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.

Milan Area
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
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

Great Expectations

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.

Voloshinov writes:

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.

Strange Strikes

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 Contracts

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

Delegates did not understand the private use of collective gains; for example, time saved. 11

However, whilst among delegates whose formative experiences were as protagonists of a social movement there was an intense desire to represent their fellow workers’ interests, sacrificing free time and bonuses in the process, the unions were less willing to be subject to democracy from below. Within them there was considerable resistance to the formation of the new delegate structures. The engineering sections of the unions botched together a compromise at their first unitary conference in March 1970; the factory council composed of delegates was accepted as the new unit of organization in the factory, but on the condition that the union branches and the internal commissions set them up, while continuing to represent workers in their own right. By the time of the conference the following year, some 168 factory councils had been set up in the province of Milan, but without union sponsorship. The conference subsequently accepted the factory councils as the successor to the other bodies. The confederations, however, were more cautious. The CGIL called for the postponement of the decision until after the hoped-for reunification of the unions, before it changed its position in January 1972. Meanwhile the CISL favoured the reinforcement of the existing structures. 12

Of the unions in Milan only the FIM-CISL consistently championed the new forms of shopfloor democracy. 13 However, even this maverick body showed disquiet about the emergence of forces outside union control. An article, written by a prominent spokesman for the Left in the CISL, urged:

The task of serious revolutionaries is not to make conjectures about council-communism, reducing the question of the union to its use as an instrument for other purposes, but to apply their energies radically to transform the unions, despite political and bureaucratic opposition.

He warned against the danger of producing an English-style situation characterized by shop-stewards who were ‘corporatist’. 14 The Italian unions wanted to make sure that the new democracy was channelled through their organizations.

The union leaderships wanted to prevent rank-and-file democracy threatening the delicate compromises agreed between the confederations. The new organisms had to be subject to what the CGIL called the ‘general and binding criteria that give political unity to the structures’. 15 In other words, they had to be compatible with the existing organizations and therefore as much like the internal commissions as possible.

The unions, therefore, sought to institutionalize the movement. This was achieved, especially from 1972 onwards, by several means. Pizzorno writes:

Above all, candidates were chosen according to union list. Then, especially in cases of clashes between the leadership and the rank-and-file, the electoral constituencies were widened, thereby dissolving homogeneous group representation. 16

Then, negotiating power was centralized in the hands of the executive committee of the factory council. The delegates became important only in moments of mobilization when an extended network of activists was required. The role of the section and factory meetings was curtailed; from being the sovereign bodies of the movement in which participation involved being physically present, expressing opinions and allotting tasks, they became plebiscitory occasions; they tended to assume the character of demonstrations with long speeches by the representatives, agendas set in line with overall union strategies, and rituals designed to affirm collective identity and minimize shows of dissent. 17

Although the new forms of representation derived their names and their increased powers from the movement of the Hot Autumn, the aspiration to reconstruct the unions (not to mention society) in their image was defeated. Similarly, the radical demands and forms of struggle developed by the movement were adapted to facilitate negotiation. One of the most significant innovations was the so-called Inquadramento Unico which the unions promoted in 1972. This entailed ‘squaring the circle’ by trying to reorganize the grading system to recognize both skill and demands for parity and reduction of grades. Quintessentially, in required extensive technical knowledge and bargaining skills, and provided a framework for reaching compromises. As such, it privileged the role of the union officials and the construction of a complex apparatus for processing disagreements. 18

