The Hot Autumn in Italy 1969 (Part 1)

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An Episode in the Historic Resurgence of the Class Struggle

What is generally remembered of the "Italian Hot Autumn",[1] which took place 40 years ago, is of a number of struggles that shook Italy from Piedmont to Sicily and which permanently changed the social and political framework of the country. But this was not a specifically Italian occurrence. In Europe in particular but not exclusively, the end of the 1960s saw the development of a series of struggles and of consciousness within the proletariat, that together showed that something had changed: the working class had reappeared on the social scene. It was re-embarking on its historic struggle against the bourgeoisie following the long dark years of counter-revolution, which it had been plunged into by the defeat of the 1920s, the Second World War and the counter-revolutionary activities of Stalinism. The "French May" in 1968,[2] the strikes in Poland in 1970[3] and the struggles in Argentina[4] from 1969 to 1973 constitute, together with the Hot Autumn in Italy, the most important moments in this new dynamic which affected every country in the world because it opened up a new period of social confrontations which, although experiencing high and low points, continues up to the present day.

What led up to the Hot Autumn?

Having learned from the experience of May ‘68, the Italian bourgeoisie was not taken by surprise when the struggles exploded in 1969, as the French bourgeoisie had been the previous year, although this did not mean that it was not at times overtaken by events. These struggles did not come like lightning from a clear blue sky. In fact there were a whole number of factors at the national as well as the international level that came together to create a new atmosphere in the Italian working class and particularly among its young elements.

The climate internationally

Internationally, a significant fringe of young people were sensitised by a number of situations, in particular:

-          The Vietnam war,[5] which came across as a fight between David - Vietnam - and Goliath - the USA. Outraged by the terrible massacres using napalm and other violence inflicted by the American army upon the local population, many went so far as to identify with the Vietcong resistance and to support "poor little Vietnam" against powerful American "imperialism".[6]

-          The epic tale of Che Guevara,[7] with his hero's halo fighting for the liberation of humanity and all the more revered by future generations after he was assassinated by the Bolivian army and CIA special forces in October 1967.

-          The plots of the Palestinian guerrillas,[8] in particular of George Habache's FPLP, which developed within the context of hostile reactions to the outcome of the Six Days War, waged and won in 1967 by Israel against Egypt, Syria and Jordan.

-          An international echo of "Chinese communism", presented as the establishment of real communism in contrast to bureaucratised "Soviet communism". In particular, the "cultural revolution",[9] carried out by Mao Zedong in the period 1966-1969 defined itself as a struggle to return to the orthodox application of "Marxist-Leninist thought".

Some of these aspects are not even remotely linked to the proletarian class struggle to overthrow capitalism. The horrors inflicted upon the Vietnamese population during the war were a consequence of the imperialist antagonisms between the two rival blocs that divided up the world at the time. The resistance on the part of guerrilla movements, whether Palestinian or Guevarist, were no more than an episode in the fight to the death between these two blocs for the domination of other regions of the world. As for "communism" in China, it was as capitalist as that existing in the USSR and the so-called "cultural revolution" was no more than a power struggle between Mao's faction and that of Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi.

Nevertheless, all these incidents bore witness to a profound suffering on the part of humanity which generated in many elements a deep disgust for the violence of war and a feeling of solidarity towards the populations that were its victims. As for Maoism, although it was by no means a solution to the ills of capitalism and was rather a mystification and one more trap on the path of emancipation, it did nevertheless nourish international contestation of the reality of "communism" in Russia.

Within this context, the explosion of student and workers' struggles that was the "French May" had such an international echo that it represented a reference point and an encouragement for the youth and the proletarians of the whole world. In fact May ‘68 was a demonstration that you can not only struggle but you can also win. May '68 itself however, at least as far as the student struggles were concerned, was prepared by other movements, such as those that appeared in Germany with the experience of the Kritische Universität[10] and the formation of the SDS (Socialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund), or in Holland with the Provos, or again in the United States with the Black Panther party.  This was a period in which somehow everything that happened in the world had a great echo in all the other countries because of the significant receptivity that existed, especially among the young generation of proletarians and students who were to be the main protagonists of the Hot Autumn. The ambient anxiety and reflection inspired charismatic personalities in the world of show business, such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Jimmy Hendrix and others whose songs evoked both the demands of peoples and social strata who were repressed and exploited historically (such as the blacks in America) as well as the atrocities of war (such as Vietnam) and also exalted the desire for emancipation.

Politicisation at the national level

In Italy too, as in France earlier, the weakening of the iron yoke forged by Stalinism during the long years of counter-revolution made possible the development of a political maturation that provided a favourable terrain for the emergence of various minorities which would take up the task of research and clarification. In addition, the arrival of a new generation of workers meant a greater combativity that led to the appearance of new characteristics in the struggle and experience of street confrontation that would leave their mark on the working class.

