Workerism Beyond Fordism: On the Lineage of Italian Workerism


The sys­tem of thought that has come to be called “Ital­ian work­erism” is not an organic sys­tem. Nor is it con­tained in any fun­da­men­tal text, any sort of Bible. It is instead com­posed of dif­fer­ent the­o­ret­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions from some mil­i­tant intel­lec­tu­als who founded the jour­nals Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia.1 Raniero Panzieri, Mario Tronti, Toni Negri and Romano Alquati are the ones who laid the foun­da­tions of the sys­tem, and oth­ers, such as Gas­pare De Caro, Guido Bian­chini, Fer­ruc­cio Gam­bino, Alberto Mag­naghi, made essen­tial con­tri­bu­tions on speci­fic themes, such as his­to­ri­og­ra­phy, agri­cul­ture, migra­tion, and ter­ri­tory, which com­pleted the hori­zon of work­erist thought, giv­ing it the impres­sion of an inter­nally coher­ent “sys­tem.”

Workerism and Fordism

Work­erist groups devel­oped in an his­tor­i­cal period in which there seemed to be no alter­na­tive to mass pro­duc­tion in cap­i­tal­ist soci­eties, where big com­pa­nies were able to obtain large economies of scale. The large fac­tory, in which thou­sands of work­ers always car­ried out the more sim­pli­fied oper­a­tions, while the machi­nes took care of the more com­plex ones, seemed to be the cul­mi­na­tion of a his­tor­i­cal process that orig­i­nated in the rise of indus­tri­al­ism. Mass pro­duc­tion was the best way to pro­duce cheap goods that could be bought by every­body, above all by the very work­ers who pro­duced them, even when these goods were as com­plex as a car. Thus, the con­di­tions for real­iz­ing the irre­place­able coun­ter­part to mass pro­duc­tion – that is to say, mass con­sump­tion – were cre­ated. This was such a per­fect and well-func­tion­ing sys­tem that even com­mu­nist coun­tries ended up adopt­ing it. Actu­ally, the com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion had tri­umphed in coun­tries where this sys­tem was still very imper­fect, under­de­vel­oped, or even non-exis­tent. It there­fore fell on the gov­ern­ments emerg­ing from the rev­o­lu­tion to per­fect the devel­op­ment of mass pro­duc­tion by orga­niz­ing it in big Kom­bi­nats, indus­trial com­plexes with thou­sands of work­ers, and also by extend­ing it to agri­cul­ture. In the West this sys­tem was called, for con­ve­nience, “Fordism,” because it found its most com­plete prac­ti­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal appli­ca­tion in the orga­ni­za­tion of the auto­mo­bile fac­to­ries of Henry Ford. The idea at the base of work­erism, obvi­ously bor­rowed from Marx­ian the­ory, was that the large fac­tory with its thou­sands of work­ers could become a large fer­tile ter­rain for a rev­o­lu­tion­ary project, and shift from the site of mass pro­duc­tion to a space lib­er­ated from cap­i­tal­ist oppres­sion. Cap­i­tal­ism had to be caught right where it lived, the walls of its home becom­ing the bars of its prison. The Fordist assem­bly-line had to become the train­ing field where the worker could develop a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­jec­tiv­ity, and become the mass worker. As you can see, the pri­mor­dial idea of work­erism was the mold, as inverted foot­print, of Fordism. With­out a social orga­ni­za­tion like that of the Fordist fac­tory, work­erism would have had dif­fi­culty elab­o­rat­ing its rev­o­lu­tion­ary project; the mass worker formed as a class in a pro­duc­tive sys­tem with par­tic­u­lar tech­no­log­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics, and was one with this sys­tem, which pro­vided his means of sub­sis­tence. The mass worker was first and fore­most a wage earner. The struc­ture of his pay­check was com­posed of a fixed part, the base wage, and a vari­able part, linked to pro­duc­tiv­ity. There were also items that cor­re­sponded to con­trac­tual gains like pace with infla­tion, fam­ily allowances, over­time, pro­duc­tion bonuses, com­pen­sa­tion for night work and haz­ardous work, etc. The orga­ni­za­tion of Fordist pro­duc­tion was not only the dom­i­nant sys­tem within the fac­tory, but also pro­jected its rigid struc­ture onto soci­ety, onto urban and sub­ur­ban mobil­ity, hous­ing set­tle­ments, shop­ping hours. Thou­sands of work­ers left the fac­to­ries early in the morn­ing after work­ing the night shift, while many oth­ers were already out­side wait­ing at the gates to enter for the first morn­ing shift. This was the best moment to dis­trib­ute and spread the fly­ers of Classe Operaia and Potere Operaio. These fly­ers were almost always writ­ten accord­ing to direc­tions given by the work­ers of those same fac­to­ries, after a long labor of “co-research,” a dia­logue and exchange of opin­ions and infor­ma­tion between mil­i­tant work­erists and fac­tory work­ers. Work­erism there­fore was in all respects the inverted image of Fordism, it was one with Fordism, lived in sym­bio­sis with it. Work­erism with­out a Fordist soci­ety, with­out mass pro­duc­tion, with­out the mass worker, did not seem imag­in­able.

