Struggle at FIAT (1964)

Classe Opera­ia, no. 1, Jan­u­ary 1964.

This arti­cle ana­lyzes schemat­i­cal­ly sev­er­al aspects of the so-called “wild cat” [“a gat­to sel­vag­gio”]1 mode of strug­gle recent­ly adopt­ed by the FIAT work­ers; it does not the­o­rize it as the “only” one pos­si­ble. It’s a “par­tic­u­lar” analy­sis, not because the events described are excep­tion­al or exclu­sive to that “core mass” [“nucleo di mas­sa”] of work­ers that are FIAT, but because the gen­er­al dimen­sion, with­in which only the move­ment is “polit­i­cal,” is impli­cat­ed here as the deter­mi­nant pre­sup­po­si­tion but isn’t direct­ly ana­lyzed. (Oth­er deci­sive com­po­nents of the rise of the polit­i­cal work­er [cresci­ta polit­i­ca opera­ia] that one can see in this dis­course will be con­sid­ered more prop­er­ly in the next arti­cle, the one on ALFA, which cap­tures a fur­ther aspect because it cap­tures the gen­er­al dimen­sion of the process of work­ers’ strug­gle.)

alquati wildcat

On Octo­ber 15-16 of ’63, the FIAT work­ers car­ried out their most impor­tant strike since that of June-July 1962. The 6,200 Foundry work­ers took off “spon­ta­neous­ly”… for a strug­gle that was extend­ed “spon­ta­neous­ly” as a wild­cat to the fol­low­ing day; on Tues­day the 15th, the morn­ing shift of Work­shop 4 stopped unex­pect­ed­ly and sig­naled the unplanned stop of work to the “nor­mal” shift and then to that in the after­noon.

In the “ambi­gu­i­ty” that real­ly marks it, the work­ers’ strug­gle makes use of the pro­duc­tive artic­u­la­tion of cap­i­tal­ist coop­er­a­tion!

Work­shop 4 of the Foundry is a set-up and main­te­nance shop where the “pro­fes­sion­al­is­tic” her­itage sur­vived (rel­a­tive­ly) more than else­where, yet the strike that was launched was anti-cor­po­rate and anti-com­pa­ny. In fact, the Foundry, mate­ri­al­ly locat­ed at the cen­ter of Mirafiori’s huge com­plex, was above all a nodal point for dif­fer­ent cru­cial pro­duc­tive cir­cuits (auto, trac­tor, truck), all direct­ly artic­u­lat­ed in a “world­wide” divi­sion of labor, through which FIAT (as a moment of world social cap­i­tal) exploits, by uni­fy­ing them, the work­ing class of the first, the sec­ond, and the third world! These are the basic, imme­di­ate mate­ri­als of the strike: the work­ers’ strug­gle at FIAT came to be seen in its inter­na­tion­al dimen­sion as the response of work­ers to a boss that nev­er pos­es itself direct­ly as an “indi­vid­ual” or “sin­gle” cap­i­tal­ist in front of its 130,000 direct­ly exploit­ed, tru­ly because they bat­tle it by always pos­ing them­selves as the van­guard of a total move­ment.

The wild­cat strike is not an anar­chic form of protest by work­ers inca­pable of strug­gling col­lec­tive­ly in an orga­nized way. On the con­trary: it requires a very high lev­el of orga­ni­za­tion and cohe­sion because it’s a typ­i­cal­ly “gen­er­al” form of strug­gle, and it’s absurd to con­ceive of it as the mate­r­i­al artic­u­la­tion of strug­gle by depart­ments and work­shops locked with­in a com­pa­ny, inso­far as FIAT is “glob­al”! And the first vic­to­ry of the wild­cat strike of the 15th was to have illu­mi­nat­ed, demys­ti­fied, and com­mu­ni­cat­ed out­side Turin the recent his­to­ry (lit­tle known pre­cise­ly because it is impor­tant) that saw a work­ers’ orga­ni­za­tion devel­op­ing at FIAT strong enough to pull off a strike of this type: com­plete­ly out­side the his­tor­i­cal and offi­cial orga­ni­za­tions.

The wild­cat strike at FIAT liq­ui­dates the old idea that at this lev­el, the work­ers’ strug­gle would be orga­nized by a par­tic­u­lar inter­nal “nucle­us,” that holds a monop­oly on antag­o­nis­tic work­ers’ con­scious­ness. The strike of Octo­ber 15-16 was orga­nized direct­ly by the entire and com­pact “social mass” of work­ers from the sec­tions that con­tributed: but we are here mere­ly pre­sent­ed with greater clar­i­ty a char­ac­ter­is­tic of recent strug­gles, one that’s not exclu­sive to FIAT where the rare “mil­i­tants” of the old par­ties after the June of ’62 were just the tail-end of the strug­gles.

After the first shake-up of inter­na­tion­al strug­gles in ’53-’54, CGIL was elim­i­nat­ed from FIAT as a mass orga­ni­za­tion. Now we can see start­ing, on one side, the offi­cial work­ers movement’s “loss of con­trol” over the Ital­ian work­ing class, and, on the oth­er, how the mech­a­niza­tion of work is dri­ven toward auto­mat­ic process­es in a deci­sive leap toward the social­iza­tion of work.