The experience of the Quaderni Rossi (QR, Red Notebooks)

At the beginning of the 1960s, although still fully in the period of counter-revolution, small groups of elements who were critical of Stalinism tried to the best of their ability to "start from scratch". In fact in this period the PCI (Italian Communist Party), which had gone over to the counter-revolution and been "Stalinised" as had the other CPs in the world, had a large number of rank and file members and sympathisers, partly thanks to the aura inherited from the old revolutionary party founded by Bordiga in 1921. The twenty years of fascism in Italy and the disappearance of the "democratic" parties made it possible for the PCI, more than the other CPs, to escape identification as a real class enemy by the mass of workers. However, as early as the 1950s and even more so in the 1960s, minorities had begun to appear, even within the PCI itself, who were trying to return to real class positions. They returned above all to Marx, whereas Lenin was read less in this period. Rosa Luxemburg was also rediscovered.

One of the experiences that was a reference point in this period was that of the Quaderni Rossi, a group formed within the PCI and around the person of Raniero Panzieri and which in the period of its existence (1961-1966) published only six issues of a review which would certainly have an enormous weight in the history of the theoretical reflection of the left in Italy. We can attribute to this review the origin of "operaismo" (workerism), which we will go into later. The two main groups of Italian workerism, Potere Operaio and Lotta Continua, come out of this matrix. The work of Quaderni Rossi was divided between the re-reading of Capital, the "rediscovery" of Marx's Grundrisse and research into the new composition of the working class. "(...) Quaderni Rossi, the review of Raniero Panzieri, Vittorio Foa, Mario Tronti and Alberto Asor Rosa, between 1961 and 1966 was at the forefront in terms of the intuition that was to be central to the political line of Lotta Continua: the revolution will not come out of ballot boxes or parties (...); it is a matter of freeing the expression of antagonism between the workers and exploitation, an antagonism that should not be channelled towards factory agreements and reforms but should rather be taken out of the hands of the unionists and engineers and axed around the perspective of control of production and a global change in the system".[11]

Panzieri's project was to assemble tendencies and viewpoints that were pretty varied and distant from each other, although the period, which was still strongly marked by the counter-revolution, did not make such an enterprise possible. So "at the beginning of 1962, although the debate had hardly begun in the first issue of the review, the union group withdrew; in July of the same year, following the events of Piazza Statuto, there was the first defection of interventionists (who would produce the paper ‘Gatto selvaggio' (Wildcat)."[12]

In parallel with the QR experience, in the Venice region there was another experience but one that had less political breadth, Progresso Veneto. The man who was to become the unifying element between the two experiences and who became  very famous subsequently  started his political career as a local councillor in the Padua district:   his name was Toni Negri. The Progresso Veneto, which was active between December 1961 and March 1962, was where Venetian workerism began to be forged, with the industrial region of Porto Marghera especially as a reference point. QR and Progresso Veneto worked in symbiosis for a certain period until the Venetian group experienced a split in June 1963 between the workerists and the socialists, who remained more faithful to the party to which they belonged.

But the most important split is the one that took place in 1964 with QR. The original group saw the departure of Mario Tronti, Alberto Asor Rosa, Massimo Cacciari, Rita Di Leo and others to form Classe Operaia (Working Class). Whereas Panzieri remained set on a kind of sociological research with no significant impact on reality, Class Operaia aimed at having a presence and an immediate influence within the working class, judging the time to be ripe for this: "In our eyes their work appears as sophisticated intellectualising in the face of what we consider to be an urgent necessity, that is, to make the unions understand how they should do their job as unionists and make the party understand how to make the revolution".[13]

A party of workerists from Progresso Veneto later joined Classe Operaia, which was led by Mario Tronti. In the beginning at least, Negri, Cacciari and Ferrari Bravo participated. But the new review also had a hard life; the Venetian editorial commission of Classe Operaia began gradually to distance itself from the one in Rome. In fact, whereas the Romans drew closer to their origins in the PCI, the Venetians gave birth to Potere Operaio, which originally came out as a supplement to Classe Operaia in the form of a review-cum-leaflet. Class Operaia began its swan song in 1965 but the last publication came out in March 1967. In the same month Potere Operaia was born as a political paper of the Porto Marghera workers.[14]

Apart from Quaderni Rossi and its various epigones, in Italy there was a rich network of editorial initiatives, which were sometimes born in specific cultural sectors, such as the cinema or literature, and then gradually acquired more political breadth and a certain militant character. Publications such as Giovane Critica, Quaderni Piacentini, Nuovo Impegno, Quindici, Lavoro Politico were also expressions and component parts of the maturation that led to the events of 1968-69.

We can see that there was a long period of political work taking place at the dawn of the Hot Autumn which made possible, at least at the level of the minorities, the development of political thought and the rediscovery, still very partial, of the patrimony of the Marxist classics. But we must still stress the fact that what were to become the most significant workerist formations in the 1970s were deeply rooted in the political culture of the old PCI, and that they developed in a period much earlier than the explosion of struggles in 1969 and of those of the students in 1968. To have the Stalinist party as a point of departure and reference, even if this was in a negative sense in its criticisms, constitutes, as we will see, the gravest limitation upon the experience of the workerist groups and for the movement of the whole period.

