11. March 12th Demo

Submitted by Steven. on August 14, 2009

In a sense it is wrong to call the articles in this section 'The Events of Rome', since some of them are national events which simply focussed on Rome. However, we have made this distinction for reasons of simplicity. One such event was the national demonstration of March 12th, described here. March 12th saw a demonstration of thousands and thousands of people against the austerity policies of the Government (the joint policies of the DC and PCI), and against the repression, whose recent escalation had ended in the killing of comrade Lorusso the previous day. It's important to understand the importance of this demo: it marked a mass movement of opposition to the DC/PCI policies; it showed a compact presence of the Women's Movement on the streets' and it marked new (and unprecedented) heights in the use' of the militarised police forces against the opposition movement in Italy. Our translation is from Lotta Continua, March 13-14th 1977.

The Police Attack the Demonstration in front of the Christian Democrat Headquarters. The Comrades Fight Off the Provocation and the March Continues.

This one-party Government, this party of thieves and criminals has declared open warfare against the biggest popular movement of this phase of the struggle. Open War is their answer to the biggest mass demonstration of recent years.

Mr Cossiga - Minister of the Interior, who will soon come to the same end as his colleagues Gui and Tanassi (Trans.Note: incriminated for taking bribes from Lockheed) is moving quite openly to the coup d'etat method.

He is abolishing one after another of the main constitutional liberties (first and foremost the freedom to demonstrate), and has gone so far as to demand the intervention of the Army against the students - a provocation without precedent in Italy since cannons were used against Milanese workers in 1898. (t.n. He asked, but it didn't happen).

Today's demonstration in Rome is a show of force by those who oppose this Government of austerity and sacrifices. It matches the impressive size and creativity of the movement which has shaken the whole country in recent months, beginning with the universities and the schools. It matches the anger and the consciousness of hundreds of thousands of revolutionaries all over Italy, who have responded to the Government's criminal escalation of violence - from the wounding of Lonardo and Daddo, to the savage sentence on the anti-Fascist Panzieri, to the murder of comrade Lorusso. A response which is shaking the power of this Government to its core ... A response which started from the expulsion of the revisionist 'normalisers' of the PCI out of Rome University in February ... A response which is now challenging the "political stability” of a Government which is the worst Italy has seen since the days of Tambroni (t.n. who led a Fascist-supported DC Government that was toppled by street-fighting in 1960), but which has been able to put through its plans thanks to the "understanding attitude" of the Communist Party of Italy.

Over 100,000 comrades came out onto the streets against this Government of sacrifices. In other cities all over Italy - from Milan to Iglesias in Sardinia - there have been large demonstrations this morning. In Bologna in particular, the young proletarian masses have shown their disdain for the calls-to-order of the PCI. This has been an extraordinary show of force, which the Government has understood for what it was - a demonstration of the total incompatibility between the proletarian masses and the Government's policy of anti-proletarian offensive.

The first big armed provocation against the march (leaving aside the initial provocation of banning the route chosen by the students) took place, predictably, in Piazza del Gesn, where the Christian Democrats have their national headquarters. The Christian Democrats are ready for anything. Those who imagine that the decision to incriminate Gui and Tanassi might have had a "stabilising" effect on the DC might have considered this fact. Now that Mr Rumor has been saved as well (t.n. ex-Prime Minister, also involved in the Lockheed bribery), the DC want to have their cake and eat it. They are confident in the support of the PCI (which is, anyway, well down the slippery slope), and they are hurling an open challenge at the proletariat, using the most risky resources of class warfare.

The Rome demonstration has shown the proletarians in struggle quite ready to accept this challenge. The fact that the march dealt with the provocation, got itself reorganised, and then set off again promptly, is the first among many defeats for an anti-proletarian 'Minister of Internal War', whose proper place is in prison, firmly behind bars.

That last article gave a freely-translated account of the background and importance of the March 12th demo. Now we print the diary of the day's events, from phone calls etc received by the Lotta Continua newspaper.

