1) 1987 was the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Antonio Gramsci, the founder of the Communist Party of Italy (PCI). The year saw many initiatives and publications aimed at marking the occasion by remembering his work, bringing to light new evidence about his life, and putting fresh interpretations on his political-cultural message. In particular, there was an initiative, which addressed itself to one of Gramsci’s most stimulating works in an attempt to open up new interpretations. Namely his article “Americanism and Fordism”.
In this article, which he wrote in prison, Gramsci seeks to continue the debate, which he had initiated, on developmental trends within the working class, and among motor industry workers in particular. He embarks on an interpretation which was made possible for him by his experiences as a trade-union and political organiser among the workers of Turin (and among FIAT workers in particular) and which he had further developed as a
theoretician of the workers’ councils in the journal Ordine Nuovo, during the period of the factory occupations in September 1920.
Gramsci’s interpretation of Fordism, which was written after the Great Crisis of 1929, stresses above all its “social-hygienic” aspects. In this framework he is concerned to analyse the “sexual Restoration” implicit in the “puritan” initiatives undertaken by Ford: the corps of factory overseers was set up to control the private lives and most particularly the sexual behaviour of Ford workers, the company’s policy in relation to company housing, which was reversed for married couples, and so on.
In his analysis, Gramsci establishes the connection between these initiatives and the policy of Prohibition. The “new worker” was expected to reserve his physical and psychological energies for factory work, he was therefore expected to have stable sexual habits, regulated within the nuclear family, and he was also to refrain from alcohol. In this way he could be expected to maintain his psycho-physical energies intact, and avoid spending his wages in bars and brothels. Although this sexual Restoration affected women just as much as men, and probably more so, Gramsci stressed the progressive “masculinisation” of labour power in the Fordist factory. Sexual Restoration and Prohibition, according to Gramsci, supplement the regulation of working-class behaviours in the factories initiated by Taylorism. Taylor’s intention had been to conserve and rationalise the workers’ psycho-physical energies inside the factory. Ford – who saw the worker not only as a producer of goods, but also as a consumer of the wage – sought to conserve the workers’ psycho-physical energies outside the factory too.
The second aspect that Gramsci identified in Fordism was a further evolution in the rationalisation of work by means of technological innovation. But in his discussion this aspect remains of secondary importance. Gramsci shares the viewpoint of the communist movement of the 1920s, whereby technological development and the scientific organisation of work were seen as progressive. In one passage he makes the point directly, that ‘the Italian workforce has never, either as individuals or as a trade union, whether actively or passively, taken a stand against innovation, where this has aimed at the cutting of costs, at the rationalisation of work, and at the introduction of improved automation and technical organisation of the company complex.’
Although Gramsci was aware that a positive attitude vis-a-vis technological innovation and the rationalisation of work could have negative consequences for the theory and practice of the communist world, he identified these dangers in the methods of militarisation of labour which, in his opinion, Trotsky was adopting in the Soviet Union, rather than in the policy of ‘rationalisation by means of machinery’ as such.
The third aspect of Fordism which Gramsci highlighted was the close relationship with the need for planning at the level of general economic and wage policies. It was only via these instruments that the Fordist policy of mass production of motor cars and engines for civilian use was able to develop within an adequate economic context. (Given the conditions of his imprisonment, and his death in 1937. Gramsci was unfortunately unable to analyse the Rooseveltian New Deal experiment in similar detail.) Thus far ‘Americanisation and Fordism.’
2) It was not until the start of the 1960s that it was possible to reopen a theoretical debate within the Italian workers’ movement on themes of the organisation of work and technological innovation. This came after a long period in which these questions received only scant critical consideration – a hiatus which was due to the strategy, developed by the Italian Communist Party under Togliatti, of active collaboration in economic development. It is no accident that this debate opens, precisely, on to the problems and ambiguities contained in Gramsci’s thinking. The theme of the relation between people and machines, between the working class and technological innovation, which receives an ambivalent treatment in Gramsci, and to which he devotes less attention than questions of “social hygiene” and of economic policy, was now to become central.
The prime mover in this debate was Raniero Panzieri, a leading figure in the left wing of the Italian Socialist Party, a cultural organiser, and founder of the journal Quaderni Rossi in 1961. During the whole period of the 1970s, the figure of Raniero Panzieri was that of a “tolerated heretic” within the Italian workers’ movement, the initiator of that major political-cultural current known as operaismo (“workerism”). In recent years there has been considerable interest in Panzieri on the part of historians whose political experiences had previously been within the extreme Left, but who today have joined the intellectual Court of Bettino Craxi. One of these historians, Stefano Merli, the writer of a pioneering work on the origins of the industrial proletariat in Italy, published in 1987 a volume of Raniero Panzieri’s letters, which cover the decisive years of his activity as a militant up to his premature death in 1964.
Panzieri began his considerations on the relation of the working class to technological innovation with a re-reading and interpretations of the “Fragment on Machinery” contained in Marx’s Grundrisse. Panzieri maintains that this reference to Marx’s text is important, in order to be able to criticise the objectivist and fatalistic view of technological progress as exemplified in Italian trade unionism, which limited its demands purely to correcting the excesses of technological development, without understanding that such development serves only to strengthen the authoritarian structure of the factory. Panzieri wrote: “Capitalist despotism takes the form of technological rationality.” He maintains that the trade unions accepted a situation in which the occupational characteristics of labour power were framed by technological development, and that they collaborated in this definition in terms of wage structures, workload, recognition of grading, and so on. According to Panzieri. the union did no more than attempt to correct the “distortions and dysfunctions”, while at the same time accepting the order of capital as “technical rationality”.
Thus, according to Panzieri’s analysis, labour power was condemned to perpetual subordination to machinery. Only if it organised itself collectively, and only if it demanded control over the production process, could the working class find its political identity. Panzieri wrote: “The subversive power of the working class, its revolutionary capacity, appears (potentially) stronger in the developed areas of capitalism, where the crushing relation of constant capital over living labour – with the rationality that constant capital embodies – immediately confronts the working class within the question of its political enslavement.” So saying, Panzieri implicitly provided a methodological suggestion for research into “the political history of technology”.
3) Panzieri’s reflections stimulated a number of field research projects, mainly built around direct interviews with workers in the major factories of Turin – principally FIAT – and in factories with particularly advanced technology, such as the Olivetti plant in Ivrea. This was the moment when Marx’s “worker’s inquiry” was introduced on a more solid thematical basis, and more strongly in the western tradition, than the “Maoist inquiry” which Italian followers of the Chinese Cultural Revolution were to try to import into Italy a few years later. With the work of Panzieri and the Quaderni Rossi, the preconditions were laid for an alternative history of theItalian working class in the post-War period. The groundwork was laid for a debate on questions of trade union organisation, and there was a real renaissance in studies in the sociology of work.
This research involved members of the Quaderni Rossi group who were close to Panzieri, while other activists placed experimentation with new forms of class organisation at the centre of their political activity and devoted themselves as intellectuals to principally politological forms of activity. This was the group that founded the journal Classe Operaia in 1964. Among the projects and debates of Quaderni Rossi – here I am referring to the first three numbers of the journal, after which splits appeared which led to the publication of Classe Operaia a few months before Panzieri’s death – there was also a project for a renewal of historiographical studies, around which Umberto Coldagelli and Gaspare De Caro had elaborated a series of interpretative models and key concepts in the third issue of the journal.
Under the title “Some Hypothesis for Marxist Research into Contemporary History”, Coldagelli and De Caro proposed a working project which took as its starting point a critique of Gramsci’s national-popular conception, whereby the workiig class was to fulfil within Italian society a function as a driving motor for reform of the system, thereby freeing the system from its protocapitalist and late-feudalist leftovers.
In Gramsci’s conception, elaborated during the years of his imprisonment, the working class was seen as functioning as a “modernising factor”, both in relation to the economic system and in relation to the political institutions, and it was seen as carrying though to fulfilment the process of democratisation that had been cut short by Fascism. Coldagelli and De Caro counterposed to this conception of history a very different view of the nature of the fascist regime; they stressed the way in which it represented a modernisation of the capitalist system: ‘The policies of the fascist regime corresponded fully, from the start, to the new requirements of Italian capitalism. Industry was to be re-organised over the space of a very few years during which all industrial sectors were to achieve extremely high increases in productivity, higher than the West European average.”
For Coldagelli and De Caro it was necessary to rewrite the history of the Italian working class from the viewpoint of its organic relationship with capitalist development and its concrete relationship to work, and to abandon the subaltern interpretations which dealt with working-class history only separately from direct relations of production. Such interpretations had been the norm in left-wing (and particularly Communist Party) historiography.
4) In 1963, when these working hypotheses were published, Italian economic historiography was in a rather underdeveloped state. In the Annals of the Feltrinelli Institute for the year 1959, the historian Giorgio Mori had written a well-grounded overview of studies in Italian economic history and the industrial history of the post-War period. In the case of FIAT, Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Autobianchi he was unable to cite one single work which was not written from the companies’ point of view. All the available publications on FIAT (7), Alfa Rorneo (2), and Innocenti (1) were in some shape or form company propaganda. The same was true of the liberal historian Rosario Romeo: in 1963, when he published the second expanded edition of his “Brief History of Italian Industry” (Breve Storia della Grande Industria in Italia, first published in October 1961) he was unable to cite one single monograph on the history of the auto industry. There were studies of the steel industry and the textile industry, but these were also few in number. There was a complete lack of a general history of contemporary Italian industry, and there was very little written on the history of the banking sector.
In 1963 – when Coldagelli and De Caro were formulating their working hypotheses – there were also very few works available in the area of general economic history, particularly as regards the economic history of Fascism. The only worthwhile ones were strongly polemical in tone – works which were compiled during the period of political emigration and clandestinity by anti-fascists such as Grifone, Morandi and Sereni, or they were personal testimonies from people who had personally been involved in the reorganisation of banking and industry under Fascism – people such as Felice Guameri, who at the time had been a senior official in the Ufficio Italiano Cambi. If one wanted to find out about the history of the auto industry under Fascism, one had to turn to the interesting presentation which Vittorio Valletta (general manager of FIAT from 1929 right through to 1964) made to the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry in 1946, or to the factory communiques of the clandestine communists, which at the time were published in the émigré press, and which, after the War, were made available to a wider public in the Feltrinelli Reprints series. There were also testimonies and reconstructed accounts by the leading figures of the strikes of March 1943, as well as the works of Paolo Spriano, the official historian of the PCI, on the Turin working class, although his researches end with the year 1918. Finally, there were the writings of the Turin Ordine Nuovo group, the journal which had been founded by Gramsci and had been the organ of the Workers’ Council movement in 1920, which were now being read with a new political commitment.
All in all, one was dealing only with fragments of a history which was still waiting to be written. As De Cam and Coldagelli had correctly pointed out, it would first be necessary to go beyond the view of Fascism as a period of “forced economy” (economia fonata), which had hindered the full unfolding of the productive power of capitalism. This was a viewpoint cultivated in the ideology of the anti-fascist bourgeoisie.
