1968: Memoirs of a Workerist


This essay was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in a spe­cial 1988 edi­tion of Il Man­i­festo for the twen­ti­eth anniver­sary of 1968. A per­son­al reflec­tion on the tumul­tuous events of the years around 1968, Ser­gio Bologna sur­veys the polit­i­cal ter­rain of the time, focus­ing in par­tic­u­lar on work­er strug­gles in the fac­to­ries, the grow­ing stu­dent move­ment, and the intel­lec­tu­al debates that defined the var­i­ous rad­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions strug­gling to make rev­o­lu­tion in Italy.

Old Marzotto

’68 in the fac­to­ries was pre­dom­i­nant­ly a Milanese phe­nom­e­non, sym­bol­ized by the Pirelli CUB.1 Fiat took off a year lat­er, while oth­er fac­to­ries, like Monte­di­son in Por­to Marghera, FATME in Rome, or Saint Gob­ain in Pisa, more or less fol­lowed the for­tunes of their respec­tive exter­nal “potop­pist” groups, albeit recal­ci­trant­ly. The ’68 of the Pirelli CUB pre­fig­ures the move­ments and the rank-and-file com­mit­tees of the 70s, where­as the ’68 of Valdag­no, for exam­ple, looks rather like the belat­ed explo­sion of a “com­pa­ny town” stuck under an anachro­nis­tic feu­dal-style despo­tism.

I had spent a few days in Valdag­no in ’65. Some­one told me that the mem­o­ry of Old Mar­zot­to, who would send his fore­men to pick up girls from the depart­ments, was still fresh. His sons, who were auto­mo­bile enthu­si­asts, would race down the avenue lead­ing from their vil­la to the fac­to­ry as though they were in Mon­za. At the exit of the fac­to­ry there was a sen­try box with a guard.2 The work­ers, as they left, were com­pelled to look him in the eye, since he select­ed those who were to be searched with a sub­tle, almost imper­cep­ti­ble ges­ture of the head. Men on one side, women on the oth­er. I don’t remem­ber if, at that time, the women had already won the right to be searched by oth­er women.

Valdag­no had no oth­er social or phys­i­o­log­i­cal rhythm than that of the fac­to­ry. In the evenings the town was desert­ed, dark, and already peo­ple spoke of the Mar­zot­to factory’s irre­versible pol­lu­tion of the Agno riv­er. This was 1965. When, sev­er­al months lat­er, I took over Umber­to Segre’s post at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tren­to and ran into Mau­ro Ros­tag­no – whom I had known pre­vi­ous­ly through some small work­erist groups in Milan in ’63 – and met his part­ner, Mar­i­anel­la, and Chec­co Zoi, Pao­lo Sor­bi, and oth­er mem­bers of the “His­tor­i­cal Group” of the Fac­ul­ty of Soci­ol­o­gy, they almost refused to believe me when I told them about Valdag­no. The explo­sion of rage at Valdag­no hap­pened with­out the stu­dents; they arrived from Tren­to after the fact.

Anoth­er sto­ry that should be told, because it antic­i­pates the cur­rent sto­ries of ACNA and Far­mo­plant, and because stu­dents were deci­sive in that case, is the sto­ry of SLOI, a can­cer-fac­to­ry which pro­duced anti­knock agents for gaso­line.3 There was a com­rade in the “His­tor­i­cal Group” whose father, who worked at SLOI, died of can­cer dur­ing those years. The inter­ven­tion of the stu­dents, and of the odd brave local trade union­ist, led to the SLOI case and to the factory’s clo­sure.

Direct Action in the Factory

The years 1965/66 were the last years of the type of direct action in the fac­to­ry that was born with Quaderni Rossi. In Milan, this inter­ven­tion had been more sys­tem­at­ic than else­where because there were so many fac­to­ries, and none exer­cised the hege­mo­ny of Fiat in Turin, or Monte­di­son in Marghera. Our inter­ven­tion pro­duced few orga­ni­za­tion­al results. These were the years of Classe Opera­ia, the only pub­li­ca­tion which, dur­ing that peri­od of vio­lent restruc­tur­ing and repres­sion, was pub­lish­ing data on the sit­u­a­tion in the fac­to­ries. More impor­tant than the Classe Opera­ia jour­nal were the pam­phlets and posters pro­duced by the local groups, espe­cial­ly those from Lom­bardy. I think – I hope – that they are still pre­served at the Fel­trinel­li Foun­da­tion Library.

In any case, we con­tributed to agi­tat­ing the waters. I remem­ber a spon­ta­neous strike at the Inno­cen­ti auto plant in Lam­brate with a march at the Prefet­tura, in May 1965. I remem­ber the depart­men­tal strug­gles at Siemens in Piaz­za­le Lot­to, at Auto­bianchi in Desio, at Far­mi­talia and Alfa Portel­lo. We had com­rades in Como, Varese, Pavia, Mon­za, and Cre­mona who took action at oth­er large fac­to­ries in Lom­bardy. But we didn’t know any­one at Pirelli. What was the out­come of this mole’s work? A “knowl­edge” of the fac­to­ry in all its artic­u­la­tions, the likes of which no one in Italy pos­sessed at the time – not in Turin, where they were crushed by the auto­mo­bile mono­cul­ture, or in the Vene­to, or in Genoa. The indus­tri­al panora­ma of the Milan area was more diverse, more sen­si­tive to inno­va­tion, and more open to for­eign indus­try.

The Theory of the Mass Worker

With the end of Classe Opera­ia, action in the fac­to­ries also ceased. I redi­rect­ed my polit­i­cal-intel­lec­tu­al ener­gy toward teach­ing in Tren­to, col­lab­o­ra­tions with Quaderni Pia­cen­ti­ni, and swap­ping con­tacts with groups in the U.S. and in Ger­many. In Sep­tem­ber 1967 (the stu­dent explo­sion was in the air) Toni Negri announced a sem­i­nar in Pado­va to cel­e­brate his recent nom­i­na­tion to receive tenure. This is the sem­i­nar in which we fine-tuned the the­o­ry of the mass work­er. I con­sol­i­dat­ed the fruits of my years of study on worker’s coun­cils and gave a paper on the dif­fer­ence between the fig­ure of the pro­fes­sion­al work­er and the mass work­er, that would be pub­lished five years lat­er by Fel­trinel­li in Operai e Sta­to.

