousand in 1948 to a low point of eight thousand employees in the late 1950s, when the company introduced automated and semi-automated labour processes. During the boom of the 'miracle years' young male semi-skilled workers were taken on to replace older, skilled workers. They were attracted by the wages and were recruited as part of a strategy to undermine what remained of a strong Communist and CGIL presence in the factory at Bicocca. They bore the brunt of the massive increases in workloads following even bigger orders for tyres, cables and rubber products coming from Fiat and the engineering industry.
In the mid 1960s Pirelli had firmly established itself as an international company in the rubber sector, second only to Dunlop in the European market. After a slight fall due to the recession, by mid 1966 production had risen 15 per cent over the previous year. from 1964 increases in workloads, rather than investment in new machinery, was the chief means of raising productivity. One worker in the vulcanization section told a researcher that in 1964 he had had eight machines to tend, but as a result of rationalizations the number had increased to seventeen, and he had to produce 390 tyres instead of 15. From 1964 to 1968 production doubled using the same labour and machines. However, because of a change in the payment system, profits rose but not wages. In 1964 Pirelli severed the link between production bonuses and productivity, and reduced piece-rates, by changing from an individual to a collective payment system. The company saved itself 50 lire an hour through the latter alone, and cut real wages by an overall 20 per cent.
The agreement which sanctioned the changes in the payment system in 1964 was originally signed by the CISL and UIL alone, but the CGIL conceded the next year, in order to gain the benefits of the check-off system whereby the company deducted union dues directly from the wage packets. This formal recognition of the unions was an aspect of Pirelli's much publicized 'enlightened' approach to industrial relations. Yet union membership for 1966-7 did not exceed 30 per cent of the workforce and management refused to allow shopfloor bargaining. For the most part, especially among the younger workers, the gap between the unions and the mass of workers widened rather than narrowed as a result of the contract. For the unions had de facto agreed to worse conditions and pay, and now had less need to keep in touch with the membership through the simple activity of dues collection. They had also agreed to a two-and-a-half year truce, which effectively postponed bargaining activity until the next contract was negotiated. The CISL and UII. welcomed the truce because they openly recognized the company's need to plan ahead on the basis of the maximum 'predetermination of variable factors such as the wage'. A lament in a CGIL factory report reveals the general distrust of the union among workers:
what's worse is that they haven't learnt that they're the union, and that the union isn't a boss to go to only in times of disputes.
An old militant when asked: 'Do you think that the union can grow?' replied: 'Yes, but only on the eve of the Revolution.'
Although the strikes over the renewal of the contract in early 1968 involved almost all the manual workers and 70 per cent of white-collar workers, the contract that was eventually signed did not reflect this militancy. Instead of the requested three hours reduction in the working week, one hour was agreed to, along with a 5 per cent increase on basic wages. The question of piece-rates was left to 'further talks'. Workers were so angry over the piece-rates that they took industrial action spontaneously without reference to the unions. As was typical in the first phase of mobilization, it was a group of skilled workers who initiated action; the typography section struck in May for the re-establishment of the piece- rates they had had in 1952. For them, the primary concern was to increase wages. However, other workers who followed suit began to open up questions about the relation of piece-work to conditions of work as a whole.
The first sections to take industrial action were those with the worst working conditions, like the tyre and vulcanization sections, which also had a high percentage of newly recruited, young, semi-skilled workers. They were exposed to health hazards such as fumes, skin diseases (eczema and others), exhaustion and nervous disorders resulting from the speeds of the production cycle. Although workers demanded the elimination of poisonous fumes and the slowing-down of work speeds, the issue of the piece-rates was originally tackled in terms of improvements in pay. The action taken, however, implicitly undermined the function of piece-rates in regulating productivity. ln the tyre and vulcanization sections before the August break, and then in eighteen sections following the holidays, workers implemented a co-ordinated reduction in output (autoriduzione). Without awaiting management permission, they worked at speeds that were less tiring. Whilst the effect on output and profits was considerable, the loss in earnings was relatively little; a 10 per cent reduction of production was costing the workers a mere 150 lire a day, the price of two cups of coffee. Autoriduzione quickly became the preferred form of action, but it was only an option for those on piece-work. Industrial action therefore included lightning strikes and general stoppages. A report in L'Unita' described how workers decided on action:
They are spontaneous strikes, decided on directly by the workers in each section during improvized meetings; these are held all over the place - in the canteen during meal-breaks, by the slot-machine, while having a smoke, or even in the street outside.
Such spontaneous sectional stoppages had only happened once before at Pirelli in the previous twenty years. On that occasion, the management successfully defeated the workers by locking them out.
ln 1968, however, threats of fines and suspensions, and the attempted lockout in mid December, were counter-productive. The Pirelli management waged a propaganda war on the guerrilla action in the factories through the Assolombarda, the employers' association for Lombardy. A statement in October spoke of the intimidation of white-collar workers and complained more generally that:
this agitation [group of workers in the tyre plant suddenly took industrial action, thereby stopping work in the plant as a whole] . . . is contrary to every trade union practice and is carried out by inadmissible methods.
Yet, far from discouraging workers, such pronouncements were taken as evidence of the effectiveness of their action and were treated as almost welcome publicity.
The Pirelli management took a hard line because it was a test-case in industrial confrontation. The company had an influential voice in the national and regional employers` associations and had a clear policy of maintaining 'management's right to manage'. As a result, the mobilizations at Pirelli took on symbolic significance for the workers movement too. The pickets of the company office block, the so-called 'Pirellone', became scenes of mass solidarity involving the whole of the Milanese working class. The marches of the Pirelli workers created a particularly vivid image because of their distinctive white overalls, which contrasted with the tute blu of the engineering workers. The sheer din coming from the beating of milk cans (a practice started in the struggles of the early sixties), and from the echoing slogans transformed the atmosphere of the city centre. The continuous invasions of streets which had become the preserve of offices and shops, served as a reminder that the wealth was actually produced by some and consumed by others. One account of a march going down the fashionable via Monte Napoleone, which had shopwindows laden with expensive goods, speaks of a worker waving his empty food-box (schiscetta) and shouting: 'This is how Pirelli treats us'. On 2 December 1968 the coincidence of the lockout at Pirelli, the killings of Avola, and the occupation of several schools, created an exceptional mood of tension and anger in Milan. The convergence of struggles around the question of management and state repression represented a moment of general mobilization and solidarity. There were twenty-minute stoppages to remember the dead in all the factories, thousands of posters covered the walls of the city, which became the 'theatre of impassioned demonstrations, marches and meetings, many of them entirely improvised.' The Pirelli workers demonstrating outside the RAI-TV buildings with a banner calling for the disarming of the police, were joined by hundreds of students on strike.
Under immense political pressure, Pirelli withdrew the lockout notices, and on 22 December agreed to raise payments for piece-work and to establish bargaining procedures in the event of disputes. The company recognized union representative responsible for negotiating piece-rates. Although this marked the first step in allowing the unions a continuous presence on the shopfloor, whereas previously severe limits had been placed on their freedom of movement, the management wanted them to control not represent their membership.
Unfortunately for the Pirelli company the unions could no longer be relied on to channel and control rank-and-file discontent. They showed the same weaknesses resulting from hierarchism and inflexibility as their counterparts at Montedison in Porto Marghera. The CISL and UIL, which had been openly anti-Communist and 'collaborationist', experienced revolts against the old Cold War leaderships; while the CGIL had two- thirds of its branch leadership at Bicocca replaced between October and December, mainly by younger militants. Yet the new leaderships did not have a solid basis on the shopfloor. The desire to keep a centralized hold on decisionmaking power sprang from fear of shopfloor spontaneity and independent organization. The CUB, for example, represented a threat when it successfully outflanked the official organizations by promoting autoriduzione. In reply, the unions proposed factory branches to link the shopfloor and the company organization, but by the end of 1969 the CGIL branch only had about forty active members. The fact that it was a purely organizational proposal coming from above, and that it was based on union loyalty rather than on the common identity of the shopfloor made it a nonstarter. The CGM. attacked autoriduzione and warned of the dangers of 'sectionalism' (repartismo) just at the moment that workers were coming together over shopfloor issues, and was forced to adopt this form of action officially.
The agreement of December 1968 therefore provided only a breathing space. Agitation broke out in some sections over grading and health hazards in early 1969. Workers carried out autoriduzione to keep down work speeds, and overtime was banned. ln March Pirelli produced what was labelled 'the mini-decree' (decretone) in an attempt to outmanoeuvre the unions. In return for six days continuous production a week, the company offered an immediate concession of a forty-hour week with staggered rest days. Women were to work on a part-time basis. The proposal, however, was turned down. There was opposition to Saturday night working, which had previously been eliminated by workers who had simply refused to work that shift. A firm stand was taken against part-time working. This is of interest as one of the rare occasions on which the problem of women's work was directly addressed. L'Unita' reported a discussion with women workers. The journalist in question was careful to give their age and parental status, although the paper did not do so in the case of male workers. Antonietta, 'aged thirty-six and the mother of a child of six', was reported as saying:
I don't work for pleasure, but because I have to contribute to the household budget, and to make sure that we don't just eat soup. Maybe 'part-time' work is what Pirelli's wife does.
A CUB pamphlet dealing with the decretone reiterated this position and pointed out:
The bosses present us with the problem upside down. Instead of improving women's conditions by providing full-time education, public canteens and nurseries, thereby enabling women to work without being exploited as they are now, they want them to work less and earn less.
The pamphlet goes on to criticize the part-time working scheme as a halfway house to unemployment, and as a way of increasing exploitation during the four hours that would be worked. In its place, the CUB calls for a reduction in working hours for women, without a reduction in pay. Whilst it is interesting to note that the analysis of women's oppression tentatively acknowledges the double nature of women's work, and the need to lessen their burden, its approach does not differ substantially from that of the trade unions and traditional Left parties. It starts from the premise that women should be responsible for housework rather than men, and says nothing about women's particular problems as waged workers.
Whatever the limitations of the opposition to Pirelli's decretone, it nevertheless succeeded in defeating the management manoeuvre. Industrial conflict continued unabated. In May 1969 the unions launched a new campaign in response to further sectional stoppages, and to the harryings of the CUB, which called for large wage increases, the abolition of piece-work, parity between manual and white-collar workers, and a reduction in the number of grades. The unions' demands were much less radical. Above all they centred on the issue of union recognition on the shopfloor. However, the Pirelli management maintained its intransigent refusal to extend bargaining rights to the unions over questions of production, which were considered management prerogatives. The dispute continued into the Hot Autumn of 1969 when it became a focal point of Milanese mobilizations. However, before that time the experiences of the CUB at Pirelli and the example of the autoriduzione struggles had become part of the patrimony of the workers' movement as a whole.
Autoriduzione - worker-controlled reduction in output - was a form of industrial action that captured the imagination of wide sections of activists on the shopfloor, in the Left, within the trade unions, and in the social movements more generallly. Two contemporary accounts give some indication of the enthusiasm for autoriduzione:
The reduction of work speeds is a masterpiece of consciousness (autocoscienza) and technical ability. It is as if an orchestra had managed to play a difficult symphony harmoniously without the conductor and at a tempo agreed upon and regulated by the players of the single instruments.
This is Aniello Coppola writing an article in Rinascita' entitled 'Pirelli - a victory for workers' inventiveness'. He goes on to say that the feat is even more remarkable given the low educational qualifications and the number of immigrant workers involved. A second account, published a year later in the paper Il Manifesto, recorded how the factory
functioned with the regularity of a clock, but the tick-tock is more spaced out in time; it has a slowness that exasperates the bosses, who protest about the 'irregularities' of this form of struggle. The workers, for their part, acquire consciousness of their power and learn to make the bosses dance to the rhythm of their music.
Initially workers reduced output because it was an effective way of making the company pay without themselves incurring great losses. They turned an iniquitous piece-rate system to their advantage. Autoriduzione began 'spontaneously' in so far as the action was initiated in individual sections and without predefined plans or organization. However, as the above accounts underline, autoriduzione in an enormous plant like Pirelli's at Bicocca required remarkable coordination and discipline. The militants of the CUB acted as a catalyst, but the extensive implementation of autoriduzione was only possible because of the network of unofficial representatives on each shopfloor. Many of these were drawn from the ranks of the CGIL, and PCI. One of the protagonists recalls:
The comrades of the PCI worked day and night to connect one section in dispute with another. There was nothing spontaneous about it, except in the fantasies of distant observers.
Autoriduzione began pragmatically as an effective form of action, but it was quickly invested with more general political and ideological meaning. When workers continued autoriduzione after the formal termination of industrial action, they enacted their demand for more human working conditions. It became an end in itself as well as a means to an end. In the words of the student movement it was an example of 'practising the objective'. The self-organization involved put in question the hierarchy of command in the factory. At Pirelli the foremen had exercised control by discouraging communication between groups of workers (especially between the older and younger workers), and by calculating piece-rates and recommending workers for promotion. When workers assumed direct responsibility for production speeds and built an intricate web of contacts between themselves they undermined the foremen's position. Similarly, this direct democracy with its informal delegate structure undercut the vertical and hierarchical structures of the unions. Direct action, moreover, cut out the need for outside organizational mediation, such as that provided by the union.
The political significance of autoriduzione also owed something to its opponents, who denounced it as 'illegal and un-trade-unionist'. This 'illegality'was seen as a virtue by activists concerned to raise workers' consciousness. An interview with a worker member of the CISL at Pirelli stresses the positive aspects of these struggles against the organization of work in the factory:
In my opinion sabotage always takes place in companies with a scientific organization of work, where they are liberatory acts, whether carried out by individuals or groups. The fact that workers develop harder-hitting forms of action against the bosses is a sign of their anti-legalism, and greater awareness of their situation .... The first serious fight over the speeds of the line was a major event .... Ultimately when the speed of assembly work was changed without the agreement of the workers, they just didn't do part of the work . . . and that became routine.
When autoriduzione was first implemented against Pirelli, there was conflict between its advocates, especially between the CUB and the unions. The latter clung to traditional strike action. During the autumn and winter of 1968 the unions changed their position and consented to autoriduzione, but disagreements remained about how and to what ends it should be carried out. The CUB saw it as a disruptive and 'anti-legalitarian' method of struggle which expressed the workers' total opposition to and estrangement from the capitalist systems. Meanwhile, radicals within the unions underlined the discipline and organization which it demanded of the workers. For left-wingers inside the PCI, and for PSIUP militants in particular, it prefigured workers'control of production in a socialist society. Autoriduzione showed that the workers themselves could do the managing. The use of the vivid imagery of orchestras and clocks to describe the Pirelli action contrasts with the CUB's stress on disruption. The workers' cool, calculated rationalism is counterposed to the confusion and petulance of the bosses.
Which of these interpretations came closest to describing the Pirelli workers' consciousness and aspirations is difficult to say. Each, it seems reflected currents of opinion and attitudes within the workforce, although it should be said that the majority were less politicized than the activists. Participation in general strikes was low and the unions still managed to win majorities for their resolutions during general meetings. The activists were therefore too optimistic in their expectations, but they nonetheless succeeded in making autoriduzione symbolic and significant for the workers' movement as a whole. Their example encouraged not only imitation but widespread reflection on creative and inventive methods of industrial action. In the first months of 1969 organizations of this kind sprang up in most of the cities of northern Italy, and in July 1969 they were able to hold a conference in Turin, which was attended by hundreds of workers and students. They were drawn together by a shared antagonism to the reformist politics of the unions and Left parties, and by the feeling that the time was ripe to create alternative organizations. There were considerable differences between the groupings about their methods of work and their relationships to the official labour movement, which surfaced during the autumn, but during the first heady months when the CUB at Pirelli was making the news, the spirit of unity prevailed.