The Unions and Social Protest
The key processes of institutionalization of the workers’ movement centred on the consolidation’ by the unions of the gains of the Hot Autumn. Establishing control over the workers was a necessary pre-condition of their strategy for winning greater influence within civil society and the state. Pizzorno has formulated this relationship in terms of a ‘political exchange’ in which the unions guarantee consensus within the system in exchange for benefits conferred by the state. 19 In this framework, the equivalent of the strike is the withdrawal of cooperation. The Hot Autumn involved such a withdrawal (though the unions were not in the first instance responsible for this), and the very success of the non-cooperation put the unions in an unprecedented position in representing a wide spectrum of discontent within society. They were said to have usurped functions proper to the political party. As Vittorio Foa wrote in 1969: ‘Today, with the deterioration in the representative institutions, the unions increasingly need a real link between civil and political society’. 20 However, the unions, it seems, were almost fearful of their new power to mobilize protest. The Piazza Fontana bombing threw into relief the political stakes involved in widespread industrial action. In July 1970, they lost their nerve; the confederations revoked a general strike when the government threatened to resign if it was carried out.

The possibilities for the unions to mobilize protest were very considerable in the early seventies, when burgeoning social movements appeared in the schools and further educational establishments, on housing estates, in prisons and in the factories. The factories themselves were no longer isolated within their surrounding neighbourhoods, but connected to them via associational networks (parties, political groups, tenants’ organizations and student-worker liaison). The other identities of the worker (parent, tenant, etc.) were being mobilized. Furthermore, there was a willingness to support other groups such as the homeless poor and students. At the grassroots, people were prepared to use their power to disrupt, following the Hot Autumn’s successful example.

The unions’ response to these developments was contradictory. They saw opportunities to extend their influence in society, and hence to strengthen their bargaining power with the institutions. They also wanted to have a hegemonic role over social movements in order to prevent the emergence of dangerous forms of protest, such as the insurrections in Reggio Calabria in 1970, which, it was believed, had been led by neo-Fascists. 21 At the same time, there was anxiety, especially in national leaderships, about promoting illegal and disruptive actions undertaken by the rank-and-file. This oscillation can be seen in connection with housing struggles, the autoriduzione [self-reduction, of prices] campaigns and the 150-Hours Scheme.

The struggles over housing in Italy grew up in the context of the students’ and workers’ movements (the first rent strikes in Milan took place in January 1968), but did not come to occupy a central place in social conflicts until 1974 when soaring inflation made it important for the unions to defend living standards outside the factory. However, from 1970, in Milan, protest welled up among the poor in the rundown central quarters and on the estates of the hinterland. One of the papers of the Catholic workers’ organization wrote of the plight of these people:

The contradictions of our society are there before us. On the one hand, there are the families of immigrant workers, who, in the struggle for survival have been thrown into situations of unemployment, slum habitations, overcrowding, high rents and the laagers called ‘evictee centres’. On the other hand, the authorities build palaces for the rich in areas that were once working class. 22

Evicted families squatted in municipal housing on the estates at Gallaratese. The following year, homeless families squatted houses in via Tibaldi , and got involved in dramatic confrontations with the police, involving students from the architecture faculty, political groups, and the FIM-CISL. In April 1971, after several evictions from squats, a group of women invaded Palazzo Marini, the municipal headquarters, and hurled furniture out of the windows. 23 By 1976 there were 1,500 squats of public and thirty-seven squats of private housing units. 24

The protest actions over housing presented special problems for the unions. Firstly, the leading protagonists (‘sub-proletarians’, student agitators, southerners and women) had little to do with the traditional organizations of the working class. Indeed, the latter had tended to discriminate against sub-proletarians. 25 Secondly, the first tenants’ bodies such as the Tenants’ Union (Unione Inquilini - UI) were formed independently of the unions, and privileged ‘movementist’ tactics of direct action. Thirdly, the unions themselves were linked to the parties represented in local government and institutions such as the IACP (the municipal housing authority). Some elements of the unions came out in support of the housing struggles; the FIM in Milan was especially active in promoting what it saw as an elementary issue of social justice which justified defiance of oppressive property laws. Similarly, many factory councils were sympathetic. They adopted UI’s demands for rents equivalent to 10 per cent of the family wage, for greater public housing provision (in Milan it amounted to 15 per cent of the total), and for the requisition of vacant property. 26 The union Left then campaigned for the setting up of the area councils (consigli di zona) to enable representation to reach beyond the factories. 27 But the national leaderships preferred the traditional general strikes and demonstrations in the pursuit of housing reforms, since there gave them greater central control and served to apply pressure on governments. In Milan, the CGIL responded to the housing struggles by creating the SUNIA, a tenants union, and, to keep pace, the CISL followed suit. These organizations acted as lawyers and negotiators for the individual tenant, and as campaign mobilizers. In cases of squats of public housing, they opposed the squatters in the name of the would-be tenant. In this way, the resources of the confederations were used to undermine the protest movement, and to win participation in the local authorities through their ability to guarantee order. This orientation was reinforced in 1975 with the accession of a left-wing junta to power in Milan and in other cities. 28