4.15pm: A soldier comrade calls us from a barracks in Rome: "Here we are on pre-alert till Monday. The Captain is receiving orders every 15 minutes. We're ready to move off with a motorised column. We are a small barracks, but I have news that this is happening in every barracks in Rome."

4.30pm: Piazza Esedra and Piazza della Repubblica are filled with comrades.
The head of the march is forming up, in front of the Magistero Faculty. A strong and militant squad of march-stewards is drawn up at the exit to Via Nazionale. Further down, the road is blocked by two police armoured cars. The Carabinieri have been withdrawn from sight of the march, but the police let it be known that (on the Minister's orders) the only permissible route is through Via Oavour . There are negotiations. Magri, Corvisieri and Mimmo Democrazia ProIetaria MPs) negotiate with the authorities - watched over by delegations of comrades. The tension is very high. The journalists have gone away.

5.00pm: The march moves off, towards the beginning of Via Cavour, the only exit allowed. There are at least 50,000 comrades, male and female. More than 10,000 of these have come from other parts of Italy - delegations from Naples, Bari, Sicily, Milan, Turin, Bologna etc.

5.00pm: We phone the Ministry of the Interior to see if there is any official motivation behind the ban on Via Nazionale. There is none.

5.20pm: Comrades from Radio Pesaro inform us: they have learnt that the "Padova Battalion" of riot police has arrived in Bologna, and wants to clear out the University before nightfall. They confirm the State of Alert in barracks all over Italy ....

5.25pm: Radio Pesaro phones to tell us that the police invasion of Bologna University has begun. Clouds of tear gas hide the sky.

5.30pm: The march sets off down Via Cavour, tight, compact and determined.
An angry march. The comrades from Bologna, who are at the head of the march, shout: “Bologna is Red - With Francesco's Blood“ (t.n. Bologna used to be called 'red' because it was administered by the Communist Party). There is no sector of the march that does not show the same anger and determination. The police let it be known that they will not allow the march to pass through Piazza Venezia. They want to send it through the avenues flanking the Tiber to arrive at Piazza del Popolo. The march-stewards are tight and compact all along the sides of the demonstration. The march is preceded by a lorry of the Carabinieri, and by mobile radio jeeps and police armoured cars. They inform us that squads of Finance Guards are also present, armed with sub-machine guns.

5.30pm: From a Press Agency we learn that 5 comrades were arrested as the march was starting, for carrying offensive weapons (they were gathering cobblestones).

5.40pm:The comrades who work in the Feltrinelli Bookshop phone us to report the provocative initiative taken by the Shopkeepers' Association, which yesterday invited all the shops in the historic City Centre to close down for the duration of the demonstration. The workers at Feltrinelli stayed open, to protest against the manoeuvres of the Association, and to show solidarity with the demonstration of the students.

There is a very substantial section of the march consisting of women only. (see below). The women comrades are shouting: "You'll pay for every thing!" The comrades march past the occupied houses in Via Cavour.

5.58pm: While the head of the march is entering Corso Vittorio, a moment of uncertainty by the comrades in Piazza del Gesu unleashes the police attack. Unexpectedly, the teargas grenades start flying. One part of the march is near Via delle Botteghe Oscure (t.n. where the Communist Party have their national HQ: see photo p.56); another part has dispersed through Largo Arenula, where the comrades start to organise in self-defence. The majority of the march is in Piazza Venezia.

6.00pm: A phone call from Piazza Esedra: Thousands of comrades are still waiting to begin the march. The delegations from the North and the South, and the Rome comrades at the rear of the march, are still waiting to go through Santa Maria Maggiore. There are delegations from all over Italy students, hospital workers, the building workers collective from Augusta, Italsider steel workers from Naples, the factory council of Italtrafo in Naples, the Committees of the Unemployed ..... There are more than 100,000 ready to face, if necessary, Cossiga's violence.