In the win­ter of 1967/68, the stu­dent revolt explod­ed and involved, in the begin­ning, a clear rejec­tion of work­erist the­o­ries. In the more polit­i­cal­ly mature uni­ver­si­ties, where the stu­dent groups had been influ­enced by mem­o­ries of Panzieri from which they need­ed to free them­selves to reaf­firm their new iden­ti­ty and to ful­ly own the anti-author­i­tar­i­an the­o­ries of stu­dent pow­er, their nega­tion was par­tic­u­lar­ly vio­lent. The “His­tor­i­cal Group” of Tren­to thus vio­lent­ly broke the asso­ci­a­tion that had exist­ed between us.

Quaderni Pia­cen­ti­ni was fas­ci­nat­ed with Frank­furt and Berlin, Krahl and Dutschke, and ful­ly dis­re­gard­ed – as did the entire Ital­ian move­ment – the impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion that the Ger­man strug­gle received from the tech­ni­cal-sci­en­tif­ic schools, as well as the cri­tique of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy they set in motion, the so-called “engi­neers’ move­ment,” and their refusal of their pro­fes­sion. In short, all those seeds that, in the 70s, blos­somed into polit­i­cal ecol­o­gy, were ignored. I had heard of these things because the con­tacts I had with the RFT were the out­come of Lelio Basso’s old acquain­tances, and so fell with­in the purview of the Ger­man Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (SPD) and the trade union­ist left. In ’67 I had tak­en anoth­er trip to Ger­many which had broad­ened these con­tacts. It was on that occa­sion that I met – through Renate Siebert - Angela Davis, who was liv­ing in an old, rot­ten fac­to­ry build­ing in Frank­furt at the time. The trade union­ist left was care­ful­ly fol­low­ing the “engi­neers’ move­ment,” since it direct­ly involved the skilled work-force of future pro­duc­tion.

The New res publica

The begin­ning of ’68 elicit­ed a strange feel­ing in me: on the one hand I felt a cer­tain iso­la­tion, as though the stu­dent move­ment and its ide­olo­gies need­ed to “reject” the cul­ture with which I iden­ti­fied; on the oth­er, I per­ceived that an expan­sive space had opened with­in which it was pos­si­ble to take flight. It was as though a new, yearned-for res pub­li­ca had come into being and, like the old one, had ban­ished me. How­ev­er, my feel­ing was pre­dom­i­nant­ly that the future was on our side. From the old group of Classe Opera­ia I could expect but lit­tle. Some had moved away. Oth­ers were reac­ti­vat­ing them­selves as cit­i­zens in the new res pub­li­ca, and a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion had been swal­lowed up by the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Par­ty (PCI). Only Toni Negri con­tin­ued to think big. He was, it seems to me, more obsessed with the idea that it was nec­es­sary to con­vert a “vis­i­ble” part of the stu­dent move­ment to the work­erist cause; so, he would chase after it, while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly pur­su­ing the goal of strate­gic alliances with some of its promi­nent lead­ers.

The Refusal of Exploitation

I had a dif­fer­ent out­look, which can be summed up thus: let the stu­dents go their own way. If they must kill the fathers, so be it. If they want to relate to the work­ing class, good; if not, then it’s all the same. In any case, they have done a lot – per­haps even too much. The key wasn’t to bring the stu­dents in front of the fac­to­ries, since they had usu­al­ly got there on their own.

In Tren­to, work at SLOI or Miche­lin had pre­ced­ed ’68; in Turin, both in Palaz­zo Cam­pana and Molinette, the stu­dents of med­i­cine had imme­di­ate­ly asked them­selves how they should relate to Fiat. The prob­lem was dif­fer­ent: it wasn’t to bring the stu­dents in front of the fac­to­ries, but to bring the fac­to­ry work­ing class toward the “refusal of work,” under­stood as a refusal of the dirt­i­est mech­a­nisms of exploita­tion. It was there­fore nec­es­sary to col­lab­o­rate to cre­ate a new sec­tor of fac­to­ry-work­er lead­ers capa­ble of sup­plant­i­ng the crum­bling union struc­tures. In short, I was con­vinced that, even if every Ital­ian uni­ver­si­ty had cov­ered the walls with the words “work­ers’ pow­er,” noth­ing would have hap­pened in the fac­to­ries. The chal­lenge was to pre­vent the stu­dent move­ment – which, by now, was rec­og­nized as a new insti­tu­tion by the work­ers’ move­ment (i.e. by the PCI and CGIL, the Ital­ian Gen­er­al Con­fed­er­a­tion of Labor) – from being tak­en over by a con­cep­tion of work that was bor­rowed from the worst Togli­at­tism and that affirmed a work­ing class cul­ture that delib­er­ate­ly ignored the con­tri­bu­tion made by the work­erist cur­rent and con­tin­ued to regard it as hereti­cal.

I was fed up with being called a “provo­ca­teur, paid by the Amer­i­cans” by the Com­mu­nists of the Inter­nal Com­mis­sion every time I tried to hand out a Classe Opera­ia leaflet in front of a fac­to­ry in Ses­to San Gio­van­ni. The last thing I need­ed was for the stu­dents to join in! I would have pre­ferred any­thing rather than that they start con­cern­ing them­selves with the work­ing class.

The French May changed every­thing.

After the French May

From that moment on, the “work­ers’ ques­tion,” side­lined or grant­ed only sec­ondary impor­tance by the stu­dents’ move­ment, came back to the fore. I threw myself head­long into it as soon as I heard the first radio com­mu­niqués on the clash­es in Nan­terre and at the Sor­bonne. Just the time nec­es­sary to raise some mon­ey, and Giairo Dagh­i­ni and I took off for Paris with a car so full of spare gaso­line that it looked like a bomb. We were accom­pa­nied by Alber­to Savinio’s son, Rug­gero.4 It was a trip filled with enthu­si­asm and cold show­ers.