The autoriduzione campaign of 1974-5 created similar problems for the unions in their attempt to mediate between the institutions of the state and the popular protest movements. Apart from anything else, the unilateral non- or part-payment of transport, gas electricity and telephone tickets and bills was illegal.

Autoriduzione already had a recent history, as we have seen. But although the term was coined by the Pirelli workers, their reduction-of-output tactic had little to do with these new developments. Autoriduzione was now a consumer’s rather than a producer’s activity. The first real examples are found in the sporadic and spontaneous refusal to pay transport fares by students and workers in 1968-9. Often ticket-collectors allowed demonstrators to travel free of charge, while the latter behaved as if the trams and buses belonged to them. In 1971 young people in Milan enforced price reductions at pop concerts by threatening to sabotage performances. 29 However, it required the activity of factory council delegates and zone committees (consigli di zona) to provide the backbone to the resistance to rises in transport fares, and electricity, gas and telephone prices in 1974-5.

Engineering workers and their unions, especially in Turin, where the movement originated, were leading protagonists. Delegates issued tickets at reduced rates on the private buses, and set up organizations to collect the names of those pledged to refuse payment of the increases on the other bills. Although the unions at national level opposed the spreading of the protest, or used it cautiously as a tactic to apply pressure on the government and local authorities, rather than encouraging a new art of popular action, it was from a factory-based syndicalism that the movement drew its strength. 30 The avowed aim of autoriduzione was to defend the gains of the Hot Autumn from the effects of inflation. In the process, groups of workers pushed the unions into acting like political parties and into legitimating illegal forms of struggle, thereby encouraging civil disobedience by other social groups. 31 Whereas the unions’ natural adversaries were private and public companies, the logic of the new turn in social conflict made the state into the enemy. However, it was not a logic that was acceptable to the union federations, and was only canvassed by a small minority of workers close to the extraparliamentary groups. Indeed, the autoriduzione campaigns were the last significant mobilizations to uphold direct action politics against the tendency to substitute confrontation by dialogue.

The 150-Hours Scheme, which was incorporated into the engineering contract of 1973, differs from the previously mentioned examples of the unions’ relationship to protest movements in that it did not arise directly in response to them. An anecdote has it that the French wife of a trade-union leader was responsible for the idea, which gave workers 150 hours a year paid study leave to help them catch up on their education (in other word, to get the basic middle school diploma - terza media). Whatever the immediate origins of the proposal, its germination and particular shape cannot be understood without reference to the 1968-9 debates on workers’ access to education and the critiques of schooling ‘from a workers’ point of view’. ‘Positive utopias’ (to use Vittorio Foa’s words) such as the ‘four hours work - four hours study’ idea anticipated the new scheme. 32 The 150-Hours Scheme was part recuperative, part ‘cultural holiday’. It was designed to enable workers to get a certificate (an estimated 80 per cent of engineering workers did not have the terza media) which affected promotion. But it has been run under union auspices rather than by the state or by private schools. Thus the contents of the courses, the forms of pedagogy, the selection of students and the appointment of teachers has depended on the unions. State examiners, for instance, have tacitly accepted collective assessment.