The sec­ond wave of inter­na­tion­al strug­gle in ’56, on both sides of the [Iron]curtain, would accel­er­ate the upsurge of strikes in Italy and their trans­for­ma­tion: so start­ed anew at FIAT a “sub­ter­ranean” strug­gle direct­ly man­aged by work­ers. And with the third large wave of inter­na­tion­al strikes, after ’60, the move­ment rad­i­cal­ized and uni­fied itself enor­mous­ly on a world scale, and the FIAT work­ers returned open­ly to being the cen­ter of a polit­i­cal cir­cu­la­tion of strug­gles and expe­ri­ences that uni­fy, recom­pose, and mas­si­fy the work­ing class “for itself”; they returned to deter­mine the meth­ods and objec­tives of the strug­gle for them­selves as a social class, increas­ing­ly drop­ping the “union” aspect. Pass­ing from one strug­gle to anoth­er, from one form of orga­ni­za­tion to anoth­er, the homog­e­niza­tion of meth­ods and con­tent ampli­fied: because the work­ers’ ini­tia­tive was in the hands of the “com­pact social mass,” even the boss must now base his gen­er­al strat­e­gy for increas­ing pro­duc­tion on the “social class” of work­ers alone.

The strug­gles serve to push cap­i­tal fur­ther in its research into a “flu­id” pas­sage to a fur­ther stage of social­iza­tion. Today, the task for the boss is to abol­ish what with­in social ten­sions stands as a polit­i­cal obsta­cle to “struc­tur­al reforms”: by achiev­ing, as a pre­lim­i­nary con­di­tion, the full polit­i­cal con­trol of the work­ing class and its col­lab­o­ra­tion, the strug­gles come to mean greater “pro­duc­tiv­i­ty” and greater “polit­i­cal despo­tism” of the boss.

Collaboration and political control

And the PCI promis­es that there will be “demand-based” strug­gles, and FIOM that they will cage those strug­gles with a more cun­ning pol­i­tics.

If we take anoth­er step back, we see that inter­na­tion­al strug­gles have erod­ed the mar­gins (both “inter­nal” and “exter­nal”) of the “FIAT sys­tem” in so abrupt­ly that, by catch­ing the boss unpre­pared, they risked sub­tract­ing the work­ers from his polit­i­cal con­trol.

In the frame­work of the cen­ter-left, the plat­form of the “mod­ern con­tract” once again revealed a boss cer­tain of his abil­i­ty to quick­ly retake full polit­i­cal con­trol; it demand­ed the “col­lab­o­ra­tion” of work­ers with a mas­sive and ratio­nal­ized rise in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty through a fur­ther social­iza­tion of work: “automa­tion,” “plu­ral­is­tic pro­gram­ming,” “State reform”; the work­ing class recom­posed as the Social Brain of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion, impris­oned in an even high­er lev­el of dead labor, of machines, which man­age the work­ing class with greater ratio­nal­i­ty yet set them­selves against those work­ers and squash them through the polit­i­cal dom­i­na­tion of cap­i­tal. [in the form of fixed cap­i­tal].

If the work­ers had fought for this con­tract that con­tained only the boss’s needs, that same strug­gle would already be its exe­cu­tion [of the boss’s plan].

But the unions, who have to medi­ate the project, no longer have a hold on it. The recom­po­si­tion of the class was already far ahead of the cal­cu­la­tions of La Mal­fa-Trentin.2 So the work­ing class suc­ceed­ed in catch­ing the project off guard: actu­al­ly uni­fy­ing all their strug­gles through the unex­pect­ed inser­tion of 100,000 FIAT met­al work­ers into the con­trac­tu­al met­al­work­ers’ strike, they explod­ed with uni­ty in front of the fac­to­ry gates, in the pick­ets, and in the piaz­za bat­tles of all the fac­to­ries, sec­tors, and regions against the union-led and demo­c­ra­t­ic plan for the strike. Faced with this work­er uni­ty, the weak­ness of the boss becomes evi­dent. Through a polit­i­cal “auto­sug­ges­tion”3 of uni­fied strug­gle, the work­ing class suc­ceed­ed in mak­ing its leap with­in the leap of cap­i­tal. With this strate­gic vic­to­ry for the work­ers, the per­spec­tive changed: “flu­id pas­sages” now show them­selves as “sud­den leaps” and as occa­sions for the work­ing class to polit­i­cal­ly orga­nize, to reuni­fy itself now out­side the polit­i­cal con­trol of the boss.

classe operaia operaio cattivo
Para­ble of the good boss, the good union­ist, and the wicked work­er.

There­fore: the mod­ern­iza­tion and gen­er­al ratio­nal­iza­tion projects of the boss, from a cor­rect per­spec­tive, will have to impose “col­lab­o­ra­tion” and polit­i­cal “con­trol” on this work­ing class, one that has recom­posed sub­jec­tive­ly.

The work­ing class must tack­le, in the “long run”, the boss’s project of “indus­tri­al democ­ra­cy”: the “strate­gic objec­tive” is to orga­nize, on an inter­na­tion­al scale, real “polit­i­cal” self-man­age­ment out­side of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion against the “gen­er­al polit­i­cal pow­er” of cap­i­tal.