The "new" working class

Socially the determining factor in the development of the situation was probably the significant growth of the working class in the years of the economic miracle at the expense of the population in the countryside and in peripheral areas in the south. "To sum up, we find an elite group of professional workers surrounded by a large majority of unqualified workers working with very brief cycles, sometimes only a few seconds long, subjected to rigid control of the time that they put into piece work and with absolutely no perspective of a professional career".[15] This new generation of proletarians from the south did not yet have experience of factory work and had not yet been exposed to its constraints. As they were young and often experiencing their first job, these proletarians had no knowledge of the unions and, in particular, they had not endured the weight of the past decades of defeat, of the war, fascism, repression. They had simply the impetuousness of those who are discovering a new world and want to bend it to their own liking. This "new" working class; young, non-politicised and not unionised, without the weight of history to pull them down, would to a large extent make the history of the Hot Autumn.

The movements of July 1960 and the confrontations in Piazza Statuto in July 1962

The workers' struggles of the Hot Autumn have a significant prelude at the beginning of the 1960s when there were two important episodes of struggle: the street movements in July '60 and the confrontations in Piazza Statuto, Turin in July '62.

Although these two episodes are removed in time from the period 68-69, they contain some important premises. In fact the working class experienced what it means to have the state taking an interest in it.

The movement of July 1960 took off from a  protest against the neo-fascists holding their congress in Genoa, which had unleashed throughout Italy a series of demonstration that were savagely repressed: "At San Fernando in Puglia, the workers were on strike over the workplace agreements, as in the rest of Italy. Armed police attacked them and three workers were seriously injured. In Licata, in the Agrigento region, a general strike took place against working conditions. On the 5th the police charged and opened fire on the demonstration that was led by the DC (Christian Democrat) mayor Castelli, the shop-keeper Vincenzo Napoli, 25 years old, was shot dead. (...) The following day a procession making its way towards the sanctuary of Porta San Paolo - the last bastion in the defence of Rome against the Nazis - was charged and savagely beaten. (...) Another general strike broke out. This produced another furious reaction on the part of the government, which gave orders to shoot on sight: five shot dead and twenty-two wounded in Reggio Emilia on the 7th. (...) The first to fall was Lauro Ferioli, a 22 year old worker. Mario Serri, 40 year old ex- partisan, was next to him and fell a moment later: the killers were two agents positioned among the trees. (...) Later a burst of machine gun fire cut down Emilio Reverberi, 30 years old. Finally, when the furious voice of a police chief was recorded shouting ‘fire into the crowd', it was the turn of Afro Tondelli, 35 years old, to fall. As shown in a photographic document, he was killed in cold blood by a policeman who knelt down to improve his aim..."[16]

As we can see, the forces of order have no regard for the poor, for proletarians who make their demands. Two years later, the same kind of police violence occurred again when there were confrontations in Piazza Statuto in Turin, which broke out on a strictly workers' terrain. The UIL and the SIDA, two unions that had already clearly shown which side they were on, signed separate and hurried factory agreements with the Fiat management that were completely unfavourable to the workers: "6 to 7,000 people, exasperated when they discovered this, met up in the afternoon at Piazza Statuto in front of the UIL offices. For two days the place was to become the theatre for a series of extraordinary confrontations between demonstrators and the police. The former, armed with catapults, sticks and chains, smashed shop fronts and windows, erected rudimentary barricades and repeatedly charged police lines. The latter replied by charging the crowd in jeeps, suffocating the square with tear gas and beating the demonstrators with rifle butts. The confrontations lasted late into the evening on Saturday 7th as well as Monday 9th July 1962. The leaders of the PCI and of the CDIL, Pajetta and Garavini among them, tried in vain to convince the demonstrators to disperse, One thousand demonstrators were arrested and many were informed against. The majority were young workers, mainly from the south."[17]

It is thanks to Dario Lanzardo[18] that we have a clear account of these few days, including official testimonies concerning all the gratuitous violence meted out by the police, not only against the demonstrators but also against anyone who was unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of Piazza Statuto. If we consider all the massacres carried out by the forces of order against demonstrations of workers in struggle from the end of the war up until the Hot Autumn, then we can really see the difference between the black period of counter-revolution - in which the bourgeoisie had its hands completely free to do what it liked against the working class - and the period of resurgence in the struggle when it was preferable to have recourse first to the weapons of ideological mystification and union sabotage. In fact what was to change with the Hot Autumn, understood as a sign of the resurgence of class struggle nationally and internationally, was the balance of forces between the classes both nationally and internationally. This is the key to understanding the new historic phase that opened up at the end of the 1960s and not some so-called democratisation of state institutions. From this point of view, the position adopted by the PCI concerning the confrontations is a perfect illustration of the bourgeois political terrain upon which it had based itself for four decades: "... Unità of 9th July defined the revolt as ‘attempts at provocation on the part of hooligans' and the demonstrators as ‘uncontrolled and exasperated elements', ‘small groups of irresponsible elements', ‘young louts', ‘anarchists, internationalists'."[19]

From the student autumn to the Hot Autumn

To speak of the Hot Autumn is rather restrictive when we are dealing with an historic event which, as we can see, has its roots in a dynamic at a local and international level going  back several years. In addition, the movement did not last just one season, as was the case with the French May, but rather continued at a high level for at least two years, from 1968 to 1969, with repercussions that lasted until the end of 1973.

The proletarian movement during these two years, and even during those that followed, was deeply marked by the outbreak of student struggles, the Italian 68. This is why it is important to go back over each episode in order to follow the impressive development in the maturation of the class struggle as it returned to the historic scene in Italy.