6.10pm: In Piazza Venezia the clashes were very heavy. Firearms were used.
The comrades are still dispersed. Visibility in the square (t.n. the equivalent of Piccadilly Circus) is reduced to zero, owing to the teargas. Until a few minutes ago it was pouring with rain. The presence of the Finance Guards is confirmed: they were standing guard in Via Nazionale (where the Bank of Italy is). Thousands and thousands of comrades are taking par in the march, shouting slogans. There is a very large participation by Rome high-school students.

6.30pm: The tail end of the march is now passing peacefully through Santa Maria Maggiore.

6.30pm: Two women comrades arrive at the editorial office of our newspaper: it was the women's section of the march that bore the full fury of the police charge before arriving at Piazza del Gesu. There is fighting on Garibaldi Bridge. (t.n. see below).

6.35pm: The bulk of the march has arrived at Piazza Venezia, an hour and a half after it set off, and has reached the bank of the Tiber, heading for Piazza del Popolo. The head of the march, which was attacked, is rejoining the main body of the march, through the narrow side-streets. The march is still enormous - the biggest seen in Rome in recent years.

6.50pm: The march proceeds compact. It has arrived at Mazzini Bridge. The tail end has now finished marching through Via Cavour. “Cossiga Hangman!" is the slogan that unites everyone, as well as the slogans about Francesco's murder by the Carabinieri, and demands for the freedom of Panzieri. One piece of news which we hope will not be confirmed, concerns a comrade seriously wounded in the head by a teargas grenade in Largo Arenula.

7.00pm: The head of the march, now re-organised, has arrived in Piazza del Popolo. The sector of feminist comrades, who have also succeeded in reorganising, has arrived too. They wait for the bulk of the march, which is still coming up along the banks of the Tiber.

7.10pm: As we go to press, we learn of fighting in front of the Ministry of Justice. The police have opened fire again.

Lotta Continua newspaper published information on the military forces that were put on State of Alert during the demonstration of March 12th, and the subsequent regional general strike of March 23rd. The Rome Coordinating Committee of Democratic Soldiers, which collected this information, put out a Press statement, condemning the growing use of the Armed Forces in public order duties. We print the details of March 12th:

Gandin Grenadiers Barracks:
All day March 12th and March 13th the entire barracks was mobilised until 12.30, with all leave cancelled. Eleven M113 tanks, 12 CM tanks, and one pick-up lorry were ready to go out, with their crews at the ready and Browning machine guns in place. All the men were in camouflage battle dress, with gas-masks.

Smeca Barracks:
Ordinary Armed Patrols (PAOs) of 54 men on alert till midnight of the 12th. Total cancellation of all leave. At 11.30 came the order to move out.
The order was withdrawn after 30 minutes. The entire barracks on alert.

Ruffo Barracks :
PAO of 60 armed men, on alert. All leave cancelled. Twelve M113 tanks ready to go out, with machine guns, radios and crews.

Macao Barracks:
PAO of go men, gas masks, automatic Garand rifles with loaders, arms
and ammunition being brought in. MG machine guns mounted on the roof, aimed at Castro Pretorio (an area of Rome near the University). Corporals issued with pistols (in the Army, corporals do not carry pistols).

Note: the function of the PAO is to act outside the barracks.

Some feminist comrades tell of their experiences during the demo of March 12th. Translated from Lotta Continua, March 16th.