5) In 1967 a seminar was organised at the Faculty of Political Science at Padova University. by a number of former editors of the magazine Classe Operaia. On this occasion I delivered a paper on the Workers’ Council movement in Europe, which was published five years later, by Feltrinelli in 1973, and was also translated into German by Gisela Bock. In that paper I formulated a series of research hypotheses on the history of the working class, and I attempted a social-historical definition of the mass work which would match the workers’ inquiries and the militant activities being pursued by the Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia groups. I had written my university thesis on a topic of contemporary German history, and I had worked for years in the Feltrinelli Library, which owned an almost complete collection of journals and publications on the workers’ councils in the Weimar Republic, as well as documents of the Profintern and much other material relating to the international working-class movement.
The political contacts that we had with groups of the working-class left in the USA, in whose political consciousness a formidable “class memory” lay buried, and our great familiarity with anarchist militants who had emigrated from Italy, plus the fact that some of us had relatives or people we knew who had worked in the USA (my grandfather, for example, had been an auto worker in the factories of Detroit) – all this opened the possibility for us to become acquainted with the struggles of the American workers and the legendary experiences of the Industrial Workers of the World, through little-known publications and oral traditions. Many of us were intellectuals who had been abroad as part of our studies and we were familiar with the libraries of half the world. As a result, we had a good fund of bibliographical information, which was augmented through the collective nature of our work. But above all we had the experience of direct militant activity with factory workers: we had taken part in the mass assemblies and the strikes; we had been involved in strikes and meetings; we had been on the picket lines at FIAT and Lancia in Turin, and at Alfa Romeo, Innocenti and Autobianci in Milan, and some of us had experience in the trade unions (I had been in the FIOM., the engineering wing of the CGIL). We had written and distributed dozens of leaflets, we had fought with scabs and had taken part in street clashes during demonstrations. As a result, we tried to make use of this direct experience in the formulation of our historiographical judgements, combining it with our bibliographical knowledge and what we had gathered from the oral history tradition.
The company archives of the big firms were closed to the public, and even if they had been open, we would certainly never have been given permission to use them. The archives of the trade unions – in a state of hopeless confusion – were similarly inaccessible. As a result, our hypotheses sometimes came out as schematic or sectarian, but they had an explosive farce in certain political and trade-union circles; the “scientific community”, however, remained indifferent to them; they only first noticed us after the student protest movement.
The most useful hypotheses contained in my paper twenty years ago, in the light of our experience of the intervening years, turned out to be the ones that dealt with the relationship between technological composition and the political composition of the class. Moving from the observation that, despite the different degrees of capitalist development and despite differences in political regimes, working class struggles since the beginning of the century had developed in large international cycles which had homogeneous characteristics, I posed the problem (this was the theme of my editorial article in Classe Operaia, no. 2) of the circulation of struggles – in other words, of communication between working-class collectivities, and I asked whether technological standards in fact acted directly as a vector of communication of disciplinary actions which sparked reactions of insubordination.
This whole problematic naturally brought to the fore the relationship between the spontaneity of the struggles – conceived as a culture of collective insubordination – and the organised labour and trade union movement. From an analysis of the ideology of the workers’ councils in the Weimar Republic and the ideology of the Italian factory councils in Gramsci’s time, I formulated the hypothesis that their shared positive attitudes towards technology and production, their project of managing the factories in collaboration with the technicians, sprang essentially from their professional position as highly skilled workers. I suggested that the reason underlying the remarkable spread of the workers’ council movement in Germany was that the socio-professional composition of the German working class was characterised by a very high percentage of highly skilled workers, especially since the driving sectors of German industry were high-skill sectors.
I used the term “technical composition” to define the totality of socio-professional contents and its associated culture of work, and I defined as “political composition” the totality of autonomous and class conscious ways of behaving and their associated culture of working-class insubordination. Finally I advanced the thesis that Fordism as a technological-social system – operating via the modification of the labour process and the introduction of the assembly line – was aimed at destroying the figure of the highly qualified skilled worker, in order at the same time to destroy the cultures of autonomy and control and self management of production, which had expressed themselves in exemplary fashion in the shape of the Soviets and the workers’ councils. Fordism created a new figure, that of the mass worker, in order to destroy the history and memory of that generation of the working class which – albeit only in one part of the world – had produced a communist revolution. I thus ascribed a fundamental importance to the auto-sector, not only because it was the sector in which the assembly line was furthest developed but also because it was within this sector that the mass worker was created as a new social class.
The auto industry was thus a laboratory of social engineering, inasmuch as class conflict in this industry was readable as a kind of thermometer for overall class relations. In this interpretation, technology was understood as an instrument which produced social classes and social relations even before it produced commodities.
6) When I read the chapters of the Daimler-Benz Book dealing with the Weimar years, it brought to mind several observations that I had made twenty years previously, as well as a series of further developments, among them the book of Karl-Heinz Roth and Elizabeth Behrens on The Other Working-Class Movement. Inasmuch as Daimler-Benz had maintained throughout the whole period of Weimar a pre-Fordist technology and therefore a “high skill” technical composition of labour-power, and inasmuch as this “conservatism” at the level of technological innovation had resulted in a paralysis of Fordisation in the entire sector of auto – components and accessories, the effects on the overall composition of the working class were even more conservative: the emergence of the mass worker was retarded and the social hegemony of the highly-skilled worker was prolonged until 1933 and beyond. From this point of view. Germany appears as a late-corner in the history of the mass worker. Is it possible to interpret other aspects of the class conflict in the Weimar period in the light of this delay? Did this state of affairs also continue into the following decades, when the role of the mass worker was covered essentially by foreign labour-power?
Quite conversely, the protagonists of class conflict in Weimar Germany were more the unemployed and the marginalised elements than was the case in other countries. On the one hand the high-skilled sector of German workers, and on the other, poverty. The class composition of the Weimar Republic is a Janus-headed thing: of the poor and the highly-skilled. What were the consequences in terms of social ideologies and form of social behaviour?
7) The problematic of the relationship between people and machinery was considerably deepened by the mass movement of 1967-68. A sizeable component of the student protest movement in Italy chose as its theoretical axis the “critique of the capitalist use of science”. Marx was given a new reading, via the interpretation offered by Panzieri and other comrades of the workerist (operaista) tendency. In the science faculties we saw the spread of an alternative view of technology: as “a power that is hostile to the class”.
May 1968 in France showed that the factory working class was an active political subject in the movements. In the Italian auto factories the “base committees” and the “worker-student assemblies” began to develop. As of May 1969, the FIAT workers in Turin began a series of strike actions that were to last right through the summer. The whole elite of the Italian student movement flooded to the gates of the Mirafiori and Rivalta FIAT factories to support the strikes, which were conducted outside of the trade union organisations.
Within the trade unions a profound tactical shift began to take place, and with the beginning of the negotiations on the Metalworkers’ contract a new historical phase began which was to become known as the “Hot Autumn”. This phase led to the creation of a widespread network of factory councils (comigli di fabbrica). These events had a major cultural and political significance. The concept “mass worker” became a term of everyday usage, and the concepts which had been developed in the workerist studies of the 1960s became widely accepted, in sociology, in political science, and last but not least in historiography. The commitment of the student movement and the trade unions to the workers’ struggles gave rise to an extensive political-propagandist literature, which today provides an essential source for the reconstruction of the history of Italian industry in this period, and for the auto industry in particular. The intention of all this was to “let the workers speak, and the “workers’ inquiry” was being used by everyone – albeit sometimes in ways that were debased and populist – and not only by the
8) 1970-71 saw the appearance of two major works on the history of the auto industry, and of the FIAT workers in particular: Valerio Castronovo’s biography of Giovanni Agnelli (the father of the present head of FIAT), and Liliana Lanzardo’s book on the PCI and the working class at FIAT from 1945 to 1949.
Castronovo’s book is a classic of Italian “entrepreneurial history”. This was the first time that a historian had been permitted access to the FIAT company archives. He worked in FIAT’S historical documentation office, and relied on materials that the company’s press office had collected. An important element of his reconstruction was the archives of the Turin employers’ confederation, and government archives in Rome, especially on questions of the relations between Agnelli and the central government.
Castronovo gives us the principal outlines of the history of the auto sector, along with a wealth of incidental detail. The creation of the company from its origins through to the First World War, the big phase of technological modernisation during the War, the background to the company’s relations with the reformist area of the labour movement and with the communist sector during the revolutionary phase before the rise of Fascism. Finally, he documents from the inside, for the fist time, the relationship between the management of a major industrial company and the Mussolini regime. The most novel (albeit not the best) part of the book describes the creation of what was, by the standards of its day, the ultra-modern Lingotto works, through Fascism, the years of the Great Crisis (1930-1) and the imperialist intervention in Ethiopia (1935-6).
Although Castronovo focuses principally on the personality of Giovanni Agnelli and his political and financial dealings, the book also provides detailed information on aspects of the organisation of work, on wage policies, and on the internal hierarchies. In short, while one might be puzzled by some of his interpretations of actual events, the history of FIAT is finally laid before us with a wealth of documentary detail.
The book by Liliana Lanzardo, on the other hand, who had previously been one of the group around Quaderni Rossi, analysed the history of FIAT from a quite different point of view. Her book was based on a source of prime importance, namely the documents and archives of the consigli di gestione (“self-management committees”). These were bodies which had been created in the immediate post-War period (1945) by the newly-founded parties and the trade unions with a view to the self-management of the factories.
The experience of these consigli di gestione is of great historical interest, inasmuch as it reveals the extent to which the Communist Party of Italy, at the moment of its greatest political power, was or was not intending to remove the management of production from the capitalists. Lanzardo’s book thus presents itself as an essay on the relationship, between class, party and capital in the phase of revolutionary “euphoria” following in the wake of the Resistance.
It is clear from the book how fast the PCI had dropped its plan for workers’ management of production and had accepted managers who had been compromised under Fascism being brought back into the company’s management structure. These managers – among them Vinorio Valletta – had formerly (in the period after the Resistance, when the partisans in Italy and particularly in the north, were still armed) been removed from the company’s management.
The book also makes clear that the workers had perceived the consigli di gestione not as technical organs, but as real organs of power. The ideology and practice of the consigli di gestione brought to light the positive achievements, but also the contradictions, from the time of Gramsci. They revealed deep splits within the class composition of the period, but also the great unity and solidarity which the Resistance had created among blue-collar and technical workers. They brought to the surface people’s hopes for a “new way of producing” and for developing a new, more humane organisation of work. The consigli were opposed by the Allies, and were seen as the “seeds of Bolshevism”. The industrialists, on the other hand, had an ambiguous attitude to them: they tried to turn the productivist ideology of the consigli to their own profit, but at the same time they saw them as a hostile force when they set out to place limitations on management, or even went so far as to declare them “unnecessary”. However, when the power relations in society changed, the consigli di gestione were deprived of power, and then completely swept away.
Liliana Lanzardo’s researches set the whole problematic within a very complex framework of socio-political relationships. It became an important text for the ideological formation of the extra-parliamentary movements, because in their eyes it demonstrated that the PCI had “betrayed the working class and the Resistance not only on the question of armed revolution, but also as regards the organisation of production.