To arrive at this imme­di­ate “tac­ti­cal objec­tive” that the strug­gle is car­ry­ing ahead means con­tin­u­ing to man­age out­side the boss’s “polit­i­cal con­trol” a strug­gle that’s once more con­strained to unfold with­in pro­duc­tion and cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion, yet on a social scale or in the piaz­za.

The work­ing class makes use of the role the boss assigns it in order to deter­mine – through “abrupt” leaps – the forms of the “coun­cilist”4 project of cap­i­tal, in order to trans­fer its poten­tial polit­i­cal hege­mo­ny to a high­er lev­el of cap­i­tal­ist social­iza­tion. The “tac­ti­cal use” of “non-col­lab­o­ra­tion” forces5 the boss to try increas­ing­ly advanced projects of the “reformist recu­per­a­tion” of the worker’s ten­sion that builds up with­in the fac­to­ry, projects that are then counter-attacked and set ablaze, there­by set­ting back the “strate­gic” plan of the boss.

The “non-col­lab­o­ra­tion” of work­ers under­mines this schema with­in cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion because only if it binds and artic­u­lates itself like cap­il­lar­ies with­in the pro­duc­tive process can it [the non-col­lab­o­ra­tion] func­tion… the rela­tion between the [cap­i­tal­ist] project of devel­op­ment and the polit­i­cal base is today so tight that major polit­i­cal events are mys­ti­fied as either “tech­ni­cal” vicis­si­tudes or unmedi­at­ed “rebel­lious­ness.”

The work­ing class fights with the weapons it has: “spon­taneist” [i.e. the accu­sa­tion] could just as well des­ig­nate those who do noth­ing oth­er than scold the work­ing class for being so. Just as in [the riots of] Piaz­za Statu­to no work­er delud­ed him­self into think­ing this was the vio­lence nec­es­sary for the destruc­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, so too no work­er deludes him­self that this use of “non-col­lab­o­ra­tion” is itself rev­o­lu­tion­ary polit­i­cal strug­gle. Already in the Val­let­ta lock­out of July ’62, work­ers felt the urgency of trans­fer­ring the “mole’s work” to new and fresh­ly con­quered ter­rain in order to for­ti­fy them­selves with long-term orga­ni­za­tion­al mea­sures against a more organ­ic counter-offen­sive of the boss.

After the FIAT agree­ment is gen­er­al­ized in the new con­tract, the cir­cu­lar move­ment of gen­er­al strug­gle fac­ing FIAT will select and relaunch only those forms and objec­tives of orga­ni­za­tion bet­ter adapt­ed to counter the more advanced lev­el of the boss’s polit­i­cal plan.

The first impro­vised actions of “non-col­lab­o­ra­tion” won eas­i­ly because the boss’s tac­tic could only repro­pose, to reunifed work­ers, more up-to-date forms of the “union in the fac­to­ry” that had already been reject­ed: and in the win­ter of ’62-’63, they would indeed fail, first at FIAT and ALFA, and then every­where.

Non-col­lab­o­ra­tion isn’t a means of caus­ing chaos in the labor process, and the wild­cat strug­gle isn’t a means of jam­ming it up: but it’s no acci­dent that the papers of the boss­es and those of the stan­dard press meet in their effort to hide, behind the old anar­chosyn­di­cal­ist form of “sab­o­tage,” the actu­al polit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of work­ers strug­gles and the enor­mous polit­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ty that cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment offers to a polit­i­cal­ly orga­nized work­ing class.

The per­ma­nent strug­gle more typ­i­cal of “ratio­nal­ized” firms – based on the fact that only the col­lec­tive work­er knows which are the dies and “stan­dard” guides through which the object of labor is “trans­formed” – is obvi­ous all over the world. No func­tionary of cap­i­tal (union­ist or indi­vid­ual cap­i­tal­ist) is scan­dal­ized by the fact that the col­lec­tive work­er is forced to always “vio­late” the rules in order to bal­ance, with her own ratio­nal­i­ty, the fun­da­men­tal irra­tional­i­ty of a sys­tem based on class exploita­tion, and it is prop­er­ly in this con­tin­u­ous inno­va­tion that the result of cap­i­tal val­oriza­tion and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty is reached.6

What is scan­dalous, how­ev­er, is that the col­lec­tive work­er would ruin pro­duc­tive “coop­er­a­tion” in a polit­i­cal recom­po­si­tion, that the “machine oper­a­tor” [addet­to macchi­na] is reduced to “qual­i­ty con­trol,” or that the “admin­is­tra­tive” duty of the “tech­ni­cian,” the “expert,” or even the “engi­neer” gets down­grad­ed to the point that they final­ly see them­selves as “work­ing class,” and that all togeth­er, as “work­ing class,” they make use of their man­age­ment of the real­i­ty of the labor­ing process in which they are closed, in order to counter the boss’s project to polit­i­cal­ly con­trol them once again.