Arriv­ing at the bor­der anx­ious about the policemen’s ques­tions and all that gas and find­ing only a sin­gle large ban­ner read­ing “la douane aux douaniers (cus­toms to the cus­toms offi­cials),” our spir­its rose. Then, from the bor­der all the way to Paris, we saw no trace of rev­o­lu­tion, or of any­thing unusu­al; provin­cial France car­ried on unper­turbed. We were floored. But our arrival in the Latin Quar­ter, with its bar­ri­cades still smok­ing, and a psy­che­del­ic night spent wan­der­ing through that incred­i­ble land­scape of the Sor­bonne brought us back to the stars. We stayed in Paris until the end. Then we wrote an arti­cle for Quaderni Pia­cen­ti­ni which per­haps served to rein­tro­duce work­erist ana­lyt­ic cat­e­gories into the move­ment.

The Class Universe

The French May was a water­shed in the col­lec­tive imag­i­na­tion. How­ev­er, con­crete­ly, it couldn’t be tak­en as an exam­ple of the work­er-stu­dent rela­tion. It had demon­strat­ed that the work­ing class was an active play­er, noth­ing more. It had restored legit­i­ma­cy to the “work­ers’ ques­tion” in uni­ver­si­ties and in the foun­da­tion­al struc­tures of the move­ment, but noth­ing more. How to explain that the cir­cuits of work­ing class mem­o­ry were tor­tu­ous and con­vo­lut­ed, and the his­to­ry of defeats, dis­ap­point­ments, and betray­als even heav­ier? How to con­vey that the lan­guages, codes of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, sym­bols, and imag­i­nary were some­thing else entire­ly? To engage in dia­logue with this class uni­verse, one need­ed knowl­edge and an under­stand­ing that only those of us who had par­tic­i­pat­ed in the work­erist lab­o­ra­to­ries of the 60s had begun to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly orga­nize.

Dur­ing the first months of ’68, before the French May, I had com­plete­ly aban­doned the ter­rain of debate of the stu­dent move­ment for the rea­sons men­tioned above. I had start­ed to work on the tech­ni­cians, i.e. on that new lay­er of the work force, of the new indus­tri­al pro­fes­sions, which had begun to devel­op, espe­cial­ly in Lom­bardy, in the high-tech indus­tries (elec­tron­ics, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, fine chem­istry, engi­neer­ing, etc.). I had some lim­it­ed per­son­al expe­ri­ence in this area: for two years I had worked at Olivet­ti in the elec­tron­ics depart­ment (in the press and adver­tis­ing office) and had been there dur­ing the first strug­gles of a group of tech­ni­cians – those respon­si­ble for the main­te­nance of the junk Elea Olivet­ti com­put­ers.

It was in that con­text that the hypoth­e­sis – scrapped sub­se­quent­ly by the Milanese Trade Union Cham­ber – first emerged of cre­at­ing a union for tech­ni­cians. At the time, the ter­rain of analy­sis of the new indus­tri­al pro­fes­sions was already pol­lut­ed with the first post-indus­tri­al the­o­ries, accord­ing to which blue-col­lar work­ers were becom­ing extinct and were being replaced by white-col­lars. These post-indus­tri­al the­o­ries found a broad echo in the work­ers’ move­ment, the stu­dent move­ment, and the cul­ture of the left more broad­ly. To con­tra­pose to these the­o­ries an analy­sis of the sit­u­a­tion cen­tered instead on the com­ple­men­tar­i­ty of white- and blue- col­lars – that is, on the polit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal uni­ty of the work-force rather than on its sep­a­ra­tion and rec­i­p­ro­cal exclu­sion – was not easy. For the moment, we – less famous than Mal­let and Wright Mills5 – won, and were able to post­pone by a decade the for­tunes of post-indus­tri­al the­o­ries in our coun­try. We won because our ori­en­ta­tion made it pos­si­ble to cre­ate ini­tia­tives and move­ment, where­as the oth­er cre­at­ed only paral­y­sis and soci­o­log­i­cal chat­ter. The Uni­ver­si­ty of Tren­to was an inex­haustible reser­voir of human and social types. It was a uni­ver­si­ty where all those who had been deprived of their need for edu­ca­tion by the rules imposed by the Ital­ian high­er-edu­ca­tion sys­tem could find sat­is­fac­tion, even if only par­tial­ly.

The Worker-Students

So, there were many work­er-stu­dents.6 The first wave of con­tes­ta­tion had some­what mar­gin­al­ized them. They had not been able to par­tic­i­pate in all the assem­blies and occu­pa­tions – i.e. in the “full time” phase of the move­ment – and con­se­quent­ly were less influ­enced by the charis­ma of cer­tain lead­ers, whom they nonethe­less esteemed and respect­ed. Their prob­lem was twofold: to ver­i­fy if “stu­dent pow­er” had trans­lat­ed into a greater or less­er pow­er as work­ing-stu­dents, and to attempt to repro­duce, in their work­places, some of the spaces of free­dom, dis­cus­sion, and nego­ti­a­tion that they had wit­nessed emerg­ing with­in the uni­ver­si­ty. But to accom­plish this, the the­o­ries of stu­dent pow­er were of lit­tle help; rather, they need­ed the­o­ries of the new tech­ni­cians.

I had dis­trib­uted some papers on the sub­ject, and some of the ideas there­in were pub­lished in the March 1969 issue of Quaderni Pia­cen­ti­ni in an arti­cle co-authored with Ciafaloni. These papers, which revis­it­ed themes I had dealt with in my uni­ver­si­ty lec­tures in Tren­to, cir­cu­lat­ed, and con­tributed to the dis­cus­sion which was devel­op­ing – inde­pen­dent­ly by now – in the high-tech fac­to­ries. Thus, the asso­ci­a­tion was born with a group of employ­ees from Snam­prog­et­ti in San Dona­to Milanese, some of whom were enrolled in Soci­ol­o­gy in Tren­to and had added my course to their cur­ricu­lum. They con­sti­tut­ed one of the first base com­mit­tees of ’68 in this sec­tor of high-tech fac­to­ries.7

Against Entryism

In Milan, despite the swarms of lit­tle groups through­out the 60s, there were few which could boast of incor­po­rat­ing fac­to­ry work­ers. In addi­tion to us, there were the remains of the PCd’I-(ml), which includ­ed a few sol­id cadres of work­ers, and there was the group of the PSIUP, which prac­ticed entry­ism in the CGIL and would even­tu­al­ly give life to Avan­guardia Opera­ia, and which today con­sti­tutes the old frame­work of DP.8 We didn’t agree with their Trot­sky­ist entry­ism and were more sym­pa­thet­ic to the M-L because, with­in the fac­to­ries, they were kamikazes, like us. Nonethe­less, with the PSIUP (lat­er AO, lat­er DP) group, there was more of a “Milanese” sol­i­dar­i­ty that came to light when the real work­ers’ ’68 began in Sep­tem­ber. They had com­rades in the high-tech fac­to­ries, and their dis­course on the tech­ni­cians had many points in com­mon with our own. When they began to extend their influ­ence on the stu­dent move­ment of the Milan Poly­tech­nic, the expe­ri­ence of those tech­ni­cians who were already involved in the pro­duc­tion process became impor­tant for the future engi­neers, chemists, and physi­cists.

