From International Socialism (1st series), No.40,October/November 1969, pp.4-7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
(September 15, 1969)
With the struggle for the renewal of the long-term collective contracts of about six million workers a new stage of class warfare is opening up. The contracts themselves are due for renewal only at the end of December, but the TUs have decided to initiate the offensive three months in advance, which is in itself a proof of the pressure on the apparatus from below.
The actual demanded increases are larger at first sight than in reality. If the minimum wage rate were to go up by 25 per cent (some TUs are asking for as much as 30-35 per cent increases) it is assumed that the increase would be distributed over two years, say 15 per cent in 1970 and 10 per cent in 1971. If one takes into account that for many categories of workers the wage rates are already well above the minimum and that they will not really be effected, the increase results in an effective 12-13 per cent. It must also be remembered that only about half of the industrial work force is actually affected by the increases. This means that the 12-13 per cent above will have to be halved to about 6.5 per cent, for a true average. To this one must add the 6 per cent average increase which has been negotiated (after a harsh struggle for the abolition of differences in regional wage rates) earlier in the year. This gives a total of about 12.5 per cent. At the same time forecasts for next year seem to indicate that output should increase by 9 per cent with an increase of only 0.5 per cent in the workforce, giving a real increase in productivity of about 8.5 per cent. Thus increases in costs will be about 4 per cent, which will be absorbed through a 2 per cent increase in prices and a 2 per cent loss in profits.
Although the increase is thus well below what it appears at first, it is nevertheless enough to create a possible serious crisis amongst the small and medium-small industry and in the declining sectors.
In order to compete on an equal footing with the international giants, Italian industry has had to concentrate frantically. In 1960 out of 19 Italian industrial sectors 14 were much more heavily concentrated than their American equivalent, four had the same or a little more concentration, and only one sector was less concentrated. There were a number of cases in which the largest Italian unit in a sector controlled a portion equal or greater than that occupied by the largest four in the equivalent American sector. In 1966 the public sector produced 27 per cent of all manufacture, Fiat 13.2 per cent and Montedison 11.3 per cent. All other producers had to share the remaining 47.9 per cent. Since then, however, the situation has not remained static and mergers have continued at all levels. In the last few months, for example, the public sector with the aid of Fiat, managed to acquire a share in Montedison. Thus if figures were available for a more recent date the actual concentration may well have increased considerably.
It was through this tremendous concentration that a few leading Italian companies such as Fiat, Montedison, Pirelli and Olivetti in the private sector and ENI and IRI in the public one have managed to secure for themselves a large enough home market to make them competitive. It is through the growth of these enormous oligopolies that the Italian rate of growth has been second only to Japan’s, and that exports have soared. But this has not taken place without effects on other sectors and the smaller producers. Medium and medium-small industry has been squeezed out and is now in constant crisis. For most it is going to be impossible to absorb the increases. This is especially true if one takes into account the fact that the above figures are somewhat misleading. The figures refer to average increases in productivity. Most of them will, in fact, take place in the most advanced sectors, thus making the real increases in costs of the smaller producers greater than they appear.
But if the new wage contracts will have important economic repercussions, their political importance is much greater. The situation could not be more-explosive. These negotiations follow the killing of the agricultural labourers in Avola, the insurrection of Battipaglia, the riots in Turin and Caserta and in prisons throughout the country at a time when given an innumerable number of scandals involving public officers (police, secret service, army, magistrates, local government, various government agencies are all involved) the prestige of the institutions could not be lower.
The trend of modern capitalism to concentrate regionally as well as into few units, makes the problem of southern-underdevelopment insoluble.
In the early 1960s some people advanced the optimistic prediction that the government efforts to encourage investment in the south, be it by granting tax relief, or investment loans, were successful. It was then thought that all that was needed was the establishment of a few ‘areas of development’ with some modern industry and local development would inevitably follow. Indeed some of these areas were established and managed to attract considerable numbers of people from the countryside. While the south as a whole has lost 1.3 per cent of its population from 1951 to 1965, in the same period the development areas have increased from 5.5 million to 6.8 million, or 25 per cent. Within the areas themselves the nuclei of maximum development have increased from 1.5 million in 1951 to 1.7 million in 1965, or 14 per cent.
However, most of the peasants who moved to these areas did so often out of hope of a job rather than the certainty of one. In fact much of the industry which has been established in the south tends to be capital-intensive to make most use of the government grants, and creates little increase in employment.