The implementation of the scheme has led to some remarkable experimentation in group learning and teaching. 33 The student and worker protagonists of 1968-9 were brought together again in the classroom. Groupings of intellectuals in Milan, from the cooperative library of the Centro Ricerche sui Modi di Produzione, the political science faculty of the State University and the Calusca bookshop, channelled great energies into teaching and preparing study notes for the courses. 34 Workers drew on their own experiences and knowledge of the labour process, of health problems, etc. so that sessions involved an exchange between students and teachers. Even if some of the early utopianism disappeared, giving way to instrumental orientations, the scheme showed the unions’ capacity for interpreting and channelling forces of protest beyond the confines of the factory. Sections of New Left intellectuals were drawn into the orbit of the unions, which acted as their new ‘Prince’. 35

In 1973-4 the unions reached the height of their influence and prestige among exploited and oppressed social groups, and among radical intellectuals. They, rather than the parties of the Left, had managed to strengthen the hand of social movements and to lead them without suffocating their autonomy. The unions had capitalized on operaism (which in the 1960s had been deeply anti-union) to assert the idea of ‘workers’ centrality’ (centralita’ operaia) which they claimed to represent. Workers’ organization and methods of struggle had become the model for other forms of social mobilization (tenants’ unions, etc.). The making of a ‘working-class culture’ had become the goal of left-wing intellectuals. The 150-Hours Scheme symbolized the unions’ hegemony over agitators both inside and outside the working class. However, that hegemony was fragile and conjunctural. Economic crisis and changes in the confederations’ policies created a new situation in which unions lost their leading role within civil society.

Emilio Reyneri dates the change from 1973 when:

The close connection between factory struggles over wages and work organization, and struggles directed towards the institutions, full-employment policies and the south was broken. The unions tilted the balance decisively in favour of long-term political and economic policies, just as they had always done in periods of crisis and recession. 36

The consequence of this was that, over the following years, the unions were guided much more by the decisions of the confederal secretariats than by what was discussed on the shopfloor. In other words, there was a return to the practices of the mid 1960s; political parties reasserted themselves at all levels of the organizations; consultation with institutions was privileged over consultation of the rank-and-file; internal democracy withered whilst intolerance towards dissent increased. The gap within the organization, between the leaderships and the ordinary membership was greatly accentuated, and intellectuals close to the unions grew more and more critical. 37

To provide an adequate account of the institutionalization of the unions in this period would require analyses of how Italian society changed as a whole. It would mean looking at how the conception of workers’ centrality became increasing anachronistic with the marginalization of the ‘mass worker’ and the rise in unemployment and the ‘black labour’ market. It would be necessary to chart the electoral swings towards the PCI in the 1975 and 1976 elections, and the replacement of the union by the party as the modern prince. 38 But limitations of space mean that it is only possible to note here how the unions in the mid seventies ceased to represent a broader spectrum of social protest and social movements. In part IV this change is looked at through the movements of social groups, woman and youth in particular, which found themselves excluded from the cultural as well as the socio-economic world inhabited by the unions. But what appeared in the 1970s as the redefinition of the unions’ role in society, can also be seen as the end of an era in which the workers’ movement shaped all forms of social conflict and protest. Institutionalization is too limited a concept with which to make sense of this historical turning-point.