Here, though, it’s nec­es­sary to make an impor­tant qual­i­fi­ca­tion. The big news in the stu­dent move­ment after the exhaus­tion of the first wave of con­tes­ta­tion in the win­ter of 1967/68 was the pro­gres­sive­ly more informed par­tic­i­pa­tion in the move­ment of the tech­ni­cal-sci­en­tif­ic schools (Physics and Med­i­cine in Pado­va; Med­i­cine in Turin; Physics and Engi­neer­ing in Rome; Engi­neer­ing, Chem­istry, and Agri­cul­ture in Milan; Physics in Pisa; the Exper­i­men­tal Lab­o­ra­to­ry of Biol­o­gy in Naples, and so on). The doc­u­ments pro­duced by these schools had a dif­fer­ent depth, and read­ing them today is gen­uine­ly instruc­tive. This was due to the fact that they down­played the theme of Öffentlichkeit (pub­lic­ness) spe­cif­ic to the first stu­dent move­ment and instead priv­i­leged the issues of sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, and, there­fore, of pro­duc­tion. Fur­ther­more, we find, in the ques­tions raised by the tech­ni­cal-sci­en­tif­ic depart­ments, the big themes of the 70s and 80s: health, the role of doc­tors, the expro­pri­a­tion of knowl­edge on the part of cap­i­tal incor­po­rat­ed in machin­ery, and so on. Some of the doc­u­ments from back then are poor and char­ac­ter­ized by great naïveté. Oth­ers (for exam­ple, those – in whose for­mu­la­tion Fran­co Piper­no par­tic­i­pat­ed – of the Sci­en­tif­ic schools in Rome, pub­lished in the Lin­ea di Mas­sa pam­phlet, “School and Cap­i­tal­ist Devel­op­ment”) retain their fresh­ness and fore­sight to this day.

Guerilla in the Departments

In August, Dagh­i­ni and I went on a nice fish­ing hol­i­day in the arch­i­pel­ago of Kor­nati, con­vinced that in Sep­tem­ber there would be much to do for those who, like us, had a work­erist back­ground. The real ’68 was yet to begin in the fac­to­ries.

None of us con­tributed, direct­ly or indi­rect­ly, to found­ing the Pirelli CUB. It rep­re­sent­ed a turn­ing point inas­much as it grew, matured, and devel­oped entire­ly inter­nal­ly to class mem­o­ry. The exter­nal influ­ence of groups, ide­olo­gies, and sin­gle the­o­rists and activists appears to have been nonex­is­tent. Its lead­ers had been fac­to­ry union-lead­ers with a his­to­ry in the CGIL and the PCI; they were not “new men,” young immi­grants. Pirelli Bic­oc­ca didn’t have the mobil­i­ty of Fiat’s work-force – it was a “Milanese” fac­to­ry through and through, so close to Ses­to San Gio­van­ni that it was almost part of it, but suf­fi­cient­ly at its out­skirts to be a met­ro­pol­i­tan fac­to­ry, like Siemens, Alfa Portel­lo, and Bor­let­ti.

The Pirelli CUB was a mas­ter­piece of work­ers’ auton­o­my which, regret­tably, last­ed no more than a year and was swept away in the Fall of ’69 by the esca­la­tion of the clash, and the extreme lev­els to which it had been brought. The Pirelli CUB and the strug­gles which it con­tributed to direct­ing, coor­di­nat­ing, and ini­ti­at­ing revealed them­selves imme­di­ate­ly to be excel­lent instru­ments for the depart­men­tal guer­ril­la, albeit not ones capa­ble of with­stand­ing a phase of nation­al con­fronta­tion.

As is well known, the Pirelli CUB did not ini­tial­ly look for allies, nei­ther amongst the stu­dents, nor in the work­ers’ move­ment; it sought them out once the first inter­nal divi­sions man­i­fest­ed, which peo­ple said were the con­se­quence of per­son­al­i­ty cults, but were real­ly caused by dif­fer­ing per­spec­tives. Thanks to a pre­vi­ous con­tri­bu­tion, I was able to estab­lish a rela­tion­ship of trust with one of the founders of the Pirelli CUB, Raf­fael­lo de Mori, and we col­lab­o­rat­ed on the Lin­ea di Mas­sa pam­phlet, “Strug­gles at Pirelli,” which con­tains an in-depth recon­struc­tion of ’68 at Pirelli and of the Bic­oc­ca CUB.

Imme­di­ate­ly after­ward, I start­ed work­ing with the com­rades of S. Dona­to Milanese to draw up the oth­er Lin­ea di Mas­sa pam­phlet, “Tech­ni­cians’ Strug­gles,” on the expe­ri­ence of Snam­prog­et­ti. I con­sid­er these “scrivener’s” expe­ri­ences as valu­able as those of any oral his­to­ri­an. Since these pam­phlets served, at the time, to make ’68 in the fac­to­ries known through­out Italy and, there­after, to pre­serve its mem­o­ry, I am proud to have col­lab­o­rat­ed in their pro­duc­tion and con­sid­er this expe­ri­ence to be, qual­i­ta­tive­ly, on a par with that of Quaderni Pia­cen­ti­ni, Classe Opera­ia, or Classe.