The student 68

Signs of the change in the historic period resounded strongly in the schools and especially in the universities. The economic boom which took place in Italy following the end of the war, as in the rest of the world, had made it possible for workers' families to enjoy a less wretched standard of living and for businesses to count on a massive enlargement of their workforce. The young generation of the less well-to-do strata could now study at university in order to train for employment, gain a broader culture and have some hope of acquiring a more satisfying social position than that of their parents. However, the entrance en masse into university of less privileged strata not only changed the social composition of the student population; it also devalued the image of the graduate. They were no longer educated to fill management posts, as they had been up till then, but rather to be integrated into the organisation of production - industrial or commercial - where individual initiative is more and more limited. This social and cultural framework explains, at least in part, the reasons behind the youth movement in these years: the contesting of dogmatic knowledge retained by a privileged caste of university mandarins using methods from the Middle Ages, of meritocracy, of sectional divisions, of a society seen as ageing and closed in on itself. The student demonstrations had begun as early as February 1967 with the occupation of the Palazzo Campana in Turin, a movement that gradually spread to all the other universities from the Normale in Pisa, the sociology faculty in Trento, to the catholic faculty in Milan and then moving towards the south over several months until the final explosion in 1968. In this period the political groups with a large following that became known in the 1970s had not yet come into being but this is the period which gave birth to the various political cultures that were at the foundations of these groups. The experiences that left the most profound mark on what was to come were certainly those  in Pisa, where there was an important group of elements who already had a publication, Il Potere Operaio (called " Pisan" to distinguish it from the other one of the same name brought out by Classe Operaia). Il Potere Operaio was already a workers' paper in as far as it was published as a factory paper of Olivetti in Ivrea. In fact the Pisa group, in which are to be found the names of the best known leaders during these years, had from the beginning distinguished itself because it talked of the working class and intervention within it. Generally there was a tendency within the student movement of the time to orient itself towards the working class and to make it its main reference point and ideal partner, although this was more or less explicit. Most towns were won over by the student contestation and delegations of students went regularly to the factory gates to hand out leaflets and generally to form an alliance with the world of the working class, which was increasingly felt to be where they belonged. This identification of students as part of the working class was even theorised by some parts of the movement that were more workerist.

The development of workers' struggles

As we have said, 1968 in Italy also marked the beginning of important workers' struggles: "In spring 68 there was a series of struggles in factories throughout Italy, whose aim was wage increases that were the same for everyone and that were to compensate for the 'meagre' agreements of 1966. Among the first factories to mobilise there was Fiat, where the workers carried out the largest conflict for over 14 years, and in Milan strikes broke out in Borletti, Ercole Marelli, Magneti Marelli, Philips, Sit SIEMENS, Innocenti, Autelco, Triplex, Brollo, Raimondi , Mezzera, Rhodex, Siae Microelettronica, Seci, Ferrotubli, Elettrocondutture, Autobianchi, AMF, Fachini, Tagliaferri, Termokimik, Minerva, Amsco and another score of small enterprises, (...) At the beginning the struggle was led by old activists and by the unions outside the factories and so it was led in a fairly authoritarian way. But after a month, young workers made their presence felt, who  'strongly criticised the unionists and the members of the CI[20] for the way they were struggling and on the stages of the struggle', and they qualitatively changed the way of mobilising, introducing tough pickets and internal processions to force white collar workers to strike. On one occasion these workers spontaneously prolonged a strike for several hours and forced the unions to support them. This breeze of youth produced massive participation in the struggle, the number of strike hours multiplied, demonstrations took place on the streets of Sesto San Giovanni, going so far as to bash in the door of the building which housed the management. The strikes continued even though the Assolombarda made it a condition for the opening up of negotiations that they stop: there was total participation on the part of the manual workers and hardly any of the office workers were against".[21]

From then on everything escalated: "The balance sheet of ‘69 at Fiat is a war bulletin: 20 million strike hours, 277,000 vehicles lost, a boom (37%) in sales of foreign cars".[22]

What changed radically with the struggles of the Hot Autumn was the balance of forces within the factory. The worker, who was exploited and humiliated by the speed of production, controls and continual punishments, entered into daily conflict with the boss. The initiatives of the workers were no longer concerned with the number of strike hours but with how to conduct the strikes. There rapidly developed a logic of refusing to work that was equivalent to an attitude of refusing to collaborate with the employers' strategy for the workplace, while remaining firmly anchored to the defence of workers' living conditions. There followed a new way of thinking about how to conduct the strike, which aimed at using minimum effort on the part of the workers to inflict maximum damage on the bosses. This was the wildcat strike in which only a small number of workers struck but the whole cycle of production was dependent on them. By rotating the group who would strike, it was possible to paralyse the factory with the minimum of "cost" to the workers.