The Pirelli CUB
The CUB at Pirelli was the best known and most influential experiment in workers' self-organization prior to the Hot Autumn. It has been broadly defined as follows:
The CUBs were informal grassroots groups made up of workers and students. During the crisis of Italy's industrial relations system, when unions and parties were slow to respond to the new spirit of militancy, they took a leadership role in certain factories. They promoted workers' self-activity and gave expression to anti-capitalist feelings.
The CUB at Pirelli was founded in February 1968, directly after the signing of the unsatisfactory national contract for the rubber sector workers. It began as an attack on that agreement. The CUB pressed for industrial action over piece-rates, health hazards and grading, and criticized the unions for their spinelessness. The nucleus of the CUB was composed by militants with considerable experience in the CCTlL and left-wing parties. A report of March 1963 refers to its promoters as 'comrades with considerable influence among the workers. In their sections you can feel the unity among workers... Their meetings, despite the semi-clandestinity, are far more crowded than those held by the unions'.
Prior to the formation of the CUB at Pirelli there had been groupings set up to promote struggles in the workplace, outside and in defiance of the unions, as at Sit Siemens in 1966. However, they had been dissolved after the engineering contract struggles because of lack of support. In early 1968 conditions had changed. Firstly, spontaneous agitation in the factories proved durable rather than sporadic. Secondly, a generation of militants, encouraged by the student movement, saw the possibility of constructing independent organizations on the shopfloor. In Milan a current had formed within the CGIL which promoted 'round-table' discussions and an 'open letter' to militants on the need for action over workers' conditions (condizione operaia). It claimed that the unions were incapable of representing shopfloor opinion. This tendency, which identified with the reviews La Sinistra and Falce e Martello, organized the first meetings of the CUB at Pirelli.
This CUB was very much a child of an orthodox left and trade-union experience. It was at home in a factory with a long political tradition. It came into existence because the unions overlooked the pressing pre-occupations of the mass of workers, whose health as well as wage packets had suffered from the intensification of work. However, the CUB originally saw its function as a pressure group on the union, and rejected ideas of forming an alternative union or of leaving the unions.
The CUB's guiding principle was to 'start directly from the workers' conditions in the factory'. In retrospect, this approach seems rather banal, but it was radical at the time, and reflected the influence of the Quaderni Rossi. Since the unions at Pirelli failed to consult the shopfloor and were more concerned with their ideological differences, basic grievances were left to fester. The CUB's first actions were simply designed to reactivate trade unionism. Its demands of June 1968 for the restoration of production bonuses tied to productivity and for increases in piece-rates, showed a respect for the traditional payment system. However, the CUB rapidly assumed more radical positions which challenged management despotism. It called for the total abolition of health hazards, including piece-work, the elimination of the lowest grades and equal wage increases for all workers. Whilst the unions accepted the existing framework governing workers'conditions in the factory and asked for compensation where health was endangered, the CUB started from the premise that workers' needs should determine how the production process was organized.
At no time during 1968-9 did the CUB counter-proposals win majorities and defeat the unions' motions at general meetings. When it came to formal decision making the workers were diffident about the radical alternatives, but over the two years it was these which dominated agendas. Moreover, workers willingly rebelled against agreements drawn up in their name by the unions, and resorted to forms of industrial action promoted by the CUB, although not always. When in May 1968 it called for workers to follow the example of the Renault occupation in France, the message fell on deaf ears. It was more the product of fantasy, perhaps encouraged by the student participants in the CUB meetings, than a tactic related to the experience at Pirelli. When the CUB propagandized autoriduzione, however, it had greater success. In particular its refusal to timetable stoppages or reductions in output made spontaneity the most democratic and incisive method of destroying the discipline imposed by management. The fame of the Pirelli CUB resulted from its remarkable success in making a science of wildcat actions and in promoting them, rather than in its theoretical or political formulations. The unions were forced to follow the CUB's lead to keep control of the situation in the factory. The Corriere della Sera reported in September 1969:
It seems that the unions have despite everything, mounted the tiger - represented by a mere 200 wild activists out of a total of 12,000 workers - and that now they're trying desperately to check its stride.
The fact that such a small minority could have such influence was a sign of the newfound combativity of workers, but also of its ability to interpret and give expression to the imagination of the shopfloor.
The project of the CUB at Pirelli was to construct a new form of political organization and practice. Although it occupied a vacuum left by the unions, its ambitions went beyond the horizons of unionism. According to the CUB the unions acted 'within the logic of the capitalist system by manipulating worker militancy and compressing it between the beginning and end of negotiations'. In key respects the CUB was conceived as an alternative approach to political activity, which adopted some of the analyses popularized by the student movement. The CUB contained not only workers at Pirelli, but outsiders including students activists, several of whom came from the Catholic University. In the collection of documents published by the CUB in early 1969, the opening paragraph deals with worker-student unity:
The CUB has forged a new kind of link . . . from the purely instrumental one in which the students had a service function as the distributors of leaflets and members of the picket line. In the CUB students no longer have a subordinate role, but participate in the first person in the workers' political activity.
Such continuous participation, it was stated, entailed a rejection of 'workerism'(according to which industrial workers were only revolutionary subjects). It surmounted the separation of the activities of the student and workers' movements, which was encouraged by the Communist Party and CGIL. By combining the students' time (for research, and so on) and mobility, and the workers' knowledge of the concrete situation, the CUB offered new possibilities for breaking down the artificial divisions between the social groups. Another and more fundamental division that the CUB consciously set out to overcome was that between economic and political struggles. A CUB pamphlet stated:
The economic struggle is fruitful only if it is against the general political plan of the bosses in the factory and in society. Political struggles cannot be separated from the economic struggles. It is workers' consciousness of their own interests and rights in the workplace that leads to general struggle in society, and vice versa.
The CUB was seen to be a means of combining the political and economic struggles by focusing attention on the question of power within the factory. The conflict itself was thought to generate greater consciousness of the need to confront the system of exploitation as a whole. The stress put on violent and disruptive forms of industrial action stemmed from this concept of learning through conflict.
However, the political ambition of the majority of the CUB activists, to found a unitary communist practice in the everyday struggles of the shop- floor, was undermined by the appearance of ideological divisions, which it had originally been set up to overcome. Some attributed this development, which had disastrous consequences, to student influences. A group of Pirelli workers wrote retrospectively:
In '68 when the slogan was 'workers' power' and 'the proletariat must rule', it is very strange and symptomatic that the student intervention in the factory, even though useful in some respects to the workers, hid the intention of ruling over the proletariat as soon as possible.
Undoubtedly there is some truth in this assertion that outside intervention was to blame; the split in the CUB in June 1969 resulted directly from decisions taken by outsiders, especially by the political group Avanguardia Operaia, which aimed to make it into a 'school of communism' to train political cadres. However, there were factors that allowed the 'takeover' to take place.
The CUB never linked the general affirmations about the need to combine political and economic struggles to the specific issues in the factory. All its literature concentrated on the latter and no mention was made even of questions of education, despite the student involvement. The CUB's analysis of the unions, according to which they were incapable of renewal, made it unaware of its own role in stimulating that renewal. Above all, the assumption that industrial conflict automatically created revolutionary consciousness, and that the factory was the microcosm of the social order produced unwarranted hopes in swift social change. The CUB like the unions before them ignored many of the preoccupations of the mass of workers.
13. Technicians and clerical workers awake
On 8 April 1969 L‘Unita’ reported the views of a Philips white-collar worker, one of a thousand who had come out on strike in support of a colleague sacked for attempting to form an Internal Commission:
If they had sacked me before, I wouldn’t have known what to do. The following day I would’ve looked for another job. After the first strikes and the mass meetings I’ve begun to understand that we’ve got rights and they can be defended.
This sense of collective identity was slow to form among the office workers in Italy, but between the winter of 1968 and the spring of 1969 it took dramatic and tangible forms among those employed by the big industrial companies. The participation of white-collar workers in strikes and demonstrations alongside manual workers was itself a new pheno- menon. Their autonomous mobilization and development of innovative forms of action and objectives seemed to signal the formation of a new collective identity.
In Italy discussion among Marxists, and in particular among sociologists of industrial relations, had focused on the semi-skilled worker (operaio comune). The emergence of the white-collar worker as social protagonist provoked a new debate. Leaflets, articles and conference reports on the question proliferated. Their positions can be divided into two groups: there are those that saw the new white-collar workers (in particular the technicians) as the future makers of a socialist society, in the place of the industrial proletariat; and there are those who identified a progressive proletarianization and radicalization of the white-collar strata. The adequacy of these analyses is best judged by looking at the behaviour of the white-collar workers in the field of industrial relations.
Before and After ‘68
Before the mass mobilizations of 1968 the impiegati enjoyed privileges and a style of life which set them apart from manual workers, and which were sanctioned by the social superiority historically attributed to mental labour. Management paternalism flourished in the offices long after it had been challenged in the factory. In return for the privileges of the monthly salary, sick pay and relative job security, white-collar workers tended to conform to management expectations. Traditionally the impiegato turned up for work in times of strikes, thus earning the hatred of other workers. Sometimes this would erupt in violence; a worker at Sit Siemens recalls how in 1967 hundreds of women workers, whistles in their mouths, invaded the offices and literally wheeled out office workers on their chairs. White-collar workers did not think of themselves as members of the working class, nor were they regarded as such by the unions. The CISL encouraged their sense of ‘corporate’ identity, whilst the CGIL spoke of them as middle-class sectors with whom alliances had to be made. Both bargained and made separate agreements on behalf of their white-collar members.
In the 1960s there was a considerable change in the situation of the impiegati. In the engineering sector in the province of Milan they numbered twenty-eight thousand in 1968, and constituted over a quarter of those employed in industry as a whole. The majority were clerical workers in the lowest grades. This change in the employment structure reflected the development of the tertiary sector, and the concentration of management offices in the city and province of Milan. The ‘Pirellone’, the modernist 1960s office-block of the Pirelli company, and the centro direzionale (management centre) near the Central Station, symbolized the changes in progress.
The growth in the number of the white-collar workers is significant in explaining their involvement in the industrial conflict. It is important to bear in mind that the increase in the demand for such employees by private companies and the state was less than the supply. The expansion of the education system and the new aspiration to avoid manual work resulted in the excess supply, which was one of the factors underlying the weakened position of the white-collar worker on the labour market. A survey of the largest firms for the period 1962-70 showed that, whilst skilled blue-collar workers’ wages increased by 108 per cent, those of low grade white-collar workers’ increased by 86.9 per cent. Although the technical institutes had more than made up for the shortage of technicians by the late 1960s, nonetheless a certain stickiness in the market helps explain the relative buoyancy of their wages, in comparison with those of clerical workers.
In general terms, the expansion of the ranks of white-collar workers, especially in the low grades, and the erosion of their privileged economic position undermined some of the bases of the paternalist system of control. The changes created the conditions for a movement among these workers, but the positions of clerical and technical workers remained very different. Clerical workers and technicians had an unequal ‘pull’ on the labour market, and a different relation to the manual workers and to management; technicians had more contact with the shop-floor and more independence from management. Yet both groups lacked a tradition of unionism and a sub-culture of the workplace, like that of manual workers. In the late sixties they looked to manual workers and students for a lead.
White-Collar Workers ‘Prove Themselves’
If white-collar workers were influenced by mass movements, it was not simply a question of imitation. The borrowing was selective, and certain features of their actions were specific to them as a grouping. They first took strike action because of their exclusion from the benefits accruing to workers from the company agreements won in the factory disputes of spring 1968. At Fiat and Pirelli white-collar workers joined strikes. They reacted angrily to an erosion of differentials that in the past had been automatically restored. The first case of an independent strike was in June 1968 at the Falk steel works in the province of Milan. Clerical workers demanded shorter hours, longer holidays, and incentive payments in line with concessions made to the rest of the workers. There was almost total participation and pickets sometimes included two hundred strikers. The substantial wage concession won by the strikers in July set an example to other white-collar workers in the engineering industry.
The exclusion of white-collar workers from agreements made with manual workers had important implications. Firstly, it signalled a shift in management strategy. The refusal to pass on concessions to white-collar workers meant managements were prepared to buy a truce at their expense and to strain traditional loyalties to breaking point. Management surprise in the face of the office rebellion suggests that they were counting on the passivity of these employees, but the resistance to their demands showed a readiness to suspend a long-standing alliance against the rest of the workforce. Secondly, the isolation of white-collar workers, on which management built its divide-and-rule tactics, sprang from their ambiguous and often estranged relations with blue-collar workers. The situation at the Borletti factory in the winter of 1968, when the majority of the shop-floor refused to support the white-collar strike, was typical; the standard answer to the requests for solidarity was: ‘If they’ve never gone on strike for us, why should we do so for them.’ For the white-collar workers, therefore, there was an urgent need to redefine relations with management, with fellow workers, and with the unions.
The breakdown of paternalism was often lived out dramatically, since everyday shows of deference were called in question and managers knew the language of repression and arrogance better than that of conciliation and bargaining. At Borletti an article in the factory paper of the FIM- CISL maintained that differences between white- and blue-collar workers had become insignificant. It denounced the repression of the foremen, but also the haughtiness of management in general. It cited an incident in a lift when a manager waiting for a lift forced a woman secretary, who had said ‘full’, to get out and walk. At Sit Siemens, a delegation of white-collar workers was brushed aside by a manager:
Dr Leone, when he rejected our demands in toto had the manner of one saying: ‘Go ahead anyway, go ahead. I know my hens; after a day or two nobody will remember this fight of yours’.
Such incidents generated antagonism, especially among younger workers, who were angered by the arbitrary disregard shown by management. The call for the publication of merit awards was significant in this respect. In the 1960s there had been a considerable extension of the use of merit awards, which were granted secretly, at management’s discretion, to ‘merit-worthy’ employees. Their function was to encourage cooperation with superiors and promote competitive and individualist behaviour. By subjecting the merit payment to public scrutiny workers thought that the allocation of the awards could be made accountable to themselves. However, the call was not for their abolition, but for the application of ‘objective criteria’ via consultation. In the early stages of mobilization, the enemy was seen to be an old-fashioned and arbitrary despotism rather than the very process whereby people were assessed, labelled and allocated a position in a hierarchy.
One of the common features of the movements of 1968-9 was their opposition to authority-figures: police, foremen, headmasters. In the offices, too, resentments and grievances were focused by acts of petty tyranny which would not have been socially acceptable outside the workplace. Clerical workers were no doubt influenced by the refusal of A students and others to put up with authoritarianism, but they also proposed their own alternative models of democratic organization. In Milan, the most notable examples were at SNAM Progetti and Sit Siemens.