What other industry was established was and is in a very precarious state. The lack of adequate local educational facilities makes it extremely difficult to find skilled manpower, which has often to be brought from the north, thus reducing job opportunities further. Often industry was established only to obtain government grants and the plants were soon closed down in order to take the machines north. What permanent industry has been established has failed to generate ancillary development which was an essential facet of the original plans. To this it must be added that since much of the existing labour-intensive industry tends to be small, it shares of the general crisis of the small producers throughout the country, made worse by the overall depression in the south.
The results are easily seen. In the Latium region, where in 1963 there were 393,000 industrial jobs, there were 30,000 less in 1967. In Calabria, 157,000 jobs in 1962 had shrunk to 146,000 in 1967. In Sardinia over the same period, 107,000 jobs had been reduced to 67,000.
The insurrection of Battipaglia, for instance, was provoked by police brutality during protests by the population at a newly announced wave of redundancies. For most of the inhabitants of the industrial areas a decline in unemployment is a matter of life and death since most sell the little land they possess when they move to the towns. For the south as a whole, however, the crisis is not the new one of industrial depression, but the eternal one of chronic agricultural depression. Most labourers and small farmers still live in one-roomed huts, which the whole family shares with what little livestock it possesses. For most this is still the land of mass emigration, where the demand of a few pennies more a week brings down on one’s head the boss’s wrath in the shape of police truncheons, gas and bullets, as they found out in Avola.
The south is still the place which contributes only 17 per cent to the national product and where last year wages slightly declined, although nationally they went up by 5.7 per cent.
If the irrationality of capitalist development makes the problems of the south insoluble, it also produces the opposite type of problems in the centres of the north. The anarchic expansion in the towns of major development in the Italian industrial triangle (Turin, Milan, Genoa) create acute housing shortages, ghettoes for immigrants, overcrowding in schools and hospitals and all the social problems normally associated with unplanned growth and capitalist exploitation. It is the decaying quality of life which is a major reason for militancy in the north. To this must of course be added the extremely harsh conditions in Italian factories. (In Fiat the workers have only just won the right to a canteen and therefore to hot lunches, and they are still not allowed to leave the production line to go to the bog.) Fiat has a turnover in personnel in their first year of employment of about 40 per cent, and an average of 10 per cent overall, which is ample testimony to conditions of work.
It is not surprising, therefore, that during the last few years the extreme left has grown enormously. The student movement has been an essential contributor in this growth, by giving much of the original impetus and many of the militants. Today the student movement is undergoing a period of transition and its militants have tended to orient themselves far more towards the factories than was the case. This inevitably has led most of them to join the score of political groupings available, and in a sense to liquidate the student movement as a separate entity.
Excluding various Stalinist-Maoist groups, which tend to have most of their base amongst peasants in the south, Italy has two Bordigist, a fourth internationalist and a Posadist group. The number of anarchist organisations is almost boundless. More important than any of these in the long run are three groups: Il Potere Operaio, La Classe and Avanguardia Operaia which, although they have varying differences between themselves (they all tend to accuse each other of syndicalism) share a somewhat similar ideology and industrial practice. It is difficult to convey the inadequacies of the theoretical framework of these groups. If they had to be characterised somehow they would probably be proto-Trotskyists (they believe in permanent revolution, reject Stalinism violently and have a serious orientation towards the class), Maoists (they believe that the Cultural Revolution is an element of internal permanent revolution, and they have illusions as to the possibilities of peasant communism), syndicalists (they have a tendency to go overboard in rejecting organisation, sometimes elevating to a virtue what has been up to now possibly inevitable. Of this the comrades from Avanguardia Operaia tend to be much less guilty than the others). None of these groupings is sectarian, however, and with some help much of their romantic Maoism could easily be shed.
All these groups participate in the Comitati di base (rank-and-file) movements in the factories. These committees are democratic institutions set up by workers, in conjunction with students and politicos, to counter the bureaucratised union apparatus. Given the widespread dissatisfaction with the three major TUs (Communist, Christian Democrat and Social Democrat), workers are very receptive to anti-union apparatus propaganda, and the comitati di base have now spread to practically every important factory in the north. The comitati have played a major role in most of the recent big struggles – Fiat, Pirelli, Montedison, etc.
Most of these groups, see in the autumn negotiations the chance to expand their influence radically, and most of the best are hoping that out of a concrete common struggle some possible moves towards unity may arise.
The danger that large sections of the Italian working-class may become attracted to these ultra-left groups, coupled with the real economic crisis of small industry, has created a split in the Confindustria (Federation of Industrialists).