With the death of Fordism, work­erism also had to die. Post-Fordist soci­ety, the soci­ety of infor­ma­tion, where the ter­tiary sec­tor and finance, pre­car­ity and inde­pen­dent labor pre­vail, had to be incom­pre­hen­si­ble to those who formed their the­o­ries under Fordism. Work­erism seemed des­tined to die out slowly as the fig­ure of the mass worker became ever more mar­ginal in West­ern soci­eties. How­ever, this has not hap­pened: the mil­i­tants, activists, and intel­lec­tu­als who shared the work­erist expe­ri­ence were bet­ter able than oth­ers to cap­ture the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the new cap­i­tal­ist for­ma­tion, which for con­ve­nience we call “post-Fordist.” As a mat­ter of fact, of all the orga­ni­za­tions and extra-par­lia­men­tary groups oper­at­ing in Italy, the heirs of work­erism are the only ones who have tried, some­times with suc­cess, to elab­o­rate a new the­ory of lib­er­a­tion viable for post-Fordist soci­ety, the only ones who have suc­ceeded in fol­low­ing the evo­lu­tion of cap­i­tal­ism from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs, pro­duc­ing com­pelling analy­ses and polit­i­cal prac­tice with wage labor and non-waged labor. How was this pos­si­ble?

The Role of Intellectuals

First of all, we must remem­ber that work­erism has never been a sim­ple restate­ment of anar­cho-syn­di­cal­ism or Linkskom­mu­nis­mus. The work­erists never believed that the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, besieged by increas­ingly extended indus­trial con­flicts, with an increas­ingly aggres­sive work­ing class, pre­pared to block pro­duc­tion and any activ­ity belong­ing to employ­ment, would col­lapse as a result of a pro­longed and irre­versible gen­eral strike. This utopia did not belong to the work­erist tra­di­tion, even if the tech­niques of indus­trial con­flict that work­erism sought to pro­mote were those of anar­cho-syn­di­cal­ism. Work­erism has never been indul­gent to sim­pli­fi­ca­tions, to easy slo­gans – at the cost of appear­ing to be an exer­cise in intel­lec­tu­al­ism, at the cost of being accused of an excess of abstract thought. First of all, work­erism never claimed to be able to “teach” work­ers the life of revolt or rev­o­lu­tion. On the con­trary, the work­erist prac­tice of “core­search” meant sim­ply that mil­i­tants must “learn” from the work­ers and lis­ten to them, but always main­tain­ing the role of intel­lec­tu­als, who were able to trans­mit the tools of thought and analy­sis which could be use­ful to the worker who intended to under­take a col­lec­tive jour­ney of lib­er­a­tion. Work­erism always refused the pop­ulist atti­tude, very com­mon among the mil­i­tants of extra­parlia­men­tary groups of 1970s Italy, of dis­guis­ing one­self as a worker, of wear­ing over­alls to appear like the work­ers, hid­ing with shame one’s bour­geois ori­gins. On the con­trary, those who had the for­tune of being able to study, go to uni­ver­sity, have at their dis­posal the tools to enrich their own knowl­edge, and develop crit­i­cal thought; those who had the for­tune to study abroad, learn lan­guages, and more closely under­stand cap­i­tal­ist thought; those who had the for­tune of study­ing the his­tory of the work­ers’ move­ment, Marx­ist thought, had the duty of improv­ing these tools of knowl­edge to the max­i­mum extent, of reach­ing the high­est lev­els of sci­en­tific pro­duc­tion, and of putting their knowl­edge at the dis­posal of all, and in par­tic­u­lar the work­ers. Intel­lec­tu­als must see them­selves as cells of a ser­vice infra­struc­ture.