Another expression of the changed balance of forces between the working class and the bosses were the processions within the factories. At the beginning these demonstrations took place in the long corridors and passageways of the Fiat premises and those of other important industries and were an expression of protest. They later became a way to convince those who were hesitating, the white collar workers in particular, to join the strike: "The internal processions always began from the coachwork department, often from the varnishing workshop. The news went out that some workshop had gone back to work or else that the strike breakers had been concentrated in office 16, that of the women. So we would go and gather everyone. We trawled them in. Mirafiori is composed of corridors and in such narrow places no-one can escape. Soon it was no longer necessary: as soon as people saw us they slowed down the chain and followed us."[23]

On the question of workers' representation, the period was characterised by the slogan: "we are all delegates", that  is to refuse all union mediation and impose a direct balance of forces upon the bosses by means of the workers' struggle. It is important to return to this slogan which was diffused throughout the struggles and which would impregnate the class struggle for a long time during this period. This is a valuable experience especially given the doubts that proletarian minorities sometimes have today when they want to struggle outside the unions but cannot see how to do so as they are not recognised by the state.

This was not a problem for the workers during the Hot Autumn. When it was necessary, they struggled, went on strike outside of the unions and against their directives but they did not always have an immediate aim. In this phase the workers' struggle was the expression of enormous combativity, of a long repressed will to respond  to the intimidation of the bosses; it did not necessarily need immediate grounds or objectives in order to burst forth; it was its own stimulant; creating a relationship of force, gradually changing the attitude of the working class. The unions had no more than an ephemeral presence in all of this. In fact the unions - and the bourgeoisie generally in this period - were pushed to one side by the strength of the working class struggle. They did the only thing they could do: they tried to keep their heads above water, follow the movement and try not to be too much overtaken by it. On the other hand, such a strong reaction within the class also showed that the unions were not really rooted in the proletariat and so not able to prevent or block the combativity as they can today. This does not mean that there was a deep anti-union consciousness in the working class. In fact the workers acted in spite of the unions, not against them, although there were significant developments at the level of consciousness, as can be seen from the Unitary Rank-and-file Committees (CUB) in the Milan region: "the unions are 'professional negotiators' who, together with the so-called workers' parties, have chosen the path of reform, that is the path of global and definitive agreement with the bosses".[24]

The years 1968-69 were a steam-roller of strikes and demonstrations with moments of acute tension such as the struggles in the Syracuse region, which produced the confrontation in Avola,[25]  or those of Battipaglia which gave rise to violent confrontations.[26] However, the conflicts of Corso Traiano in Turin in July 1969 certainly represent a historic step in this dynamic. On this occasion the movement of the class in Italy made an important step forward: the coming together of the workers' movement with that of the student vanguard. As the students had more time at their disposal and were more mobile, they managed to make an important contribution to the working class in struggle, which in turn became aware of its alienation through the medium of these newly-awakening young people, and showed its willingness to do-away with wage slavery. The link between these two worlds gave a strong impulse to the struggles of 1969, particularly those of Corso Traiano. We are quoting a long extract from a leaflet drafted on 5th July by the Turin workers' assembly, not only because it gives an excellent account of what happened but it also has great political value as a document:

"The events of 3rd July are not an isolated incident or an uncontrolled outbreak of revolt. They came after fifty days of struggle that involved an enormous number of workers, completely blocked the production cycle, represented the highest point in the level of political and organisational autonomy that the workers' struggles have attained up to now by destroying any possibility for the unions to control them.

"Having been thrown out of the workers' struggle, the unions tried to get it to go out of the factories towards the outside and then regain control by calling for a 24 hour general strike to freeze  rents. But once more the initiative of the workers got the upper hand. Symbolic strikes that turn into rest days with one or two processions here and there are only of use to the bureaucrats. In the hands of the workers the general strike becomes an opportunity to unite, to generalise the struggle taking place in the factory. The press refuses to talk about what is happening at Fiat or it lies about it. This is the moment to break this conspiracy of silence, to come out of our isolation, to communicate to everyone the real facts behind the experience of the workers at Mirafiori.

"Hundreds of workers and students decided in an assembly to call for a large demonstration on the day of the strike which was to start off from Mirafiori and proceed to the workers' districts in order to unite the workers of the various factories. (...)

"This was too much for the bosses. Before the procession could even form up, an army of tough guys and police threw themselves without warning into the crowd, coshing, arresting, throwing tear gas canisters (...) After a short while, it was not only the worker and student vanguard who were confronting them but the entire proletarian population of the district. Barricades went up and there were charges in response to those of the police. The battle went on for hours and hours and the police were forced to retreat. (...)

"In this process, the control and mediation of the unions was thrown overboard. Apart from some partial aims, the struggle meant:

-          the rejection of  capitalist organisation of the work,

-          the rejection of the wage being tied to the boss' need to produce,

-          the rejection of exploitation both inside and outside the factory,

"The strikes, the processions, the internal assemblies had blown away the divisions between the workers and matured the autonomous organisation of the class by adopting these aims:

-          always maintain the initiative within the factory against the unions,

-          an increase on the basic wage of 100 lire, the same for all,

-          the second grade for everyone,

-          a real reduction in working hours.