Towards the “wildcat” strike

It is not pos­si­ble to describe the suc­ces­sion of con­crete forms with which work­ers built up, through their “non-col­lab­o­ra­tion,” their lev­el of con­scious­ness and orga­ni­za­tion, becom­ing increas­ing­ly res­olute against the boss who is polit­i­cal­ly orga­nized and uni­fied in a glob­al cap­i­tal­ist front… In ’63, how­ev­er, they forced the boss to bypass the unions and take into his own hands the attempt to con­trol them: work­ers were asked tocrys­tal­lize their “autonomous” orga­ni­za­tion inside cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion and to pose pos­i­tive demands in a way that could help devel­op the ratio­nal­iz­ing func­tion­no that the failed “fac­to­ry unions” could not pro­vide. In July ’63 the unions (which had an exter­nal role as pro­pa­gan­dists of the “demo­c­ra­t­ic” course of cap­i­tal) made anoth­er inter­est­ing step in the pro­pos­al to work­ers that they orga­nize “autonomous­ly,” but with union medi­a­tion, in the “Con­trol­lo Operaio” [Work­er Con­trol] plan. But work­ers already con­trol pro­duc­tion, and because the reg­u­la­tion of the ben­e­fits of col­lab­o­ra­tion push­es them and “con­nects” them to total out­put based on “atten­dance,” they reject this trap too, togeth­er with every­thing in per­ma­nent nego­ti­a­tion that from now on will just spin its wheels.

From here on out the “coun­cil­ism”7 of cap­i­tal pro­pos­es the polit­i­cal con­trol of the work­ing class as the con­trol of strug­gles, and the form of this con­trol will be that of work­ers “self-con­trol”: that is, the self-empow­er­ment of work­ers to autonomous­ly con­duct the strug­gle with­in the long-term plan of the boss, and the insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of worker’s self-man­age­ment at an increas­ing­ly gen­er­al lev­el. The alter­na­tive is between the con­ti­nu­ity of cap­i­tal by means of the demo­c­ra­t­ic con­trol of the entire strug­gle or the “con­ti­nu­ity” of increas­ing­ly uncon­trol­lable strug­gles.8

In ’63, only at Work­shop 17 were there stop­pages (three of them) appar­ent­ly with­in the “ordi­no­vis­ti­co” plan of the boss: start­ing spon­ta­neous­ly on local pre­texts, they went nowhere while the unions act­ed reck­lesslyand made a big rack­et, ask­ing the work­ers to gen­er­al­ize this form in all sec­tions because “it’s that good.” In all sec­tions, though, the work­ers refused gen­er­al­iza­tion with full con­scious­ness of the polit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of this refusal to orga­nize the strug­gle in the request­ed form of artic­u­la­tion, because it is a form of the demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of “work­er dis­sent” inside cap­i­tal. In ’63, there was no hot sum­mer for the unions, but the work­ers strug­gle grew and uni­fied through “non-col­lab­o­ra­tion,” moti­vat­ed by a con­tin­u­al polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion through which the “invis­i­ble orga­ni­za­tion” of the work­ers clar­i­fied and strength­ened. They had per­ma­nent polit­i­cal meet­ings right in the nodal points of pro­duc­tion, which then con­tin­ued in the wider social fab­ric of the “work­ers’ city”: the young were at the head of them. The FIAT work­ers were intent to gath­er, crit­i­cize, and select out of the entire inter­na­tion­al expe­ri­ence of work­ers’ strug­gles those forms that seemed most adapt­ed to coun­ter­act the increas­ing­ly gen­er­al attack the boss was prepar­ing; espe­cial­ly after the strike of Parisian “metro” work­ers, they par­tic­u­lar­ly appre­ci­at­ed the wild­cat that had already been appear­ing in embry­on­ic form in Italy since the decline of the con­trac­tu­al strike.

What the work­ers like about the wild­cat is above all its unpre­dictabil­i­ty: the unpre­dictabil­i­ty of its gen­er­al­ized rota­tion in time and in space. The polit­i­cal scope of this form of work­ers’ strug­gle can be seen in this: a) it demands an “invis­i­ble orga­ni­za­tion” that does not insti­tu­tion­al­ize itself as an autonomous orga­ni­za­tion with­in the cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion process; b) it actu­al­izes itself through a con­tin­u­ous and unpre­dictable rota­tion of the tac­tics, meth­ods, times, and places of the strike; c) it demands noth­ing.

It’s clear there­fore that work­ers don’t take it as the only form of strug­gle, but they do see it as the most advanced lev­el of “non-col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

The wild­cat doesn’t exclude the mass strike or the strug­gles in the piaz­zas; all can reoc­cur in an alter­nate mode, relaunch­ing them­selves and strength­en­ing each oth­er; but the wildcat’s dimen­sion is dif­fer­ent. The task of a polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion is not to plan the wild­cat in a pre­de­ter­mined way, because that seri­ous­ly runs the risk of ren­der­ing it recu­per­a­ble for the boss to domes­ti­cate it: the orga­ni­za­tion must instead con­tribute to inten­si­fy­ing it, while in order to orga­nize and extend it, it’s enough to have the “invis­i­ble orga­ni­za­tion” of work­ers for whom the wild­cat strike is becom­ing a per­ma­nent fact.