  • 1. Alessandro Pizzorno, ‘Due logiche dell’azione di classe’, pp. 28-32.
  • 2. Lotta Continua, 7 February 1970.
  • 3. Ida Regalia, ‘Rappresentanza operaia e sindacato’, pp. 215-16.
  • 4. Rina Barbieri interview.
  • 5. Guido Romagnoli, Consigli di fabbrica e democrazia sindacale, Milan 1976, pp. 168-87.
  • 6. Gian Primo Cella, ‘La composizione sociale e politica degli apparati sindacali metalmeccanici della Lombardia’, Prospettiva Sindacale, 1, April 1973, p.11.
  • 7. Ida Regalia, Lotte operaie e sindacato, vol. 4, p. 101.
  • 8. See part IV, chapter 21, pp.325-9.
  • 9. I. Regalia, ‘Rappresentanza operaia e organizzazione sindacale’, pp.220-3.
  • 10. F. Piven and R. Cloward, Poor People’s Movements, pp. x-xi.
  • 11. Pietro Marcenaro makes an interesting observation on how the politicized workers and activist delegates post 1969 condemned workers who ‘saved time’ (by working extra fast for short periods, etc.) so that they could play cards. The most minute everyday ‘private’ resistances were subjected to the collective scrutiny in the person of the delegate; the delegate thought of the factory as ‘central to politics and as the point of departure for social change’, and abhorred the individual use put to time that needed to be controlled by the collectivity; P. Marcenaro, Riprendere Tempo, Turin 1981, pp. 60-1.
  • 12. G. Romagnoli, Consigli di fabbrica, pp.68-70.
  • 13. Sandro Antoniazzi, ‘Per lo sviluppo dei consigli, Dibattito Sindacale, November-December 1970, pp. 5-12.
  • 14. G. Sclavi, Due CISL, pp. 23-8.
  • 15. G. Romagnoli, Consigli di fabbrica, p. 76.
  • 16. A. Pizzorno, ‘Due logiche delll’azione di classe’, pp. 28-9.
  • 17. I. Regalia, ‘Le assemblee’, pp. 107-8.
  • 18. Tatiana Pipan and Dario Salerni, Il sindacato come soggetto di equilibrio, Milan 1975, pp. 92-124.
  • 19. A. Pizzorno, ‘Scambio politico e identita’ collettiva nel conflitto di classe’, in Colin Crouch and Alessandro Pizzorno, Conflitti in Europa, Milan 1977, pp. 407-33.
  • 20. Vittorio Foa, ‘La frontiera politica del sindacato’, Problemi del Socialismo, 39, 1969, p. 223.
  • 21. The concern to maintain public order was also a concern to promote suitable conditions for trade-union activity. Unions since the postwar period feared social chaos. Di Vittorio, secretary general of the CGIL had said: ‘To the extent to which the unions make these gains - thereby acquiring sufficient power and prestige to defend the workers’ interests in a free and orderly fashion … bloody uprisings and terrorist attacks … will become useless and will disappear from the social scene. All society will benefit thereby, as will its degree of civilization’; quoted by A. Pizzorno, ‘Sull’azione politica dei sidacati’, p. 877.
  • 22. Il Giornale dei Lavoratori, paper of the ACLI, 23/24, 17 June 1971; quoted in Mariella Moresco and Giordano Fornasier, ‘Lotte “spontanee” per la casa a Milano del 1945 al 1975 e loro rapporto con le istituzioni e le forze sociali’, Tesi di Laurea, Universita’ Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano, Facolta’ di Scienze Politiche, 1976, pp. 71-2.
  • 23. Ibid., pp. 44-86.
  • 24. Thomas Angotti, Housing in Italy, New York 1977, p. 53.
  • 25. The history of the workers’ movement is also the history of how groups of workers have differentiated themselves from the very poorest in society, how the waged have separated themselves from the unwaged. The unions and parties at different moments in Italian history confirmed these divisions, even when speaking up for class unity. The late sixties and early 1970s mark an important moment of questioning of the category ‘working class’ as defined by the Left orthodoxy. Radical Catholics and the extreme Left discovered the sub-proletariat of south and north, of the prisons and the slums. See Commissione Carceri di Lotta Continua, Liberare tutti I dannati della terra, Rome 1972.
  • 26. Mariella Moresco and Giordano Fornasier, ‘Lotte “spontanee” per la casa a Milano’, pp. 86-7.
  • 27. Quaderni del Centro Operaio, Consigli di zona, Rome 1974.