The “Self-Reduction” of Production

The expe­ri­ence of the Pirelli CUB was con­ta­gious, but repli­cat­ing it in oth­er fac­to­ries proved dif­fi­cult. Many oth­er uni­tary base com­mit­tees exist­ed only on paper. The sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion of the Pirelli CUB was not to be mea­sured at the lev­el of orga­ni­za­tion­al for­mu­las, but at that of strat­e­gy con­tained in that par­tic­u­lar type of refusal of work, con­sol­i­dat­ed in the demand/realization of the abro­ga­tion of incen­tive pay, in hav­ing indi­cat­ed the road of egal­i­tar­i­an­ism against mer­it-based wage-increas­es and the sys­tem of promotions/whims of the rul­ing class, and in hav­ing locat­ed the types of goals that could be achieved with­out nego­ti­a­tion; the work­ers’ capac­i­ty to actu­al­ize a dif­fer­ent sys­tem for the orga­ni­za­tion of work and a dif­fer­ent cli­mate in the fac­to­ry, with­out nego­ti­a­tion, had been reaf­firmed. As Bat­tista San­thià remind­ed Mar­co Rev­el­li in an inter­view in 1974, such com­plex forms of the self-reduc­tion of pro­duc­tion – forms requir­ing an extra­or­di­nary par­tic­i­pa­tion and uni­ty on the part of all work­ers, tech­ni­cians includ­ed – had not been seen since the Resis­tance. Twen­ty years lat­er, I am inclined to think that the great­est mer­it of the Pirelli CUB was nev­er to have erect­ed mon­u­ments to itself. For this rea­son we tend to for­get it today – per­haps because it didn’t cre­ate any sec­ond-rate ide­olo­gies, make anyone’s for­tune or ele­vate any­one to fame.

Workers and Technicians

As I’ve already men­tioned, in Feb­ru­ary 1968 there had been the first work­ers’ and tech­ni­cians’ strike at Siemens. From that moment on, the agi­ta­tions, ini­tia­tives, and the con­sti­tu­tion of the so-called “study groups” had start­ed up again in all the fac­to­ries. It was the first time in the post­war peri­od that the stra­ta of the work­force which had pre­vi­ous­ly been deployed in an anti-work­er fash­ion and had hith­er­to been the social vehi­cle of rul­ing-class dis­ci­pline in the fac­to­ry broke their depen­dence and chose the path of class sol­i­dar­i­ty. This would not have been pos­si­ble if the “new indus­tri­al pro­fes­sions” had not emerged with­in these stra­ta.

The depart­men­tal strug­gles at Pirelli had begun before the hol­i­days and resumed in Sep­tem­ber. At Snam­prog­et­ti the strug­gle and the occu­pa­tion of the offices broke out in mid-Octo­ber and were pro­tract­ed until mid-Novem­ber, when the stu­dents occu­pied the Milan Poly­tech­nic. These three months – Sep­tem­ber, Octo­ber, Novem­ber – express the ‘68 of the Milanese work­ers in all its com­plex­i­ty. All the accu­mu­lat­ed ener­gies, the imag­i­na­tive thrusts, the­o­ret­i­cal reflec­tions, and new codes of com­mu­ni­ca­tion fused in a syn­the­sis which can only be defined as “new polit­i­cal class com­po­si­tion” where every­one was present – stu­dents and work­ers, tech­ni­cians and employ­ees – in the heart of indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion and the heart of the for­ma­tion of the skilled indus­tri­al work­force. This is the true Milanese ’68, devoid of charis­mat­ic lead­ers – stu­dents or work­ers – and free of van­guard fac­to­ries, avant-garde depart­ments, or hege­mon­ic ten­sion on anyone’s part. It is a com­plex sys­tem of syn­er­gies – an artic­u­lat­ed cul­ture, whose inter­nal con­nec­tions are, in some respects, dif­fi­cult to grasp, and which is pro­found­ly dif­fer­ent from the class cul­ture in Turin.

The Pirelli CUB gives a strong for­ward thrust and then dis­ap­pears, becom­ing col­lec­tive pat­ri­mo­ny, and the same hap­pens to the Siemens study groups, the Per­ma­nent Assem­bly at Snam, the occu­pa­tion of Archi­tec­ture, etc. The 30th of Novem­ber, fif­teen days after the occu­pa­tion of the Poly­tech­nic, the first nation­al Con­gress of the Tech­ni­cal-Sci­en­tif­ic Schools occurs. The theme is the usu­al one: repro­duc­tion and expro­pri­a­tion of knowl­edge from the school to the fac­to­ry.

Two and a half months lat­er, on the 15th of Feb­ru­ary, 1969, there would be, in Milan, the first nation­al protest of tech­ni­cians and employ­ees from the big indus­tries.

Settling Accounts with the Lawyer

Thus, while I was busy putting the fin­ish­ing touch­es on the Lin­ea di Mas­sa pam­phlets, a year which had begun with feel­ings of mar­gin­al­iza­tion closed with the feel­ing to be the win­ner.

What we had to do in the fol­low­ing months was clear to me: ignite the strug­gle at Fiat, and give it a dif­fer­ent sign from all pre­ced­ing strug­gles. Only then would we change class rela­tions in this coun­try. We had to do it – we had to suc­ceed – even with­out the stu­dents, with­out Pirelli, with­out the tech­ni­cians. As work­erists, we had to set­tle accounts with the Lawyer.9

Lan­fran­co Pace had par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Poly­tech­nics’ Con­fer­ence as an observ­er and trust­ed envoy of the lead­ing group of the Roman Stu­dent Move­ment. It was the first time that I had met one of those strange Roman ani­mals, who sur­veyed an assem­bly with the same look of con­quest with which they checked out an attrac­tive woman. Toni Negri had been back in action for a while and was going back and forth between Pado­va, Rome, and Milan, try­ing to con­vince the Roman Stu­dent Move­ment of Piper­no and Scal­zone to unite with the work­ers of Marghera in order to then forge an alliance with us in Milan. So, he would tell us that 100-200 cadres were ready in Rome for action in the fac­to­ries, while all the while telling them that we held Siemens and Pirelli, ENI and Alfa Romeo, and when he was real­ly fired up he would throw in the Milan Expo as well.