SNAM Progetti, a unit of ENI, a company which specialized in drilling design and design for the construction of oil refineries and chemical plants, was occupied in October 1968 by its 1,200 workers, most of whom were technicians. The occupation became a cause celebre because of its political objectives and its self-organization. A commission for political relations, set up during the occupation, demanded the establish- ment of representative organs in the company with decision-making powers over political and economic questions. The general meeting (assemblea) was made into the basic unit of workplace democracy, by- passing the union. The SNAM workers demanded the right to study and training in order to reverse the process of de-skilling, which especially affected women who were usually in the lowest grade. They aimed to ‘reconstruct workers’ dignity and independence’. The SNAM experiment excited the interest of the radical wing of the CISL which was particularly sensitive to the themes of dehumanization and alienation at work. Moreover, contacts with the students of the technical and science faculty of the State University were regular.
The struggle of the impiegati at Sit Siemens in Milan has been described as the most significant in the company in 1968. The boom in the telecommunications sector had involved a growth of research and development and of administration; from 1960 to 1968 the number of technicians increased from 1,500 to 2,500, thereby making up 30 per cent of the workforce. The demands they made in November were similar to those at SNAM Progetti; they called for a ‘human and anti-authoritarian way of working that enables the valorization of professional capacities’. However, the situation was very different at Sit Siemens in that the relationship between the white- and blue-collar workers was crucial to the balance of forces in the company. Despite eighty to ninety hours of strikes, levels of participation reaching 90 per cent, and a readiness to strike in the interests of other workers, the white-collar workers were defeated in March 1969 because of manual workers’ refusal to support them. The latter accepted a separate deal offered by the management. The unions failed to elaborate a set of demands that unified the different sections of workers, but the major obstacle to unity was the manual workers’ historic suspicion of people who had traditionally scabbed on them. However, the white-collar workers’ struggles at Sit Siemens were important for the way they developed democratic structures independently of the unions.
In the special systems laboratory, workers used their work situation to increase their decision-making role. The technicians of the research team secretly continued with a project leading to a major technological break- through, despite management orders to stop the work. Ida Regalia writes:
This experience made the workers independent in the face of management, because their awareness of their own professionalism made traditional defer- ence untenable.
However, these technicians did not cultivate professional elitism. They organized themselves on the basis of open meetings and linked their work to general questions about how science was used in a capitalist society. Contacts were made with the student movement to discuss these issues.
The idea of democracy that was championed by the most radicalized white-collar workers owed much to the student movement, in its stress on active participation and the creation of grassroots organization. The general open meeting was the key structure of discussion and decision- making at both SNAM Progetti and Sit Siemens. The commissions on specific problems (for example, women’s conditions) and study groups set up by the white-collar workers, were also inspired by student models. At Sit Siemens the use of a questionnaire to find out about the wants and grievances of fellow workers not only prepared the ground for the formulation of demands, but stimulated awareness of problems. For example, the women workers’ study group at Sit Siemens produced a document which discussed grading, the quality of work, wages, and the particular exploitation of women at work. It also pointed out:
At the end of eight hours in the factory, women work at home (washing, ironing, sewing for the husband and children). They are therefore further exploited in the role of housewife and mother, without that being recognized as real work.
Some white-collar workers cooperated closely with the student movement. The founders of the Sit Siemens study group, set up in March 1968, were members of the FIM, which had connections with Catholic student organizations, whose members participated in their discussions. Cultural and social affinity made for easy exchanges between the office/ laboratory and university, while ex-students became Sit Siemens employees. The meeting of two thousand striking white-collar workers in the occupied premises of the Liceo Vittorio Veneto in February 1969, was one of frequent symbolic celebrations of unity.
White-collar workers also looked to the student movement for guidance because of their difficult and critical relationship to the trade unions. Diffidence towards the unions was felt both by those holding on to their ‘staff’ identities, and those disillusioned by the refusal of the shopfloor workers to help them out. The alternative bodies held more attractions than the unions, for the unpolitical as well as for radicals. Furthermore, the leading militants attacked the unions for being bureau- cratic and undemocratic. However, study groups and open meetings renewed and radicalized the unions from below; they did not substitute them.
For a brief period the informal rank-and-file groupings had a lively influence over a wide spectrum of white-collar workers. However, with the decline of the student movement, the example set by the struggles of the semi-skilled workers of the large factories became dominant. Further- more, the unions began to respond positively to the various practical and theoretical criticisms of their work.
The impiegati who refused to join strikes were often the targets of the so-called spazzate (sweepings), when groups of workers invaded the offices and drove out the staff. These multiplied in number in mid 1969 and during the Hot Autumn. The attacks were usually ‘educative’ only in a punitive sense. For the angry young worker it was often ‘a moment of total rebellion, an act of liberation that needed visible and tangible effects - doors knocked down, marches, shouting, clashes with the police .. .’ For the office workers they were terrifying baptisms of fire. However, during the struggles of 1968-9 this form of action was even adopted by some white-collar workers. The mass picket, demonstrations in railway stations, ‘articulated strikes’ - all these actions typically undertaken by the blue-collar workers were learnt by their more ‘respectable’ colleagues.
The intensity of the industrial conflict reached its height in the spring of 1969 when the office-workers of the state sector engineering companies were all in dispute. At Borletti’s the office workers proved themselves in the eyes of the other workers, who came out on strike in protest when one of them was arrested. Sectors of white-collar workers looked to the shopfloor for leadership. For many of them manual labour acquired positive connotations, and was identified with the socialist iconography of working-class heroism. Their adoption of egalitarian wage demands, such as lump sum increases, was another sign of their new attitudes.
The development of trust and cooperation between blue- and white- collar workers was a process fraught with difficulties and by no means irreversible. However, in 1969 there were remarkable steps forward in this direction. The white-collar workers’ failure to extract major concessions from management by themselves, underlined their need for joint action with other workers. The unions, by the autumn of 1969, drew up ‘ demands for a new contract that involved all workers. Union officials and representatives were often more sympathetic towards the white-collar workers than their blue-collar members. The FlM-ClSL was especially open to new forms of organization at the grassroots. The formation of delegate structures, the assertion of unions’ independence from the political parties, and the unions’ consultation of members’ opinions - all these developments made the unions more attractive to white-collar workers. Some of them even took a leading role in the unions and won the support of manual workers. At Borletti’s workers looked to a white-collar activist, who was ‘very good in terms of dialectics’, for leadership; at Sit Siemens militant young workers were drawn by the radical ideas promoted by the study group which later became the ‘manual and white- collar workers’ group’ (Gruppo Operai-Impiegati).
The militancy of the white-collar workers in industry in 1968 was an important moment of recomposition for the Italian working class. Their struggles, along with that of the semi-skilled workers of the large factories, marked a turning point in industrial relations. The older paternalist system was put in crisis. Clerical workers and technicians expressed some demands of an almost utopian kind when they called for the restoration of skilled and participatory work. Yet these struggles remained relatively marginal in Italy - more so than in France where they were central to the movement for self-management (autogestion ).
The SNAM Progetti and the special systems laboratory of Sit Siemens in Milan experienced conflicts which raised some of the issues which Serge Mallet identified with the struggles of the new working class. In both instances there were rebellions against the logic of profitability in the name of a higher scientific rationality. The self-organization of work and the democratization of decision-making prefigured a form of society based on control of the work-situation. However, such struggles were exceptional and limited to the companies in question. Mallet’s prediction that the technicians, because of their key role in the most advanced sectors of the economy, would make the demands for workers’ control a bridge- head in the struggle for socialism was not verified by the events of ‘68-9. The majority of the demands of the white-collar workers did not substantially diverge from those of the semi-skilled manual workers, who also demanded control over the labour process.
Mallet has been criticized for giving exclusive attention to the work situation of technicians and for his deterministic conception of how revolutionary consciousness developed out of their workplace struggles. Pizzorno has shown that the demand for control is not peculiar to this group of workers, and Low-Beer has shown the relevance of factors such as parental background, career-orientation and images of society in explaining the behaviour of white collar workers. Low-Beer’s insistence of the importance of looking beyond the workplace is a salutary corrective in the predominance of operaist ideas in Italian studies. His conclusions do not diverge from the ‘proletarianization thesis’ according to which de- skilling has tended to assimilate most technicians’ jobs to those of other workers. However, he also points to workers’ lack of interest in their jobs, and their concern over problems of decision-making in society, which they tend to visualize in terms of power rather than status or money. This shift in focus to the ‘relationship to the means of decision and control’ and away from the ‘relationship to the means of production’, as Touraine insists, is the key to understanding the struggles which took up the themes first popularized by the student movement.
14. The hot autumn: from Corso Traiano to Piazza Fontana
By the autumn of 1969 a social movement composed largely of industrial workers, but also embracing other sections of the population, was already in an advanced stage of development. The movement was not new, in that industrial militancy had a history going back over a hundred years in Italy, but it involved workers who were new to industrial organization and action. The mood in the workplaces expressed the feeling that changes were in the air. It accorded with the process of ‘transvaluation’ described by Piven and Cloward, in which social disorganization and the traumas of everyday life are perceived as ‘both wrong and subject to redress’.
The role of the minority of experienced militants within the factories, and of agitators at the gates, has already been discussed in the case of the Pirelli and other struggles. Their success in promoting mobilization and the awakening of traditionally passive sectors like white-collar workers seemed to prove that something could be done about redressing the . wrongs in society. This galvanized activists into feverish propagandizing and organizing. Sections of workers, especially the semi-skilled (operaio comune) of the engineering factories, started to move as a group and to organize themselves. Through the struggles of the Hot Autumn similar experiences to those of Antonio Antonuzzo were lived out by hundreds of thousands of people. Individual awareness of and revolt against injustices fused into a collective movement.
Although the surge of rebellion grew out of the discontents and frustrations of everyday lives, these were not new. It required exceptional times to make them explicit and to give them a shape. The renewal of the engineering workers’ contract in the autumn constituted such an occasion. It involved over a million workers, many of whom had already shown their readiness to strike. In addition, the contracts of petrochemical and building workers were due for renewal, and the rubber sector was still in dispute. The anticipation of a great trial of strength between employers and workers focused national attention. Expectations ran high and gained legitimacy from authoritative definitions of the situation. The minister of labour, Donat Cattin, declared himself for change and against the inequalities symbolized by tax evasion:
By the end of this autumn we shall all be changed people. A system that waves the Italian flag for the workers and the Swiss flag for the industrialists is not a healthy one.
The press likewise predicted momentous events and coined the term ‘Hot Autumn’ which rapidly entered into popular currency. Its usage is of interest in illuminating the way the strike movement was defined from its onset.
24 Ore, the paper closely associated with Milanese industrialists, was the first to speak of the Hot Autumn (autunno caldo) in its issue of 21 August 1969. The idea probably came from references made in the United States to the time of the race riots as ‘the long hot summer’. It was meant to foretell a season of industrial conflict, and the connotations for the readership were certainly meant to be negative. Without undue forcing, this particular metaphor can be seen as part of a genre in which industrial action, demonstrations and riots were described as ‘volcanic explosions’, ‘sicknesses’ and ‘abnormalities’, metaphors which proliferated in the conservative press during subsequent events. However, what is particularly interesting in this context is not these definitions themselves (which are part of the recurrent imagery with which ruling groups define insubordination), but the way in which they were taken over and subverted by the social movement.
each living ideological sign has two faces like Janus. Any current curse can become a word of praise, any current truth must sound to many other people as the greatest of lies.
The Hot Autumn exemplifies this point. No sooner had it been pronounced than it was taken up by the movement to describe itself. L’Unita’ wrote:
The autumn of the great contract struggles, the autumn that promises to be hot as one of the bosses’ papers wrote today . . . has already begun in Milan.
During the industrial struggles the outbursts of the Corriere della Sera against ‘illegal’ forms of struggles, and laments on the state of the world were quoted with satisfaction by leaflets and papers circulating in the movement. The catastrophism and fears for the survival of civilization served, ironically, to heighten expectations of change.
Turin Events - Southerners Revolt
The workers’ movement of 1968-9 was predominantly northern Italian; it had its centre of gravity in the cities of the industrial triangle. That is not to say that happenings in Porto Marghera or Valdagno were not of great importance in the history of the movement, but they remained isolated. For instance, Venice, the city nearest to Porto Marghera, was a centre of artisanal industry and tourism, with a population which, if anything, resented the very existence of the petrochemical plants. Even in the capital, Rome, the movement was relatively marginal to the life of the city, and had nothing like the impact of the student demonstrations and occupations of the previous year. Further south the movement was weaker still.
In the south there were major struggles as at the steelworks at Bagnoli, an area of Naples, but they were isolated because of the absence of industry or its dispersal into small units, and because of the weakness of the unions and left-wing parties. The structure of social conflict was differently ordered. Pre-industrial forms still had their pertinence. For example, in 1967 at Cutro in Calabria the peasants occupied the land and seized and burnt down the municipal buildings during their fight with the police. In July 1970 the town of Reggio Calabria experienced a major insurrection lasting several days to protest against the transfer of the status of provincial capital. When industrial organization and action did take place, it often faced the possibility of bloody repression rather than conciliation, as happened at Avola and Battipaglia.
The lack of industry in the south meant a lack of jobs, and the necessity of leaving home for the cities of the north - whether in Italy, Germany, or Switzerland. Another option was to enrol in the police or carabinieri in those cities (63 per cent of the guardie della PS, Pubblica Sicurezza, were southerners). One of the consequences of this labour migration was to transfer the traditions of resistance of the southern proletariat to those cities, and by a cruel irony, to bring the migrant worker and the migrant policemen face to face in conflict.
Turin was a major pole of migration in the late sixties because of the expansion of the Fiat car works. In 1967 alone, with the opening of the Rivalta plant, no less than sixty thousand arrived in Turin. It was responsible for employing fifty-six thousand in 1968, but the various components firms and the whole local economy depended on Fiat. The daily national paper La Stampa, printed in Turin, was controlled by the company. In addition Fiat played a major role within the national economy through the control of 72 per cent of the car market, and in its capacity as a major exporter. The migrant worker fitted into this scheme of things as pure labour power; ‘he was squeezed like a lemon in the factory and marginalized in the city.’ A fictional autobiographical account of a Fiat worker’s experiences describes the medical tests and the humiliation of being herded en masse into a room with bloodied cotton strewn on the floor:
it was not a question of choosing you, but a way of inculcating an idea of organization, subordination and discipline.
It was but one of the aspects of the Fordist regime:
On the production line it was not a question of learning anything, but of habituating the muscles. That is, habituating them under pressure to those movements, those speeds . .. movements faster than the heartbeat .. . operations that the muscles and the eye had to do by themselves, instantly, without the need to think at all.
For many years migrant workers in Turin had had to put up with the racist discrimination of landlords, the social difficulties and isolation of the uprooted single man, and savage conditions of exploitation at work. Yet the experience of social dislocation and poverty had tended to reduce the capacity and will to resist, which, as studies have shown, depends on ‘the workers with firmly established networks . . . whilst the newly arrived, whatever their anger, have great difficulty in forming effective organiz- ations.’ It was therefore a necessary precondition to the generalized revolts in the Fiat plants that the ice was broken in spring 1968 by skilled workers, and that a workers’ movement was already in an advanced stage of development. The strikes called in protest at the killings at Avola and Battipaglia, and the union’s campaign of action against the ‘wage zones’, which institutionalized lower rates of pay in the south, related directly to the migrant workers. However, in the case of Fiat, it was the students and political activists who played a more important role than the unions in providing the network of communications (leaflets, factory gate presence, meetings in bars) which enabled workers simply to get to know kindred spirits and to organize. Moreover, the students communicated the idea of the larger movement in society.