Because of this atti­tude, work­erists were often treated with con­tempt. They were dis­parag­ingly called “the pro­fes­sors” – but in real­ity, even when the prin­ci­pal expo­nents held aca­d­e­mic roles (from Negri to Tronti, from Alquati to Gam­bino, from Bian­chini to Mag­naghi), they did so as a polit­i­cal mis­sion; they always con­ducted research as a form of “core­search,” always used the same lan­guage in their sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tions as in their works of polit­i­cal pro­pa­ganda. The guid­ing prin­ci­ple of their intel­lec­tual life was always to be true to them­selves, rather than split­ting them­selves into pro­fes­sors by day and mil­i­tants by night, or on week­ends. And in fact they were the only ones to be impris­oned or expelled from the uni­ver­sity. Repres­sion brought them down selec­tively.

The Working Class as a Complex Organism

From what has been said, it is evi­dent that work­erists dis­like schema­tism and sim­pli­fi­ca­tions. On the con­trary, aware of the extreme com­plex­ity of cap­i­tal­ist real­ity, they devel­oped an in-depth analy­sis, tak­ing into care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion both its more man­i­fest as well as its less obvi­ous aspects. We could say that they had a great appre­ci­a­tion for the enemy, know­ing it to be a refined power, bru­tal and seduc­tive at the same time. To under­es­ti­mate the enemy would be a stu­pid move, lead­ing to cer­tain defeat. The first aspect of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem they con­sid­ered was tech­nol­ogy. The deci­sive impulse was given by Raniero Panzieri with his inno­v­a­tive read­ing of Marx’s “Frag­ment on Machi­nes,” pub­lished in the first issue of Quaderni Rossi.2 Tech­nol­ogy is labor embod­ied. It plays an ambiva­lent role, because it “lib­er­ates” the work­ers from work, but at the same time “sub­mits” them to more rigid forms of con­trol. Tech­nol­ogy has the power to shape a cer­tain type of labor-power, to deter­mine some of its char­ac­ter­is­tics, and can also have a speci­fic influ­ence on its way of think­ing, its cul­ture, and there­fore its polit­i­cal action. Work­erism says that tech­nol­ogy has the power to deter­mine the “tech­ni­cal com­po­si­tion of the work­ing class.”

Let’s give an exam­ple. In the auto fac­to­ries of the 1970s, there were depart­ments in which the worker had an indi­vid­ual rela­tion­ship with the machine he oper­ated, knew all its secrets, was able to “pre­pare” it, to equip it, and was very proud of this knowl­edge, which was also the source of his small power. These were spe­cial­ized work­ers with a strong con­scious­ness of their own roles, and were con­sid­ered the so-called “labor aris­toc­racy.” These work­ers were in gen­eral the most com­bat­ive; most of them were com­mu­nist, and con­sid­ered being com­mu­nist a nat­u­ral con­se­quence of their being the most spe­cial­ized, the most qual­i­fied, not only with regards to the machine assigned to them – a press, a turn, a cut­ter, a welder – but with regards to the entire pro­duc­tive cycle. They knew the fac­tory like the back of their hands, and were there­fore able to orga­nize impro­vised strikes and block­ade pro­duc­tion, clos­ing the focal points of the cycle. They passed on their knowl­edge to the younger work­ers but, at the same time, had a strong sense of hier­ar­chy. They felt that a strongly dif­fer­en­ti­ated wage sys­tem was jus­ti­fied – the younger work­ers had to climb the lad­der of spe­cial­iza­tion step by step.

In other depart­ments of the fac­tory, on the other hand, there were assem­bly lines, that is, a type of tech­nol­ogy which does not per­mit an indi­vid­ual approach, where work­ers, male and female, could be employed with­out any qual­i­fi­ca­tion. In Milan at the begin­ning of the 1960s in the electro­mechanic fac­to­ries, where work on the line was often not as heavy as in auto, in the assem­bly depart­ments women were employed as generic work­ers, obvi­ously paid much less than the machine oper­a­tors. This work­ing class was the one that work­erism defined as the “mass worker,” with a men­tal­ity very dif­fer­ent from the spe­cial­ized work­ers of the labor aris­toc­racy, and there­fore with oppo­site demands: equal wage increases for all, abo­li­tion of indi­vid­ual piece­work. Demands which had to sound like blas­phemy to the ears of the old com­mu­nist work­ers who were tool­mak­ers on indi­vid­ual machi­nes.