"When we arrived in Piazza Venezia, we stopped. The police lines were closing off one road on one side; and on the other side of Piazza del Gesn the thick fumes of teargas told us that the head of the march had been attacked. It was only a matter of minutes. At that point, in fact, we were at the head of thousands of comrades, coming up behind us. We closed our ranks and marched forward, with arms linked, shouting: "Against the Violence of the Police! Women - Shout it Aloud! The Streets are Ours!" That was the moment when, more than at any other time, I felt how strong we were, and felt the security of holding hands with comrades like myself, who, together, shouted out their anger and their determination not to let themselves be scared and be overpowered. And it was the moment in which - even though it was the first charge that attempted to break up the march -I was not at all afraid "

"When I got to Piazza Venezia, I was swept away by the riot police who were charging down from Via del Corso, and I got cut off .... so all I could do was run away. When I stopped running, I felt so frustrated, and I hated myself for being afraid. Maybe, I thought, if I had had something to defend myself with, I would have stayed on. But what ... and how could I have used it? I only know one thing for sure .... I want to carry on going to demonstrations ..... "

The Students Should come to the Factory Gates
Lotta Continua, March 17th 1977, published a page of interviews with FIAT workers, about the student movement and the events of Rome and Bologna.

Question: What kind of discussion is there in the factory, about the students' struggles and the events of the last few days?
1st Worker: In general, people are very uninformed. The workers get their news from the papers, the radio, the telly etc. They are bombarded every day by the bosses' propaganda. And L'Unita (t.n: the PCI paper) is certainly no exception to this - in fact, on some questions it's even heavier than the other papers.

There are different positions in the factory. On the whole there's a positive attitude towards the students' struggles, even if the workers do have questions which they aren't able to answer. There isn't a clear idea of what the students want, what their problems really are or where they want to get to. The student demand that most impresses workers is he demand for jobs. But often, to get a discussion going it's necessary to make a distinction between the initiatives of the mass of the students and the initiatives of certain groups, like the Autonomists who make serious political mistakes. As regards Cossiga's measures, people don't have a clear idea of them, and they're badly informed.

The anti-crime campaign is probably the one that workers. If someone starts saying we need order a usually get a hearing. In general, with regard to the workers, there is a general feeling that the students ought to come along and participate.

2nd Worker: There was a lot of criticism of the response comrade Lorusso in Bologna. Criticism of those who burn cars belonging to people who've got nothing to do with it is sharp. People can see no connection between this and the Government. Another question which even I don't know the answer to is what happens if this Government falls. There's a general desire for it to be brought down, but people do wonder what will happen afterwards

3rd Worker: There are many different opinions in the factory. There is the feeling that something big is happening. But Sunday's news from Rome (about the demo) didn't succeed in stopping the usual talk about football matches. Outside the factory there may be an atmosphere of panic, but this is not present inside the factory. Outside the plant the other day i met pensioner who asked me if this was civil war. There's a feeling of security in the factory - but not so many clear political ideas about the political situation. On the whole people don't distinguish much between the Autonomists and the students.

2nd Worker: I don't agree. On the whole , at a mass level, the workers do make

3rd Worker: The more politicised workers certainly that it's quite right to rebel with violence, to study for so many years and then not have a jobs is understood by everyone. This doesn't mean there's a clear understanding of the characteristics of the movement - where it wants to go, what it's forms of struggle are, etc. A PCI worker, (not one of the highly regimented ones, though) said to us yesterday "Lotta Continua and Potere Operaio were better in '69 because they were closer to the working class movement." The closely-regimented PCI members say that the students are against the workers. Not many workers believe this, but some of them are wondering why the students don't seek closer links with the factories. What worries me is that the mass of the workers may underestimate the importance of what is happening. It would be very dangerous. The situation could escalate and we would be insufficiently prepared for it.

2nd Worker: It is quite true that the students are isolated to a certain extent.
The students must take the initiative to break that isolation, and come to the workers' rally on Friday. It is possible to unite on the problems of unemployment and the struggle against the Government. The students must organise counter-information. They must explain clearly their demands and what they want. In this way they can contribute to solving problems that the workers pose, not only to the students, but also to themselves. There is a feeling in the factory: "All this is going on outside , and we're not doing anything". The Trade Union bosses are worried about Friday. They know that the Friday strike will be a moment of generalisation of the struggle. This is something dangerous for the Union. It doesn't have control over the student movement - but neither does it have control over the workers. The Union will do all it can to control or hamstring the student movement. The students must be ready for this and act accordingly.