9) Both these important monographs on the history of FIAT were published at a time when studies of economic history in Italy had already taken an important step forward, adopting highly sophisticated research methodologies and theories of economic analysis. The Ford Foundation funded Social Science Research Council in New York had, in 1963, entrusted Simon Kuznets and Moses Abramowitz with the coordination of an international historical research project on the economic development of the industrialised countries. The research leaders for Italy were Professor Giorgio Fua (and for Germany Gottfried Bombach and Rolf Krengel). The findings of this research were published in three volumes, of which the first appeared in 1968-9; they contained numerous essays on particular aspects of the development of the Italian economy during the past hundred years. This was an event of great cultural importance, because these studies provided – at the level of research method in history and the history of industry – a moment of modernisation, bringing Italy into line with the most recent development of post-Keynesian economic theory and historiography. The methodological approach was macro-economic and quantitative in nature, with the extensive use of statistical series of growth indicators, and an almost total exclusion of socio-political problematics.
Nonetheless, this was the fist time that people had addressed themselves to the problems of actually using the statistical sources that were available on the history of the Italian economy. The macro-economic approach meant that the history of the auto industry was subsumed within the more general history of the development of means of transport. The Appendix to the third volume of this research contained a bibliography of the works that it considered “essential reading” in the field of Italian economic history. Under the heading “Industry” there was still no single published work on the history of the auto industry. The omission of socio-political problematics in the Ford Foundation study, and the overall quantitative approach meant that the Fascist period was in no sense problematicised. Paradoxically, this was grist to the mill, as far as militant historians were concerned, because the statistical tables spoke for themselves, and confirmed the correctness of the thesis advanced by Coldagelli and De Caro, that, in its initial period. Fascism in Italy had brought about a significantly faster rate of capitalist development than had been the case in other countries.
It is a far cry from the Ford-financed study to the essay written by Ester Fano on the question of the economic stagnation between the two world wars, which appeared in 1971. Ester Fano had been a collaborator of Raniero Panzieri at the end of the 1950s, and here, for the first time, basing herself on the work done by Josef Steindl, she tackled the problem of the relationship between economic development and stagnation during the Fascist period – and this in terms which were judged as acceptable in both political and economic historiography. As Steindl had already shown for the USA, stagnation was not at all in contradiction to a strengthening of the power of capital between the two world wars; it was a far more general phenomenon in western countries, which was not attributable so much to the individual economic policies of individual countries as to the particular ways in which capitalist restructuring had proceeded between the wars. This restructuring had either massively replaced living labour with machines, thereby producing a cycle of “over-accumulation” (as Grossmann would have put it), or it had “frozen” productive capacities, inasmuch as plants were employed at only a fraction of their capacity (as Daimler-Benz appears to have done) while being supported by public funding. The particular characteristic of the Italian economy was that this tendency to stagnation – which was more characteristic of the 1930s than of the 1920s – went hand in hand with a continuing low productivity of agriculture, due to specific measures taken by the regime (maintenance of a semi-feudal situation, population policy, etc).
Ester Fano’s study was an isolated instance in the panorama of Italian histories of Fascism. It was read with very great interest by young researchers in the Institutes concerned with the history of the Resistance; the reaction of the academic milieu was one of respect, but at the same time embarrassment, because, while this study paved the way for further debate and research, it also threw into crisis some of the conceptual models of bourgeois anti-fascism. Fano came in for particular criticism from the liberal categories of the Left, for whom Fascism had been a parenthesis within Italian economic development.
A further important phase in the history of economic research into the Fascist period was the project L’economia italiana nel periodo fascista (The Italian economy during the Fascist period), which was organised by the “Luigi Einaudi Association for the Study of Money, Banks and Finance”, in Rome, whose results were published in a special issue of the journal Quaderni Storici, published in 1975. Among the significant essays in this collection were – alongside an article by Ester Fano on agriculture under Fascism – an essay by Vera Camagni on industrial wages during the dictatorship, and an essay by Ercole Sori on migration movements.
All this brought us closer to laying the basis for a “social history of Fascism” which had been ignored by both political historians (the history of governing institutions, political parties and organisations) and by quantitative economic historians. These attempts to write a social history of Fascism were, moreover, regarded with mistrust: in 1975 the results of the investigation were published as a collection of essays by Il Mulino publishing house, edited by two historians, Ciocca and Toniolo; the studies by Ester Fano and Ercole Sori were excluded from this volume.
10) The political and social climate of the early 1960s encouraged researches into the social history of the proletariat under Fascism. Through this work the historiography of the working class in the auto industry was enriched through new, albeit sometimes fragmentary, understandings.
We have a particularly valuable contribution in the researches of Gian Carlo Jocteau, on the history of the labour tribunals and labour litigation in Turin through the period of the Great Crisis.
The introduction of the Bedaux system, the wage cuts and the sackings at FIAT and in other industrial sectors in Turin during the Great Crisis had triggered social conflicts which very often led to proceedings in the labour tribunals – proceedings which had the support of the Fascist unions. The records of these labour tribunal proceedings thus provide an important source for reconstructing the conditions of working-class exploitation in that period. Given that channels for social and political mediation of conflict did not exist in the period of the Great Crisis and after, labour conflict went through a phase in which it expressed itself in the law courts. The labour magistracy in Fascist Italy had the power to make rulings as well as administer them; thus it played a far more important role in Italy than in other countries, as a moment of the control and mediation of industrial conflict. This magistracy also had an influence on the definition of collective labour contracts, and thus brought to a head a number of contradictions within the Fascist union, which was the chief party responsible for the juridicalisation of labour conflicts. However we should bear in mind that the Fascist union never pressed collective proceedings in the labour courts, but only individual cases.
11) Another important contribution to an understanding of this period is provided by Giulio Sapelli’s book: Fascismo, grande industria, sindacato. Il caso di Torino 1929-1935 (“Fascism, big industry, and the trade unions. The case of Turin. 1929-35”). With this book the question of the relation between technology and labour-power was brought back to centre stage.
Sapelli had made extensive use of the archives of the Fascist police and the archives of the Unione Industriali di Torino (Turin Industrialists’ Union); in this way he was able to provide a detailed reconstruction of the period of the Great Crisis and the social tensions associated with it. This was the period in which the National Fascist Party had to face the problem of how it was to find a mediating role for itself, between the extremely aggressive behaviour of the employers, who were not inclined to accept the concept of the corporate state, and a working class that had been embittered by the mass sackings that had been taking place most particularly in the textile and construction industries, and in the area of small-to-medium industry.
The application of the Bedaux system of exploitation, in its “Italian version”, and the rise in the cost of living had further increased the bitterness of the working class. The Fascist unions in Turin went through an “extremist” phase. In other words, they were supporting workers’ protests, were initiating legal proceedings against the employers in the labour courts, and were demanding the abolition of the Bedaux system. The Fascist Party was obliged to intervene in the union with a view to getting it to take a softer line; to this end it despatched Tullio Cianetti as commissar, who was later to become secretary of the Fascist Confederation of Industrial Workers (Confederazione Fascista dei Lavoratori dell’Industria).
The National Fascist Party (PNF) and the local government authorities adopted social welfare policies with a view to helping the poor and the unemployed; but at the same time they pushed through measures in order to maintain capital and its profits; this was the period of the state funding interventions, with the setting-up of the “Institute for Industrial Reconstruction” (IRI – Istituto per la Riconstruzione Industriale).
Sapelli made extensive use of source material from the emigre communist press, and on the basis of police records he was able to verify that the reports that the clandestine communists were sending abroad were remarkably precise in their information. He also made extensive use of the archivse of the Fascist Party, and the archive of Mussolini’s personal secretariat. While Castronovo had been principally concerned to analyse the figure of Agnelli, Sapelli, in the first chapter of his book, analysed the policy of the entire Turin employing class, in which Agnelli obviously played a very important part, but which he did not wholly represent. For instance, there was a strong freemasons’ lodge, and within the Turin employers there were various other notable figures with their own particular interests. The unifying link between them was that they were all using the Fascist regime as a means of disciplining the working class.
The myth of a capitalist but anti-fascist bourgeoisie, which maintained its faith in progressive liberal traditions, and distinguished itself in its respect for the dignity of man and for democratic freedoms, collapsed completely. Finally, Sapelli addresses himself to the problem left open by Castronovo, of an alleged “autonomy” of Agnelli in relation to Fascism. The hypothesis whereby Agnelli allegedly used Fascism, but kept them firmly outside the strategy of his business decisions (a hypothesis which is very similar to what Hans Pohl maintains for the relations between the company management of Daimler-Benz and the Hitler regime) may find confirmation in various specific instances of Agnelli’s behaviour, but, as Sapelli shows, this circumstance can in no way obscure the fact that there was a perfect correspondence between FIAT company policy and the basic objectives of the Fascist regime.
As suggested above, the most novel and interesting aspect of Sapelli’s book is where he deals with questions of the organisation of the labour process. On the one hand he has tried to reconstruct how Taylorism was taken up by factory managers and production engineers; on the other, he provides an outline history of technological innovation at FIAT and examines the introduction of certain machine tools which required the application of new job-evaluation and wage systems. He thus sheds light on concrete aspects of the discussion on the Bedaux system, which at the time was dominating debate at the political, trade union, juridical and entrepreneurial level.
A second aspect that Sapelli examined related to the discussion on Fordism. Although the Lingotto RAT plant in Turin was the most technologically advanced factory in Europe, Agnelli seems to have adopted up Fordism as a social precept (i.e. the notion of the worker as consumer) only after the Great Crisis – in other words, at a point when the sharpest class conflicts had already been subdued, and when FIAT was engaged in introducing a new industrial cycle which was largely to be financed by the fascist armaments policy. In the preceding period, in the 1920s, Agnelli, for all that he was running a factory with Fordist technology, didn’t need to adopt Fordism as a social doctrine, because, for him, problems of conflict and consensus had already been resolved by the fascist repression. (On Fordism itself: One should distinguish between myth and reality; thus, for example, the five-dollar day was principally a means of selecting workers).
In subsequent years Sapelli deepened his researches into Taylorism and Fordism in Italy. In particular he explored the role of the ENIOS (Ente per I’Organizzazione Scientifica del Lavoro), the national foundation which was set up in 1926 for research into the scientific organisation of work. He looks at the contribution of production technicians, engineers, managers and individual capitalists to the culture and practice of “rationalisation” in the inter-War years. His researches provide an important contribution to the analysis of the modernising process of the industrial elites, and demonstrate the powerful influence that the so called “German” technical thought exercised on whole generations of Italian engineers and production managers. These managers were fascinated by the German example, by the myth of Germany as “the country of rationalisation”. The social policies of Hitler’s National Socialists, on the other hand, were regarded somewhat more suspiciously (too “social”, in their opinion). The same sceptical distance applied in relation to the Nazi state’s anti-Jewish racist policies. From the date of its founding, through to 1938, the key figure in the ENIOS was Gino Olivetti, a Jew and a man man who had the full confidence of the Fascist Confederation of Industrialists. This research was compiled by Sapelli in the book Organizzazione, lavoro e innovazione industriale nell’ltalia tra le due guerre (“Organisation, work and industrial innovation in Italy between the wars”), published in 1978, and in his essay Gli “organizzatori della produzione” tra struttura d’impresa e modelli culturali (“The production organisers: company structure and cultural models”), published in 1981.