Those industrial sectors which would be most hit by the increases in wages, ie the depressed ones such as sugar, cement, petrol refineries outside of the great complexes, building, etc., and all small producers, advocate a hard response. This involves a denunciation of the reds, and total resistance with an ultimate lock-out to counter the threatened wild-cat strikes. The strategy involves, of course, a liberal use of police and army and a general turn towards the ‘strong government’. This attitude has not, surprisingly, found an enthusiastic echo in the traditional Italian right and the right wing of the Christian Democrats. More surprisingly, however, it has found support from some socialists. The Social Democrats by splitting from the PSI’s mainstream a few months ago, have obviously turned to the right. They stand for a return to the cold war, the anti-communist crusade, and order. Their strategy is to use the inevitable disorders of autumn to appeal to the country as the party of order. They are actively working for a regrouping of the right (which would include the right and possibly centre of the Christian Democrats) which would act as the spokesman of the more backward industrial interests.
The more advanced industrial sectors argue, instead, that if the hard line was adopted the situation would become very serious. A lock-out would inevitably result in the politicisa-tion of the struggle and possibly to the occupation of factories and widespread insurrectionary movement. The strategy that they advance has three facets: elasticity of response in the factories, reformist legislation and the integration of the masses through the participation of the Communists in the government.
All three facets are deeply interrelated.
In the factory the lock-out is excluded in favour of a long but elastic resistance in an attempt to tire the workers and concede as little as possible. The offensive will have to be fragmented by negotiating factory by factory and workshop by workshop. An essential part of this strategy is to strengthen the official unions at the expense of the rank-and-file committees. Thus negotiations and concessions will take place only through official channels.
At the same time the masses will have to be quietened somehow, and the most blatant injustices of the system, smothered over by a thin layer of reformist legislation. The centre-left governments have proved unable to carry through a consistent programme of reforms since the largest member of the coalition, ie the Christian Democrats, is by no means of one mind in its determination to be progressive. An essential element of the reformist strategy is that the left in the coalition will have to be strengthened, to counteract the right Christian Democrats. To this end the collaboration of the CP is to be secured, whether this be from inside or outside the government.
Lastly the entrance of the CP in the government sphere should guarantee the relative integration of the masses, which are still following the CP.
This strategy is supported by the progressive sections of the bourgeoisie, ie by the left DCers and what is left of the PSI. The Communists are rather split on the subject. The right wing is totally committed to the reformist game and to entering the government. The centre and left are rather less eager, but offer no real long-term alternative. In reality the real differences are more about guarantees which centre and left want (from the possible coalition parties) before committing themselves, than about policies. The possible hope of forming a united party of the left (by splitting the left of the DC and uniting with every one to the left of it) is always present, but not a determining factor. The fact that the leading member of the right has been allowed to put the case for joining the government in the Party paper suggests that the choice is already largely made.
Both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ perspectives are at the moment being advanced by authoritative sections of the power group. The balance is, however, tipped in favour of the more progressive.
The authoritarian path is very difficult to tread. There are, of course, rumours of a right military group, but they must be discounted. The left, official and unofficial, is too strong. Much of the present ruling-class, whatever their objective present role, has known exile, jail and house arrest under fascism to be too enthusiastic about this solution. Significantly enough when such a coup was planned in 1964 it was not carried out. Memories of 1960 when a government coalition that included the neo-fascists was set up by the Christian Democrats and overthrown by street riots must still be fresh. The unity of all the forces of the left and the ex-partisan organisations, which was achieved then, would still be very much on the cards.
In Italy even a Bonapartist solution is out of the question. There just is no available charismatic figure, à la de Gaulle, who can be dragged out of the closet.
The most likely outcome of a turn to the right would be a marginally more repressive government. This would provide no solution, but would instead increase the process of radicalisation.
The bourgeoisie has, however, a strong card to play, the Communists. Their entrance in the governmental sphere is inevitable. It must be remembered that this can be a long subtle process. Participation in local government coalitions with the government parties, could be a first step. If the elections for the long-awaited regional assemblies are held next spring, a possible escalation of collaboration could take place. Collaboration on parliamentary committees and abstention in the chambers are also possible preceding stages to a full entrance of the CP in the Government.
There are signs, however, that this strategy has been left too late, that the increasing militancy of the working-class north and south is beginning to break the hold of the CP on the working masses. In this respect the French May has been very important in Italy.
In any event the developments depend much on whether the left can give itself an effective national organisation. In a situation which is becoming of almost pre-revolutionary proportions efforts to build a party of the working-class must not be spared. And a failure would have the gravest consequences.
Last updated on 24.2.2008