I was very wary and knew that the work­ers at Marghera rea­soned with their heads. By Novem­ber or Decem­ber 1968 I had start­ed to be active again – that is, I had resumed con­tact with all the groups in Lom­bardy and Pied­mont that I had not­ed in my agen­da or remem­bered off the top of my head. To each I preached the neces­si­ty – the urgency – of doing some­thing about Fiat, or, at the very least, of rec­og­niz­ing that ’68 had been a pro­logue and that the bulk of things was yet to come and could only hap­pen at Fiat. I encoun­tered sus­pi­cion, and a cer­tain skep­ti­cism. The gen­er­al ten­den­cy was to fall back on ’68, to fix some of its forms and make do. In addi­tion, I was reproached for lack­ing coher­ence: “What? You who had the­o­rized work­ers’ auton­o­my as inter­nal evo­lu­tion are now try­ing to orga­nize an exter­nal inter­ven­tion?!”

La Classe, a Workerist Paper

The dis­ap­point­ments I expe­ri­enced in this recruit­ment cam­paign con­vinced me to accept Toni Negri’s pro­pos­als, all the more so because they had become appeal­ing: a news­pa­per. Thus, I end­ed up believ­ing, and mak­ing peo­ple believe, that what he was say­ing about the rest of Italy was true. The news­pa­per was La Classe. Thanks most­ly to Scal­zone, whom I had yet to meet, the paper was ready to be dis­trib­uted in Piaz­za Duo­mo on the first of May. I wrote the edi­to­r­i­al, and called it “To Fiat!”. We were show­ing our hand, but no one would believe us – the usu­al know-it-alls. On top of that, the fact that some old work­erists were get­ting back togeth­er to orga­nize a news­pa­per set in motion a cir­cuit of sus­pi­cion that made many Milanese scenes with which I had long­stand­ing rela­tion­ships of trust inac­ces­si­ble to me in short order.

I repeat­ed many of the tours that I had already made dur­ing the first recruit­ment cam­paign, espe­cial­ly in the provinces. Instead of increas­ing my cred­i­bil­i­ty, as I had antic­i­pat­ed, the fact that I returned with a news­pa­per cre­at­ed more mis­trust. It was the par­ty syn­drome, I think, which played tricks on us. Actu­al­ly, short of think­ing that Negri and Piper­no were Lucifer and Beelze­bub, there was no legit­i­mate rea­son to reject, a pri­ori, a move­ment-based Fiat project, rather than a group-based one. The depart­men­tal strug­gles at Fiat, as every­one knew, had start­ed expand­ing, offer­ing proof of a unique con­ti­nu­ity. Thus, despite the fail­ures, my obses­sion grew.

Something New at Fiat

The rea­son why I now deemed the inter­ven­tion of an exter­nal orga­ni­za­tion as both pos­si­ble and desir­able derived from the con­vic­tions that had matured dur­ing the Milanese autumn, when it seemed to me that, both on the part of the stu­dents and at the fac­to­ries, cer­tain cul­tur­al obsta­cles had been over­come and a thread of com­mon inter­ests had been iden­ti­fied. In short, it seemed to me that, in just a few months, ’68 had under­gone a huge qual­i­ta­tive leap. In the sec­ond place, it seemed that, if some­thing qual­i­ta­tive­ly new were to occur at Fiat, we would need a polit­i­cal-cul­tur­al tool to trans­mit its mem­o­ry, to trans­late the event into lan­guage, cul­ture, opin­ion, and to tune into the wave­length of Öffentlichkeit. The “new” could only be decod­ed by some­one who knew the past well.

Once more, help came from the enor­mous human reserve of Soci­ol­o­gy at Tren­to. Not, this time, in the form of work­er-stu­dents, but in the guise of some­one who seemed to have been sent by fate: Mario Dal­ma­vi­va, also a stu­dent at Tren­to, and a trans­plant to Turin from Berg­amo. We saw each oth­er a few times and I maybe suc­ceed­ed in drag­ging him to a Classe edi­tors’ meet­ing once, but noth­ing more. All it took was for Mario to get four or five basic con­cepts on the Fiat work­ing class in his head, and he took off to agi­tate in front of the gates at Mirafiori. We had ignit­ed an explo­sive sit­u­a­tion: with­in a week there were dai­ly assem­blies of 70 to 100 work­ers – as many as could fit in the near­by bars – at the end of the shift.

Dur­ing those days, Mario was backed up by a few per­son­al friends, one or two of which were enrolled, like him, in Soci­ol­o­gy at Tren­to – peo­ple who had nev­er seen a fac­to­ry and prob­a­bly nev­er read a line of the sacred work­erist texts. But they all had some­thing more impor­tant in them: for per­son­al, fam­i­ly, cul­tur­al, or what­ev­er rea­sons, they felt that the lib­er­a­tion of the Fiat work­ers was part of their sto­ry. So, at the gates they knew how to talk much bet­ter than most Eega Bee­va work­er-philes, myself includ­ed, of course.

Once they had set off, this group of com­rades, stu­pe­fied by the respon­si­bil­i­ty that had fall­en on their shoul­ders, turned around to see if those who had egged them on were still behind them. But they were dis­ap­point­ed. I myself arrived almost ten days after the event, antic­i­pat­ed by Giairo. In Turin, Alber­to Mag­naghi and oth­er com­rades just out of the PCI, like Fran­coni, were the only ones to lend a polit­i­cal and orga­ni­za­tion­al hand.

A New Political Class Emerges

In the mean­while, the move­ment had moved to the Molinette hos­pi­tal, one of the spaces lib­er­at­ed by the stu­dents from the sci­en­tif­ic depart­ments. I wrote the first series of pam­phlets – those which launched the “lot­ta con­tin­ua” (fight on) slo­gan and which were par­tial­ly reprint­ed in Balestrini’s Vogliamo Tut­to. The cast of char­ac­ters pro­duced by that first nucle­us of work­ers from the mixed assem­bly was tru­ly full of sur­pris­es. The wealth of polit­i­cal expe­ri­ences of those peo­ple who, before land­ing at Fiat, had seen half the world – they were all south­ern­ers – was with­out equal among my encoun­ters and asso­ci­a­tions of pre­vi­ous years. I only befriend­ed Alfon­so Natel­la though, who was bril­liant, and the most easy-going. I remem­ber one of his max­ims: “Chaos is free­dom!” None of our friends and com­rades were vis­i­ble on the hori­zon, not even with a tele­scope. Nonethe­less, the Vene­to sent us anoth­er extra­or­di­nary char­ac­ter, also new to the move­ment and with no bag­gage oth­er than his pro­found Irpin­ian dri­ve for redemp­tion and his great com­mu­nica­tive­ness: Emilio Vesce.