In spring 1969 Fiat was hit by what Reyneri describes as ‘a continuous guerrilla offensive’. ‘The demand for regrading whole sections set off a chain reaction so that the interdependence of the productive process operated to the advantage of collective action by workers. Fiat became the locus classicus of ‘permanent conflict’ along with Pirelli. Action stopped completely only for the period of the August holidays. Immediately on return the Mirafiori plant workers, independently of the union, put in a demand for a 1,000 lire pay rise. Fiat suspended seven thousand workers to make them all ‘pay’ for the disruption. The result of the showdown was that the union confederations brought forward the date for action for the renewal of the engineering sector contract. On 25 September fifty thousand engineering workers took part in a national demonstration.
Events at Fiat shook the provincial city of Turin like an earthquake. The student movement had created a cultural and social crisis in middle- class households; the workers’ movement shook the very foundations of the social order." In turn, Italian national life was deeply affected. Above all, the rebellion in its most radical forms expressed a refusal of ‘industrial culture’, of a work discipline that structured life both inside the factory and outside it. Nanni Balestrini writes of this refusal:
The thing which brought us together was our discovery that work was the only enemy, the only sickness .. . the discovery that we all had the same needs and the same necessities.
However, it was not only the Southerners’ rejection of socialization into work discipline, but their adaptation of their own traditions and culture of resistance to the Turin situation that determined the forms of their revolt. Thus, in July 1969 a trade-union demonstration over housing was transformed into riots and street battles with the police. Whilst it would be inaccurate to describe the quasi-insurrectionary action as ‘southern’, nevertheless the rapid resort to violent action and the attacks on the municipal buildings of the ‘red areas’(cintura rossa) were part of a political repertoire more rooted in the south.
Inside the factories the workers’ rebellion expressed a radical antagonism to the factory itself as an institution. In contrast to the Pirelli workers of Milan, the Fiat workers delighted more in disruption than in the autonomous regulation of production. Sabotage was endemic. Such incidents of the conflict have been described as manifestations of ‘political 'primitivism’, and as the first glimmerings of trade unionism. A Fiat worker recalls that during the first internal marches there was an incident in which a worker from the south led his workmates, carrying the head of a rabbit stuck on a pole. The ‘rabbit’ (coniglio) was the ‘scab’. It symbol- ized fear and cowardice, and also unmanliness. Such theatrical mani- festations of mass defiance certainly had little to do with the ‘model’ of ‘modern unionism’. Moreover, in some respects the identification of the principal enemy in the scab or the foreman indicated a lack of what Gramsci called ‘consciousness of the historical identity or exact limits of the adversary’. However, there are gross inadequacies in analyses which dismiss such incidents as expressions of a primitive view of the world.
Approaches which posit an evolutionary development assume a progression from primitive and pre-political forms to modern political forms. Stages of development (often related to the formation of the nation-state or the rise of the market-economy) are said to mark the boundaries between them. Thus, within a Marxist view, utopian socialism and anarchism are stepping stones on the path leading to a scientific politics and party organization. Or, within the perspective of a trade unionist, sabotage and wildcat strikes are often seen as regressive and primitive hangovers from an earlier point in union history. In the postwar period in Italy dominant versions of both Marxism and sociology accepted a model of progress and modernization (hence the endless debates about Italian backwardness). Trade unions, and parties too, competed with one another to appear modern and future-oriented. In other words, much, though not all, of the cultural and ideological perspectives across the political spectrum, were ill-suited to make sense of the strange events in Turin. They were in no way prepared for what took place.
In contrast, there were political and cultural currents, which had grown in influence through the student movement, which welcomed, promoted and theorized primitivism. Or, rather, they maintained that the rebellion in the factories was anti-capitalist. Its very excesses and extremes of behaviour signified a fundamental rejection of the way of life and values of the society of the factory.
In part, this opinion sprang from a revival of revolutionary romanticism. The rebel migrant worker symbolized suffering and resistance. He (it was never a she) was one of Fanon’s ‘damned of the earth’ - outcast, exiled, oppressed and exploited. He embodied images and ideas which reverberated in the post-68 political culture. But these had an added intensity because they connected up with a rich iconography within Italian culture. In particular, the migrant worker pricked the guilty conscience of the north towards the southerner. He brought to mind films like Visconti’s Rocco and his Brothers, and images of lonely men with cardboard boxes for suitcases who slept in railway stations. But he was also the fighter, the passionate rebel, and this was the hero who was feted by the young students at the factory gates. It was these positive images which were counterposed to the negative images of suffering and resignation which were associated with Catholic thinking. (Later this positive image appeared in the shape of ‘Gasparazzo’, a humorous but affectionate cartoon-strip in Lotta Continua.
Enthusiasm for the factory rebellion also took more theorized forms. The operaist Marxist intellectuals, many of whom had done their apprenticeship in the Quaderni Rossi, greeted the Fiat workers’ action as the practical correlative of their theories. For them, it was not the migrant worker, but the ‘mass worker’ who was the embodiment of a new class subjectivity. This is worth noting because in the operaist theory the ‘weak link in the capitalist chain’ was where capitalism was most advanced and, seemingly, strongest; namely, in the modern factory and not in the Third World nor in the person of the poor peasant, the marginals and so on, as a more romantic vision would have it. For operaisti the Fiat workers’ resort to violent and disruptive methods was not a sign of backwardness, but of their vanguard role. It showed their refusal of capitalist planning and waged labour.
Above all [Taylorism] has completely and definitively estranged the worker from the content of his work; it has made him understand that the way to freedom lies not in the exaltation of ‘productive labour’, but in the final abolition of waged work.
The demands raised by operaisti and taken up in the worker-student mass meetings during the Hot Autumn expressed a total disregard for normal forms of organization and mediation; the chants ‘we want every- thing’ and ‘we are all delegates’ could make no sense to the trade-union official or the party politician, but they were music to the ears of the operaisti.
It is too simplistic to divide the romantics from the operaisti even though they came from different cultural currents and milieux. It is interesting to observe, rather, that the factory worker himself became a modern hero, and that the mass-production line had a spellbinding fascination for a new generation of intellectuals, students and others whose origins were not working class. Even if much of the language of operaist theory tended to be dry and abstract, it contained moments of poetic intoxication. For example, sabotage was frequently described as an act of joy and liberation. In Lotta Continua, a paper launched during the Hot Autumn, operaist theory and revolutionary romanticism combined in celebrations of rebellion.
The Turin events were of great importance to the development of the workers’ movement because they took place in the heart of Italy’s largest company. In other words, they mattered politically and economically, and gave a sense of power to the movement in the first days of the engineering contract dispute. But the events need in turn to be related to their historical and cultural significance. Since the time of the factory council movement of 1919-20, workers’ struggles at Fiat had been of great symbolic importance for the Italian Communist Party and the CGIL, and for communists of whatever persuasion. A mountain of literature, including, of course, studies in Quaderni Rossi, testifies to the interest not only of organizers, but of historians, sociologists and others in the Fiat case. When, therefore, thousands of Fiat workers defied the directives of unions and parties alike and held mass meetings in conjunction with extremist students, their behaviour resonated throughout the political culture of the Left. It dramatically heightened expectations of radical change. In the words of Nanni Balestrini:
By this point, something had become evident in these meetings; all the workers had the impression that this was a decisive phase in the conflict between us and the bosses .... In fact, frequent use was made of the word ‘revolution’.
The Turin events seemed to show that the workers’ movement represented something far more radical than the unions and parties, and that, if other cities followed suit, the whole peninsula might be ready for revolutionary change.
15. The hot autumn in Milan
The Turin events overshadowed developments of the workers’ movement elsewhere in Italy from the spring to October 1969. Attention then focused again on Milan because of continued conflict at Pirelli and because of street clashes between demonstrators and police in early November, which drew the state more openly into the industrial disputes. The contract season and the year ended, finally, under the dark shadow of the Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan. These events will be dealt with in turn in the following chapters, along with an analysis of the engineering workers’ contract struggle.
Pirelli under Siege
L’Unita’ announced a ‘hot autumn for bosses’: ‘A massive strike has stopped Pirelli - 11,000 in struggle … picket-lines include technicians, clerical workers, young workers and women .... A scene which recalls those at the Fiat gates’. A dispute had been simmering since May over questions of union rights - the recognition of elected delegates, a factory council with paid time off, mass meetings in works time. This made the dispute of vital symbolic importance since one of the primary objectives of the unions engaged in all the contract disputes was to win full recognition within the factories. Pirelli was a test case -the company was represented in the highest echelons of the Confindustria. The popular slogan of the moment ‘Agnelli, Pirelli - ladri gemelli’(Agnelli, Pirelli - twin thieves) linked the different struggles against the captains of industry. The fierce- ness of Pirelli’s and other companies’ resistance proved much greater on issues of authority than on economic concessions.
The resort by Pirelli workers to their by now well-established tactics of sporadic sectional stoppages met with a company response that increased the stakes, which in turn provoked a radicalization of the conflict. On 23 September Pirelli imported tyres from its Greek subsidiary; the same day lorry-loads of the tyres were set alight and the management declared a lockout, denouncing ‘vandalism .. . illegitimate forms of agitation . .. violence and the threat of violence against persons’. The union confederations in the province of Milan called a one-hour general strike, and the Pirelli workers began autoriduzione by 45 per cent. Although the lockout was revoked, a leading militant was sacked for his part in disruptive action. There was a spontaneous strike and a demonstration in which the worker was carried back into the factory. L’Unita’ commented on the ‘degree of tension’ that could cause such ‘unplanned action’, while the Corriere della Sera horrified its readers with accounts of ‘Chinese’ subversion, provoking some workers into carrying placards with the words: ‘We are not Chinese’.
The Pirelli workers, in a sense, forced the population of Milan to take sides. The city itself became the stage on which the conflict was fought out; massive demonstrations involving up to fifty thousand, and workers’ road-blocks were joined by delegations from hundreds of factories and by thousands of students. Milan’s everyday life was at a standstill. L’Unita’ wrote:
The rising fever of union agitation has given the Milanese another day of ferment. Articulated strikes, demonstrations, improvized meetings and road blocks, have transformed the city and its hard-working surroundings into a cauldron of the labour conflicts that have come to a head this ‘Hot Autumn’.
For L’Unita’ the sight was impressive for the degree of organization shown by the workers and for their ‘coolness and intelIigence’ in the face of police provocation. The existence of the CUB was not mentioned, nor were most unofficial actions. The sabotage of the tyres was attributed to the activity of agents provocateurs. By contrast the Corriere della Sera played up the most disturbing elements of the conflict. What seems clear, however, is that the Pirelli workers enjoyed considerable support, to the point that even the Christian Democrat Party federation in Milan condemned the lockout. A protagonist’s account of the siege of the Pirelli headquarters gives a vivid picture of how workers rallied to support their fellows:
The blocking of the Pirelli skyscraper for three days and nights . .. meant stopping the brain of an international operation which could not afford to be cut off from the rest of the world for so long .... The participation was enthusiastic, and even included white-collar workers. Thousands took part . . . lorry-drivers gave lifts as did the municipal buses. On this occasion (by way of establishing a tradition) public transport was used without payment . .. you simply said ‘Pirelli will pay’.
The dangerous escalation of the dispute prompted the intercession of Donat Cattin, the minister of labour, and the signing of an agreement on 14 November which conceded the main demands made by the unions.
Engineering Workers in Milan
The Hot Autumn in the engineering industry in Milan did not have the dramatic and ruptural impact it had in Turin. It was the largest sector of industry but small and medium-sized companies predominated. No single company compared to Fiat in size. In the Milanese engineering industry skilled workers engaged in machine-tool production rather than the semi- skilled assembly workers formed the backbone of the labour force. Moreover, a relatively high percentage were unionized. Even Alfa Romeo, which employed nearly fourteen thousand workers, many of whom were from the south, did not undergo a Hot Autumn similar to Fiat’s. In 1966 there were serious riots starting in the Alfa Romeo factory at Arese, but the combination of the firm grip of the unions and the subtler approach of the state-appointed management prevented their repetition.
The struggles of engineering workers in Milan were less radical than those in Turin, and the size and complexity of the city enabled it to absorb the shocks more easily. Nonetheless, they raised demands, and developed forms of organization and action which made them expressions of a social movement. Fundamental questions about the ‘social contract’ as well as about the industrial contract were opened up. These will be examined under the headings: ‘Demands’, ‘Actions’ and ‘Organization’.
The Movement’s Demands
In preparation for the autumn campaign for the renewal of the engineering contract, the unions launched a massive ‘consultation’ with workers before drawing up the platform of demands. The level of participation and debate exceeded expectations and, in turn, generated new ones. Meetings in July turned into occasions for freely airing grievances, and took place whilst company disputes were still in full swing. L’Unita’ reported that there was a ‘decisive rejection of the long working day and of heavy workloads’, and that the majority of workers favoured lump-sum wage increases, in preference to traditional percentage increases. The lump- sum increase was therefore incorporated into the platform, despite opposition by some officials.
The final list of demands included as its main items: equal wage rises for all; a forty-hour week within three years; progress towards manual- clerical worker parity; the elimination of differentials for those under twenty; union rights inside the factories. The package as a whole represented a considerable challenge since it aimed to make up the loss of earnings in the mid to late sixties, and to end decades of unilateral management in the workplace. Moreover, they were demands with which the workers identified and which were open to control from below, unlike some of the more technical demands.
The demands formulated in the platform and the demands arising in the movement of the Hot Autumn should not, however, be treated as synonymous. Fully to understand the movement’s demands it is necessary to look at their informal manifestations in slogans and graffiti, leaflets and papers, and in the whole panoply of demonstrations and strikes. Above all, workers said what they wanted to one another, directly. Unfortunately, studies have tended to concentrate on the formal demands (and those written down), while the language of ordinary workers is neither listened to nor analysed. Certain logics are ascribed to the workings of the movement, which are not explored in relation to the richness of the protagonists’ experiences.
The gap between the approach and objectives of the union organizations and the workers on the shopfloor can be seen in the case of Borletti, where a workers’ inquiry into the conditions of women workers was carried out in June-July ‘69. It gives a picture of their preoccupations, as shown by an alternative form of consultation from below, initiated by the factory CUB. The idea of the workers’ inquiry was inspired by writings in Quaderni Rossi. It was simple enough; workers, it was maintained, knew much more about their workplace than all the parliamentary commissions and experts put together; instead of waiting to be consulted, they should do some research, make known their finding and organize around a set of concrete demands arising from them. These were then framed within a general political perspective; for example, the Borletti CUB report stated:
To see and understand at first hand what our real working conditions are, to understand how all this is the logical and inevitable consequence of an entire system - this is the first step in becoming conscious of the need to organize and struggle against it.
The inquiry, based on 150 interviews, came up with data on the unskilled nature of women’s work (23 per cent learned their job in less than half an hour, 77 per cent in less than a day), and the lowness of wages (83 per cent averaged 70,000 lire, whilst the average rent at the time was estimated to be 30-40,000 lire). But more importantly, the work situation was related to the personal lives of the workers. 60 per cent of the women workers declared difficulties in making friendships at work (‘there’s too little time to talk’), whilst for almost half of them between one and two hours a day were spent travelling to and from the factory. The tensions resulting from work were shown to damage physical health; the majority complain of constipation, headaches, breathing and heart problems that had arisen since starting work at Borletti. Furthermore ‘a good 90 per cent of women say that they are habitually agitated, sad and irritated’, and that this was especially felt through irregular periods and unsatisfactory sex life.