"(...) In fact the struggle of the Fiat workers has re-produced  at a massive level aims that had already been formulated in 1968-69 during the struggles of the largest concentrations of workers in Italy, from Milan to Porto Marghera, from Ivrea to Valdagno. These aims were:

-          a large increase in the basic wage equal for all,

-          the abolition of grades,

-          the drastic and immediate reduction in working hours with no loss of wages,

-          immediate and complete equality between manual and white collar workers."[27]

As we have already said, a whole series of strengths coming out of the Hot Autumn find an echo in this leaflet. First of all, the idea of equality, that wage rises should be the same for everyone, independent of their grade and not subject to the profitability of the work. Secondly, the recuperation  of free time for the workers, in order for them to have a life, to engage in politics, etc. Consequently, the demand for a reduction in working hours and the rejection of piecework.

This same leaflet states that, on the basis of these elements, the Turin workers held an assembly following the confrontations of 3rd July, in which they proposed that all workers in Italy embark upon a new and more radical phase of the class struggle that, on the basis of the aims put forward by the workers themselves, would develop the political unification of all the experiences of autonomous struggle up until then.

With this aim in mind, a national gathering of committees and workers' vanguards was convoked in Turin:

1. To compare and unite the various experiences of struggle on the basis of the significance of the Turin struggle

2. To bring out the aims of the new phase of class confrontation, which should take as a starting point the material conditions of the workers and should encompass all capitalist social organisations.

On 26/27 July at the Turin Palasport there was held a "national gathering of the workers' vanguard". Workers from the whole of Italy gave an account of the strikes and demonstrations, spoke and put forward demands such as the abolition of grades, the reduction of working hours to 40, equal wage increases for everyone in absolute terms (not a percentage) and recognition of parity with white collar workers. "The whole of Italian industry was represented: in order of intervention, after Mirafiore, Marghera petrochemicals, la Dalmine and Il Nuovo Pignone from Massa, Solvay from Rossignano, Muggiano from La Spezia, Piaggio from Pontedera, Italsider from Piombino, Saint Gobain from Pisa, Fatme, Autovox, Sacet and Voxon from Rome, SNAM, Farmitalia, Sit Siemens, Alfa Romeo and Ercole Marelli from Milan, Ducati and Weber from Bologna, Fiat de Marina in Pisa, Montedison from Ferrare, Ignis from Varese, Necchi from Pavia, Sir from Porto Torres, technicians from the RAI in Milan, Galileo Oti from Florence, the unitary rank-and-file committees from Pirelli, the dockyards of La Spezia".[28] This was something never seen before: a national assembly of the workers' vanguard from all over Italy, a moment in which the working class affirmed itself and which can only be experienced when there is a great increase in workers' combativity, as was the case during the Hot Autumn.

In the following months what remains in historic memory as the "Hot Autumn" unfolded along the same lines. The number of episodes of struggle, about which interesting photographic documentation can be found on the site of La Repubblica,[29] followed on one after another at an incredible rate. The following is a list that is by no means exhaustive:

-          2/09: strike of manual and white collar workers at Pirelli for production premiums and union rights. At Fiat, the workers of departments 32 and 33 at Mirafiori go into struggle against union directives over factory discrimination concerning grade changes;

-          4/09: Agnelli the Fiat boss suspends 30,000 workers;

-          5/09: the attempt of the union management to isolate the vanguard workers at Fiat fails, Agnelli is forced to withdraw the suspensions;

-          6/09: more than two million metal workers employed in construction and the chemical industry enter  into struggle for the renewal of the wage contract;

-          11/09: following the breakdown in negotiations over their new contract on 8th September, a million metal workers  go on strike throughout Italy. In Turin, 100,000 blocked Fiat;

-          12/09: national strike of building workers; all building sites in the country are closed. Demonstrations of steel workers in Turin, Milan and Taranto;

-          16-17/09: 48 hour national strike of chemical workers, national strike in the cemeteries and another day of struggle by building workers;

-          22/09: demonstration of 6,000 workers of Alfa Romeo in Milan. A day of struggle of metal workers in Turin, Venice, Modena and Cagliari;

-          23-24/09: another 48 hour general strike by the cemetery workers;

-          25/09: lock-out at Pirelli, indefinite suspension of 12,000 workers. An immediate response from the workers who block all of the group's plants;

-          26/09: demonstration of metal workers in Turin, where a procession of 50,000 starts out from Fiat. General strike in Milan and demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of workers who force Pirelli to end the lock-out. Processions of tens of thousands of workers in Florence and Bari;

-          29/09: demonstrations of metal, chemical and building workers in Porto Marghera, Brescia and Genoa;

-          30/09: strike of building workers in Rome, demonstrations of 15,000 metal workers in Livorno;

-          7/10: metal workers' strike in the Milan province, 100,000 workers from nine processions come together in Piazza Duomo;

-          8/10: national general strike of chemical workers. Strike in the Terni region. Demonstrations of metal mechanics in Rome, Sestri, Piombino, Marina di Pisa and L'Aquila;

-          9/10: 60,000 metal workers strike in Genoa. General strike in Friuli Venezia Giulia;

-          10/10: for the first time an assembly is held inside the workshops of Fiat-Mirafiori. Assemblies and processions are also held inside other factories in the group. The police charge the outside of the buildings. Strike at Italsider in Bagnoli against the suspension of 5 workers;

-          16/10: hospital workers, rail workers, postmen, local government workers and day workers enter into struggle for the renewal of their contracts. General strikes take place in the districts of Palermo and Matera;