The wild­cat is not there­fore a mod­el of rev­o­lu­tion­ary polit­i­cal strug­gle: today it main­tains the refusal, and of this the work­ers are con­scious.

The Foundry strike continues

But (to give tes­ti­mo­ny that “invis­i­ble orga­ni­za­tion” real­ly sig­ni­fies the oppo­site of a refusal to orga­nize), the work­ers, after hav­ing dis­cussed, moved to the “vis­i­ble” real­iza­tion of the strike. On the first of August (just after the dis­tri­b­u­tion of the news­pa­per Wild­cat was received with enthu­si­asm and cir­cu­lat­ed in all the Turin fac­to­ries where it was known and dis­cussed), they came with­in an inch of start­ing a strike of this type at Work­shop 7, the key work­shop for all of FIAT. But the strike that didn’t hap­pen at Work­shop 7 was orga­nized Octo­ber 15th at the Foundry. And now we are in a posi­tion to rec­og­nize the pre­cise sig­nif­i­cance of this refusal of strik­ing work­ers to appeal to the new Inter­nal Com­mis­sion [C.I.] they had elect­ed just five days before! Although the unions implored them with pam­phlets, they got cut out of the fight.

The “alter­na­tive the­ses” didn’t find alter­na­tives in the fac­to­ry. The Ital­ian part of inter­na­tion­al cap­i­tal, the myth­i­cal Val­let­ta9, reg­is­tered that the work­ers had already vot­ed FIOM with the pre­cise pro­pos­al of tak­ing away every “ali­bi” from “bureau­crats” and bypassed the unions once again because they saw quite clear­ly the enor­mous impor­tance of that work­er response which had suc­ceed­ed in burn­ing down anoth­er project: they want­ed some­thing oth­er than an old “scrap deal­er” like the CI. So he [Val­let­ta] sends the heads to the mem­bers of CI pre­cise­ly to ask them to orga­nize the del­e­ga­tions, but they think that it’s not yet time to throw away, along with the grow­ing mar­gins, the CI which has just tri­umphant­ly estab­lished itself: the boss then direct­ly sends the heads to the work­ers on strike so that they can elect the del­e­gates; respond­ing in spades, the heads take some guys them­selves and send them to the Man­age­ment, where they’re told that the per­ma­nent nego­ti­a­tion over work­ing hours will start again…

But, inflex­i­ble in the face of this union dra­ma, the work­ers affirmed the speci­fici­ty of their anti-cap­i­tal­ist and anti-bureau­crat­ic strug­gle: the next day, Tues­day Octo­ber 16, the strike extend­ed beyond Work­shop 4 into a wild­cat that reached oth­er FIAT fac­to­ries. They par­tial­ly closed Work­shop 3 with­out warn­ing, passed the mes­sage to var­i­ous shifts at Work­shop 2, includ­ing qual­i­ty con­trol and fork­lift dri­vers; they unex­pect­ed­ly stopped three of the shifts at FIAT OSA in Stu­ra while in all the sec­tions there were unex­pect­ed stop­pages (like at FIAT Lin­got­to where the work­ers of many work­shops shut them down for dif­fer­ent hours). Still no one called the CI; no insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion and no demands; sev­er­al thou­sand work­ers went on strike Tues­day in this way, and their expe­ri­ence cir­cu­lates in the work­ers’ social fab­ric even out­side of Turin.

The workers refuse to demand

In the Octo­ber 15-16 strike, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­scious­ness and will of the work­ers finds expres­sion above all in the refusal to direct pos­i­tive demands to the boss: and yet they all know that this strike responds to yet anoth­er fero­cious provo­ca­tion by the boss real­ized through anoth­er attack on real wages: near­ly a third of their pay sub­tract­ed through the Ric­chez­za Mobile [Move­able Wealth] deduc­tions! And once again, it’s only the boss for whom the work­ers’ atti­tude is “irra­tional”…

For his expan­sion, the boss needs the increase in the work­ers’ pur­chas­ing pow­er: this con­junc­tur­al dif­fi­cul­ty was already glimpsed before in the pro­gram of the cen­ter-left. Yet their pro­gram couldn’t han­dle it: first because the strug­gles slipped from their hands, to the point of mak­ing a “sud­den leap” in terms of salary too; and sec­ond (though no less impor­tant) because the work­ers’ strug­gle brought with it a rise in costs and a rel­a­tive drop in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty: a real dis­plea­sure for those who pro­mote shar­ing in wealth in exchange for col­lab­o­ra­tion… But until the boss is polit­i­cal­ly more orga­nized than the work­ers, although there may be work­ers momen­tar­i­ly trapped by the impos­si­bil­i­ty of increas­ing their pur­chas­ing pow­er, a par­tic­u­lar insis­tence on gen­er­al­ized and non-pro­gram­ma­ble wage demands would resolve itself in a seri­ous momen­tary dis­ad­van­tage, one that the boss might dodge with a large reformist and orga­nized body. And there are in fact even union­ists opposed to the “wage freeze” to the point of sup­port­ing the same work­ers’ tac­tic of “rais­ing costs,” because it is an incen­tive for invest­ments in inno­va­tions and struc­tur­al reforms… All the same, the work­ers have cho­sen this path (which becomes that of reduc­ing the work­ing day through “non-col­lab­o­ra­tion”) because it lets them keep con­trol of the strug­gle in their hands.