The process of this counter-consultation at Borletti heightened awareness and stimulated demands that the union platform excluded; the opposition to piece-rates sprang from a feeling that they divided workers, and that they encouraged productivity at the expense of health; the demand for the abolition of the lowest grades reflected the discontent of women workers who were systematically paid less than men who did the same work, but none of whom were in the lowest grades. Moreover, the debate and discussion opened up by the workers’ inquiry stimulated general awareness of life-problems in relation to work. An article written soon after the Hot Autumn entitled: ‘Spontaneous Reflections of a Woman Worker’, is full of anger:
those who do overtime . . . often say there is nothing to life but work. This just shows how thoroughly we have been brutalized by the bosses.
Such is the nature of ‘this disgusting society’(questo schifo di societa’).
The movement at Borletti, on the evidence of the leaflets and papers of both the unions and the CUB, made demands speaking as workers rather than as women. Women workers were especially concerned about working conditions. They were among those (migrant workers being another group), who suffered the worst consequences of speed-ups, increased workloads and systematic de-skilling of tasks, which were officially sanctioned by systems of grading and payment.
The vehemence of their demands on these issues emerged in 1969. At the end of April women in the upholstery shop at Alfa Romeo struck for parity, regrading and individual payment of piece-rates. And at Pirelli women were especially combative because they were the main losers from the piece-rate system. It is notable, however, that the demands for the new contract showed no connection with the women’s demands for genuine parity in place of the formal parity which the unions had won in 1960.
The gap between the formal demands of the Confederal platform and the informal demands on the shopfloor was most evident in relation to groups of unskilled workers (and in particular migrants and women, and also younger workers). Their grievances tended to be specific and localized, and were therefore difficult to integrate into a general platform. They came into conflict with management over problems of work organization (line speeds, and so on) and authoritarianism. Direct action rather than negotiation through the unions offered immediate and effective redress. Actions were made to speak louder than words, and words were not softly spoken.
Guido Viale described the new modes of self-expression as the ‘cultural revolution in Italian factories’; for him, actions such as the burning of Pirelli’s Greek tyres were:
a liberating act consciously and collectively decided upon … the same is happening in the posters, the writings and carvings which are filling the factories; it began in the lavatories, canteens and dressing-rooms, and now they are also found on the shopfloor and in the offices, done under the very eyes of the foremen .... Workers are learning to put to creative use the instruments of their oppression . . . in many factories they are using the foremen’s telephones to communicate and organize struggles.
At Borletti and in other factories dazibao were attached to the walls, in the manner of the Chinese Cultural Revolution popularized in Italy by the student movement; workers wrote up comments as they wished. Outside every factory the walls became red with spray-paint. Outside a Sit Siemens plant, by the gate, was written: ‘Liberty finishes here’. Among the great mass of workers there was a tremendous desire to talk about general issues, about politics in the broadest sense, a desire to have a say, to communicate their feelings to the world and also to listen - a situation that is perhaps only created at the highpoints of popular movements.
The demonstration was the main occasion on which workers addressed the world and shouted their demands in unison. During the Hot Autumn, marches criss-crossed Milan almost every day. They were important moments for the expression of a collective sense of identity. Aldo Marchetti writes:
Above all, it was perhaps the only moment when the ‘working class’ effectively appeared en masse as one, indivisible and equal. Inside the factory there existed differences of grade, status and pay, in right of access to places and in the language spoken; in the street all that seemed to disappear. The ‘working class in struggle’ marched through the city as a homogeneous mass and whoever entered its ranks was absorbed.
In this period of mass agitation the differences between union members was of little significance. ‘A spirit of solidarity and brotherhood bound everyone together.’ It was an experience that was often intensely felt. A description of participating in a workers’ demonstration written at a later date by Nanni Balestrini gives a vivid picture of this:
It is a hot feeling of having sweat all over the body, like a hot bath of pleasure; I am very relaxed and at the same time on fire .... There are tens of thousands of people; it is impossible to count them all. I feel my body involved to its very core, just as when responding to a high-pitched note.
This evocation presents a particular romantic, even sexual vision of the demonstration. Demonstrations also contained an important element of play and theatre. Aldo Marchetti notes that demonstrations bore resemblances to the traditional carnival:
From the carnival was taken the use of allegorical floats, using lorries decked out in various ways .... Often they carried puppets of bosses and government ministers hanging from the gallows, and these were burnt at the factory gates at the end of the march .... As in a carnival, the demonstration created a sense of the world being turned upside down; for a day or a morning roles were reversed, and the workers became masters of their own time, of the city streets, the business-centre, and of themselves.
And, of course, the demonstration was also an occasion when men and women met and mixed together. The public event created spaces for private encounters.
The demonstration was a form of symbolic communication. The linked arms, the orderly ranks and the often regular step of the demonstrators (and, of course, the very effect of having thousands of people in the streets) projected an image of power with military connotations. This desire to communicate and to count is evident in the chanting of slogans and singing of songs which made demonstrations noisy occasions. It seemed at times as if a thunderstorm was breaking over the city. Often it was not what was being shouted that mattered, but the shouting. Yet slogans also condensed basic demands and produced a sense of direction. A list of slogans put together by the Sit Siemens factory council for use on demonstrations, gives a fairly representative sample of what trade union activists regarded as popular and appropriate:
Agnelli, Pirelli - ladri gemelli (Agnelli, Pirelli - thieves, the pair of them)
Operai – piu’ sfruttati, padroni ben pagati (Workers more exploited, bosses better off)
Siamo - stanchi - di pagare - tutti -vizi - dei padroni (We are tired of paying for all the bosses’ vices)
Mille - miliardi -d’evasioni - questa e’ legge dei padroni (Thousands and millions of tax evasions - this is the bosses’ law)
La vita - col cottimo –e’ un calvario – l’affitto – e’ un furto - sul salario (Life on the piece-rate is a Calvary, rent is theft out of the wage-packet)
The notion of injustice and the sense of moral outrage is strongly present in the slogans, and this accords with some of Barrington Moore’s observations on what, historically and cross-culturally, has most often provoked popular protest. It is not so much the fact of inequality and exploitation that anger the lower classes, as what are seen as excesses. The key to understanding this is the ‘social contract’ which, in Barrington Moore’s words, is arrived at by
continuous probing on the part of rulers and subjects to find out what they can get away with, to test and discover the limits of obedience and disobedience .... The more stable the society, the narrower the range within which this takes place.
It is what is perceived as the breaching of the contract which engenders outrage. Such is the case when the law-makers (bosses) break the laws (evade taxes, or, in the case of politicians, take bribes); or, when the money of the workers is spent on luxurious living by idlers, parasites and bloodsuckers; or, when the hard-won wages are ‘stolen’ in rents. Another slogan popular during the Hot Autumn sums up the feeling of gross injustice: ‘ci sfruttano, ci ammazzano, ci sbattono in galera – e’ questa la chiamano liberta’ (they exploit us, kill us and throw us in prison, and they call it freedom).
The ‘contract’ that was seen to be flouted was not a formal set of articles. It was, rather, an invisible set of codes governing acceptable behaviour and underpinning the reciprocity of the relationship between rulers and ruled. This helps to explain the strong note of moralism in slogans of condemnation. This also had roots in a morality with an established place in the workers’ movement since its inception (note the Proudhonian ring to the slogan: ‘rent is theft’), but which was expressed with a new vigour and spontaneity in the Hot Autumn. The dignity of the worker is even lent religious undertones (for example the piece-rate as the ‘Calvary’ of the worker), by contrast with the moral degradation of the corrupt and inhuman bosses. Wealth is not acceptable, especially if it is flaunted; this was made clear in a letter, addressed by workers of some Milanese factories to the mayor, in which they told him that the opening night at La Scala:
will be offensive to the workers if, with the struggle of the engineering workers under way, the traditional ostentation and show of wealth and luxury take place.
The workers threatened a mass picket if it went ahead.
The slogans so far considered should, however, be supplemented by others which were more extreme, and which were not promoted by the trade unions but came from the shopfloor or from revolutionary groups. Examples of these are given by Marchetti:
Tutto il potere -agli operai (All power to the workers)
Piu’ soldi -meno lavoro (More money - less work)
Lo stato dei padroni -si abbatte e non si cambia (The bosses’ state is for smashing not changing)
Cosa volete? Tutto. Quando? Subito (What do you want? Everything. When do you want it? Now)
Siamo tutti delegati (We are all delegates)
Marchetti comments that these slogans are striking for their simplicity; they express non-negotiable demands, and evoke a utopia - a world without bosses; they demand immediate gratification.
During the Hot Autumn the shout ‘Contract. Contract,’ became more and more insistent. It was the simple demand that all the unions’ claims should be met. But that call, when shouted in unison by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, was invested with hopes and expectations of radical social change. And there were slogans which expressed a desire not just for an improvement in the terms of ‘social contract’(or its real application), but for a new order of things. The fears and anxieties voiced by the press were more concerned with the range of the testing of the ‘limits of obedience and disobedience’, than with the engineering contract itself. The challenges to authority, not only in the factories, but in the schools and streets of the cities, seemed to many observers to be going beyond the acceptable realms of carnival.
As has been mentioned, strikes were already in progress - or erupting - at Fiat and other companies before the campaign of action was officially launched by the union confederations in September. There was a strike movement in being which arose independently of the unions. The unions then stepped in to programme the industrial action. Firstly, the number of hours of strikes per week were allocated centrally, and each workplace was left free to use them as it saw fit. Secondly, some strikes were coordinated on a geographical basis (by zone, by city and by province, and nationally) in the public and private sectors, or on an industry basis or across industries. This strategy enabled the unions to calibrate the action according to the amount of pressure they wanted to exert, and to deploy the forces of the movement. Thus, as the winter drew on, the action was escalated, and particular pressure was applied, first to the public, and then to the private sectors of the engineering industry.
In Milan there were remarkable possibilities for ‘articulating’ industrial action by zones, since these often had strong identities historically, which, since 1968, had been strengthened by extensive contacts between factories. It was particularly important given the dispersal of small units. Thus, the small La Crouset components factory, which employed mainly migrant women, became heavily dependent on the Sempione zone for support in its difficult fight against repressive paternalism. In November, the 220,000 workers of the chemical sector in Milan, who were also in dispute over their contract, joined the engineering workers for a day of strikes. However, apart from solidarity action around Pirelli, there was little coordination across industries, although this was called for on the shopfloor. More common was the strike by a whole industry in the province; for example, one hundred thousand engineering workers struck simultaneously on 7 October. The main focus of action, however, was in the various factories where the enthusiasm for strike action often meant that the union quotas of hours were exceeded.
L’Unita’ reported that during the first four weeks of action in Milan three hundred thousand workers, on average, were in dispute each day. The proliferation of action provoked the Corriere della Sera into introducing a ‘calendar of agitation’ to guide the readers through the turmoil. At the end of 1969 the resulting total of hours lost in the engineering sector in Milan province was 71,181,182 (96 per cent of which were due to strikes over the new contract).
The statistics on the number of hours lost due to strikes give some idea of the scale of industrial action. However, they only show the tip of the iceberg; the incidence of absenteeism, and forms of non-collaboration which restricted the planned use of labour-power do not appear in the statistics. During the Hot Autumn, the decisive battles were fought ‘informally’; the engineering workers took action to control and regulate their working conditions by controlling the speeds of the line, piece-rates, job-assignment, health and safety, mobility, job and wage structure, limits to disciplinary measures, restructuring and regulation of hours as in shift- working and overtime. These questions had traditionally been the almost exclusive prerogative of management in Italian industry, but in the late sixties there was a state of war along what Carter Goodrich referred to as the ‘frontier of control’.
The metaphor of ‘war’ is recurrent in contemporary descriptions of industrial conflict. People spoke not so much about the ‘two sides of industry’(a formulation that suggests dependence as well as difference), as about two opposing camps. Nor was it a war, it seems, which was always conducted according to set rules prescribing the use of certain weapons and laying down codes of behaviour. As a popular slogan put it; ‘The factory is our Vietnam’; guerrilla warfare provided the model for worker ‘insurgents’, even if managements wanted to stick to the existing rules. A leaflet from the Borletti CUB of October 1969 is of particular interest in this respect. It opens with a quotation from the president of the Confindustria on hiccup strikes:
these forms of action that cost the industrialists a lot and the workers nothing are illegal. It is useless to come to agreements between generals [the unions and the employers] if subsequently the troops [the working class] do not respect them.
The leaflet goes on to draw some conclusions; namely, that the power of this weapon is borne out by the employers’ opposition to it; workers should use whatever means of struggle necessary since ‘it is their sacrosanct RIGHT-‘the only criteria are the interests of the working class’; the ‘legality of which they speak is their legality, the same one that allows our exploitation’. There then follows a list of possible actions: the articulation of strikes by shifts and sections, autoreduction (‘Pirelli teaches us’), pickets of the RAI Television, and non-payment of television licences.
The strikes were acted out in a multiplicity of performances. They involved not simply the withdrawal of labour power, but the active assertion of workers’ power within the factories. A whole repertoire of disruptive tactics was developed according to the labour process, composition of the workforce and its traditions of struggle, the nature of labour relations and other variables.
Great pleasure was derived from what were called ‘articulated strikes’ (scioperi articolati), such as the hiccup strike, which the Confindustria complained against so bitterly. The ‘chequer-board strike’ was a favourite during the Hot Autumn. The factory was divided up into groups who ` went on strike for brief periods at different times usually by section or shift. Sometimes formulas were concocted whereby workers with names beginning A to L went on strike, followed later by those at the other end of the alphabet. Whilst the workers amused themselves the production plan fell apart in the hands of frustrated managers. Rina Barbieri refers to a workers’ feeling of freedom:
it was enough that you struck for half an hour in the morning and the same in the evening to make the mechanism break down. When you strike, you go around as pleased as punch and you can’t be stopped .... When you are busy with a ‘chequer-board’ action not even the gatekeepers manage to understand the comings-and-goings .... The damage to the bosses was enormous, unlike in the case of pre-organized strikes of previous years .... It was the expression of mass creativity and inventiveness.
This form of struggle was especially popular in mass production factories, like Sit Siemens and Alfa Romeo, which were heavily dependent on the routine cooperation of the workers. Moreover, at Sit Siemens certain sections had played the role of winning gains that were then generalized throughout the plants, so that ‘shop’ identities were effectively mobilized through articulated action.
No strike action is reducible to purely economic motivation. The strike action undertaken by a movement, such as that of the Hot Autumn, is particularly difficult to interpret in terms of monetary calculation. The arithmetic of the articulated strikes expressed what Giorgio Bocca called the desire to punish a guilty capitalism. The industrial action tended to be expressive rather than instrumental; it was not so much geared to the attainment of precise demands, as functional to the formation of a new collective identity with its stronghold in the workplace. Some of the forms of action achieved this by ‘actualizing the objective’; for instance, workers met freely together and moved around the factory when they wanted. The workplace was turned into a place for socializing and making friendships. But before this was possible, it was necessary to break the power of the foreman and disrupt the mechanisms which divided workers.
