The Rebirth of Conflict (at FIAT)­, 4 – Mario Tronti

The resumption of the class struggle at FIAT is normal.[1] It assumes an exceptional importance in the specific context in which it burst forth: it was unforeseen, in such a short time, both by the bosses as well as by the workers’ organisations.[2] It is true that the strike network was effectively woven over a longer time by the ‘sectarian’ Turin trade unionists. That takes nothing from the fact that the breaking news of the 60,000 congregating outside the FIAT struck everyone with all the positive violence of a ‘wildcat’ strike.

We had seen the workers encircling FIAT: struggles everywhere and silence at FIAT;[3] moreover, this time these were ‘political’ struggles, to articulate the power of the union against the power of the bosses, from the firm to the sector, in a new system of permanent and comprehensive bargaining. Certainly, one of the underlying motives that pushed the FIAT workers to struggle, lay in the qualitative leap in workers’ struggles: the FIAT workers didn’t budge for years, also because for years the model of their struggle that was proposed to them covered their backs, but failed to open ­– unlike today – a prospect of greater power, the only one that counts at this level. However, we should be under no illusions: that same character of the current struggles does nothing more than empirically register the determinate level of capitalist development; the full generalisation of these struggles describes above all the generalisation of a particular condition of exploitation, which is to say, of a specific point of development of capitalist production. Everyone knows that today FIAT is no longer an island of progress in a sea of backwardness: the technological leap and worker well-being are now common features across the sector and tend to unite it and homogenise it on the same level of development. From here stems the potential for unification of the working class in that sector, which can have two separate and even opposed outcomes, depending on the balance of forces that will be established in the immediate future.

OGR Turin, Vogliamo Tutto – An Exhibition on Labour

It has for a long time been in FIAT’s interest to keep around it, in its garden, an underdeveloped capitalism: caste privilege and fascist bosses, the old corporatist integration of the worker in his firm, these were the natural accompaniments to this external historical condition. In the same way, the old-style industrial capitalism in Italy, when it wanted to retain a peasant South, had also to want the historic block with the landowners and the political right in government. Then capitalist development itself buried this past: and the democratic struggles of workers [lavoratori] are an important internal component of this development. And, at a certain point within this development, there is a leap. Capitalist production is made in such a way as to not be able to bear the category of particularity; it tends by its very nature to the richness of the universal; having reached a certain level, it has the need to render this level general before it is able to leap to the next one. Capitalism often needs workers’ struggles to grasp the necessity for this leap; it needs it to accelerate and organise the successive moments of its development. Workers’ struggles set the ‘deadlines’ for capitalist development. Indeed, the process of stabilization of capitalism does not presuppose the end of struggles; it presupposes their institutionalisation.

Valletta[4] bitterly reproached his industrial colleagues for the encircling of FIAT; he wanted for people to believe that FIAT fell because of the pressure from workers from outside, which the other capitalists had been unable to control. But his intelligence of modern representative of capital must have said something more to him. It was necessary for all his workers to go on strike for him to say yes to the centre-left. Which means many things: it means that the time of the FIAT-confinement-divisions,[5] of reprisals, of discrimination is over; the time of the bosses, firm, corporatist union is finished; that the ‘particular’ monopoly policies at the expense of capitalist society in general is over. Now Valletta can dress directly in the garb of the collective capitalist: not only does he not only have before him his own workers but all workers. At this point, the unions can equally be admitted, with equal rights, to a toast at the bargaining table; all siting in a triangle between La Malfa[6] and the bosses to together plan the balanced development of Italian capitalism. Because ultimately this is the most modern dream of capital: an ‘independent’ trade union – impartially independent of the decisions of single capitalists and of the pressure of the organised workers; a ‘modern’ union, the capitalist form of workers’ control – control over the movement of labour-power, the rationalisation of that irrationality that exists (from the bourgeois standpoint) in worker pressure.

Balestrini, Tempo 20, 1976

The FIAT-strike expresses and describes this determinate level of capitalist development; it is born of the delay of the boss’ response to the changed conditions of labour of the worker; it imposes the necessity of a leap able to momentarily resolve the contradiction that has emerged between new needs of capitalist production and the old ones of despotic bosses; which is to say, between the stabilization of the old process of valorisation and the new forms of capitalist dominion over labour. Ultimately, all can be reduced to a progress of capitalist exploitation, in a rational recomposition at the level of the firm, and its generalisation at the level of the sector. The disorderly explosion of workers’ struggles, their character as external to capitalist planning, the FIAT-strike as a ‘wildcat strike’ for capital, above all demonstrates one thing: that the old attempt to integrate the working class with the system has largely failed; the formation of a ‘worker aristocracy’, which would then become the political leader of the workers’ movement as a whole, has failed; no one needs the traditional form of capture of the workers’ movement, the classic path to reformist socialism, not even the capitalist.[7] Modern  capitalist production contains within itself the instruments to break worker unity, to organise scientifically their real division, in any case to prevent their possible ‘formal’ reunification. Then, once the workers are divided and beaten, it is easier, on that basis, to unite the capitalists.  The FIAT-strike immediately broke the bosses block in two: the signing of a ‘modern’ contract with all the metalworkers could recompose it in a higher-level unity.