Sur­prised, and a lit­tle annoyed, the Turin move­ment and polit­i­cal-intel­lec­tu­al class ini­tial­ly with­drew, almost as though to await our fail­ure. Then Sofri arrived and, hav­ing under­stood the sit­u­a­tion imme­di­ate­ly, con­vinced them to dive in and take on man­ag­ing the events. The Romans arrived last, once Molinette’s hos­pi­tal­i­ty was at its end and we were being wel­comed by the Archi­tec­ture depart­ment. They made an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion and took on the man­age­ment of the work­er-stu­dent assem­bly along with the future cadres of Lot­ta Con­tin­ua. I with­drew with Vesce to fol­low the action at Fiat plant in Rival­ta and end­ed up writ­ing the report on Rival­ta for the Con­ven­tion of com­mit­tees, van­guards, and who knows what else, in late July.

The chron­i­cle could go on, but it would be nec­es­sary to inter­ro­gate our­selves at length about those months at Fiat. To read that expe­ri­ence mere­ly as a pre­his­to­ry of the groups is to impov­er­ish it, even if the pre-emi­nence accord­ed by some to the prob­lem of “man­age­ment” end­ed up dis­tort­ing the ini­tia­tive and trans­fer­ring it from the ter­rain of work­ing-class auton­o­my to that of account­abil­i­ty between gangs. The preva­lent inter­est that end­ed up emerg­ing was not that of a new col­lec­tive sub­ject, but of a polit­i­cal class still in for­ma­tion, run­ning for man­age­ment of the class.

Impracticability of a Dream

Per­ceiv­ing this con­tra­dic­tion deter­mined my sub­se­quent obses­sions. I played a deci­sive role in striv­ing for the con­sti­tu­tion of Potere Operaio, where I tried to make cred­i­ble the propo­si­tion of a “work­ing-class direc­tion of orga­ni­za­tion.” But I didn’t know how to go beyond artic­u­lat­ing a desire. It took me a long time to rec­og­nize the defeat, and the imprac­ti­ca­bil­i­ty of such a pro­pos­al with­in a struc­ture like PO. But it would have been the same had I been in Lot­ta Con­tin­ua. or Avan­guardia Opera­ia. So I left PO only a year lat­er. It would have been bet­ter to rec­og­nize the his­toric­i­ty of my pro­pos­al in Sep­tem­ber ’69, when, writ­ing the edi­to­r­i­al for the first issue of the jour­nal, “From La Classe to Potere Operaio,” I was still stub­born­ly deter­mined to pur­sue a vision of the move­ment sim­i­lar to the one that had fixed itself in my heart dur­ing the Milanese autumn in ’68.

Do I regret found­ing Potere Operaio? No. I rec­og­nize that it was a mis­take to think of mak­ing it into an instru­ment of work­ing class lead­er­ship. Since it wasn’t fea­si­ble, my polit­i­cal stand­point was no bet­ter than the oth­ers. In fact, it prob­a­bly con­tributed more to the group’s paral­y­sis than to its devel­op­ment dur­ing that first year. So much so that when I left – as did many com­rades who had shared the expe­ri­ence of the Milanese ’68 – PO start­ed to grow, to find its iden­ti­ty, and, with it, a dif­fer­ent dri­ve. No, my deter­mi­na­tion was no bet­ter than Toni’s or Franco’s. Rather, they were right to say that the ter­rain of work­ing class con­flict had moved so far for­ward that dwelling on the val­ue of the as yet unde­vel­oped con­tent of ’68 was use­less. Hav­ing rec­og­nized this, I con­sid­er my con­cerns to have been legit­i­mate, not as regards PO, but as regards the entire polit­i­cal class of the groups. Once out – albeit a lit­tle dis­ori­ent­ed at first – I thought I could con­tribute to real­iz­ing my goals by work­ing at the lev­el of the rank-and-file peo­ple and offer­ing my expe­ri­ence and my knowl­edge to local groups.

Primo Maggio

From this sprung the sub­se­quent orga­ni­za­tion of the so-called “ser­vice facil­i­ties for the move­ment” [strut­ture di servizio al movi­men­to]. The rela­tion­ship with Giulio Maccacaro’s group meant, for me, revis­it­ing in more artic­u­late terms a sys­tem of syn­er­gies between bear­ers of his­tor­i­cal and tech­ni­cal knowl­edge and social sub­jects – in par­tic­u­lar, fac­to­ry work­ers.10 The com­rades from San Dona­to had set up a “work­ers’ club” and I worked with them a lit­tle. They had become a neigh­bor­hood group, and my con­tri­bu­tion end­ed up being very lim­it­ed and ulti­mate­ly unsat­is­fy­ing. But if I hadn’t worked with these employ­ees of ENI it would nev­er have occurred to me to work on oil and “chem­i­cal plan­ning.” ’73 marked the end of the inter­reg­num and of the search for a new line of inter­ests. Pri­mo Mag­gio was found­ed and we start­ed work­ing on themes that still part­ly con­sti­tute the core of my activ­i­ties today.

– Trans­lat­ed by Alessan­dra Guar­i­no

  1. Author’s note: the CUBs were autonomous work­er orga­ni­za­tions. Only work­ers par­tic­i­pat­ed in build­ing and man­ag­ing the group, in par­tic­u­lar at the Pirelli plant in Milan. I spent hours dis­cussing with Raf­fael­lo de Mori, one of the founders of the Pirelli CUB, the dynam­ics of the con­sti­tu­tion of the CUB. Some exter­nal mil­i­tants of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty or some trade union offi­cials should have had a role as sup­port­ers of the CUBs activ­i­ties, as they were rank-and-file mem­bers of the worker’s move­ment liv­ing in the neigh­bor­hoods of the fac­to­ry. Lat­er on, when polit­i­cal groups like Lot­ta Con­tin­ua and Avan­guardia Opera­ia became stronger, they found­ed Comi­tati di Base with fac­to­ry work­ers, stu­dents and oth­er social groups, but in gen­er­al they rep­re­sent­ed a minor­i­ty among the work­ers. At the begin­ning, Pirelli’s CUB fol­low­ers were the great major­i­ty of the work force. It was one year before the Unions took con­trol again. 