-          22/10: 40 factories in Milan win the right to hold assemblies;

-          8/11: the building workers contract is signed: it gives a 13% increase on the lowest incomes, the gradual reduction of working hours to 40 and the right to hold assemblies on the building sites;

-          13/11: very tough confrontations between workers and the police in Turin;

-          25/11: general strike in the chemical industry;

-          28/11: in Rome hundreds of thousands of metal workers animate one of the largest and most combative demonstrations that has ever taken place in Italy in order to support their demands;

-          3/12: all-out strike of the Fiat car body workers , demonstration of local government workers;

-          7/12: an agreement is reached on the contract in the chemical industry: it provides wage increases of 19,000 lire per month, a 40 hour week over 5 days and three weeks paid leave;

-          8/12: agreement reached on the contract for the metal industry with state participation: the contract provides an increase of 65 lire per hour, the same for all, legal parity between manual and white collar workers, the right to hold assemblies at the workplace during working hours up to 10 hours per year; and a 40 hour week;

-          10/12: general strike of agricultural workers for the national agreement, hundreds of thousands demonstrate throughout Italy. The beginning of the four day strike of workers in the private oil companies for the renewal of their contract;

-          19/12: national strike of industrial workers in support of the metal workers conflict. Another national strike of agricultural workers;

-          23/12: signing of the agreement for the new metal workers contract : it gives wage increases of 65 lire per hour for the manual workers and 13,500 lire per month for the white collar workers, a wage for the 'thirteenth month', the right to hold assemblies in the factory, the recognition of union representatives from the work-place and the reduction of working hours to 40 per week;

-          24/12: the national agreement for the agricultural workers is signed after four months of struggle, it provides the gradual reduction of working hours to 42 per week and 20 days holiday.[30]

This impressive list of struggles was not solely the result of strong pressure from the workers but also showed the marks of union manoeuvres to disperse the struggles by holding separate actions, made possible because the expiry date varied for different contracts in different sectors and workplaces. In this way the bourgeoisie succeeded in preventing the profound social discontent from exploding into a generalised conflagration.

This enormous development in combativity, accompanied by significant moments of clarification within the working class, also encountered other serious obstacles in the period to come. The Italian bourgeoisie, like that in other countries when confronted with the resurgence in class struggle, did not stand idly by. In addition to frontal attacks by the police, it tried to gradually encircle the movement using other  means. What we will show in the second part of this article is that the capacity of the bourgeoisie to take back control of the situation was based mainly on the weaknesses of a proletarian movement that, in spite of its enormous combativity, had not yet acquired a clear class consciousness and in which even the vanguard did not have the maturity and the clarity necessary to play its role.

Ezechiele (1st November 09)



[1].   From July 1969 and lasting several months.

[2].   See: International Review n° 133 and 134, "May 68 and the Revolutionary Perspective" (parts 1 and 2I), 2008.

[3].   See: "Class Struggle in Eastern Europe (1970-1980)", International Review n° 100.

[4].   From 1973 to 1974, the Cordobazo, the Mendoza strike and the wave of struggles that overwhelmed the country represented the key to the evolution of the social situation at the time. These struggles did not have an insurrectional character but they did signal an awakening of the proletariat in South America. See: "Popular revolt in Argentina; only the self-affirmation of the proletariat on its own terrain can drive back the bourgeoisie." International Review n° 109, 2002.

[5].   See: "Notes on the history of the United States imperialist policy from the Second World War", part 2. International Review n° 114.

[6].   "In this way was born the slogan: ‘the University is our Vietnam'; the Vietnamese guerrillas are fighting against American imperialism, the students make their revolution against power and academic authority". Alessandro Silj, Malpaese, criminalità,corruzione e politica nell'Italia della prima Republica 1943-1994 Donzelli edition, Rome 1994, p.92.

[7].   See "Che Guevara: mythe e réalité (à propos de couriers d'un lecteur)", in Révolution Internationale n° 384; « Quelques commentaries sur une apologie d'Ernesto "Che" Guevara (à propos d'un livre de Besancenot)", in Révolution Internationale n° 388.

[8].   See: "The Jewish/Arab conflict: the position of the Internationalists in the 1930s",  Bilan n° 30 and 31, in International Review n° 110; "Notes on the history of the imperialist conflicts in the Middle East", parts 1,2 and 3,  in International Review n° 115, 117 and 118; "Affrontements Hamas/Fatah; la bourgeoisie palestinienne est aussi sanguinaire que les autres", in Révolution Internationale n° 381.

[9]. See: "Le maoisme: un pur produit de la contre-révolution", in Révolution Internationale n° 371; "China 1928-1949: a link in the chain of imperialist war (I and II), in International Review n° 81 and 84; "Cina: il capitalismo di stato, dalle origini alla Rivoluzione Culturale" (I and II) in Rivoluzione Internazionale n° 5 and 6.

[10].  See: Silvia Castillo, Controcultura e politica nel Sessantotto Italiano.

[11].  Aldo Cazzullo, I ragazzi che volevano fare la rivoluzione, 1968-1978, Storia critica di LottaContinua. Edited by Sperling and Kupfer, p.13.