But the opposite could also happen: if the workers’ movement were organised, that is, if its current organisations corresponded to its needs of development; if, in short, there existed a political organisation of the class. The clash of classes at FIAT demonstrates once again that this enormous process of capitalist development in Italy holds the Italian working class as a whole outside. And this is the point of contradiction which must serve as the point of leverage to put in crisis that [path of] development. The correct response to the nationalisation of energy was given by the FIAT workers. To the process of modernisation of capitalist structures, one responds by taking the workers’ struggles within those very structures. In that way, at one and the same time, the capitalist nature of the process develops as does the working-class leadership of struggle that combats it; in other words, a real socialist prospect opens. Those who want ‘balanced’ [equilibrato] development of the Italian economy must know that this ultimately results in the planning of workers’ struggles within the plan of capital. In order for this plan to explode, one must instead organise the imbalance [squilibrio] of the working class that completely escapes the planned control of the capitalist class.

Alfredo Jaar, ‘We Want Everything’

The very organisation of modern production, which is used by capital to disassemble and destroy the class unity of the workers, can be used by the workers to reassemble and magnify that unity, in new forms, at a higher level. In this sense, there is no value in itself to organised production, that is able to serve always and only capitalist power; ultimately everything depends upon the relations of force that are established in struggle. The FIAT-workers found themselves on strike, all outside the firm on the basis of the organisation of production within the firm. At that moment they were strong enough to turn against the bosses what the bosses had for years used against them. But one can’t live off the interest of the spontaneity of this movement. The united recomposition of the workers at the sectoral level does not hold independently, or at least, it does not become explosive in the system if it cannot finally find established capillary forms of organisation at the level of the firm level, the plant, the division, the team. Articulated bargaining,[8] the negotiation of all the aspect of the work relation, the union in the factory – these are demands that must together have this objective.[9] This is the only guarantee that they cannot be in turn be reabsorbed by the more rational development of modern capitalism. Organisational forms of a new type, the factory organization of the class, the immediate political content of this new power at the very moment in which it opposes the power of the boss, these are basic slogans that the workers’ parties no longer even need to invent, because the workers have already invented them for them. There is a worker use, a revolutionary one, of large-scale capitalist production that we need to learn. The FIAT-strike should, if nothing else open anew this problem.

[1] As I am currently travelling around Italy and distant from all my books, I foolishly only noticed after the fact that this piece has already appeared, in an excellent translation by Andrew Anastasi (see his Tronti collection, The Weapon of Organization). I agree with nearly all of Andrew’s translation choices (there’s one point of difference of interpretation), but since I’ve carried out the slog of translating it, I won’t let all that work go to waste. This is Tronti’s article in response to the questions posed by Problemi del Socialismo (see the Accornero article and notes for details).

[2] As in previous translations on this website, I should point out that it is often little noted that the term operai is that of ‘industrial workers’. When referring to other groups within the popular classes, the term would be the more generic lavoratori, literally ‘workers’. Whenever the word ‘workers’ appears in this text, please bear in mind that it is to industrial workers that we are referring. I will add lavoratori in square brackets when the generic sense of workers is intended.

[3] See The Rebirth of Conflict (at FIAT), 2.

[4] As explained in The Rebirth of Conflict (at FIAT), 3, Valletta was either CEO or a director of FIAT from 1921 to 1966, apart from a short period in the post-War period when he was sacked for fascist collaborationism. He was soon returned as CEO by the Agnelli family. His management of the company, especially in the 1950s, was reliably anti-communist. In testimony by the FIAT worker Otello Pacifico, Valletta’s reign in the 1950s and ‘60s was described as one that attempted with all means necessary to increase the ‘legacy of fear’ (cited in E. Santarelli, Storia critica della repubblica. L’Italia dal 1945 al 1994, Feltrinelli, Milan 1996, 186).  

[5] The reparti confine were divisions of FIAT established by Valletta as a sort of ghetto to which the most militant activists were consigned, away from all other workers, thus limiting workplace agitation. Aris Accornero, a fellow workerist (and PCI activist), in 1959 wrote a book on the most famous of these establishments: the so-called Red Start Workshop, as nearly all of the workers confined there were militant communists (see Accornero, FIAT confino: storia dell’OSR, Edizioni Avanti!, 1959).

[6] Ugo La Malfa, a member of the Republican Party, was the extremely influential Finance Minister in Fanfani’s Centre-Left coalition.

[7] A worker aristocracy of skilled labour could be won over by reformist trade unions, who could use such a class fraction to keep other elements in line. Or could be bought off by the bosses and used to maintain oversight over the workers within a firm and to divide the working class outside.

[8] In the 1960s, the CGIL agreed to firm-level representation for bargaining in addition to national-level bargaining (hence: ‘articulated bargaining’ was an articulation of national and local, firm-level and sectoral-level). This allowed the CGIL to re-establish the ‘internal commissions’ as firm-level organs of worker representation, re-establishing a link with workers that had been broken during the years of repression of the 1950s, and able to establish closer ties with those new workers from the south with different traditions of struggle and often without the ideological commitments characteristic of the northern workers who had more direct link to the anti-fascist struggle in the factories.

[9] I.e. the recomposition of worker unity capable of challenging the system through an organisation that runs from the team level up to the sectoral level and back again.

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