  • 28. Mariella Moresco and Giordano Fornasier, ‘Lotte “spontanee” per la casa a Milano’, pp. 178-90.
  • 29. Lotta Continua, 26 June 1971.
  • 30. Eddy Cherki and Michael Wieviorka, ‘Autoreduction Movements in Turin’, Semiotext(e), 3, 1980, pp. 72-80; Alemanni, Fergio and Ghedda, Autoriduzione, Milan 1975.
  • 31. The main forms of autoriduzione carried out in the mid seventies required a high degree of coordination, which is one of the reasons why union involvement was so important to their success. However, there were cases of hit-and-run autoriduzione in supermarkets, and agitators on the Left ‘theorized’ or fantasized about proletarian expropriations’. A Leaflet is reported to have been found after a raid in a supermarket which said: ‘The goods we took are ours just as everything which exists is ours because we have produced it through our exploitation … Not civil disobedience … not sub-proletarian anger, but the embryo of political struggle against exploitation, parallel to that in the factory’; Contro Informazione, November 1974. Dario Fo’s play ‘Can’t pay? Won’t pay!’ begins with a scene in which a working-class housewife arrives home after doing the shopping without paying.
  • 32. The impact of the cultural revolution and the factory militancy on the 150-Hours Scheme becomes evident by comparing it with French legislation which was geared more to the needs of industry than to workers’ needs, and which was state run.
  • 33. Danilo Giori and Gabriella Rossetti Pepe, ‘150 ore - per una cultura di classe’, Classe 9, 1973, pp. 67-88.
  • 34. These study notes comprised extracts from studies on the labour market, piece-rates, union history and other subjects which were researched by the radicalized sociologists mentioned in chapter 4. An introduction spelt out their political orientation: ‘The use of the 150-hours courses is of great importance since it will involve a large number of workers to implement this contract gain, allowing a mass growth in the cultural and political knowledge of the working class.’ It warned against subordinating the courses to ‘capitalist technological development’; Centro Ricerche sui Modi di Produzione, Dispense su salari e inflazione, 2, Milan 1974, p. 2.
  • 35. For an analysis of the trade unions as ‘the prince’ in the eyes of Italian sociologists, see Diana Pinto, ‘La sociologie dans l’Italie de l’apres-guerre’, p. 246. The reviews Classe, Febbrica e Stato and Inchiesta in 1973-74 carry many articles full of enthusiasm for the 150-Hours Scheme. An example: ‘For the first time the principle of education as a right in general has been introduced, not tied to company interests, but … as an attempt to break down the separation between work and study’, Fabbrica e Stato, July-August, 1973, p.3.
  • 36. Emilio Reyneri, ‘Il sindacato in Italia oggi’, in Il Mulino, July-August 1977, p. 505.
  • 37. See the analyses of contemporary trade unionism coming from Alessandro Pizzorno, Emilio Reyneri, Marino Regini, Ida Regalia and other sociologists. Within the unions similar opinions were being voiced; Bruno Manghi of the FIM-CISL of Milan wrote: ‘Today the unions are treating the political institutions as sacred. A veil of untouchability (un velo di intoccabilita’) covers local bodies, parliament, the parties, the regions and so on … It is difficult for the unions, now that they have become legitimated, to do anything but celebrate the institutions without regard to their politics since they have adopted a static and limited role within the political system’; Bruno Manghi, Declinare Crescendo, Bologna 1977, p. 31.
  • 38. Vittorio Foa wrote: ‘The approach of the Communists to the area of government invites people to think that politics is “in command” (al posto di commando), not in terms of class conflict but of mediation and the management of society … The same council structures … allow people to imagine a transition from waged worker to producer … that means a transition from a traditional capitalism to a capitalism with workers’ participation’; V. Foa, ‘Il sindacato di fronte alla transizione’, p. 172.