  2. Author’s note: The sen­try box was a sort of rec­tan­gu­lar wood­en plat­form, pret­ty high (50/60 cm), and locat­ed in the mid­dle of the entrance, where a guard wear­ing a huge black cloak very sim­i­lar to that of the cara­binieri could con­trol the flow of work­ers leav­ing the fac­to­ry. It was strange to see the work­ers walk­ing with their faces look­ing up. 

  3. Translator’s note: ACNA was an Ital­ian chem­i­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­ny based in Cen­gio, Savona. From the ear­ly 1900s to its clo­sure in 1999, it man­u­fac­tured, first, explo­sives, and then paints, dump­ing the tox­ic byprod­ucts into the riv­er Bormi­da and, lat­er, bury­ing the waste in the sur­round­ing coun­try­side in order to evade the 1976 “Mer­li” law on tox­ic emis­sions. It was respon­si­ble for near­ly a cen­tu­ry of pol­lu­tion of the riv­er Bormi­da and its water­shed, the poten­tial­ly irre­versible con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of ground­wa­ter and soils through­out the area, and the envi­ron­men­tal dev­as­ta­tion asso­ci­at­ed with the emis­sion of tox­ic gas­es. Far­mo­plant, found­ed in 1976 in Milan, was a sub­sidiary of the Monte­di­son indus­tri­al group, which man­u­fac­tured pes­ti­cides. In 1988, two explo­sions ignit­ed a reser­voir con­tain­ing the pes­ti­cide Rogor, releas­ing a plume of tox­ic smoke that impact­ed the neigh­bor­hoods of Mari­na di Mas­sa and Mari­na di Car­rara. This inci­dent, which had been pre­ced­ed by sev­er­al oth­ers, final­ly led to the factory’s clo­sure in 1991. 

  4. Author’s note: Alber­to Savinio (1891-1952), painter, com­pos­er, essay­ist, poet, jour­nal­ist and set design­er, lived in Paris for many years, in close con­tact with famous artists and intel­lec­tu­als, from Picas­so to André Bre­ton. His son Rug­gero, a painter him­self, owned a won­der­ful ate­lier in the French cap­i­tal where we slept the first nights. 

  5. Translator’s note: This is a ref­er­ence to the soci­ol­o­gists C. Wright Mills and Serge Mal­let, the lat­ter of whom helped to devel­op a the­o­ry of the “new work­ing class.” 

  6. Author’s note: Work­er-stu­dent (stu­dente lavo­ra­tore) means peo­ple with a salaried job in pri­vate enter­pris­es or pub­lic admin­is­tra­tions, white col­lars, who went to uni­ver­si­ties fol­low­ing the reform of the access to high­er edu­ca­tion. Before 1970 only stu­dents com­ing from the clas­si­cal or sci­en­tif­ic Lyceum were per­mit­ted to enter uni­ver­si­ties, not stu­dents com­ing from pro­fes­sion­al or tech­ni­cal schools. As a con­se­quence, the num­ber of uni­ver­si­ty grad­u­ates in Italy was very small before 1970. With the lib­er­al­iza­tion of access to high­er edu­ca­tion, a mass of new stu­dents came to our uni­ver­si­ties. At the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pado­va they imme­di­ate­ly became the major­i­ty. Only at the Soci­o­log­i­cal Fac­ul­ty in Tren­to, a pri­vate Uni­ver­si­ty that became pub­lic in 1969, was there open access before that time. So, while teach­ing in Tren­to, I met work­er-stu­dents (or employ­ee-stu­dents), a cou­ple of years before Pado­va, who I began recruit­ing for our polit­i­cal pur­pos­es, peo­ple such as Mario Dal­ma­vi­va and oth­ers from Turin, the tech­ni­cians of the oil indus­try in San Dona­to Milanese and so on. As employ­ees of indus­tri­al com­pa­nies or pub­lic admin­is­tra­tions, they were much more aware of the prob­lems con­cern­ing work­ing con­di­tions. The lan­guage of work­erism was more famil­iar to them than the sen­tences of the new philoso­phers, and the work­ing class move­ments came clos­er to their expec­ta­tions than the armed guer­ril­las of campesinos in the south­ern hemi­sphere. We can say that the work­er-stu­dents helped the ideas of work­erism to over­come the anti-author­i­tar­i­an pro­gram of the first wave of the stu­dents’ move­ment. 

  7. Editor’s note: Snam­prog­et­ti, a com­pa­ny of ENI, the Ital­ian State Oil Cor­po­ra­tion, spe­cial­ized on research and project man­age­ment for the oil drilling plat­forms, off­shore and onshore. 

  8. Translator’s note: The Com­mu­nist Par­ty of Italy (Marx­ist-Lenin­ist) or PCd’I -(ml) was an anti-revi­sion­ist par­ty; the Ital­ian Social­ist Par­ty of Pro­le­tar­i­an Uni­ty (PSIUP) was a rad­i­cal par­ty that split from the main­stream Social­ist Par­ty in 1964; Avan­guardia Opera­ia (AO) was an extra-par­lia­men­tary par­ty found­ed in 1968; Democrazia Pro­le­taria (DP) was a unit­ed elec­toral front found­ed in 1975, includ­ing, among oth­ers, Avan­guardia Opera­ia. 

  9. Translator’s note: Gian­ni Agnel­li, pres­i­dent of FIAT from 1966 to 1996, was known as “the lawyer.” 

  10. Editor’s note: Giulio Mac­cac­aro, sci­en­tist, doc­tor, Uni­ver­si­ty teacher, edi­tor of the mag­a­zine “Sapere”, the most impor­tant pub­li­ca­tion of “crit­i­cal sci­ence” in the 70s. 

Author of the article

participated in Potere Operaio and Primo Maggio. He now works as a freelance consultant on transportation and logistics.