Both these works are to be seen as researches into the history of the technocracy. In both of them the problematic of class conflict is more or less pushed to one side. Sapelli’s intention is to write simply a history of the ruling class, via through a neo-Fabian approach which incorporates the aristocracy of labour. As a result, Sapelli went on to a brilliant academic career in the 1980s, then became one of the most active managers in the field of historiographical research sponsored at an international level by public funds and by high finance; he then became head of the Feltrinelli Foundation, and is now director of the Associazione di Studi di Storia dell’Impresa (“Association for the study of Business History”), the Italian equivalent of the Gesellschaft fuer Unternehmensgeschichte run by Hans Pohl.
12) With the flare-up of workers’ struggles after the Hot Autumn , with the spread of consigli di fabbrica (“factory councils”) and the shop stewards’ movement (delegati di reparto), with the continuing activities of the extra-parliamentary groups and the mass response to all state attempts at “authoritarian solutions”, Italian society lived the early 1970s in a permanent condition of tense conflictuality: the factory working class became a central political and cultural reference point. In the tertiary and service sectors traditional forms of trade-union organisation with direct election of representatives were changed in line with new negotiatory forms that were arising in the factories. So began a new phase of political “literacy training”, which often employed the concepts that had been developed by the “workerists” of the 1960s.
People who only a short time previously had been dismissed as heretics by the official labour and trade union movement suddenly found themselves, at the start of the 1970s, regarded as “anticipators”, as ahead of their times in terms of theoretical and intellectual development. In this climate, of great tension and great political passion, a group of intellectuals who, in different ways, had taken part in the workerist elaborations of the 1960s, decided to address themselves to the historiographical problematic, in the terms in which it had previously been sketched in Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia, only now with an updated posing of the questions.
This led to the publication of the journal Primo Maggio (“First of May”), whose first issue appeared in 1973. Under the rubric “Essays and documents for a class history”, the journal was edited by myself up until 1980 (Issue 13), and thus far has produced 29 issues. One of the principal aims of the journal was to re-start the process of historical reflection on the mass worker – particularly in the auto industry. Already in the Editorial to the second issue (1974) a number of methodological considerations on the relation between factory and society were examined, taking as their base a critical re-reading of Gramsci’s article “Americanism and Fordism”. The same issue also contained an analysis of the company structure of the FIAT motor company, which was to appear in the form of a book a few months later.
Discussion also focussed afresh on researches into the organisation of the mass worker in the USA, in Europe and in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. At the same time, there was a move for a renewed initiative around the Workers’ Inquiry (inchiesta operaia) – in other words, around a process of reflection and analysis to be undertaken in direct collaboration with the collectives in the factories, with a view to documenting the currently existing relations of class power. Primo Maggio thus became the first journal to identify and anticipate the “capitalist counter-reformation” in the auto sector.
These counter-reforms began with the restructuring of the Innocenti-Leyland plant in Milan. The principal instrument of this restructuring process was the cassa integrazione guadagni a special form of unemployment benefit in the shape of a redundancy fund which was financed through the social security system, and which has facilitated a drastic reduction of personnel in the factories in the period post-1975, and at the same time has led to an effective selectivity process for the hiring of future workers. The events at Innocenti-Leyland were analysed in Primo Maggio in collaboration with the workers’ collective that had led the struggle against the company’s restructuring plans. The journal was supported in this work by a group of specialists in “oral history” from the De Martino Institute, in particular by Cesare Bermani, who at that time was already a member of our editorial board, and who, at the time of writing, is the journal’s director.
The combination of oral history and workers’ inquiry, as it was pursued at the Innocenti-Leyland factory in 1975-6, was taken up immediately afterwards in Turin, where an editorial sub-group of the journal had been created, coordinated by Marco Revelli (son of the well-known oral historian Nuto Revelli). This led to workers’ inquiries being conducted at FIAT too, which made possible an examination of the formation of the mass worker in Turin. This work continued through to the dramatic defeat of the FIAT workers in October 1980. After the October 1980 strike, following the company’s announcement that 24,000 FIAT workers were to be sacked, the work of this group was carried on, at an individual level, by some of the group, despite the fact that the Turin redazione of Primo Maggio had dissolved itself. Only a small part of the materials that were gathered in this five-year period of work (1975-80) has ever been prepared for publication. Most of it remains in the archive.
The material consists of:
a) materials on technological innovation at FIAT-Turin, in particular on the phase of robotisation;
b) hundreds of taped interviews with FIAT workers, both men and women;
c) hundreds of interviews with young proletarians who were organised in the “circoli del proletariato giovanile” (youth proletarian clubs); this section has already been transcribed from tape recordings, and runs to about 5,000 pages;
d) trial documents and associated paperwork arising out of labour and criminal court proceedings which were conducted against factory workers and against young proletarians and militants of various political organisations; this material was put into safekeeping in the offices of lawyers who had represented workers and militants in that period, and who had close contact with the Turin editorial group of Primo Maggio;
e) documents on FIAT company policy, on the “consigli di fabbrica” (factory councils), on the trade unions, and on the role of various local government organisations and political parties in the social conflicts;
f) photographic and audiovisual material.
In March 1974 the journal “Classe” published a special issue with the results of a sociological investigation into the operai di linea (assembly line workers) at the Alfa Romeo factory, under the title L’operaio massa nello sviluppo capitalistico (“The mass worker in the history of capitalist development”). The journal Classe, whose intellectual head was for many years Stefano Merli, first appeared in June 1969, and it had as its brief an analysis of the past and present history of the working class and the organisation of the labour process. Already in its early issues (see Issue 8 for the mass worker), Classe had published a number of articles on workers’ struggles at FIAT and in other car factories, and it was continually concerned with the theme of the history of Taylorism and Fordism in Italy (the theme of a Special Issue in December 1982).
By comparison with Primo Maggio, the journal Classe was far more systematic in its investigations. The circle of its contributors was far broader than that of Primo Maggio. Classe could also rely on the distributional support of a medium-sized publishing house, while Primo Maggio financed itself, was entirely self-sufficient, and was distributed via an alternative distribution system. Classe could also reckon on the support of political and trade-union circles, which saw the publication as their semi-official theoretical journal. The individual volumes of Classe were published as monographs, more or less in book form, running to 300-350 pages apiece, while Primo Maggio was always in the nature of a magazine, generally about 70 pages in all, was more experimental in nature, and was more closely linked to the autonomist movement.
Classe represented the “average” of the rank and file trade union movement of the 1970s, and to that extent represented a characteristic testimony to the culture of that period. As regards the history of the auto workers, the following articles in Classe deserve consideration: Angelo Dina on the internal FIAT strikes of 1968-9; the above-mentioned investigation into assembly-line workers at Alfa Romeo; the work of Paola Agosti Ronza reconstructing the various turning points in trade union policy at FIAT between 1955 and 1962; the interview with a group of workers from the Innocenti-Leyland factory in Milan; the diary of an Alfa Romeo worker from the “Portello” factory in Milan; and finally, a number of contributions on the history of the workers’ struggles at Pirelli in Milan.
In this way the building blocks were coming together to enable us to reconstruct the history of the mass worker in the auto industry. In 1975 the journal of the Centro Piero Gobetti in Turin, Mezzosecolo, published a long interview with Battista Santhia, who had led the comitati di agitazione (agitation committees) in FIAT and in other Turin factories during the Resistance. These committees were the clandestine trade-union structures of their time, and they reached such a high degree of organisation, that they were able to practise sophisticated forms of struggle and sabotage (and, according to Santhia, eventually caused a 10 per cent fall in production).
The interview is informative about very interesting and hitherto unknown details such as the methods employed by the partisans to hinder the German troops in their project of dismantling the FIAT plant, and the relations between communists and anarchist militants within the Resistance, as well as giving new details of the class composition of the time. The same issue of Mezzosecolo also published an important article by Marco Revelli on the organisation of the Italian Communist Party among factory workers in Turin shortly before the introduction of Mussolini’s Special Laws.
By the time of the Party’s last legal provincial congress in 1924, factory workers made up 70 per cent of party members. The communists succeeded in winning a big following in the elections for the internal trade union representatives in the FIAT works in April 1925 – three years after Mussolini’s seizure of power! In the brand new Lingotto factory, they got 2.978 votes in the Mechanical Section, and 1,595 in the Bodywork section. The fascist list received only 429 and 218 votes respectively. The thesis of Revelli, who was on the editorial board of Primo Maggio, was that this political following was to be related back to the “workerist” line adopted by the Turin party organisation, a line that was supported by Gramsci. In his article he attempted to show that the working class did not let itself be subjected by Fascism; that their resistance originated in the everyday resistance to exploitation in the factory; and that the socio-cultural identity of the factory worker had found a new point of political identification in the radical line of the PCI.
One indirect but nonetheless highly significant contribution to the history of the mass worker was provided by the 1976 edition of the Annals of the Feltrinelli Foundation, which was dedicated to the history of Italian trade unionism in the post-War period. Particularly important in this regard was the introductory essay by the editor, Aris Accornero, Problemi del movimento sindacale in Italia 1943-73 (“Problems of the trade union movement in Italy, 1943-73”).
Accornero, who had been close to the journal Classe Operaia in the 1960s, had earlier been a worker at the RIV ball-bearing factory in Turin, one of FIAT’S supplier plants, and a trade union militant. Then he became a trade-union official for the CGIL, and he now teaches sociology at the University. He had already published investigations into the origins of Taylorism, and personal accounts covering the period of his trade union militancy in the factories during the first major phase of restoration of the employers’ power in the post-War period. His familiarity with the workerist literature of the 1960s and his own personal experiences led him to ascribe a decisive importance to the relationship between the working class, the organisation of the labour process and technology.
Other rank and file trade-union militants, and local cadres of the PCI who had lived through the realities of the workers’ struggles and had also participated directly in those struggles in their capacity as negotiators for their organisations, willingly transformed themselves into historians and continued to contribute to the extensive literature on the workers’ struggles in that period. In this context, the book of Marino Gamba, Innocenti: Imprenditore, fabbrica e classe operaia in cinquant’anni di vita italiana (“Innocenti: Company, factory and working class through fifty years of Italian life”) is worthy of attention, as is Renzo Gianotti’s Trent’anni di lotte alla FIAT (‘Thirty Years of Struggle at FIAT).
The theme of working-class collectivity was also taken up by industrial sociology – for example in Dario Salemi’s book Sindacato e forza lavoro all’Alfa Sud. Un caso anomalo di conflittualita’ industriale (“Unions and workers at Alfa Sud. An anomalous case of industrial conflictuality”). An area meriting particular attention is the work of Dario Lanzardo, who was formerly a contributor to Quaderni Rossi. In 1962 he had been directly involved in the clashes in Turin, around the first big of engineering workers’ strike since the strikes of the Resistance period.
This was the occasion when demonstrators attacked the local headquarters of the UIL trade union (which was politically close to the Socialist Party of Italy, PSI), because the union had signed a separate agreement with FIAT management. In later years these clashes, which spread from Piazza Statuto into the centre of Turin and which were particularly violent, were to take on something of a symbolic character. Some saw them as the starting date of the autonomous working-class movement in Italy; others saw them as having been caused by provocateurs, intent on exasperating the industrial conflict, and thereby firing the starting shots in what was to become the period of “red terrorism”. Lanzardo used the available documentation as well as the records of juridical proceedings and personal interviews with people who had been directly involved in the demonstrations, in order to show that the Revolt of Piazza Statuto (this was also the title of his book on the subject, which was published in 1980: La Rivolta di Piazza Statuto) was an expression of authentic proletarian anger after the years of superexploitation and repression.