What hap­pens when, in the 1980s, the fac­tory dis­in­te­grates and infor­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy grad­u­ally spreads, even­tu­ally tak­ing over? What hap­pens when the fac­tory worker, more or less spe­cial­ized, more or less “mass,” is partly replaced by robots, partly laid off because pro­duc­tion has relo­cated to emerg­ing coun­tries? What hap­pens when work­ers lose their social force, the com­mu­nist tra­di­tion is thrown into the sea by the left par­ties, and the work­ing class is no longer a polit­i­cal sub­ject?

What hap­pens is that that world of labor adapts itself to the new tech­nolo­gies, is molded by the new tech­nolo­gies. Those who come from the work­erist expe­ri­ence find them­selves equipped with the intel­lec­tual tools nec­es­sary to under­stand what is hap­pen­ing. Just as before, when they observed the rela­tion between the spe­cial­ized worker and the indi­vid­ual machine, or between the mass worker and the assem­bly line, they now observed the rela­tion between the per­sonal com­puter3 and the sub­ject using it. This meant com­par­ing two totally dif­fer­ent modes of work­ing, the Fordist mode, framed in a rigid orga­ni­za­tion involv­ing thou­sands of peo­ple amassed in speci­fic spaces, and the mode of soli­tary work, with­out a speci­fic work­ing space, where the sub­ject is able to deter­mine its own rhythms and has per­ma­nent access to a uni­verse of poten­tially infinite infor­ma­tion.

At first glance the worker on a per­sonal com­puter is puz­zling. Is this per­son lib­er­ated? Does this per­son have a greater degree of lib­erty than the worker enslaved to the assem­bly line? Appar­ently, yes. Is this a per­son with power? Power of nego­ti­a­tion against the employer? As much power as the work­ers who could col­lec­tively shut down pro­duc­tion and deal with man­age­ment? Appar­ently, no; indeed cer­tainly no. Social power is obtained only by coali­tion; the indi­vid­ual by itself is always sub­al­tern. As Michel Ser­res says, “con­nec­tiv­ity has been sub­sti­tuted for col­lec­tiv­ity.” The worker does not live together with other work­ers like him, face to face; work­ers are con­nected with other work­ers, know­ing not their voices but only their email addresses. Does the mass of infor­ma­tion that can be obtained via the inter­net give them greater power, a greater capac­ity of nego­ti­a­tion, with respect to the worker who, enslaved to the machine, had no pos­si­bil­ity of access­ing the world of infor­ma­tion?

No, it does not con­fer greater power – the only advan­tage in com­par­ison with the employee, fac­tory worker, or cler­i­cal worker, is that of being able to use this infor­ma­tion to live as an inde­pen­dent laborer, as “unwaged.” Just a few obser­va­tions on the nature of post-Fordism were enough for the old work­erist to under­stand that cap­i­tal­ism had made an enor­mous leap for­ward in the capac­ity to con­trol labor-power; the new sub­ject, which still has no name, lacked, above all, the pos­si­bil­ity to orga­nize col­lec­tively, to nego­ti­ate with the employer, indeed to even know who the employer was – him­self or some other per­son? To imag­ine a path of lib­er­a­tion it was nec­es­sary to start over again, while main­tain­ing, how­ever, the point of depar­ture, the one that every­one thought was out­dated: the prob­lem of work. Is it still pos­si­ble to imag­ine a path of lib­er­a­tion start­ing from work? Is it still pos­si­ble to see in the per­son in front of the per­sonal com­puter a worker, or must this word “worker” – lavo­ra­tore, Arbeiter, tra­vailleur, tra­ba­jador – be removed from our vocab­u­lary, because it belongs to an already faded epoch, the Fordist epoch?