Since the upsurge in strug­gles, after ’60 the FIAT work­ers would learn from “exter­nal” expe­ri­ences the “provo­ca­tion­al” use of the more advanced demands that the unions dem­a­gog­i­cal­ly insert­ed into the con­trac­tu­al plat­form: times – salaries – per­son­nel – hours, all and right away [tut­ti e subito]; for exam­ple, in push­ing “times” togeth­er with the refusal of incen­tives and piece­work , the work­ers elim­i­nate the union from any direct­ing role in the strike… (it’s with­in the strike of June that the whole “demand-ism” posi­tion, along with the con­trac­tu­al-union­ist dimen­sion, momen­tar­i­ly crum­bled.)

After June, the bot­tle­necks by which the uni­fied work­ers shut out the boss forced him to ask the unions for a real truce on those points that obvi­ous­ly remained out­side the con­tract, and it was real­ly in that moment (autumn of ’62) that work­er pres­sure was already so strong that the unions were forced to mere­ly repro­pose those very same points in a des­per­ate attempt of chan­nel­ing the pres­sure placed on the “union in the fac­to­ry…”

In the sum­mer of ’63, the sit­u­a­tion revers­es. The pre­oc­cu­pied boss sends around his lack­eys to sound out the work­ers, and the response is clear: “from you, we’ve got noth­ing to ask”; the work­ers pushed only for their own polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion: today, it’s the boss who’s forced to pro­voke the work­ers, to try and con­trol them through more advanced demands, but the work­ers respond by just let­ting them fall…

The strike of Octo­ber 15-16 torched10 all this maneu­ver­ing because the work­ers’ response suc­ceed­ed in recu­per­at­ing from “non-col­lab­o­ra­tion” the aspects that had already been a “polit­i­cal” response, that is, the rejoin­der to the pre­cise “polit­i­cal” objec­tive of the boss. The eco­nom­ic rise of work­ers remains a fact of extreme impor­tance even for work­ers who uni­fy polit­i­cal­ly; how­ev­er, this sta­bi­lizes a “divi­sion of labor” that reflects class divi­sion. Won demands and eco­nom­ic growth leave work­ers out of the dia­logue between work­ers and unions, the dia­logue that, in turn, is now pro­posed to them: but the work­ers hold for them­selves the per­spec­tive of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion.

On Octo­ber 16, the unions react to the refusal to make demands and reach a “col­le­gial” unan­i­mous vote in the CI to make things like the usu­al qual­i­fied refusals, the restart­ing of per­ma­nent nego­ti­a­tion, leg­isla­tive reforms and demo­c­ra­t­ic march­es of the cit­i­zen­ry (“house­wives” and “shopown­ers” at the front) against “the cost of liv­ing” appear as if they were the work­ers’ demands. All this becomes even clear­er when less than a month after, the work­ers orga­nize anoth­er unfore­seen strike at FIAT Aer­i­talia: a rather neglect­ed and iso­lat­ed plant…

Here was a dif­fuse mal­con­tent that last­ed, and the boss graft­ed to it a provo­ca­tion based on dis­crim­i­na­tions in the mer­it awards, in order to pro­tect him­self through “pro­fes­sion­al” ego­ism… On the morn­ing of Novem­ber 14, just after enter­ing, the work­ers close the mechan­i­cal and sur­vey­ing depart­ments of Pro­cess­ing: two hours after, some of them go to com­mu­ni­cate, through the ware­house, the news of the strike to the head of sheet pro­cess­ing, which then shuts: no del­e­ga­tion, and no one called the CI. Only when the heads [of the depart­ments] are forced to go ahead and ask the work­ers their demands do the work­ers give them, provoca­tive­ly propos­ing a full 50 lire hourly raise – “as usu­al for every­one and imme­di­ate­ly” – know­ing full well that there’s no pos­si­bil­i­ty of get­ting it and that, with this, they liq­ui­date not just “polit­i­cal” dis­crim­i­na­tion but also the unions’ effort to insert them­selves into the strug­gle through salary ratio­nal­iza­tion. It is Man­age­ment who then makes the CI inter­vene, who didn’t even already know of the strike. The duet that begins between unions and boss remains com­plete­ly out­side of the work­ers’ strug­gle: to the unions, the work­ers give lit­tle more than an hour of time to pro­cure the 50 lire raise, and because once the time was up – and they don’t get the 50 lire – they con­tin­ue the strike in total indif­fer­ence to the twists of the nego­ti­a­tions that start up again, sub­di­vid­ed at “all the lev­els”: because the “sec­tion­al” nego­ti­a­tion is insert­ed in the gen­er­al one about hours, work­shop 12 starts up and the fire­works of demands are exalt­ed in the paper the new day, but the unde­terred work­ers con­tin­ue the strike the next day, for the whole morn­ing with­out ask­ing for any­thing and clear­ly aban­don this ter­rain to the boss and the unions: and it’s this that mat­ters about the strug­gle that com­mu­ni­cat­ed with the “out­side.”