The role of the foremen varied in the different engineering factories, but it was relatively important in Italy because of management’s tenacious grip on its prerogatives. He (for it was very rarely a woman) usually allocated overtime, supervised work, recommended transfers for the troublemakers and promotion for the diligent. The foreman was the immediate enemy on the front-line of the ‘frontier of control’, and the embodiment of authoritarian and patriarchal rule. Breaking the power of the foreman was often a crucial symbolic moment - a moment which recurs in workers’ autobiographies.
Most of the incidences of violence during the Hot Autumn involved foremen. At Fiat the ‘red handkerchiefs’ (for such were the masks worn by the workers in question) formed a sort of punishment squad which beat up hated foremen or chained them to railings. In Milan episodes of what was called ‘proletarian violence’ figured less prominently. Mostly it was a case of ‘hard picketing’. At Sit Siemens the personnel manager, Ravalico, was chased by workers after he had attacked a woman worker. It required exceptional circumstances to provoke this sort of response, but when such incidents occurred they pushed issues of principle to the fore. A leaflet commented:
If a worker in a nervous state slaps someone in authority or breaks a window, he risks being sacked. If a manager does the same, nothing happens. All those on the side of the bosses stand up for legality and call chasing scabs (caccia ai crumiri) violence.
The violence, of which the foremen were often the victims, represented highpoints of conflict when war was symbolically enacted. Michele Perrot’s observations about strikes in France in the nineteenth century apply to the Italian events:
Born roughly, suddenly and brutally in the rush of emotion, anger and desire, the strike retains, in part, the whiplash of the primitive wildcat walkout. This spontaneity, which weakens its instrumental consequences, guarantees its expressive richness.
The crisis in the authority of the foreman was also brought about by means other than physical coercion. Physical coercion took place where unions were weakest and managements most jealous of their powers. At Borletti the combination of verbal abuse, humiliations and ribaldry on the part of the workers, on the one hand, and the withdrawal of full management support on the other, drove some foremen to reason ‘well, I don’t care, I do the best I can’. In a celebrated though isolated case at IBM a foreman denounced his own job as ‘supervising exploitation’, and his sacking by management provoked a solidarity strike by other workers.
Above all, the crisis in the role of the foremen was the symptom of the crisis of a form of paternalistic management, induced by the collective struggles that culminated in the Hot Autumn. The mechanisms whereby that authority was wielded were challenged and undermined. The remark- able unity created during the Hot Autumn, between skilled and unskilled, workers from different regions, and between men and women workers, made the selective use of rewards and punishments counter-productive. It tended to provoke calls for mass regrading, parity or solidarity against victimization. It was now difficult to give orders from above. Factories ceased to be kingdoms ruled by despots, whether enlightened or not, while the subjects established their rights with a hundred and one informal acts of resistance.
Democracy in the Workplace
During the Hot Autumn the principal organizations of the workers’ movement were the trade unions. These played a crucial role in each phase of the mobilizations, and especially in the closing period when they monopolized negotiations over the contract. (This role will be examined in chapter 16). However, before the Hot Autumn, the unions were weakly implanted on the shopfloor, and the vacuum in workers’ organization was filled by remarkable experiments in democracy from below. The examples of Pirelli and Fiat were the most visible instances of a wave of democratic self-organization which spread not only in the workplaces, but in the educational institutions, housing estates and in the city generally. Whilst the student movement opened up political experimentation and debate, the workers’ movement seemed to offer better possibilities for bringing about changes. It had great power. Strikes, it had been shown, could shake the economy and governments. But workers also developed autonomous organizations which aspired to a more democratic and egalitarian model of society.
Throughout the Hot Autumn the number of groupings of militant activists such as the CUB and the ‘worker-student groups’ increased. In Turin the worker-student mass meetings dominated the scene. These were regular open meetings in which several thousands participated. In Milan CUBs were set up, following the Pirelli example, at ATM (the municipal transport company), Borletti and Innocenti, where they exerted considerable influence. By contrast with the Turin meetings, the CUBs were tight-knit nuclei of experienced activists. Their role was significant, not so much for proposing or prefiguring a model of self-organization, as for stimulating it. They were at their most influential during the early stages of mobilization, as at Pirelli. Crucially, they helped put workers in touch with the ideas and protagonists of the student movement. However, when the workers’ movement launched its strike waves during the Hot Autumn, mass participation and the emergence of a new stratum of leaders from the shopfloor diminished the importance of the pioneers. The meeting (assemblea) in a factory was the first form of workers’ democracy to take shape during the mobilizations of 1968-9. It became a regular event in the majority of engineering factories during the Hot Autumn. It was the product and conquest of the movement. It was a product in as far as a high degree of mutual trust among workers, a sense of common purpose, and a rapid and effective informal network of communication was the precondition for holding meetings. This entailed breaking agreements limiting the mobility of workers in the factory, and defying the foremen. It was a conquest in that workers established the de facto ‘right’ to hold meetings, or, to put it in the terminology of the moment, they ‘actuated the objective’, before it was negotiated by the unions or conceded by the management. The characteristics of the meetings reflected this process.
Firstly, they took place in the workplace during work-hours, thereby enabling maximum participation. Secondly, they involved all workers, irrespective of union membership. Thirdly, there were moments of open discussion and free exchange of information. And lastly, and most significantly, they had a predominantly decision-making function, and were regarded as the sovereign body in the factory. It was through these meetings that demands were discussed and final agreements voted on, but their main function during the strikes was to decide on the forms of action to be taken; the chequerboard strike, for instance, required considerable coordination based on a detailed knowledge of the labour processes of a section. However, discussion was not necessarily limited to practicalities in a narrow sense. Questions of mental and physical health were related to the labour process, especially through the contributions of the CUB and other groupings. Furthermore, general political issues were discussed; in November 1969, for example, numerous meetings dealt with repression and the police. Instead of being closed off and isolated, the factory was related in discussion to the everyday lives of workers and the problems of society as a whole.
During strikes and meetings, representatives emerged to make up informal leaderships responsible to the assemblea. Although there was nothing by way of statutes, the delegate was elected directly by all workers in a section, and could be removed by them. In the summer of 1969 the unions proposed the formation of strike committees to carry on the industrial action, but the proposal was in many cases merely a ratification of an existing practice.
Delegates were elected in the first instance to organize strikes. Workers, who had proved themselves in action by standing up to the foreman, and who commanded the respect of their immediate fellows, made up a ‘natural’, often charismatic leadership. They owed their positions to force of personality, political acumen, speaking skills and so on, rather than to the fact of being in a particular party or union. They depended on ‘spontaneous’ support, which could be revoked at any meeting of the section or factory.
A factory delegate during the Hot Autumn strikes was a shuttlecock of frenetic activity. She or he sacrificed a private for a public life, and sought individual satisfaction in collective activities (if, that is, the pressures did not become too great). In their language ‘I’ was displaced by ‘we’. Delegates resisted the separation from other workers which the logics of trade-union organization entailed. Moreover, widespread participation in meetings and strikes made it difficult for leaders to act independently of their constituencies.
The delegates of the Hot Autumn did not spring up from nowhere. The ground had been prepared by the work of independent agitators, and by the encouragement of unions interested in establishing themselves inside the workplaces. However, a new generation of worker representatives had come into being. They tended to be young men, many of whom were semi-skilled or unskilled. Their industrial experience was the product of the 1968-9 mobilizations. These delegates were very different from the older, mainly skilled, and politically affiliated trade unionists who dominated the internal commissions. (Except, that is, for the fact that men still tended to become the leaders even in factories with large numbers of women workers, although there were some signs of change. This change in social composition corrected the gross disparity which had developed between the representatives and represented within the modern factory.
The election of new representatives meant that the problems of the operaio comune were put at the top of the agenda at meetings, and that there was a representative on the spot to deal with grievances over line-speeds or undermanning. The delegates had been elected during the Hot Autumn not to fight a single battle but to lead the everyday skirmishes along the ‘frontier of control’. Moreover, the grassroots democratic structures seemed to many to represent the first step on the path to a new conception of democracy within society as a whole. The sight of workers, who previously had been invisible and unheard, debating politics in factories, piazze and even universities, inspired visions of a new order in which such a phenomenon would be an everyday occurrence.
The student movement had already popularized notions of direct democracy, but had not been able to create durable structures. The workers’ movement had proved more successful. Moreover, it represented the force which in the past had founded soviets and workers’ councils. In 1968-9 there was a massive revival of council-communist ideas, which in Italy were historically associated with the Turin movement of 1919-20 and with Gramsci’s Ordine Nuovo writings. Il Manifesto, the group which was expelled from the PCI in November 1969, was perhaps the most articulate representative of this revival, arguing for a communism in which the factory councils would be the means of struggling for and creating a democracy of producers. This was seen as an alternative to the party-state model which had been Lenin’s legacy to the international Communist movement. For Il Manifesto the grassroots democracy of the students’ and workers’ movements showed that in the complex societies of the West it was feasible and desirable to create more pluralist forms of representation.
The utopia envisaged by Il Manifesto and by other council-communists did touch on the popular utopianism of the times. And the factory democracy of the Hot Autumn embodied aspirations which went beyond those of trade-union organizers. It affirmed values of community, encouraged freedoms of opinion, and gave practical shape to people’s desire to ‘count’ and be respected. However, the ideas of workers’ democracy were highly problematic.
Firstly, it was one thing for workers to organize themselves democratic- ally; it was something quite different to propose that workers organize the capitalist labour process democratically. What the skilled worker could do in 1919 could not be repeated by the worker on the mass-production line. Secondly, most models of workers’ control assumed that how people organized in the factory could be generalized to the rest of society. Furthermore, they assumed that it was the place where not only goods but society’s most significant ideas and values were produced. lf the workers’ movement tended to confirm this factory-centred view of society (which was also male-centred), it was perhaps a sign of its limitations. November-December 1969: Blood in the Streets
The workers’ movement of 1968-9 had its greatest impact within the factories, but also aimed to change society as a whole. In other words, it was political. In November in Milan its political aspects were increasingly apparent. Two demonstrations ended in violent street fighting. Industrial conflict was framed more and more in terms of ‘law and order’ in the speeches of politicians and the reports of the media. The sense of a ‘state of war’ in the factories was translated to society as a whole. There was a shift from a moral panic, in which ‘extremists’ were identified as the ‘troublemakers’, to a general panic about social order, in which violence was identified as the symptom of a more widespread malaise. According to accounts coming from accredited spokesmen, violence was no longer just caused by a minority (cinesi, ‘extremists’, the CUB, etc.); rather, the very intensity of industrial and social conflict was conductive to an escalation of violence. The trade unions and Communist Party were accused of promoting illegality by harbouring its perpetrators. For conservative forces, it was from the social movements themselves that society had to be saved. In the closing weeks of 1969 they made a concerted effort to lay the blame for society’s ills on industrial militancy and social unrest, prophesying that worse was to come if action was not taken, and calling for firm steps to re-establish law and order. In the words of a senior official of the ministry of the interior, reported by Panorama in July 1969:
It would be enough at this time if during a demonstration some policeman was killed and if some firearm appeared among the demonstrators. The situation could precipitate in a matter of hours. It would be up to the government and the head of state to declare a state of emergency. That’s just what has happened, in point of fact, in some American federal states over the past months.
The first demonstration involving violent clashes between police and demonstrators was held on 6 November in Corso Sempione in Milan, in protest against the RAI television and radio reporting of industrial conflict. Placards were carried saying: ‘RAI - the bosses’ voice’. A union leaflet called for the checking by union leaders of all transmissions concerning labour relations, and weekly programmes dealing with labour conditions. Several workers from large engineering works were arrested and imprisoned, provoking pickets of solidarity from their factories outside the prefecture of police. L’Unita’ reported that the following day the unions held meetings in all the factories and demanded the disarming of the police. The police were judged to be the guilty party. For the Corriere della Sera, by contrast, the fault lay with a ‘fanatical minority extraneous to the workers’ movement’ which was responsible for the ‘new explosion of violence’. The second demonstration took place on 18 November; via Larga turned into a battleground between police and demonstrators in the wake of a national general strike for housing reforms. In the turmoil a young policeman from the south, Antonio Annarumma, was killed. L’Unita’ again blamed the police; ‘The responsibility for the incident lies entirely with the police authorities.’ The crowd was described as ‘serious, composed and responsible’, the police as ‘savage’. It reported similar reactions in the factories; at Sit Siemens seven thousand were said to have voted for the resignation of the minister of the interior, the release of all the arrested and a total ban on police presence at demonstrations.
Annarumma’s death provided conservative forces with the opportunity to mobilize the ‘silent majority’. The Corriere della Sera reported that his funeral was attended by 30-50,000 people and that Milan shops pulled down their shutters, the classic gesture of shopkeeper protest. Its headline on 20 November read: ‘A young man has died for our liberty.’ On the following day, at a public meeting on law and order in Rome, the Prime Minister, Rumor, was reported as saying, ‘Liberty is our most precious asset and we must defend it day in day out’. In the populist discourse of the Right, the southern and humble origins of the dead policeman were counterposed to the comfortable middle-class background of the student agitators (the figli di papa) held responsible for the violence. The Corriere della Sera spoke of the crowd of ‘extremists, Marxist-Leninists, pro- Chinese elements, youth of the student movement, extremist fringes and guerrillas’; for Il Giorno it was composed of: ‘students, anarchists and ML; La Notte blamed: ‘a Chinese and yelling mass’." Such labels had been the stock-in-trade of the conservative press for a couple of years, but they proliferated in the wake of Annarumma’s death.
Although L’Unita’ did not report any instances when workers had used violence in the pursuit of the contract struggles, there can be little doubt that many confrontations involved the hurling of ball-bearings, the wielding of batons and banners and the throwing of punches. The paper Lotta Continua reported that during the clashes of via Larga:
groups of workers assaulted jeeps, collecting material ammunition from a nearby building site . . . the police were visibly terrorized.
Political groups, such as Lotta Continua, actively propagated the use of offensive violence. Attacks on property were common. Some of these were the result of planned, secret actions, such as the burning of the Pirelli tyres, but the use of physical coercion mostly consisted of what Bocca referred to as ‘reformist violence’; by this he meant actions like picketing, which were ‘mass backed and whose objectives were greater dignity and democracy, not the overthrow of the system’.
However, there were forces interested in using the incidents of violence to present a picture of social chaos and political crisis. The Confindustria stated that:
workers’ power is tending to replace parliament and to establish a direct relationship with executive power. This subverts the political system in all respects.
Giorgio Bocca noted:
Already there are those who want to make use of the violent incidents and subversion to invite repression. Let us not think of unholy alliances between ‘the worse the better’ philosophy of the Left and that of the Right; nor of the actions of provocateurs; look, rather, at the facility with which certain acts of vandalism have come about in well-stocked factories, suggesting that they were not so displeasing to the owners.
But while for the movement the adoption of violence was mainly expressive and a relatively minor aspect of a wider struggle, during and before the Hot Autumn clandestine operations by groupings of the extreme Right aimed at the strategic use of violence to provoke a backlash against that movement. Some ninety-six openly Fascist attacks on left- wing headquarters took place between early January and 12 December 1969, but another fifty bomb attacks carried left-wing ‘signatures’, usually claiming to be anarchist-inspired. On 24 April bombs were planted at the Milan Trade Fair and the Central Station - targets which, it seemed, were chosen by enemies of capitalist property. This was the assumption made by the police, who duly arrested known anarchist activists.
