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 Although the lockout was revoked, a leading militant was sacked for his part in disruptive action.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.