Communication through struggles

This strike is a fur­ther exam­ple of how, through the buildup of strug­gles, the polit­i­cal uni­fi­ca­tion and capac­i­ty of work­ers to rapid­ly cir­cu­late, at a gen­er­al lev­el, their most rel­e­vant polit­i­cal expe­ri­ences has real­ly increased, mak­ing use of the entire social fab­ric “inside” and “out­side” the plant.

The work­ers learned well, and by them­selves, to con­nect nuclei of strug­gle and to sta­bi­lize con­tacts and forms of mate­r­i­al con­nec­tion, to do mass and rec­i­p­ro­cal pick­ets or to meet in the piaz­za at a giv­en time. The prob­lem they pose today is that of uni­fy­ing the strug­gle polit­i­cal­ly, sub­jec­tive­ly.

The work­ers of FIAT Aer­i­talia were well-aware of the paper Wild­cat even if it wasn’t dis­trib­uted in their sec­tion. So too were the work­ers at Miche­lin (dif­fer­ent com­pa­ny, dif­fer­ent sec­tor) who, in the same days, were called to a union strike of FILCEP. [Fed­er­azione ital­iana lavo­ra­tori chimi­ci e petrolieri, i.e. Ital­ian fed­er­a­tion of chem­i­cal and petro­le­um work­ers].

The union was sure of being able to pump into Miche­lin the usu­al “union­ist” set-up because they had ver­i­fied two “spon­ta­neous” stop­pages that proved a strong inter­nal pres­sure. So they were lim­it­ed to ask of the work­ers (through a kind of pam­phlet-ques­tion­naire) what type of “artic­u­lat­ed” strug­gle they would pre­fer to push ahead now (…yet, in real­i­ty, mali­cious­ly sug­gest­ing to them the “Olivet­ti mod­el”…). It’s clear that the major­i­ty of work­ers didn’t join the “union­ized” strike (as they said): those who would strike wouldn’t do pick­ets and declared their peace with those who entered… and both groups were con­vinced that there was no prospect of eco­nom­ic gains. Both groups, with the same will to fight, had the same dis­cus­sions as the work­ers of FIAT or of Lan­cia on the neces­si­ty that the work­ers real­ize a strug­gle beyond every sec­to­r­i­al dimen­sion, so as to make a deci­sive step towards clar­i­fy­ing the prospect of rev­o­lu­tion­ary polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion.

This process even includes that famous “artic­u­lat­ed strug­gle” of Olivet­ti at Ivrea, undoubt­ed­ly the only of the grand firms that hasn’t yet clam­orous­ly dis­owned the unions: even here the “young” breezi­ly bypassed the forms and dead­lines of union artic­u­la­tion. They showed their com­plete dis­in­ter­est toward the way that unions demand the ratio­nal­iza­tion of piece­work and show enor­mous polit­i­cal con­cern for the boss, inas­much as it’s clear that even they are “out of con­trol,” uncon­trol­lable, to the point that in order to save face the unions are forced to give a “wild­cat” cloak to their artic­u­la­tion… And the dri­ve toward recom­po­si­tion at Olivet­ti is such that even the 300 “coach­es” (i.e. scabs with the spe­cif­ic func­tion of set­ting times for oth­ers) went on strike spon­ta­neous­ly along with the oth­ers: this is such an index of polit­i­cal uni­fi­ca­tion beyond the con­trol of the boss that it had to be kept secret.

The work­ers’ strug­gle devel­ops a max­i­mal polit­i­cal poten­tial in the nodes of its net­work11, where the max­i­mum con­cen­tra­tion of work­ers is sup­port­ed by the max­i­mum con­cen­tra­tion of polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence, fil­tered and devel­oped in the max­i­mum inten­si­ty of open strug­gle: from this, the explo­sion of these nodes relaunch­es all through the gen­er­al net­work, like a wave, the move­ment of pro­gres­sive uni­fi­ca­tion and polit­i­cal growth. The wave of gen­er­al strug­gle, which could be occa­sioned by the con­trac­tu­al strike of chem­i­cal work­ers, will not reg­is­ter, how­ev­er, like some beau­ti­ful col­ored shell, the defin­i­tive mod­el of rev­o­lu­tion­ary polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion: but it could be anoth­er notable step ahead. It makes, there­fore, some sense to affirm that the gen­er­al sit­u­a­tion prob­a­bly has not yet accu­mu­lat­ed enough poten­tial such as to draw in the work­ers of FIAT to secure it and real­ize a new large mass strike: in real­i­ty even the wild­cat strike at FIAT con­tributed to the advanced pol­i­tics of the whole move­ment.

 But the prob­lem that work­ers’ con­scious­ness pos­es is that of the guide of the process and its accel­er­a­tion through the van­guards of the mass, accord­ing to a strat­e­gy that trans­forms it in a strug­gle for gen­er­al polit­i­cal pow­er. To car­ry the per­ma­nent strug­gle beyond the wild­cat requires above all a “beyond” of fore­sight, the­o­ry, orga­ni­za­tion, strat­e­gy and only then a “beyond” of the inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary polit­i­cal strug­gle; oth­er­wise, while already pro­ject­ing “beyond” par­tic­u­lar­i­ty and the labor process, the work­ers’ con­scious­ness that express­es itself, on an actu­al basis, far “beyond” won’t go any­where.