Such terrorist acts, which came to be known as the ‘strategy of tension’, were not much noted during the Hot Autumn, although people like Bocca suspected danger. It took the bomb-blast at the Bank of Agriculture in Piazza Fontana on 12 December to bring them to people’s attention. Twelve people were reported dead in what was quickly defined by the police authorities, and then in the national press, as an anarchist-style bombing. The bombing, which occurred four days after the signing of the state sector engineering contract and at a time when strikes against the private sector were escalating, could only be interpreted as political. The Corriere della Sera, following police statements, blamed anarchists. The edition of 17 December carried a picture of Pietro Valpreda, one of those arrested, giving a clenched-fist salute. The caption underneath was: ‘The propaganda of terror.’ The Corriere reported:
The authorities have a precise and concrete idea of the background in which the ferocious plan of destruction was conceived .... The crime found its opening and breeding ground in the anarchist and anarchoid groups where hatred and subversion are preached.
The article then outlined the personal inadequacies of the ‘ballet-dancer’ which were said to explain his ‘irrational hatred for the whole of humanity’. Valpreda was made to represent the ‘face of the criminal’ in which readers could see the motivations of the terrorist, and the result of two years of social upheaval.
In the immediate aftermath of the bombing the Corriere della Sera wrote:
We are living through the total dissolution of the principles of human society without which democracy cannot survive; we are living through a savage challenge to, in one word, civilization .... Democracy must defend itself.
In an edition at the end of the month following the funeral attended by some three hundred thousand people, it was more optimistic:
1969 opened with a thuggish and fascist-style attack in the name of an irrational and sometimes lunatic denunciation of consumer society .... It was the type of anarchist and nihilist rebellion manipulated by the PCI .... Today, the year comes to an end in a quite different atmosphere - an atmosphere dominated by sadness for the deaths of Piazza Fontana .... The fundamental values of the ‘human pact’ are getting strong again.
The consensus which the Corriere della Sera claimed to see emerging from the ashes of Piazza Fontana was, however largely illusory. The rifts that had developed between social groups and classes in 1968-9 were refracted through their different assessments of the tragedy. The polarizations (in relation to previous clashes) of police demonstrators were repeated. L’Unita’ was careful not to commit itself fully to defending the accused for fear of tarnishing its respectability, but the paper, nonetheless, compared the bombing to the Reichstag fire for which the Nazis had blamed anarchists. In the factories there was widespread scepticism about the official version of events. There was some confusion as to the responsibility for the bombing, but ‘it was widely understood to be an attempt to put a break on the workers’ movement, which was in a period of growth’.
Far from bringing Italians together to defend ‘their’ state against its internal enemies, the bombing sowed new seeds of dissent. Giuseppe Pinelli, who fell to his death from a window of the police headquarters ‘became a martyr, and Valpreda became an Italian Dreyfus - the innocent victim of raison d’Etat. A campaign of counter-information linked the bombing to Fascist conspirators with friends within the state apparatuses. Distrust of the state grew rather than diminished. Audiences of the film Un Cittadino Sopra Ogni Sospetto (A Citizen Above Suspicion), which was widely shown in 1970, could readily recognize the police chief who was given the job of investigating his own crimes. It was an audience familiar with the notion that the plots of public life were stranger and more sinister than fiction.
The campaign, headed by the Corriere della Sera, to discredit the social movements was, therefore, largely counter-productive. The movements over the following years were able to draw on the cultural legacy of anti- fascism to outflank such attempts at criminalization. In a longer term perspective, it might be possible to show that the criminalization strategy of the early 1970s laid the foundations for its more comprehensive and successful implementation at the end of the decade. However, analyses like those of the extreme Left at the time, which focused only on the repressive strategies of the state, failed to see how by winning so many of its objectives, the workers’ movement established a new relationship with both state and employers. The state was not merely a repressive machine, but the means whereby contracts in society were drawn up. So although the workers’ movement continued to mobilize over demands, especially in the early 1970s, conflict was increasingly regulated and institutionalized.
16. The new rules of the game: the unions and industrial relations
During the Hot Autumn a workers’ movement developed, especially in the engineering industry which was distinct from the union organizations. Its priorities were not to build formal membership of the unions and to win recognition from management, but to win greater freedom and power in the workplace through organized disruption. It created its own demands, forms of action and organization from below. The unions tended to follow the movement and not vice-versa - ‘riding the tiger’ as it was called at the time. Nonetheless, the unions did risk the ride and in important respects set objectives and guided the movement. In contrast to the behaviour of the French CGT in the wake of the May events in France, the Italian CGIL and other unions did not try to stem the development of the movement (perhaps in the circumstances of a year and a half of radicalization it would not have been feasible anyway). Instead, they opened themselves to criticism and debate in the light of events. In fact, during the Hot Autumn the unions recouped some of the prestige they had lost in previous months. This enabled them to monopolize negotiations over the contracts and to re-establish control over shopfloor organization. The subject of this chapter is the process whereby the unions used the movement to gain not only a favourable agreement but recognition at both national and local levels.
Renewal of the Unions
The events at Fiat immediately preceding the Hot Autumn marked the nadir of Italian unionism in 1968-9. The movement was not only autonomous of the unions, but hostile to them. Their failure to represent the rank-and-file had many causes which were by no means exclusive to the Turinese situation; unions were identified with particular political parties and their rivalries. Above all, they seemed to have little to do with the everyday problems of the shopfloor, where they were weakly organized and ineffectual. This situation was one of a ‘structural crisis’ of representation; the unions nationally and locally tended to represent the interests of the better organized, skilled members more than those of the un-skilled and semi-skilled. In the Hot Autumn, the unions aspired to overcome this crisis.
Since 1948, when groups of workers broke away from the CGIL to form rival organizations, the unions had become closely associated with political parties. The CGIL was dominated by the PCI and PSI, and its officials held high party posts, and seats in Parliament; the predominantly Catholic CISL had close links with the Church and Christian Democratic Party; and the UIL had connections with the Republicans and Social Democrats. However, in 1969 the situation began to change dramatically. In the congresses of June-July 1969, ACLI, the influential association of Catholic workers, decided to end its special relationship with the Christian Democrats; the CGIL decided to separate party and union functions, which were thenceforth defined as ‘incompatible’; while the CISL was divided, with the industrial delegates most involved in the contract disputes favouring hard-line opposition to the government. The tide of votes in favour of a trade unionism freed of party constraints opened the prospect of reunifying the confederations.
This idea was strongest in the engineering sections, which were especially interested in being free of pressures from both the confederations and the parties. (In Turin, the F1OM-CGIL was especially open to these ideas. In Milan, where the FIOM was more tightly controlled by older PCI members, it was the FIM-CISL that was the more radical.) An article in Dibattito Sindacale, the journal of the Milanese FIM, in the previous year stressed the need for a positive interpretation of the ‘incompatibility’ notion. It claimed to identify a new orientation to the union among workers:
joining the union is less than ever a reflection of an ideological and party choice, and increasingly activists and members participate in society through the union .... The workers are deserting the branches and cells of the parties, because they see that they count for nothing in them
A questionnaire of the membership in February 1969 found that 72 per cent thought that the union should take on issues usually dealt with by the parties.
The case of the Milanese FIM is an especially interesting example of union renewal; at the time, it was referred to as exemplary. Although it was half the size of the FIOM in the province, it almost doubled its membership in 1967-70, and showed itself open and responsive to the social movements. The dramatic radicalization within the Catholic world found expression and a focus for commitment within the union. There was a shared rejection of the Christian Democratic Party and of a Catholicism which supported the status quo. In a speech to the ACLI conference of Milan province in July 1968 (which, according to Rinascita, represented an ‘imposing mass organization of some 45-50,000 members, mostly manual workers’), Bruno Manghi referred to the ‘strong spiritual force’ at work within the ACLI. This was expressed through denunciation of ‘intolerable working conditions . . . and of the oppression of the personality and humanity of the worker’. Rinuscita noted:
no shortage of moral condemnation of those Catholics who are the first to contribute to charity, and yet remain hateful exploiters of men in the factories.
The FIM-CISL, like other sectors of Italian unions, was overtaken by the social movements, but it was quick to adapt to the new climate. There was a desire to get away from the compromises of the past, and to create a new identity for the union. But the legacy of Catholic unionism provided raw materials for this change of direction. For example, the FIM’s antipathy to ‘ideology’ previously bound-up with anti-communism, was developed into a radical pragmatism, which readily borrowed from the student movement and learnt from grassroots opinion. The Catholic humanism of the FIM-CISL opened the way to critiques of the Taylorist organization of work. The pages of Dibattito Sindacale in 1968-9 are alive with discussions involving a fundamental rethinking of a tradition.5 Especially active participants were Milanese Catholic intellectuals, who were engaged in teaching at the Catholic University and in editing the review Collegamenti. Yet non-Catholics were also drawn into the ambiance of the FIM, which became a melting pot for ideas coming from the New Left. It became a cultural bridgehead between sections of the Milanese intelligentsia and workers in the factories.
The FIM was capable of rising quickly to the challenge presented by the social movements because of its cultural openness. The early editions of Dibattito Sindacale continuously reiterate the theme of ‘rebirth’ and ‘renewal’; for example, Giorgio Tiboni, a member of the secretariat, wrote: ‘The union was born in the factory and it is to the factory that it must return’; Bruno Manghi referred to ‘spontaneous worker protest’ as the ‘nodal point for any attempt to construct a new union’. ‘The union’, he wrote:
has to carry spontaneous action into the organization . . . in the sense that it must accept criticism it entails . . . it must discover within itself a ‘wildcat’ attitude to negotiation
The FIM followed this approach by adopting the demand for egalitarian lump-sum wage increases, despite the resistance of the CISL confederation and of other unions. Similarly, it took up the calls for parity with white- collar workers, and for the reduction of the number of grades. The election of the first delegates was greeted as the sign of a new democracy in the workplace.
The flexibility of the FIM on these issues was partly the result of its traditional rivalry with the FIOM, and this, in turn, was related to differences in their constituencies. The FIOM had a much more clearly defined identity and tradition, with a core membership of skilled workers with . strong ties to the Left parties. In 1968-9, the FIOM in Milan, and nationally, opposed egalitarian demands, such as those on wages and grades, because they were thought to undermine differentials based on skill ( professionalita’).’The defence of skill was seen as part of the struggle against the imposition of job evaluation, and hill capitalist control of the system of pay and promotion. Moreover, the FIOM had a greater stake in the existing structures of workers’ representation, especially in the internal commissions, and set a premium on leadership and discipline. Through- out the Hot Autumn, the union hierarchy, though not the ordinary members, supported the renewal of this internal commission, and opposed their replacement by new delegate representation.
The FIM, on the other hand, drew its membership mainly from groups of semi- and unskilled workers and clerical workers, who had had little to do with union organization, let alone political parties. In promoting the struggles of these ‘outsiders’ the FIM had little to lose and a lot to gain in organizational strength and influence. It was strategically well-placed to take advantage of the structural crisis of representation which overtook the unions in late 1968-early 1969. The membership of the FIM had no interest in defending the hierarchies of pay and grading, and, therefore, shared unambiguously in the egalitarian spirit of the movement. The union’s publications openly championed the most radical demands, and even went as far as printing documents of Potere Operaio and the CUB, which actually attacked the unions. In Dibattito Sindacale, the FIM intellectuals mounted systematic critiques of the notion of skill, and theorized the role of the operaio comune as the spearhead of the attack on the Taylorist organization of work. They wrote of grading, differentials and piece-rates as managerial instruments of social control. The FIM thereby made itself an interpreter of the newest and most radical struggles along the ‘frontier of control.’
The Milanese FIM represented a limit-case of union renewal. Union activism involved immense investments of energy and intensive debate, not only in the workplace, but at summer camps. The technical- professional training of militants and officials came second to their theoretical-cultural preparation. Dreams of revolution and a new society were glimpsed in the themes of ‘self-management’ ‘autonomous culture’ and ‘workers’ creativity’ which recurred in FIM literature. Not surprisingly, it was labelled ‘pan-syndicalist’. However, many of the FIM’s proposals were subsequently taken up by the FIOM and by the confederations under the pressure of the rank and file. All the unions stood to gain from the radicalization of the industrial action.
The unions as a whole had an organizational interest in entering the factories from which they had been effectively excluded since 1948. The movement provided the means of entry, and strengthened the hand of left- wing currents within the FIOM and CGIL. At the national congress of the CGIL in 1969, delegates heaped criticism on the leadership for what Rinaldo Scheda called
the error of holding out against spontaneity at all costs . . . episodes like the formation of CUB are a severe criticism of our own deficiencies.
Vittorio Foa, the PSIUP member of the CGIL secretariat, insisted on the centrality of workers’ control:
a wage gain, even though it is considerable, is vulnerable to the demands of profitability from the word ‘go’ unless it is accompanied by greater control over the use of labour.
Yet it took a longer period than the Hot Autumn for the union confederations to come to terms with the transformations of representational structures in the factories.
Nonetheless, throughout this period the unions gave a free rein to the movement and won back their leadership role by democratizing the running of the strikes. Although workers’ sense of identification with the unions was marginal to the feeling of being a part of a movement, nonetheless the legitimacy of the unions’ leadership was never seriously in doubt. The almost unanimous vote in favour of the unions’ final recommendation of acceptance of the contract offers in December 1969 and January 1970, was also a vote of confidence in their leadership. The increase in unionization, which in the province of Milan rose from 30 per cent to 44 per cent of the workforce in 1968-70, was a sign of greater interest in and identification with the unions.
A Plural Society
On 9 January 1970 L’Unita’ reported that Costa, president of the Confindustria, had called for
the restoration of normality in the workplaces and the infliction of penalties on those found guilty of crimes carried out in the contract dispute of the previous year.
The same day some five hundred cases were due to be heard in Milan. According to the Chamber of Labour (Camera del Lavoro), about eight thousand workers had been charged over the previous three years in connection with industrial disputes. What exactly constituted ‘normality’ was open to interpretation, since the social movements of 1968-9 had destroyed an earlier consensus and interrupted the usual channels of negotiation.
The restoration of the status quo, understood as the management’s right to manage without reference to the workforce, was hardly realistic, unless parliamentary democracy was replaced by a military dictatorship. This option was not entirely discounted in some quarters, as evidenced by the launching of the ‘strategy of tension’ and the attempted coup d’Etat of December 1970. However, it was a bloody and dangerous course of action, which held little appeal for the dominant multinational groups. The report of the Pirelli Commission on changes in the Confindustria, which was initiated in March 1969 and completed in January 1970, welcomed the new spirit of pluralism and modernization within Italian society:
To pretend that tensions do not exist, or, worse, to know of their existence and to try to suppress them, entails taking a step towards the removal of fundamental freedoms. Order is not the suppression of tensions, even though acute; order is the observation of the rules of civil society.
The principal problem, therefore, was the construction of new rules and norms. The ‘explosion of tensions’ in the previous months, resulting from ‘accumulated social, territorial and sectoral disequilibria’ was ‘not a reason for industrialists to refuse to recognize the social and political function of responsible and efficient unions’.