The Idea of Work in Post-Fordism

The power of the work­erist the­o­ret­i­cal elab­o­ra­tion con­sists, as we have said, in con­fronting the com­plex­ity of the prob­lems, in get­ting to the bot­tom of things, avert­ing sim­pli­fi­ca­tions and short­cuts. The most illu­mi­nat­ing exam­ple can be seen by observ­ing how work­erists dealt with the con­cept of “work­ing class.” For most polit­i­cal mil­i­tants in the 1960s and 1970s the term “work­ing class” was a kind of mantra, an all-encom­pass­ing magic word. Just refer­ring to the “work­ing class” was enough to be con­sid­ered a mem­ber of the “Left,” of the work­ers’ move­ment, to be con­sid­ered a com­mu­nist. For the work­erists, on the other hand, the work­ing class was an unex­plored uni­verse, extremely dif­fer­en­ti­ated and com­plex, or, bet­ter, the point of arrival of a very long process, fraught with obsta­cles, in the course of which labor-power became aware of its own role and its own strength, and appeared on the scene of soci­ety as a pro­tag­o­nist, not as an appendage of the sys­tem of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion. As I wrote in one of my essays on work­erism:

The col­lec­tive work that the work­erist group under­took in direct con­tact with the world of fac­tory-pro­duc­tion aimed at pen­e­trat­ing the var­i­ous lev­els that make up the sys­tem of pro­duc­tive rela­tions: the sequen­tial orga­ni­za­tion of the pro­duc­tive cycle and the hier­ar­chi­cal mech­a­nisms spon­ta­neously pro­duced by it, the dis­ci­pli­nary tech­niques and tech­niques of inte­gra­tion elab­o­rated in var­i­ous ways, the devel­op­ment of new tech­nolo­gies and pro­cess­ing sys­tems, the reac­tions to the labour-force’s spon­ta­neous behav­iour, the inter­per­sonal dynam­ics on the shop-floor, the sys­tems of com­mu­ni­ca­tion employed by work­ers dur­ing their shift, the trans­mis­sion of knowl­edge from older to younger work­ers, the grad­ual emer­gence of a cul­ture of con­flict, the inter­nal divi­sion of the labour-force, the use of work-breaks, the sys­tems of pay­ment and their dif­fer­en­tial appli­ca­tion, the pres­ence of the union and of forms of polit­i­cal pro­pa­ganda, risk-aware­ness and the meth­ods used to safe­guard one’s phys­i­cal integrity and health, the rela­tion­ship to polit­i­cal mil­i­tants out­side the fac­tory, work pace- con­trol and the piece­work-sys­tem, the work­place itself and so on.4

The per­son in front of the per­sonal com­puter, as a laborer, that is, as a per­son who yields a deter­mi­nate intel­lec­tual pro­duct to third par­ties in exchange for remu­ner­a­tion in order to sur­vive, must present the same, if not greater, com­plex­ity. Let’s begin with the sim­plest things. For exam­ple: what form does this remu­ner­a­tion take? The old form of the wage or the form of a pro­fes­sional fee? Is he paid by the hour or by the project? Is there a work­ing time? The fun­da­men­tal para­me­ters for defin­ing a laborer are the wage and the hours. His pri­vacy, his per­sonal exis­tence, his every­day life, his con­sump­tion, his rela­tion­ships, his stan­dard of liv­ing are deter­mined in whole or in part by these two para­me­ters. It is a very mate­ri­al­ist vision, crudely mate­ri­al­ist, to which the ide­ol­ogy of moder­nity opposed the the­ory that what mat­ters in the indi­vid­ual is not his mate­rial con­di­tions but his per­son­al­ity, his char­ac­ter, whether he is an opti­mist or a pes­simist, socia­ble or surly, seduc­tive or dis­agree­able, inclined towards lead­er­ship or ser­vice, effu­sive or silent, con­fi­dent or shy, whether he has “char­ac­ter” or not. But, on closer inspec­tion, the crud­est mate­ri­al­ism is less mis­lead­ing than extreme sub­jec­tivism, than ster­ile and illu­sory indi­vid­u­al­ism, which are, on closer inspec­tion, ide­o­log­i­cal dis­posi­tifs which have the pur­pose of dis­solv­ing the notion of “labor.” The mod­ern con­cep­tion of labor con­tained within the ide­ol­ogy of moder­nity is that it is no longer human activ­ity exchanged for the means of sub­sis­tence, but an activ­ity in which the indi­vid­ual exter­nal­izes his own per­son­al­ity, knows him­self bet­ter, almost a mys­ti­cal encoun­ter. “Labor is a gift of God,” I heard one day from a leader of a Catholic union. Labor does not belong to the world of com­modi­ties but to that of human psy­chol­ogy. From this ide­ol­ogy emerges the idea of labor as a “gift” of the indi­vid­ual to the col­lec­tiv­ity, and the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of “free” labor, badly paid or unpaid.