Question: In your opinions, what are the responsibilities of the vanguard workers, as regards the present and future situation inside the factories?
4th Worker: At present there are no vanguard workers - or if they do exist, they are very weak, representative bodies, factory coordinating bodies etc. The students must seek contact with the masses of the workers. Counterinformation is an important first step. It can be useful to break the conspiracy of silence that the Unions and the Communist Party are trying to impose on the factories. What's more, it's the only way to oppose the way the Unions are trying to present themselves to the students as the sole real representatives of the workers.

3rd Worker: After what happened to Lama in Rome the workers understood very clearly. Many approved of his being kicked out of the University. They said: "He wanted to do to the students what he's done to the workers. They were quite right to boot him out." After the recent events of Rome and Bologna, however, people are more confused.

2nd Worker: Inside the factory, on the whole, people talk more about what happens inside than about what happens outside. For example, lately people have been talking more about the worker who killed a foreman, maybe even more than about what happened in Bologna and Rome.

4th Worker: It should be said that the newspapers do all they can to not talk about the tension that there is in the factory. There was a lot of tension in last Friday's shop-floor marches. (t.n: In Italian factories, when there's a strike, the workers often march around the various departments winkling out scabs and blacklegs, including white-collar scabs). The papers are always talking about the Autonomists, but they don't talk about the foremen who got beaten up in the Body Plant and in the Press Shop during the strike. Or about the internal marches. Or about the fact that the CISNAL (t.n: = fascist union) office got burnt down in the press Shop. In this case it certainly wasn't the Autonomists who did it!

1st Worker: I think that at present there is tension among the politically conscious workers, but it hasn't reached the mass yet. Sure, the strikes are a success. FIAT is afraid of the situation escalating. Indeed it even tries to avoid the situations of confrontation - for example, FIAT is not organising blacklegs at the moment.

4th Worker: There is a difference between the tension that existed during the strikes against Andreotti's Budget and what there was in the strikes over the factory dispute. Then there was a much more fighting spirit - now it's mainly grumbling.

3rd Worker: A lot of people are angry with the PCI for its abstentionist policy in Parliament. They're also angry with the Unions, which continue to make gifts to the Government. In this period the Union certainly hasn't regained any credibility. The question that the workers ask the students is: "Where are you heading for?" It's the same question that workers are asking themselves.

Question: How can the relationship between students and workers be developed in this situation?
1st Worker: I think that, as has already been demonstrated, the centralised coordinating bodies between workers and students are not very helpful or productive in this situation. There is no harm in having them but it's essential to develop coordination on a local and a factory level.

3rd Worker: It is essential to defeat the Unions' attempt to make themselves
the main channel of relations with the students. What have the Unions done
so far. so as to break the isolation of the students? Nothing! Before Lama went to speak at Rome University, he used to hold Union courses on "students" without understanding a thing about them. The Unions and the PCI have underestimated the force of the students. The Unions did not call the workers and the students to struggle against Education Minister Malfatti's Education Bill and against the Government. It is intolerable that they should blame the students for being isolated, when the Unions haven't done a thing to break that isolation. And this is no accident. It's a careful political calculation. It's designed to keep the Andreotti Government in power.

1st Worker: I can hardly overstate the importance, that today it is of decisive importance that the students should come en masse to the factory gates to talk to the workers.

2nd Worker: I think that, today, the students ought to take on general political responsibilities. The proposals presented to the Student Assemblies by the Autonomists must be defeated. It's no accident that the Autonomists do not pose the problem of building a relationship with the workers. They've talked so much about the armed struggle that they've forgotten what strikes are for.

2nd Worker: It is of decisive importance that the students must seek a mass relationship with the workers. The struggle today must move to the factories. The students can do a lot in this direction, even if, obviously, it must be the workers who will take on the responsibility for this task.