The repression had been assisted not least by the collaboration of a number of “yellow” unions, which, acting on behalf of FIAT company management, had acted as spies, snoopers, and agents of intimidation against the workers. One of the people interviewed ends his account as follows:
“Question: Do you remember anything else about Piazza Statuto?
Answer: No, I can’t remember anything now; you should talk with Emilio … he’s been to college… When a worker does something, they don’t think about what people are going to say about it afterwards. We simply do it because there’s nothing else we can do!”
13) The end of the 1970s was marked by a series of social and cultural movements which exploded not only the interpretational methods of the traditional Left, but also those of the extra-parliamentary Left which had originated in the movement of 1968. As a result of this, rank and file trade unionists were as disoriented as those intellectuals who had chosen to involve themselves in working-class struggles in the period between 1968 and 1978, and they all tended to react by rejecting politics. From that point on, armed groups such as the Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse) and Front Line (Prima Linea) were permanently on the front pages of the newspapers. These groups also had roots inside the car factories, particularly in FIAT in Turin and Alfa Romeo in Milan. Some of the statements which they distributed after their armed attacks contained detailed analyses of the position of the workers in the factories, and very precise descriptions of the organisation of the labour process.
Managers in the car plants also became victims of the armed attacks. Each important phase of the trade-union struggle was accompanied by actions that were then claimed by the armed groups. The problem of violence was the central question of political life, and it engaged the attention of public opinion to an extent that was hitherto unprecedented. The question here was not only the organised violence of the armed groups, but also the actions of the so-called “diffuse terrorism” and the violent actions that took place in connection with militant trade-union and community struggles: for example, the “militant pickets” (picchetti duri), or the internal marches round the factories which regularly ended with the destruction of administrative offices and the (generally symbolic) kidnapping of management personnel. This social reality explains the harshness of the state reaction in 1979 and 1980.
In the minds of manipulated public opinion, there began to be less and less distinction between the murders by the Red Brigades and the militant pickets, which in the meantime had begun to invade the tertiary sector and the public services. During this period, workers in heavy industry were already beginning to feel the effects of the restructuring. When one criticises the brutality of the repression in the period 1979-80, one should not forget that the armed struggle had reached an almost frenetic pitch, so that in cities such as Turin, armed attacks were taking place at a rate of one every three hours on average. This was one of the factors that contributed to the destruction of the movement as a whole.
This all brought about a situation in which, at a political and cultural level, the struggles of the mass worker came to be identified with terrorism; this in turn led to a paralysis of left-wing culture, and of the Left which had participated in the struggles. During this situation, in which one had the impression that the course of history was careering out of control, the so-called “Movement of 1977” came into being, a movement which contained a whole range of new elements, and which brought to light many contradictions in the theory and practice of the Left. The editorial group of Primo Maggio was probably the only group of intellectuals and historians which concerned itself with trying to understand the nature of this movement and at the same time began to re examine its own theoretical paradigms.
The first paradigm to be brought into discussion was precisely the historical centrality of the mass worker. The process of tertiarisation and decentralisation, the diffusion of small units of production and (particularly in Italy) the extension of home-working began to undermine the material bases of Fordist society. The movement of 1977 had brought a new generation of young people onto the stage of history. Their needs, their symbols, their ways of expressing themselves, their position within a radically altered labour market, their situation within a conception of the family and of society which had been brought into question by the feminist movement – all this needed to be understood, and this was the task that we set ourselves – although it was only fulfilled to a very limited extent. All this was also the subject of discussions within th Primo Maggio editorial group, which took place on the basis of my article ‘The Tribe of Moles” (La Tribu delle Talpe).
In the auto industry we saw an occurrence which, even at a distance of ten years, still remains puzzling – namely the hiring of 10,000 young men and women by FIAT. These hirings brought the generation of 1977 into the factory. What would be the process of their assimiliation, in the light of the realities life on the assembly line, the introduction of new robotised technologies and the experiences of the previous generation of workers? So began the most interesting phase of the “workers’ inquiry” (inchiesta operaia) on Primo Maggio, a phase which had to be broken off because of the repression of the years 1979 and 1980. The results of this inquiry were never completed; for the most part the material still lies in our archives. Of course, of these 10,000 new hirings in 1977, many left the factory within a few months, of their own accord; others were sacked by management in October 1980. Up until this point, we had still seen no well-grounded historical analysis of the mass worker in the auto industry.
At the start of 1977, however, the first international conference on oral history was organised in Bologna. Cesare Bermani made the introductory speech, in which he raised important questions about the subjectivity of the working class and of the young proletariat.
14) The essay by Duccio Bigazzi (Gli operai della catena di montaggio: la FIAT – “Assembly-line workers at FIAT”) which was published in the Annals of the Feltrinelli Institute in 1980, dealt with the problem of technological standards in the FIAT auto industry in the period 1921 to 1938, on the basis of a wealth of documentary material. Bigazzi analysed the process of professional change which was triggered by the introduction of new machinery into the factories; his intention was to reconstruct an outline of the mass worker in Turin during the period of Fascism. Bigazzi described the various phases of the construction of the Lingotto factory, on the basis of documentation from the “FIAT Historical Archives Centre”. He also made extensive use of oral testimonies and contemporary publications in the technical and economic press. This enabled him to construct a detailed picture of the Lingotto factory at the time when it came on-stream (1924-5). He concludes that Lingotto was at that time the most advanced auto factory in Europe, and that the high level of its technology was matched only by the Ope1 factory at Ruesselsheim.
Once the assembly lines had been introduced and the process of technological innovation brought to a conclusion, FIAT sent some of its technicians to visit Ford’s factories in America, in order to produce a comparative report on the relative technological standards of the two concerns. From this report by FIAT’S technical staff it becomes clear that the technological content of each of the two concerns was at essentially- the same leve1,but that Ford had a far higher level of productivity. This was for two reasons: at FIAT there was insufficient coordination in the supply of component parts throughout the production process; and labour time in the various individual work-phases of the process were insufficiently saturated. In order to deal with the second of these two aspects, FIAT management pushed ahead with a “Taylorisation” of the company. This culminated in the introduction of the Bedaux system during the years of the Great Crisis. On the other hand, there were no major innovations as regards machinery, except in the area of body painting and sheet-metal working. One could summarise these developments by saying that at FIAT, under Fascism, first the Fordist factory and then Taylorisation were introduced. This would confirm the thesis that the system of technology was a deterrent and was used as a factor of intimidation and disciplining in times of heavy repression. This organisational model reappeared at FIAT in the period 1980-1.
It was after the mass sackings (veiled through the mechanisms of the cassa integrazione) that we saw an acceleration in the installation of robots in production. At the time of its opening in 1924, the FIAT Lingotto factory appeared as the embodiment of the working-class defeat. Lingotto was to become a pilgrimage point for visitors who were taken on tours through the various departments of the factory in minibuses; the factory was divided into four floors, with a test-track on the roof. Witnesses mentioned the silenzio operaio (the silence of the workers) as a phenomenon that they found particularly striking. But the workers wanted to visit the factory too. The fragmentation of work within the Fordist-Taylorist system had deprived them of an overall view of the cycle of production. So on Sundays they would turn up back at the factory – they made up the largest group among the visitors – and what they were looking for was the meaning of their work, their individual contributions, within the cycle of production as a whole. It was not some attachment to the factory that brought them back into the plant on their free days; the factory was for a long time known as “Portolongone”, which was the name of a nearby jail for prisoners serving life sentences.
The first attempts at a coordination between technological innovation and the wage structure was the introduction of a collective pieceworksystem, in the form of a plant-wide production bonus designed to get workers to operate collectively and always to bear in mind that there was someone waiting down the line for them to finish their jobs. This seems to have been more an educational policy than a technical requirement – in fact the system was soon dropped, in favour of individual piecwork agreements. Nonetheless the system achieved real results in terms of work-rhythms: in 1926 FIAT produced 51,000 vehicles, a record which was not to be surpassed until 1935-7. In 1927 a period of stagnation began, which was further exacerbated by the crisis of 1929, and which meant that at Lingotto very few technological innovations were introduced; production fell and the number of workers and of hours worked was reduced. Uniquely among the major European auto manufacturers, FIAT did not invest in technological innovation until 1938, when the situation was to change with the building of the new Mirafiori works. Lingotto, the most modem factory in Europe in 1924, was actually scheduled for closure and demolition in 1937 to make way for the new Mirafiori works.
In the event, things turned out differently: Mirafiori was built in another part of town, and the Lingotto works continued in operation through to the 1980s, when it was finally closed. The latest plan is to develop it in part as a monument of industrial archaeology, and in part as a kind of “FIAT Beaubourg”. During these ten years of technological stagnation (1926,36), from management’s point of view the only reserve resources for higher productivity was human labour-power. This meant a relentless, crushing process of the transformation of living labour. For this reason, output-related wages (individual piecework, group piecework, section piecework etc) were manipulated in such a way that the wages obtained via the higher productivity remained barely sufficient to put together a living wage. In 1928 this situation was further exacerbated by the introduction of the Bedaux system, with the result that workers rebelled with increasing frequency against foremen and time-and-motion personnel, which in turn led to the intervention of the police and the arrest of numbers of workers. However, when, in 1930, after sackings and a general rise in the cost of living, a wave of strikes broke out in Turin and other industrial cities, strikes which were even supported by the local Fascist unions, the Lingotto workers did not stream out into the streets of the city, but confined their protests within the four walls of the factory.
In these years FIAT accelerated up another process, namely the introduction of new workers into the position of specialised manual workers (i.e. the modern operaio di linea – line worker). Turnover was very high, and the sackings during the Great Crisis enabled the company to be extremely selective in their hiring policies. During this period the relationship between FIAT and the government was also extremely tense, since the government was alarmed at the prospect of public disorders. The Prefect of Turin asked FIAT for a weekly statement with a list of those who had been sacked, and the reasons for their sacking. The statistics as gathered by Bigazzi in this regard (October 1930 to December 1931) make interesting reading :
Reasons Number of workers Percentage
Staff reduction 847 70.2
Indiscipline 143 11.8
Sickness 90 7.7
Unsuited for work at FIAT 102 8.5
Voluntary redundancy 25 2.0
Reason not known 38
The formulation “Unsuited for work at FIAT seems to me to be characteristic of the company’s behaviour towards its workers – and the sackings for “sickness” and “indiscipline” can be seen as variants of that general definition. When one takes these figures as indicators for the degree of selectivity of factory personnel, one arrives at a rejection rate of something like 30 per cent, which is very high. Bigazzi also researched hospital records in the city and established that in these years the number of workers who were hospitalised as a result of accidents at work rose very markedly. This led to the Bedaux system being called into question. Even the Fascist unions were calling for it to be abandoned, and this was to happen – albeit only in appearance – in 1934.
This fact caused the engineer Charles Bedaux to publish an article in Il Corriere della Sera, in which he challenged the notion that the system applied by FIAT was the same as his own. He had scheduled rates of increase of 100% for points obtained over and above the operating standard, whereas at Lingotto the increase was only 75 per cent. During this period of extreme social tensions brought about by heightene exploitation in a context of general economic crisis. Agnelli brought into his factories a new generation of workers, “new” not only as regards the nature of their skill qualifications, but above all “new” in relation to the experiences of that generation that had either experienced or had been present during the defeat of 1922.