White Collar and Knowledge Worker

What name should we give the per­son in front of the per­sonal com­puter? We acknowl­edged the name imposed by the dom­i­nant ide­ol­ogy, “knowl­edge worker.” It seemed use­ful because it con­tained the word “worker” and there­fore no one could deny that we were deal­ing with a per­son whose essence is defined by work. We began to won­der about this def­i­n­i­tion. Could it resem­ble the white col­lar worker of Fordism? The ana­lyt­i­cal tools we could apply came from the analy­sis of the tech­ni­cians of pro­duc­tion, which had appeared already in the first issues of Classe Operaia and then became a con­stant of work­erist the­ory and prac­tice. The more com­plex, the more sophis­ti­cated tech­nol­ogy became, the greater the impor­tance of labor-power devoted to tech­ni­cal knowl­edge. Cap­i­tal­ism incor­po­rated within its pro­duc­tive processes an ever greater sci­en­tific con­tent, mass indus­trial pro­duc­tion was made pos­si­ble by the exis­tence of research lab­o­ra­to­ries in uni­ver­si­ties and spe­cial­ized units in fac­to­ries. These tech­ni­cians could be rep­re­sented as a new class, which could have had an anal­o­gous devel­op­ment to the work­ing class. Already in the his­tory of the work­ers’ move­ment, dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ments of the coun­cils at the end of the First World War, the “brain work­ers”5 played a pos­i­tive role and were con­sid­ered by early com­mu­nists an essen­tial com­po­nent of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary class. It is not a coin­ci­dence that work­erism, dur­ing the stu­dent revolt of 1968, was more wide­spread in the sci­ence depart­ments than in the human­i­ties. But the per­son in front of the per­sonal com­puter could not be banally defined as “white col­lar” because labor in this case is not con­sti­tuted only of sub­or­di­nate labor, of waged labor, but rather of many self-employed labor­ers who provide their ser­vices, even if they only have one client, work­ing at home or in “cowork­ing” spaces or in Star­bucks. The white col­lar worker shared the spaces of the fac­tory with the man­ual labor­ers, had sim­i­lar work­ing hours, had every­day con­tact with the prob­lems of pro­duc­tion. We faced an anthro­po­log­i­cal muta­tion, not only a soci­o­log­i­cal one. If we had had to think only in soci­o­log­i­cal terms, we would have had to say that the clear divi­sion between classes that the Fordist sys­tem had deter­mined was no longer rec­og­niz­able in the infor­ma­tion soci­ety and there­fore our para­me­ters would have to change. But our point of depar­ture would have remained valid, namely the con­vic­tion that tech­nol­ogy has an extremely strong effect on the life and men­tal­ity of the sub­ject that uses this tech­nol­ogy to stay in the world, to work, to earn a liv­ing, to com­mu­ni­cate. Our inter­est, our analy­sis, had to con­cen­trate on the fig­ure of the knowl­edge worker and inves­ti­gate the char­ac­ter­is­tics intrin­sic to this mul­ti­tude that was form­ing the new mid­dle class, a social aggre­gate that by now no longer shared the val­ues of the old bour­geoisie, that no longer had the capac­ity to exploit oth­ers because it still did not under­stand how to not exploit itself. The extrac­tion of sur­plus value has now trans­ferred ever more from the pro­duc­tive to the finan­cial sphere – the enor­mous inequal­ity of income that increas­ingly accu­mu­lates in cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, the pro­gres­sive impov­er­ish­ment of the mid­dle class, are bet­ter explained by ana­lyz­ing the dynam­ics of finance than those of mass pro­duc­tion. On this ter­rain, too, work­erism could show its supe­ri­or­ity, because, unique among the com­po­nents of the protest move­ments of the 1970s, it con­fronted the prob­lem­atic of mon­e­tary pol­icy and large inter­na­tional finan­cial flows, above all with the work done by the edi­to­rial staff of the jour­nal Primo Mag­gio.

