The Rebirth of Conflict (at FIAT), 2

The Oasis of Peace, Shattered

Carlo Donat-Cattin had denounced the climate of fear and the absence of a proper defence by the state of union activity at FIAT (and beyond from the interference of the bosses) in the same speech in the house in 1959 as cited in part 1, even before Italy took the short-lived experiment with even more fierce repression under Tambroni. Speaking specifically of the conditions of FIAT, Donat-Cattin said:

Carlo Donat-Cattin

‘…as a consequence of these systems ­– anti-strike bonuses, threats to continued employment or career prospects, home visits, persistent pressure by line-managers and a subspecies of company union – while the other firms in Turin reached 90-95% members on strike, at FIAT only 200-300 members out of 60,000 went on strike’ (Donat-Cattin p. 8922).

All this took place in the middle of the so-called ‘economic miracle’, which involved ‘miraculous’ levels of GDP growth and productivity increases, accompanied by an even more ‘miraculous’ outstripping of wages by such expansion. This was seeping through parts of the DC (as we have seen), as well as to fractions of industrial capital – hence the continuing discussions around the formation of a centre left as the best way to advance the expansion of Italian capitalism in stable fashion. By 1962, things had begun to change even at FIAT, thanks to the increasing intensity of the class struggle across Italy since 1959 across numerous sectors of both private capital and public, and because once again the national contracts were up for renegotiation. The specific conditions in the spring and early summer of 1962 were the crucible of a potent mix of elements; the smelting process would throw up new practices and politics of conflict. 

But still things were not well at FIAT, as is recounted in the Quaderni Rossi: ‘The first national day of struggle of the metalworkers is carried out at FIAT by the 100,000 workers from other striking factories. The FIAT workers travelled across the striking Turin on deserted trams. The other workers insulted them, throwing pieces of bread and coins. In front of their union offices, they find the workers from the other factories who knew how their struggle would play out amongst these 93,000 “chickens”[1] and they were tired of ‘warming up their soup for them’. These workers were in front of the gates from the early morning to insult them, pulling no punches and without false calls to solidarity for this “mass of molluscs”.’[2]

But as the strikes outside FIAT continued, so did the conversations between those within and those without. The workers – after all – lived in the same parts of town, the same tenement blocks, and a worker vanguard of earlier struggles, the memory not entirely extinguished remained in FIAT. It was this group that, between 13 and 19 June organised the first strike of the 7,000, which is the first step in breaking the isolation of the FIAT workers. By June 23rd, it was at least 60,000 FIAT workers who joined the nearly 100,000 from the surrounding factories. 

In part 3 & 4 I shall translate two articles, written during these events, by Aris Accornero and Mario Tronti whose account of the rebirth of industrial conflict at FIAT, advances an idea and practice of conflict that radically challenges the dominant one within the workers’ movement of the time.

[1] In Italian it’s actually rabbits that are cowardly, not chickens.

[2] Quaderni Rossi: ‘Cronache’ e ‘Appunti’ dei Quaderni Rossi, p. 35.

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