The search for formulas for social equilibrium was at the top of the agendas of both the government and the Confindustria. There was an awareness that the status quo could not be restored, but also a desire to put an end to the social movements. The continuous reiteration of the theme of law and order, which reached a crescendo in the wake of the Piazza Fontana bombings, ran through all the talk of change and reform. Above all, the Hot Autumn and other struggles were defined as an exceptional moment to be bracketed off and superseded. This was the case in the pronouncements of the Corriere della Sera, in which the events were treated as a form of temporary national derangement, and in the Pirelli report, in which they figured as manifestations of Italian backwardness and uneven development on the road to modern pluralism. The strategies evolved to deal with the movements, therefore, invoked measures of discipline and coercion, as well as concessions.
A consideration of the engineering contracts and of the labour legislation, which was passed at the end of the Hot Autumn, provides a way of looking at the attempt to construct a new set of rules in industrial relations as part of wider capitalist strategies for bringing the social movements to heel. At the same time, it is necessary to examine the dynamics of the workers’ movement itself in relation to the concessions and reforms. Given that they could not be coerced, workers had to be persuaded to abide by new rules.
The engineering contracts were signed on 9 December between the unions and the Intersind, and on 21 December between the unions and the Confindustria. The union platform of demands was largely accepted. The wage increase, which was the same for all, was considerable; it outstripped price rises, enabling workers to buy consumer durables previously made for middle-class or foreign purchasers. (In fact, the share of the National Income going to wage workers increased, while the proportion going in profits declined). Hours were to be reduced to forty a week over a three-year period, and contractual limits were placed on overtime working. The principle of parity between manual and white- collar workers was recognized along with an agreement to implement it by stages, starting with sickness benefits. It gave unions the right to hold ten meetings a year in the workplace, in work time. In addition the unions were to have official notice-boards and the right to issue information.
The new contract was generally seen as a major victory for the workers, and as a blow for the employers. However, its effects on the social movement, which had seen a good contract as a common goal likely to benefit all workers, were complex. The signing of the agreements under- mined and contained mobilization. For many workers it was time to recuperate the wages lost through stoppages. The groups of the extreme Left, for example, argued against acceptance of the agreement, not because they thought it a bad one, but because they knew it would reduce the chances of a political showdown. Yet the contract had been wrested from the employers, taken, not given. The timing of the concessions related to the degree of pressure and disruption brought by the movement. It was clear that the government had all but forced the private sector to give way. There was no question of gratitude, or of concern for the financial situation of the companies. Rather, the lengthy dispute left a legacy of bitterness and recrimination. In January 1970 charges rained down on the heads of workers, whilst The unions published a report outlining cases of management repression in the factories, and organized defence campaigns.
The contract concessions did terminate a particular phase of the movement, but had nothing like the demobilizing effects of the Grenelle agreements in France following the 1968 general strike. Workers fought to implement the contract at a local level: at Fiat they immediately started working a 42-hour week, thereby speeding up implementation. And the movement on the shopfloor continued to press for the abolition of piece- work, for mass regrading, for plant-level wage increases and for the recognition of delegates - none of which had been subject to negotiation in the contract. The contract victory, in other words, proved that collective action was the most effective way of achieving both the material gains and decision-making powers from which workers had been so long excluded. The gains made through the struggles of the Hot Autumn were the gains of the social movements, for it was the surge of rebellion from below that had forced the lntersind and Confindustria to concede so generously.
However, as has been seen, the unions won back influence during the Hot Autumn, and sealed it with the renewal of the contract. Although there were enormous disparities between the demands, forms of action and organization of the movement and those promoted by the national unions, the contract opened the way for the unions to regulate, and then incorporate, the informal structures of representation created in the previous months. The recognition of the rights of unions (and no one else) to hold meetings was unwillingly conceded by the employers, but it was the necessary precondition to the establishment of defined procedures, lines of communication and set roles in which the union was management’s sole interlocutor. The Labour Charter, which was voted through parliament on 11 December 1969 - that is, exactly between the signing of the two contracts - made this aspect of the contract the founding principle of a reorganization of the system of industrial relations in Italy.
The Labour Charter and the General Amnesty
In May 1970 the Labour Charter (Statuto dei Lavoratori) became law and, furthermore, parliament gave a general amnesty to those charged with offences connected with labour disputes prior to passage of the new bill. These two measures were the most significant cases of action designed to favour the institutionalization of protest.
The Labour Charter put into law certain rights concerning meetings, recruitment and union activity in general, which had been in the engineering workers’ contract. In addition, it contained clauses which made it illegal for employers to discriminate in any way against workers engaged in union activity, and banned company-unionism. Unfair dismissals now resulted in the reinstatement of the worker concerned. Basically, the law sanctioned the recognition of unions in workplaces, and aimed to eliminate repression and the unilateral rights of the employer. The new rights related directly to the conditions of work and union representation rather than to the position of the worker as an ordinary citizen in the factory, which was the case before.
The Labour Charter was a historic piece of legislation. Not since the Constitution had there been such a wholesale redefinition of the rights of labour. The granting of the general amnesty wiped the slate clean, while the new law provided mechanisms for the redress of grievances which were tilted in favour of the employee.
The legislation offered a means of bringing the social movement to an end. Firstly, it aimed to remove one of the causes of the workers’ movement - namely, the exclusion of workers’ organizations (and workers as individuals) from the benefits of citizenship. Secondly, it aimed to eliminate conflict over fundamental issues (union recognition, above all), and to encourage recourse to the law as the preferred means of resolving conflicts. Respect for the law would, in turn, it was hoped, reduce levels of conflict in society as a whole. The Labour Charter, in other words, was designed to prevent a repetition of the Hot Autumn. The effects of the Labour Charter and amnesty on the social movements were, however, ambiguous and contradictory. It has been argued, for example, that the general amnesty gave de facto legitimization to the use of violence in industrial disputes by absolving the perpetrators of responsibility for their actions. This opened the way for unions and magistrates to interpret the Charter in ways which legitimated or depenalized violent actions. But even if it is accepted that the legislation was used like this, it is misleading to attribute responsibility for violence and terrorism in the factory to judicial leniency.
The question can be put in another way: what would have happened had there been no amnesty? The conflicts of 1968-9, as has been seen, revealed deep-seated and intense feelings of moral outrage on the part of literally millions of Italians. Recourse to violent methods pointed to the fact that people regarded legal methods as inadequate for redressing grievances. It was employers, headmasters and others who had recourse to the law. Therefore, for the state to have sanctioned thousands of trials on charges arising from the social conflicts would have been to risk turning the law courts into the tribunals of popular agitators. The decision to hold an amnesty was a political decision to save the law from becoming too politicized.
The amnesty meant turning over a new page in the law to prevent the blots from previous pages coming through. One of the consequences was that the use of ‘reformist violence’ (to use Bocca’s words) was no longer a sufficient ground for employers to sack workers. The threshold of what was considered acceptable violence was lowered in response to changes in the balance of power inside the workplace, which, in turn, the Labour Charter underwrote. But, without such measures, it would have been extremely difficult to have established new rules to regulate industrial conflicts since they would not have seemed impartial.
In the case of the Labour Charter, however, legislation was never demanded by the social movement. It was drafted by Communist and Socialist Party parliamentarians with the support of the unions, who used the leverage provided by the mass mobilizations to push through the bill. As far as movement activists were concerned, it was through direct action, not in the law courts, that real concessions were wrung from employers and the state. For them, the threat of escalating the actions, not legal niceties, forced through the general amnesty. In Piven and Cloward’s perspective, the Charter was an example of legislation designed to strengthen the hand of union organizers over the hotheads of the movement. The problem, in this instance, is that the effects were more contradictory. As Federico Mancini has noted, this was partly because of the amnesty. But, a distinction needs also to be made between reforms which facilitate and encourage mobilization, and reforms which limit or block it. The Labour Charter did not concede the right to unionize while simultaneously stipulating compulsory mediation, cooling-off periods before strikes and so on. On the contrary, it offered workers protection against sackings which meant that they could take industrial action without fear of management reprisals. (The advantages it gave to workers can be seen by contrasting the position of the garantiti and the non-garantiti - the ‘protected’ and the ‘unprotected’.) Militancy was invited, especially when it seemed the only way to win concessions. This was the case in the 1970s when Italian governments proved largely incapable of constructing social contracts in which workers gained benefits through state policies in return for their quiescence.
The Pirelli report recommended a package of measures, which included social reforms as well as legal protection. But, between 1969 and 1971, reforms totalled:
a change in the pension system, a general and not particularly progressive new housing law, and certain promises about the health service.
The state’s efforts to reform the health service were as lamentable as its attempts to reform the education system. The number of hospital beds per thousand of the population was the lowest in Western Europe, and the private insurance schemes, pharmaceutical industry and medical profession grew fat off the contributions deducted from wage packets. Giorgi Ruffolo describes the situation:
The health sector is largely immersed in that vast parasitic area of Italian society that makes up the squalid hinterland of an unevenly industrialized economy; it is the area of rent, middle-men, speculation and clientelistic under- growth.
In the mid and late 1970s the trade unions were increasingly consulted by governments and were represented in local and national state institutions. But, in the wake of the Hot Autumn, the failure to carry through social reforms from above created some of the conditions for popular mobilizations from below. The workers’ movement extended its struggles beyond the factory to support tenants’ mobilizations and campaigns of civil disobedience. The strategies of the political elites to reintegrate the movement into normal political channels did not succeed in creating an image of the state as powerful and paternalistic. The Italian state was divided within itself and held in low esteem by its citizens.
17. Institutionalization from below: The unions and social movements
The distinction between strategies and processes of institutionalization ‘from above’ and ‘from below’ can be misleading. Firstly, because it suggests a topographical division that is too absolute. For example, the amnesty declared in 1970 was ultimately the result of a political decision taken by the government, but it was also demanded by the social movements, the trade unions and the parties of the Left. Secondly, it suggests a certain coherence of planning or the unfolding of an inevitable logic, while the confusion of events belies such an analysis. Nonetheless, the distinction can be useful if these things are borne in mind. As has been seen, there was no shortage of strategic thinking among the powerful, but it was incoherent and contradictory, ranging from strategies of tension to schemes for an orderly pluralism. By contrast, the unions were more coherent in setting about putting their house in order and in giving institutional shape to the magma of discontent.
Unions in the Workplace
During the Hot Autumn, the unions recuperated overall control of the strike movement, but this involved ‘riding the tiger’ (that is to say, the movement). It was a movement characterized by non-negotiable demands, excessive forms of action and direct popular participation in decision-making - not the sort of behaviour designed to build union organization. However, in the post-contract period, some of the special conditions making such a movement possible were removed. The signing of the contracts for all the sectors ended the contract season - a key institutional condition for the generalized mobilization. 1968-9 was one of the exceptional moments when popular protest erupted into national politics. But expectations of radical change could not run high indefinitely. It was not only the ruling groups who defined the events as abnormal and exceptional, and therefore a ‘passing phase’. The unions, too, were anxious that the mass movement should be channelled into the more stable and durable organization needed for ‘normal times’. They sought to make demands negotiable, to direct industrial action towards their attainment, and to standardize the structures of representation. In other words, union officials aimed to discipline the movement so the workers acted through the organization which represented them, and not outside it. The institutionalization of the movement can be seen particularly clearly in relation of the reorganization of representation. The first moment of the process was marked by the split of the new collective subject formed in the struggles into two components: the participators - the active minority with an interest in power - who tended to become representatives, and the non-participators, who tended to delegate responsibility. 1 One of the most dramatic instances of this occurred at Fiat in Turin, where the campaign of opposition to the formalization of the delegate’s role was fought under the slogan ‘we are all delegates’. Workers joined the unions and accepted the delegates en masse, despite their earlier refusal. Similarly, in Milan, at Alfa Romeo, Pirelli and Sit Siemens, where workers had shown considerable self-organization, especially at shopfloor level, anti-union radicalism had few exponents. Lotta Continua, in particular, argued that the delegates were ‘an instrument with which the unions impose their line and repress the vanguards’, and that the union structure forced them into ‘corporative and sectoral’ struggles. It counter-posed proletarian struggle and democracy to parliamentarism and phoney democracy. 2 However, such reasoning fell on stony ground.
The split between the delegates and majority of workers was neither sudden nor absolute, unlike the breakdown in the relations between Lotta Continua-style ‘movementists’ and the movement in the factories. Throughout 1970-71 levels of participation in meetings remained high, and decisions were taken often against the wishes of the union officials. Many aspects of the delegate structures, which were officially accepted as the basis for union reorganization by the CGIL in December 1970, bore the imprint of the movement from below; for example, delegates were elected by all workers, they represented a homogeneous group’ (for example the foundry), they were liable to recall and they were empowered to bargain at plant level. Indeed, it was only as a result of the movement’s struggles that they first won recognition from management and came to replace the internal commissions. 3 Management resistance was often fierce and workers had continually to fight for their rights. At Borletti recognition was not ceded until 1972, and when the delegates went en masse to negotiate they were regularly turned back. 4
The tendency for the separation between the informal leaders, who emerged during the Hot Autumn, and the rank-and-file workers had numerous causes in the divisions within the working class. Surveys of factory representation in the province of Milan for 1970 and 1973 show that women and immigrant workers remained heavily under-represented, though younger workers and the semi-skilled were better represented. 5 Even when women were in the majority, they usually chose male workers to represent them. It was rare to see a woman’s face in positions of authority. Only six of the 185 officials of the engineering unions in Lombardy were women. 6 The lack of representation did not, of course, result directly from the decline of the movement after 1969, but it was exacerbated by it. The participation of women workers in the industrial conflicts had specific characteristics. Ida Regalia has observed in relation to Sit Siemens in Milan:
There seems to be a negative correlation between militancy and unionization in the moments of fullest mobilization; in this instance the women … would be the most active (in the marches, pickets and demonstrations) and the most determined to adopt extreme forms of action. The women, typically, use lightning stoppages that are ‘expressive’, and their demands remain latent, or are ends in themselves (against the speed of the line, foremen and piece-work). 7
In other words, women workers tended not to be regular members of the unions, but were often the most angry and intransigent during mobilizations. With the return to ‘normality’, the women workers tended once more to delegate decision-making to the male organizers.
The reasons for this ‘unpredictable’ behaviour are to be found in a long and complex history - a history which was largely hidden from view until it was brought to light by the feminist movement in the 1970s. 8 The burden of work in the home as well as outside, the high turnover in women’s jobs and the dominance of the idea of the male family wage (all of which were taken for granted by the unions) - these were just some of the factors discouraging women’s regular participation in the workers’ movement. However, the great majority of shopfloor representatives saw women workers as emotional, untrustworthy and difficult. The problem, for them, appeared to be increasingly one of discipline and order rather that the furtherment of democratic participation.
This preoccupation was a general one of how to adapt the union to a less conflictual situation. Many leading activists became full-time union organizers after 1969, while in 1970 up to 50 per cent of delegates resigned. 9 The unions did not invent the turn to organization as the answer to problems in the wake of the Hot Autumn. The revival of Leninism, to give another example, was but another symptom of a cultural shift away from ideologies of spontaneity and towards those of organization. It was a phase which saw ‘organizers’ give priority to organizational growth - a tendency which Piven and Cloward have written of as:
The presumption of most reformers and revolutionaries who have tried to organize the lower classes … that once the economic and political resources of at least modest numbers of people are combined in disciplined action, public or private, elites will be forced to yield concessions necessary to sustain and enlarge mass affiliation. 10