This was the first real generation of mass workers in Italy. This becomes clear when one reads the emigre communist press of this period: the older party cadres had real difficulties in understanding the attitudes and behaviour of the newly hired workers, attitudes which vacillated between anger and rebellion on the one hand, and opportunism and individual compromises on the other. In 1933, and again in 1935, Agnelli travelled to the United States to visit the new Ford plants at River Rouge. By now FIAT was once again producing at a satisfactory level of output; military orders and Italy’s colonial adventure in Africa had made it possible for the company to pull out of stagnation. In 1936 the first studies were undertaken for the construction of the Mirafiori works, which was originally planned as a kind of horizontal Lingotto. Construction of the new plant began in 1938, and once again FIAT was up with the most advanced technology of the times. (The Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg was constructed according to the same model, and with the mass participation of Italian labour-power.) By the time that production actually began, Mirafiori was no longer merely a car factory, but a factory that made everything possible; two thirds of its output consisted of military goods.
Bigazzi’s historical analysis ends at this point. The historiography of the Mirafiori works during this period is still fragmentary. If one discounts the material contained in the biographies of Agnelli and Valletta, most historical analysis into the relation of capital and the working class at FIAT during World War II is limited to one important episode in the history of the Resistance – the strike of March 1943, which brought about the crisis of the regime, and the fall of the Mussolini government. Studies of the period 1940-45 at FIAT tend to follow the fortunes and misfortunes of the historiography of the Resistance. The entrepreneurial history of this period also shows a certain reticence towards a deepening of analysis of the War period, which was marked by a new attempt to discipline the workers and by an alteration of the composition of the workers following the massive input of female labour power into production to make up for shortages of available male labour.
After the publication of the Daimler-Benz Book, it appears to me that although details would still need to be corroborated via accurate historical research into FIATS operations – that working conditions in Italian factories never sank to the levels of absolute degradation that occurred in German industry under the domination of the Nazis; on the contrary, shortages of labour-power had inclined Italian industrialists, most particularly in the armaments sector, and at FIAT in particular – to a “softer” policy towards their workers; they favoured a wage policy which brought certain privileges for qualified and specialised labour power, in particular for technical personnel. This does not mean that the living conditions of the working class during the War were good or even satisfactory; it is simply to say that when one takes FIAT as an example, in the years from 1940 to 1945, the intensification of exploitation was not pursued as violently as in the years of the Great Crisis, when the first generation of mass workers was created in the factories.
Finally, one should not forget that after 8 September 1943 (the Badoglio government’s armistice with the Allies) Italy’s industrialists began a slow process of political realignment with a view to loosening their ties with Fascism and to re-establishing relations with the Allies. The Agnellis and FIAT had no difficulty in re-establishing close contacts with US big capital, and with the intelligence services of the US army. This turnabout also provided for contacts with the Italian Resistance movement – not only with its liberal and monarchist sections, but also with the communists and socialists, with the partisan movement and the working class itself – an alliance which the industrialists very much needed when the German Wehrmacht began dismantling plant and machinery with a view to transporting it to Gennany. It was workers organised in the clandestine movement who saved the machines, and thus provided a valuable service to their bosses.
A further factor which may have influenced the conditions and ways of behaving of the “new FIAT workers” during the War – was the attitudes of the young peasants, artisans and students who had applied for jobs in the company’s armaments producing departments in the hopes of avoiding or postponing their military service. Finally, one should not forget that after 8 September 1943 the clandestine work of trade-union organisation at FIAT experienced a major upswing. The organisation of this movement moved from the rather spontaneous strike movement of March 1943, to increasingly difficult collective forms of autoriduzione produttiva (self-reduction of production) in the period 1944-45. In order for these forms of struggle and resistance to be used successfully against the Nazi occupation, it was obviously necessary to have a detailed knowledge of the cycle of production and of the factory as a whole, a knowledge that the mass worker did not have; to this extent, another form of thinking was required, a culture which only the older militants of the generation of the 1920’s still possessed. These were the ones who had survived in the silence of clandestinity, or those who were returning from emigration, or those who had been freed from imprisonment in the Fascist prisons.
Apart from detailed knowledge of the factory, it was also necessary to create an alliance with other layers of employees ranging from technicians to white collar workers, through to security personnel, workers in the internal factory transportation system and the plant engineers. This was a phase of solidarity, of collective complicity, and a phase of the reconquest of knowledge, which later was to become the basis for the ideology of the self-management councils (comigli di gestione) in the immediate post-War period. This was also a phase of stronger identification with the factory and with the technological heritage it housed. Once again, as previously in 1920, communist ideology was able to reconcile men with machinery, and opened space for high-sounding dreams and utopias.
14) At the time when Bigazzi’s essay on the creation of the first generation of mass workers in Italy appeared was published, we were hardly in a position to appreciate it. Good friends had been arrested and the judiciary had decided that the full responsibility for all the illegal acts committed in Italy since 1968 was to be laid at the door of Italy’s “workerist” tendency. The witch-hunt against the intellectuals of the “workerist Left” was already in full swing. They were to be silenced – through show trials, long years of imprisonment in special prisons, exile, expulsion to officially designated locations, by the destruction of their books by erstwhile “Left” publishing houses, and by denying them access to libraries. The historian “establishment” made a great contribution to this witch-hunt campaign, inasmuch as some of its best known members were active participants.
The independent alternative network of Left bookshops and distribution cooperatives was destroyed, and journals such as Primo Maggio had great difficulties in surviving at all. Nevertheless, in 1981 the editorial group of Primo Maggio, together with the Instituto De Martino, was able to organise a conference in Mantova, which brought together a wide range of historians who were involved in the field of “history from below”. The first proceedings of this conference, published five years later, show that despite the shock of the defeat, the experience of Italian left-wing historians, both in method and in terms of empirical analysis, had found a clear voice. Duccio Bigazzi laid out in his essay the first results of his researches on the auto workers of Alfa Romeo, which appeared as a book in 1988, and which was the most important monograph of the 1980s dealing with this topic.
15) The conference can be seen as the last (failed) attempt to found a “society of Italian radical historians”. From that point on, political resignation and the individual pursuit of academic careers led to self censorship (as of 1982, thousands of new teaching positions were tendered, and salaries were raised). Thus the balance of Italian historical writing in the 1980s on the man-machine problematic in industrial conflict, or in general on the problematic that Gramsci sketched in his “Americanism and Fordism”, is very meagre. But when we consider the retreat of left-wing historians, the defeat of the factory council movement and the mass sackings in the big factories played a far more important role than the campaign against the “workerists”.
With the sackings, militants of the factory councils – particularly those who had fought on job-protection and health and safety issues – and sick workers and non-productive workers, and older workers, were selected out. More than 700,000 workers were sacked by companies up and down Italy. In the motor industry, these developments took their course with the sacking of 61 FIAT workers for “suspected membership of terrorist groups” in Autumn 1979. This put the engineering unions in a difficult position: for the first time since the “Hot Autumn” and the coming into effect of the statuto dei lavoratori (“workers’ statute”), factory workers were being sacked on explicitly political grounds. These sackings brought a new situation of workers’ legal rights into being. Moreover, the question needed to be asked: how had FIAT management been able to identify the “suspects”? Did there exist alongside the ordinary factory security personnel a special company police, or had the lists been drawn up by the carabinieri of the Anti-Terrorist Squad? From the point of view of criminal law, too, a new situation was being created.
Nevertheless, there were hardly any solidarity initiatives, either on the part of “liberal” public opinion, or on the part of the unions. From the published “Memoirs” (1988) of FIATS general manager at the time we learn that the sackings had been discussed in advance with the general secretary of the CGIL union (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Luciano Lama. One of the few political initiatives was the protest meeting that was called in Turin by the editorial board of Primo Maggio together with other journals. The proceedings of this meeting were published in a special edition of Inchiesta. The records of this initiative are important for the recent history of FIAT workers, because they document the level of discussion and the sense of “before the Deluge” that prevailed at the time – in other words, a few months before the “35 Days” strike at FIAT against the mass sackings, which was the focal point of the defeat of the Italian factory council movement in the 1970s.
A comparison between this special edition of Inchiesta and the proceedings of a Turin Communist Party conference (February 1980) on company policy and the economic situation of FIAT, shows that the PC1 conference discussed seriously the possibility of Agnelli’s concern being absorbed into the state sector of the economy, given the conjunctural difficulties it was going through at that time. This is revealing, given what we know of what happened a few years later – in other words, exactly the opposite: the state auto manufacturer Alfa Romeo was absorbed into Agnelli’s private empire. This shows how unclear the PC1 leadership was about the real relations of power at FIAT. On the other hand, the dangers of a catastrophic defeat of the workers’ movement and the restoration of the old FIAT despotism was accurately analysed and assessed at the Mantova conference.
In this stocktaking of the Italian historiography of class conflict in the auto sector, the proceedings of both these conferences are of particular interest, since they are the last available sources of information on the workers’ reactions to the new technologies (the first robots were introduced in 1978-9) prior to the long hiatus in historical and sociological analysis which was to last for ten long years. The destruction of the network of Works Councils, the re-establishment of despotic industrial relations which left the workers no room for negotiation on questions of technological innovation, and the disintegration and ideological disorientation of the Left intelligentsia all led to a situation in which no further information came out of the FIAT works in Turin, and the situation at the workplace ceased being an object of analysis. It was only when the Ministry of Labour sent its inspectors into FIAT that the world of FIAT was once again, after ten years, opened to public scrutiny. The inspectors’ brief was to look into the truth of complaints that had been received from trade unionists and social workers, against FIAT management, regarding alleged infractions of the basic rights of workers. These complaints led to a judge in Turin ordering an investigation against FIAT management, which in turn led to FIAT being put on trial.
Parallel to this ambivalent-seeming state-bureaucratic initiative (which here serves only as a possible source for a future possible history of working conditions at FIAT in the 1980s, and also as a symptom of an “atmospheric” change in public opinion in relation to FIAT), there were signs of a revival of interest in circles close to the trade unions, in the history of labour struggles at FIAT. The occasion for this was provided by the twentieth anniversary of the “Hot Autumn”. It seemed that the cultural establishment also had an interest in these themes, as is shown by the publication, by the Milan publisher Garzanti, of Marco Revelli’s book Lavorare in FIAT (November 1989).
Marco Revelli, who had previously been a member of the Primo Maggio editorial group, was one of the few intellectuals who, during the big strike in October 1980, followed the struggle on a day-today basis and set about collecting documents and eye-witness accounts (see above). After the defeat and the mass sackings (in 1979 FIAT still employed 102,500 workers in auto production; by 1984 the figure was only 55,400), together with Mariella BerraRevelli conducted a sociological investigation into the phenonema of mental depression and disorientation among those sacked FIAT workers who were living off the cassa integrazione, i.e. in a position where they were still de jure employed by the company, but were de facto in a kind of retirement, which it was impossible to say whether it was temporary or permanent. As many as
200 cornmined suicide.