From FIAT, lim­it­ed though it is, indi­ca­tions will emerge of the first forms of a polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion that may real­ly be “out­side” of cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion, and that there­fore can assume the role of strate­gic guide for the polit­i­cal move­ment of the work­ing class. At FIAT, as in the entire Ital­ian work­ing class, the work­ers already see the final bat­tle: today, in the “par­tic­u­lar­i­ty” of rejoin­ders to the col­lec­tive boss, we can find a new a tac­ti­cal use of the refusal of work­er deman­dism and of the refusal of class col­lab­o­ra­tion. We are already mov­ing toward the use of these arms in all their poten­tial as strate­gic weapons of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary rup­ture.

Trans­lat­ed by Evan Calder Williams

  1. Alquati con­tin­ues to place “a gat­to sel­vag­gio” in quotes through­out the text. I don’t con­tin­ue to do so here, both for ease of read­ing and because unlike many of the oth­er terms direct­ly quot­ed from work­ers or from the parole d’ordine [slogans/catchphrases] of boss­es, unions, and par­ties, the wild­cat is a wide­ly known term. All notes are the translator’s. 

  2. Two Ital­ian politi­cians: Gior­gio La Mal­fa, who as Min­is­ter of the Bud­get intro­duced in 1962 the Nota Aggiun­ti­va, a report con­cern­ing the inher­ent inequal­i­ties in the Ital­ian econ­o­my and sought to ratio­nal­ize them through plan­ning. It is the sig­na­ture doc­u­ment of the cen­ter-left effort of eco­nom­ic reform with­in the struc­ture of “neo­cap­i­tal­ism.” La Mal­fa was attacked by Con­find­us­tria for this. Bruno Trentin was an ex-par­ti­san, a PCI politi­cian, and sec­re­tary gen­er­al of FIOM and CGI. 

  3. There’s an echo here of auto­ges­tione, an impor­tant term in this peri­od mean­ing “self-man­age­ment.” 

  4. The word Alquati uses is ordi­no­vis­ti­co, one of the stranger and more telling lex­i­cal choic­es in Alquati’s writ­ing. The term refers to a week­ly paper start­ed in 1919, L’Ordine Nuo­vo, or The New Order, by Gram­sci, Ange­lo Tas­ca, Palmiro Togli­at­ti (lat­er PCI head). The rel­e­vant aspect of its posi­tion was its coun­cilist left com­mu­nism, argu­ing that fac­to­ry coun­cils could form the fun­da­men­tal cell by which to build toward rev­o­lu­tion. Bor­di­ga crit­i­cized the posi­tion as syn­di­cal­ism, and it would be dropped by Gram­sci in com­ing years. (See chap­ter 4 of Hill, Deb J. Hege­mo­ny and Edu­ca­tion: Gram­sci, Post-Marx­ism, and Rad­i­cal Democ­ra­cy Revis­it­ed. Lan­ham: Lex­ing­ton Books Pub, 2007 for more on this.) Alquati’s use of it is a strange, iron­ic trans­po­si­tion the plan of post-war devel­op­ment that sought to cap­i­tal­ize upon inter­nal dis­sent, work­er knowl­edge, and the social­iza­tion of labor. 

  5. As often in this text and his oth­ers, the par­tic­u­lar verb is costrin­gere, which indi­cates force or com­pul­sion but also con­straint: con­strain­ing the boss and lim­it­ing his choice until he’s forced to take the only path avail­able. 

  6. See my intro­duc­tion for an in-depth dis­cus­sion of this “vio­la­tion” and the key con­tri­bu­tion it pro­vides to Tronti’s and Panzieri’s under­stand­ings of the link between machin­ery, the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal, and work­er knowl­edge. 

  7. Ordi­no­vis­mo. See foot­note 4 above. 

  8. A key dif­fer­ence raised here: the side of cap­i­tal, and its medi­a­tors (unions, the CI, etc), insists and depends on the uni­ty of the strug­gle (sin­gu­lar), while the side of work­er and social antag­o­nism depends on the artic­u­la­tion of the “con­ti­nu­ity” of strug­gles (plur­al) that can nei­ther be con­trolled nor tak­en as a de fac­to uni­ty. 

  9. Vit­to­rio Val­let­ta, pres­i­dent of FIAT from ’46-’66. 

  10. See my intro­duc­tion for a dis­cus­sion of Alquati’s odd fond­ness for the verb bru­cia­re, to burn, torch, or set ablaze, which does more than give some insur­rec­tionary spice to his high­ly tech­ni­cal prose. 

  11. The idea of the net­work appears with increas­ing fre­quen­cy in Alquati’s lat­er work, start­ing with “Cap­i­tal and the Work­ing Class at FIAT: A Mid-point of the Inter­na­tion­al Cycle,” a pre­sen­ta­tion giv­en at a sem­i­nar on class com­po­si­tion in 1967. 

Author of the article

was a member of Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia. His early writings are collected in Sulla FIAT e altri scritti.