[12].  Luca Barbieri, Il caso 7 aprile. Cap III, http.//www.indicius.it/7aprile_02htm

[13].  Interview given by  Rita Di Leo in L'operaismo degli anni sessanta. From ‘Quaderni Rossi' a ‘classe operaia'. Giuseppe Trotta and Fabio Milana. DeriveApprodi edition. http://www.deriveapprodi.org/admi/articoli/allegati/articoli/2.Dossier_operaismo.pdf

[14].  See: Luca Barbieri, Il caso 7 aprile. Cap.III, http://www.indicius.it/7aprile_02htm

[15].  Emiliano Mentasti, La guardia rossa raconta. Storia del Comitato operaio della Magneti Marelli, p.25, Colibri Edition.

[16].  Giorgio Frasca Polara, Tambroni e il luglio "caldo" del 60, http://www.libertaegiustizia.it/primopiano/pp_leggi_articolo.php?id=2803&id_titoli_primo_piano=1

[17]La rivolta operaia di piazza Statuto del 1962. http://lotteoperaie.splinder.com/post/5219182/la+rivolta+operaia+di+piazza+S

[18].  Dario Lanzardo, La rivolta di piazza Statuto, Torino, Luglio 1962, Feltrinelli.

[19]La rivolta operaia di piazza Statuto del 1962, http://lotteoperaie.splinder.com/post/5219182/la+rivolta+operaia++di+piazza+S

[20].  CI is an abbreviation for the Internal Commissions, which were officially structures representing the workers when there were conflicts in the workplace. In fact they were an expression of union control over the workers. They were in operation up until the Hot Autumn and were later replaced by the factory councils (CdF).

[21]. Emilio Mentasti, La guardia rossa racconta. Storia del Comitato operaio della Magneti Marelli, p.37, Colibri Edition.

[22]. Aldo Cazzulo, I ragazzi che volevano fare la rivoluzione. 1968-1978. Storia critica di Lotta Continua, pp.75-76, edited by Sperling and Kupfer.

[23]. Ibid, p.60.

[24].  Document of the CUB of Pirelli (Bicocca), "IBM and Sit Siemens", quoted in Alessandro Silj, Mai più senza fucile, Vallecchi, Florence 1977, pp.82-84.

[25]. "The struggle of the agricultural workers in the Syracuse province on 24th November, with the participation of the agricultural workers of Avola, demanded an increase in the daily wage, the elimination of the difference in wages and working hours between the two zones into which the province was divided, the introduction of a law to guarantee that contracts were respected, the setting-up of control commissions with parity of representation, the latter had been obtained in the 1966 struggle but had never worked. (...) The agricultural workers set up roadblocks and were charged by the police. On 2nd December Avola participated en masse in the general strike. During the night the dayworkers set up road blocks on the main road to Noto and the other workers were with them. In the morning the women and children arrived. At about 14.00 hours the Deputy Chief of Police of Syracuse, Samperisi, gave orders for the Celere company, joined by that of Catania, to attack. (...) That day the Celere brigade sounded the charge three times, shooting into the crowd, who thought that they were firing blanks. The agricultural workers tried to find shelter; some threw stones. This war scene lasted about half an hour. In the end, Piscitello, a communist deputy, piled more than two hundred kilos of shells on the tarmac. The outcome was 2 dayworkers dead, Angelo Sigona and Giuseppe Scibilia, and 48 wounded, 5 seriously." (www.italia.attac.org/spip/spip/php?article2259).

[26]. "We went out onto the street with the usual generosity of the young by the side of workers, male and female, who were striking against the closure of the tabacco and sugar industries. The closure of these enterprises, and also those subsidiary to them, meant crisis for the whole town, as for about half the population they were the sole means of income. The general strike was the only alternative and was felt to be such and so the whole town, including us students, participated. Many of us, although not from Battipaglia, felt the need to join in because we understood the importance of these two industries for the town's economy. There was also another reason for the general strike; it was an opportunity to show our solidarity with those from the tabacco factory who had been occupying the premises in Santa Lucia for nearly twelve days. The spectre of crisis hung over the town; it had already been felt with the closure of some canning factories and looked like being very serious for thousands of workers who would inevitably lose their jobs. (...) Very quickly there were moments of tension and, as often happens, these were transformed into real movements. Battipaglia became the stage for violent confrontation, barricades were erected, all road  exits were blocked and the station was occupied. The police charged and what was supposed to be a great day of solidarity with those who were trying to keep their jobs became a popular insurrection. The balance sheet: two dead, hundreds wounded, dozens of vehicles burnt (those of the police and private ones) and incalculable damage. (...) To gain control of a wounded and furious town it took the forces of order about twenty hours". (Eye witness account reported in the blog: massimo.delmese.net/189/9-aprile-1969-9-aprile-2009-a-40-anni-dai-moti-di-battipaglia/).

[27].  http://www.nelvento.net/archivio/68/operai/traiano02.htm

[28].  Aldo Cazzullo, I ragazzi che volevano fare la rivoluzione, 1968-1978. Storia critica di Lotta Continua,  p.67, edited by Sperling and Kupfer.

[29].  http://static.repubblica.it/milano/autunno-caldo/

[30]. From the site: http://www.pmli.it/storiaautunnocaldo.htm