In the course of 1981-2, Berra and Revelli conducted several interviews. The important thing that emerged from the interviews was that unemployment destabilised family relationships and put the central role of the man in the family so strongly in question that many became prey to depression, and some committed suicide. This is additional evidence for the way in which strongly patriarchal structures still exist in working class families, even when the woman is in full-time employment. The unemployed men were reticent about getting involved in new functions (housework, childcare). However, this is only one aspect of the problem. Another aspect was that the sudden lack of a community of solidarity led to a loss of emotional equilibrium. The factory was the only spatial fixed point of social aggregation and identification with one’s own class. Other socialisation- and meeting- points that existed outside the factory (party branches, trade union offices. bars) had either long since faded away, or had been made non-viable by the great level of mobility among workers. The self-organisation of workers at plant level had reached such a pitch that the factory was no longer simply a place where one went to work, but also a place of socialisation.
A precondition for workers to get financial support from the cassa integrazione (which made good up to 90 per cent of your previous wages) was that the worker undertook no other paid employment. It was not lack of money, but the loss of social and political role, the enforced idleness, and the lack of any initiative or policy aimed at retraining, that was the source of the depression. Occasionally initiatives were undertaken with a view to offering the “cassa integrati” (as they were known, half ironically, halfdismissively) unpaid work in the community. Only a small majority were in a position to refind the way to autonomous self-organisation, but even people involved in these initiatives suffered under a severe psychological strain. By this analysis, all Gramsci’s observations in “Americanism and Fordism” were recurring, except that here it was not a matter of forcing upon the workers, through the company structure, a new socio-hygienic system of values; it was more a collapse of what really had been a workers’ civilisation, a workers’ culture, which may have had its ambiguous aspects, but which for thousands of proletarians constituted a unique res publica. Workers’ identification with this culture was so strong that it evoked among a shocked population an emotion of being at the end of an epoch, of being rolled over by
history, a sort of Goetterdaemmerung atmosphere.
In his above-mentioned book on the Fascist trade unions and the working class in Turin, in order to highlight the level of exploitation at FIAT during the Great Crisis (1930-1). Giulio Sapelli stresses that in that period two FIAT workers committed suicide. What historian of the future is going to ascribe a historical meaning to the wave of suicides in our own times?
16) The factory workers, and above all the militants of the factory council movement, had perceived the mass sackings of the 1980s not merely as a conjunctural restructuration policy but as the collapse of an epoch and the twilight of a civilisation; the intellectuals, on the other hand, saw them as a turning point, as the end of an epoch that had begun with the movement of 1968, an epoch which had been stamped with illusions and extremist mistakes. Even a section of the intelligentsia who had been imprisoned repudiated their own political past and “revised” their own history by means of an internalisation of the defeat. The great majority of the left-wing intellectuals interpreted the turning point, sometimes publicly, sometimes tacitly, as a liberation from their continuing relationship of analysis with real mass movements and complex political phenomena such as the urban guerrilla movement.
The restoration of order in the factories and in society as a whole was greeted with relief. Apparently one can do one’s researches better when dead silence rules all around. In Italy’s special prisons, and during the course of interrogations, there were instances of torture, but the reaction of the intelligentsia was to ignore it. The rules about crown witnesses in political court cases led to the total undermining of the right of defence (in the reforms of the penal code which came into force in 1989, this advance was even institurionalised: the mal dialectic between the representative for the prosecution and the representative for the defence was replaced by a system of direct “negotiation” between the judge and the accused). Leftwing intellectuals, with only a few exceptions, left indignation about this to the specialists in penal reform. Thus they turned their backs not only on the trade-union struggles of the working class, but also on fundamental values of the liberal tradition.
The responsibility for this situation is borne by the Communist Party, whose policies had helped mould the culture of the emergenza (“emergency”). The judges who had been responsible for the wave of arrests of 4,000 suspected “terrorists” were closely linked to the Communist Party. The prosecution logic, and even the techniques of cross examination, were on a par with those of the Stalinist trials of the 19%. The PCI put their best lawyers at the disposal of the crown witnesses. The culture of “emergency” established a tendency whereby every mass movement that went beyond the bounds of legality was viewed on the same level as the armed actions of organised groupings. For this reason, the factory council movement and the defensive struggles of the factory workers were seen more as likely ground for acts of anti-State violence than as the healthy components of basic democracy.
So it was that our Leftwing intellectuals undertook a 180 degree turn, on societal questions. They enthusiastically embraced the crass ideology of Reaganite neo-liberalism; they lost their basic democratic instincts; they repudiated not only their reformist-communist and social-reformist culture, but even the spirit of liberalism. They succumbed fully to the ideology of post-Fordism, and returned to conceptions of society that dated back to the socalled “Golden Age” of America in the 1920s. In short, they threw overboard the whole of Keynesian political thinking. They engaged in idolatry of private enterprise and abandoned any idea of a “humane” capitalism, even though in Italy there exists a fair tradition of socially responsible capitalism (Adriano Olivetti, Enrico Mattei). In short: the leftwing intellectuals went right over to right-wing conservatism. In recent European history, to find such a radical betrayal of one’s political roots one has to go back to 1933, when many democratic and social-democratic Germans went over to national socialism. So it is no wonder that, today, ten years after all this, Italy is the only country in the OECD where entire regions are no longer under state control, but are under the Mafia; where justice – according to the 1990 annual report of the Bar Association – is all but paralysed; and where the highest level of concentration of capital in Europe is matched by a Parliament incapable of establishing a sufficiently strong government majority to be able to set up an anti-trust law. What is unprecedented in this Italian model is the combination of a strong tendency to monopoly with an independent level of production organised in small and medium-sized firms: “concentration without centralisation”, in the apposite definition of the American sociologist Bennett Harrison. This is the core of post-Fordism.
17) In the heads of our historians, political scientists, sociologists and so on there is an idee fixe that industrial conflict is about to disappear from the stage of history, that work-relations are no longer the basis for socio-political identity, and that terms such as “class” or “class composition”, as methodological tools for the study of history, are valid only as far as the October Revolution and no further.
The debate on post-Fordism and post-industrial society that emerged in those years was marked by this orientation of the leftwing intellectuals. This began with a series of studies on Taylorism (which I analysed in a paper for the Hamburg Institute for Social History, Einfuhrung in die Lektuere von Gramscis “Americanismo e Fordismo” – “Introduction to a Reading of Gramsci’s Americanism and Fordism” – November 1989) in which a positive “historical revisionism” appeared in outline. For social historians this turnabout meant that instead of the history of industrial society, they cultivated the history of companies, and as far as business and entrepreneurial history went, it was occasionally low-grade stuff.
So it was that, for example, it was rare to find studies on the auto industry that still concerned themselves with the history of working conditions and class relations in production, and what few there were generally originated from the same authors. There was no new blood. It is also worth noting that all these studies first appeared in print after 1988, at the same time as a certain anti-FIAT sentiment was beginning to make itself felt among public opinion. One exception was the important study by Stefano Musso on wages policies at FIAT before and after the Great Crisis, which first appeared in Classe (December 1982). Musso set out to deal with the same questions that Castronovo, Sapelli and Bigazzi had already discussed (see above): “Was there a ‘Fordist phase’ in FIAT’S wages policies during Fascism?” He examines, on the one hand, the organisational debate on the Taylorisation of small enterprises, and on the other hand he establishes certain difficulties with the wage statistics; his thesis is that Taylor’s system was, in the Italian case, tested more in the smaller supplier industries rather than in the big auto manufacturers. In opposition to Bigazzi, he interprets the introduction of the Bedaux system in FIAT in 1927 as merely the intensification of individual work outputs, and not designed to promote a reorganisation of the productive apparatus.
From there he poses the wages question historically, in the following manner: In Italy, up until about 1920, there was no wage scale system by which wage levels could be accurately related to levels of qualification among the workforce. The wage scale system under Fascism, in other words from 1929 to 1939, had only prescribed the level of minimum wages; wage scales related to qualification levels and job specifications were very vaguely defined. Thus the data failed to establish the real wages, for example under piecework working, and to evaluate the knowledge with a view to a comparative study. The only source was the wage scale books (libri matricola – the one for the FIAT-Lingotto works was destroyed during the War).
On the basis of certain data – what was published by the employers themselves, what was available in publications of the city administration, and an Inquiry by the ministry of labour in 1925, Musso believes that he can argue that wages at FIAT were 30 per cent higher than in other sectors, namely before and after the introduction of the Bedaux system; nevertheless, neither in 1914, nor in 1925, nor in 1948 were these wages sufficient to guarantee a minimum standard of living for a five-person working-class family. Only highly skilled workers, or unskilled workers putting in a lot of overtime, could hope to reach that minimum. In order to corroborate his thesis that there was no Italian Fordism, Musso leans heavily on an interview that Giovanni Agnelli gave to the United Press agency in June 1932, in which he described Fordism as a social philosophy that was only suitable for the United States, and where he added that the higher wages were unthinkable in Italy because of the limited market existing within Europe.
The communist emigre press of the period took these assertions as pure ‘demagogy’, and Musso attaches perhaps too much significance to them. However I agree with his conclusion, that FIAT never set their sights on a wages policy that would presuppose the creation of an internal consumption market. In the Fascist period, as far as the prevailing business philosophy was concerned, the working class was not seen as potential buyers of cars. The same number of Classe had a further article dealing with the problematic of the cycle of vehicle production: Carlo Carotti, Sistema Bedaux e sindacato fascista alla Pirelli (‘The Bedaux system and the fascist union at Pirelli”).
18) A typical product of Italian historiography of the 1980s was the biography of Vittorio Valletta, the general manager of FIAT. Vittorio Valletta presents a unique case in the history of European motor industry managements, because he succeeded in maintaining his position of power in an unbroken continuity from 1929 to 1964. He embodied the history of the firm far better that the members of the Agnelli family – in fact he was more or less the embodiment of the company’s philosophy. He came to be known simply as I’Ingegnere. Unlike Castronovo, Sapelli and Bigazzi, Piero Bairati (who was commissioned by FIAT to write this biography) had the opportunity to use the records of board meetings, the company correspondence from 1943 to 1967 (the correspondence prior to 1943 was destroyed by bombing during the War), the archives of the American Multic company, which had had business dealings with FIAT, and various individual personal archives, such as the Jona archive in the Luigi Einaudi Foundation. However, Valletta’s personality, which was of considerable historical significance, was rather devalued by Bairati’s style of “palace history writing”. The reader who is looking for a history of “technology from above” will be disappointed. Instead of a reconstruction of the system of personnel management, he gives us an unproblematicised and adulatory life history of the man.
However, some passages of this book deserve closer examination, and may be of particular interest for German readers. Bairati writes: “In the reconstruction of Valletta’s role during the War, I have found the documents of the “German bureau” within the FIAT archive to be of extraordinary importance.” The head of this bureau was the then director of FIAT-Germany, Piero Bonelli. These documents were evaluated by Bairati particularly in the chapter La tattica del camaleonte (‘The tactic of the chameleon”), where he follows Valletta’s activities from the Badoglio armistice (8 September 1943) through to the end of the War. He advances the thesis that Valletta was able to use cleverly planned obstructions in order to hinder the German occupation troops from transporting FIAT plant to Germany, and was able to place FIAT’S armaments production under the direct control of the Reich Minister of the Economy. According to him, Valletta was playing a clever double game, which almost led to his being imprisoned by the German occupation troops; he maintained good relations with the representative authorities of Mussolini’s Salo Republic and the German occupation authorities, and at the same time he maintained contacts with the American secret services and also with anti-fascist and partisan groups.
The reconstruction of one particular episode from 1944 is very informative for Bairati’s approach in describing the incident: the German military authorities were wishing to transfer Shop 17 of the Mirafiori works, the section where aircraft parts were manufactured. On 19 June 1944 the whole factory was paralysed by a strike, and on 21 June the Prefect of Turin ordered the factory to be closed. On 26 June, while the factory was still empty on account of the lockout, as Bairati writes, “the Allied air forces, with unbelievable accuracy, bombed, precisely, Shop 17”. From the way in which the episode is described, the reader might conclude the following: a) the organisation of the strike was known to the factory management and perhaps they even had a hand in it (this would presuppose a direct link existing between the plant management and the illegal strike committee – but Bairati says nothing about this); b) the strategic leadership of the Anglo-American air forces was informed that there was a danger of Shop 17 being trans-shipped and that they were informed of the location of that shop and were told that on such-and-such a day they could bomb it without any danger to the workers – on this Bairati says nothing. He gives no explanation; he leaves history to float in the sky, and leaves the reader to his own fantasies and conjectures; and on the question of “which non-communist partisan groups did Valletta have contact with”, he offers no answer. He states simply that he had come across a list of resistance groups which had received financial
support from FIAT. No more than that.
In order to build the picture of Valletta as a saviour of men and machines, Bairati faithfully records all the instances in which the Ingegnere intervened with the German military authorities to argue for the release of imprisoned FIAT workers. However there is one fact which cannot conceal – namely that the head of the internal factory security force, and Valletta’s right-hand man, was an ex-secret agent of Mussolini who had shared responsibility for the murder, in 1937 on French soil, of the Rosselli brothers, two antifascist intellectuals who were leaders of the emigre group Giustizia e Liberta.
At the end of the War, despite his patriotic services rendered and his donations to the resistance movement, the “chameleon” was sentenced to death by communist partisans. Valletta escaped execution by a hair’s breadth. He was provided with a hiding place by the partisans of the (socialist) Matteotti group. On the authority of the Liberation Front, he was removed from office, and a commissar was installed, although only for a period of a few months. As a result of the reconciliation policies of the PCI leadership, which had been a member of the Badoglio coalition for the period of the liberation war in the Italian territory that was under the administration of the German military authorities, Valletta was able to return to his post as general manager of FIAT.
Bairati does not address the historical question of the kind of debate that took place on this, within the communist movement and the political leadership of the Liberation Front, or the question of how meaningful was the idea of punishing Valletta for his political responsibilities under Fascism. As a result, the questions that were thrown open by Liliana Lanzardo’s book (see above) are left unanswered.
Giulio Sapelli, the president of the Institute for Advancement of Business History, attacked Bairati’s work with unaccustomed vehemence. In his opinion it is an example of how business history should not be written.
19) The first volume of Duccio Bigazzi’s monograph on the history of the Alfa Romeo car company appeared in 1988. This study should have been a useful source for an inquiry into the Taylorisation of the company and the changes in the skill and grading structure of the workforce, but even though the author was to analyse a section of the company’s archives and had access to the minutes of most of their board meetings, he limited himself strictly to general aspects of the history of the company. The first volume describes the year of the company’s foundation, the major changes in class composition during the First World War, the turbulent post-War years up to the victory of the Fascist Party, the insuperable crisis that the company went through until the first intervention by state capital (in 1926, the year of Mussolini’s emergency regulations and the suspension of political pluralism).
In contrast to Bigazzi’s first essay on FIAT, which had been an example for the history of the mass worker, this second study dealt in exemplary fashion with the history of the worker aristocracy. In fact it is not possible to draw a clear dividing line between these two conceptions.
Alfa Romeo was founded by a French businessman in 1906, and a few years later transferred into Italian hands. The Alfa Romeo workers were known for their degree of professionalism. Famed as “magic mechanics”, they built for themselves a closed group that was distinguished by a pride in its work. Bigazzi does not allow himself to be influenced by this legend, and criticises the notion, taken over from traditional historiography, o the “work ethic”. He agrees with David Montgomery that these groups of highly qualified workers, whose hardcore consisted of tool preparation workers and maintenance workers (attrezzisti), had a sense of being bound by an ethical code of solidarity.
Bigazzi’s work does not only go into the ‘Taylorist problematic”; the reactions of people to the new methods of evaluating labour output, to the introduction of new technology etc, are only one theme of his inquiry. A second important theme is the analysis of the relations between the factory and the surrounding industrial network that was dependent on Alfa, which consisted largely of supplier firms. The final location for the Alfa factory (abbreviation of Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, which first got the name Alfa Romeo in 1913) was sought in an area on the outskirts of Milan where there was as yet no industry settled, and which was a long way from the districts where proletarians lived and from other industrial sectors.
The factory was clean and well-lit: it was seen as the height of modernity. Within a short time a lot of other small companies had moved into the same area, companies which functioned as subcontractors for Alfa. There was a brisk exchange of labour between these companies and Alfa, which had a high turnover rate. When we compare this situation with the situation at the Ford plants in Detroit, we see that despite big differences of size and the level of organisation, their
personnel policies were essentially the same. [Note 691 In 1913, fate took the two companies down separate paths: Alfa had to confront a big market crisis, because its sports and luxury models were not finding buyers. Ford, on the other hand, went down the path of the cheap standardised model. Nineteen-thirteen was the year of the first big trade union discussions in both companies. The Alfa workers plumped mainly for the syndicalist-revolutionary organisations, and thereby constructed a “turbulent enclave” in the otherwise markedly reformist labour movement in Milan.
The craftworker ethic goes hand in hand with a strong class consciousness, which reached out into the hinterland of the smaller companies and workshops in the auto-producing sector. A solidarity began to build up in the auto sector at the time when the frst rationalisation policies were being put into effect. The texture of relations between “Il Portello” (the main Alfa works), the supplier firms and the other auto sector companies and workshops (in those days Milan was a more important auto city than Turin) shows a community of militant workers which was held together by more than just a shared place of work. The strategy of uprooting – in other words, the decision to locate the factory a long way from where the workers lived – was to backfire. The syndicalist-revolutionary trade union groups answered such a model of organisation more successfully than the reformist unions.
Seen in historical tern, for the Italian working class they constituted the transition from “shop unionism” to “industrial unionism”. This was also the meaning of the emergence of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the USA. This form of organisation, which went beyond the limits of individual firms, and which existed outside the neighbourhood solidarity of the proletarian districts, was to reappear repeatedly in the history of the Italian labour movement. It was a characteristic of the factory council movement in the 1970s.
20) The history of the “Portello” Alfa Romeo works in Milan reminds us that Milan was the first capital of Italian vehicle production, before Turin took the lead. But Milan still remained an important centre of the production cycle after FIAT began to grow larger and consolidated its domination of the domestic market. After the Second World War, through to the 1970s, there were still three independent motor manufacturers producing in Milan – Autobianchi, Innocenti and Alfa Romeo – and a number of medium-to-large component companies, such as Pirelli, Magneti Marelli and Borletti. Many of these firms have now been incorporated into the FIAT empire; only Pirelli has maintained an entirely separate identity.
In the 1960s, Alfa Romeo built another bigger factory in Arese, a few miles north of Milan. This plant gradually took over production from the old “Portello” works and set up new production lines. Trade union organisation at Alfa Romeo never suffered the catastrophic defeats that occurred with such regularity at FIAT. This difference was established principally in the phase 1979-82, when the factory council organisation at Alfa Romeo had to overcome the great crisis. Several factors contributed to this. Alfa Romeo belonged to the state concern I.R.I., in which industrial relations had generally been conducted on a rather cooperative basis between the unions and plant management. The Milan engineering group of the Christian union federation CISL took the course of supporting the workers’ resistance to the various restructuring attempts at Alfa Romeo, and entered into open conflict with the other engineering unions and with its own federation, which by the end of 1989 had decided to send a commissar in, to restore control. This group of militant trade unions had great support from the Milanese labour tribunal, which often ended with sacked workers and unpopular factory councils being reinstated. The court judgements of this small group of courageous labour judges – who were heavily criticised and attacked
both by the employers and by the trade unions – were a unique thing in the gloomy panorama of Italian justice.
In the mid-1980s, under the prime ministership of Bettino Craxi, the state sold the Alfa Romeo works to FIAT, at a ridiculously low price. Their hope that FIAT-style despotism would be able to restore order at Alfa Romeo was not to be fulfilled. On the contrary, it was out of the Arese Alfa Romeo works that the spark came that led to the “FIAT scandal”. A technician, the chairman of the Communist Party cell in Alfa Romeo, complained that the factory management had discriminated against him on account of his political affiliation. The communist press started a campaign protesting at the violation of the civil rights of FIAT workers. This campaign was directly supported by the press organs of the De Benedetti group (in particular by Italy’s largest daily newspaper, La Repubblica). We discovered with a certain surprise that FIAT’S despotic style of management was also unpopular with public opinion.
Some circles among the employers – for example the Benedetti and Gardini groups- seized on this opportunity as a way to set limits to the power and influence of the FIAT group. The government was forced to intervene, and the Ministry of Labour sent in its inspectors. They established that certain violatory practices were widespread. For the workers this was an opportunity to give vent to their long suppressed anger against a tyrannical company management. They streamed in to see the inspectors and to place their evidence on record. FIAT’s reputation was seriously shaken. The outcome was that a criminal judge found that there were serious violations of rights on the part of FIAT’s company doctors, and he took a decision to issue summonses against the chairman of the FIAT board, Cesare Romiti, and FIATS two personnel managers. In addition, for the fist time in nine years FIAT workers went on strike again.
This turning point, which can be characterised as political rather than merely “atmospheric”, coincided with the twentieth anniversary of the “Hot Autumn”. Testimonies and reflections on the events of the Hot Autumn were published. One example of this material is Gabriele Polo’s volume I Tamburi della FIAT (“The drums of FIAT”, Turin, 1989), a collection of the personal experiences of eleven FIAT workers. There was also the special edition of the daily newspaper Il Manifesto, on the Autunno Caldo (12 December 1989). These recollections also provided an opportunity to recall the bombing of the National Agricultural Bank in Milan on 12 December 1969, in which twelve people were killed.
The most significant publication of this period was Marco Revelli’s book, Lavorare in FIAT (“Working for FIAT), which appeared in a large paperback edition published by a well-known Milan-based publishing house, Garzanti. This book, of only 139 pages, describes graphically the most important phases of the class conflict at FIAT. Revelli skilfully combines technical data, economic background material and personal interviews with FIAT workers. He offers no fresh historical insights, but the book is indispensable for an account of the history of the working class. Another important work appeared at about the same time: Liliana Lanzardo, who eighteen years previously had written an important contribution to the history of the Turin working class (see above), edited a volume entitled Cattolici e comunisti alla FIAT (“Catholics and communists at FIAT”) – a series of personal accounts of active militants, which is valuable for making available a wealth of new details on the period between the 1920s and the 1960s.