The Italian Case

In the end, per­haps the deci­sive rea­son for which work­erism was eas­ily able to under­stand the nature of post-Fordism was its Ital­ian origin. Among all the advanced cap­i­tal­ist coun­tries, it was Italy that brought for­ward the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the large fac­to­ries in the most rad­i­cal man­ner. Italy was the van­guard of the so-called “decen­tral­iza­tion of pro­duc­tion,” with the frag­men­ta­tion of firms into so many small and minus­cule hand­i­craft enter­prises. Within a decade, from 1980 to 1990, Italy became the coun­try of “indus­trial dis­tricts,” areas spe­cial­ized in speci­fic pro­duc­tion, above all in low value-added pro­duc­tion (tex­tiles and gar­ments, leather and footwear, home fur­ni­ture), char­ac­ter­ized by the pres­ence of small and medium-sized enter­prises. The sys­tem of decen­tral­iza­tion of pro­duc­tion has two advan­tages over the Fordist fac­tory: decreas­ing the costs of pro­duc­tion and reduc­ing the risks of indus­trial con­flict. Some of these processes are out­sourced, often to the same work­ers who have been trans­formed into arti­san sup­pli­ers, and the num­ber of employ­ees dras­ti­cally decreases, reduc­ing the wage bill and the effect of trade union demands.

We are halfway between Fordism and post-Fordism, or, if you like, we are in the pres­ence of a post-Fordism “from above.” The advan­tages of this sys­tem also allowed the for­ma­tion of large multi­na­tional firms, like Benet­ton and Lux­ot­tica. The indus­trial dis­tricts spread par­tic­u­larly in the regions with strong social con­trol, in Catholic Venice and com­mu­nist Emilia-Romagna. The Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Party embraced the ide­ol­ogy of decen­tral­ized pro­duc­tion as a “cap­i­tal­ism with a human face,” sus­tain­able because con­flict-free. The prin­ci­pal goal of a civil com­mu­nity seemed to be, after the decade of strong clashes and class con­flicts, that of social peace. The intel­lec­tu­als who came from the work­erist expe­ri­ence imme­di­ately cap­tured this trans­for­ma­tion, which was also height­ened and rad­i­cal­ized by the protest move­ments of 1977 – which rep­re­sented with the the­mat­ics of sub­jec­tiv­ity, the envi­ron­ment, the refusal of reg­u­lated, dis­ci­plined, reg­i­mented work – a kind of post-Fordism “from below,” a desire for lib­er­a­tion which was not afraid to turn against the work­ing class itself. Since the first large restruc­tura­tions of the auto enter­prises (Inno­centi di Milano, 1974-5) with the mas­sive use of lay­offs and unem­ploy­ment insur­ance, work­erists closely fol­lowed these trans­for­ma­tions. The analy­sis of the decen­tral­iza­tion of pro­duc­tion was one of the cen­tral themes of jour­nals like Primo Mag­gio and of uni­ver­sity research groups, par­tic­u­larly in the archi­tec­ture depart­ment of Milan, where Alberto Mag­naghi taught.6 They were not the only ones – indeed many uni­ver­sity depart­ments, in Venice, in Emilia-Romagna, in Tus­cany, in the South, were fol­low­ing with inter­est the trans­for­ma­tions of the Fordist model.

The dif­fer­ence was that in the analy­sis of the groups which main­tained the her­itage of work­erism, the decen­tral­iza­tion of pro­duc­tion was seen as an attack on the unity of the work­ing class, as capitalism’s vengeance for the defeats of the “Hot Autumn,” while the other groups of researchers saw in decen­tral­iza­tion only a new fron­tier of cap­i­tal­ism, with many pos­i­tive impli­ca­tions. This was the period in which Toni Negri pro­moted the Autono­mia move­ment and the­o­rized the emer­gence of the “social­ized worker.” There­fore, the per­cep­tion of these changes, as an expres­sion of an epochal change, were, if I may say, imme­di­ate. The move­ment of ’77 seemed for a moment to glimpse the pos­si­bil­ity of lib­er­a­tion in post-Fordism, but it was only a momen­tary burst. The fol­low­ing year the armed strug­gle groups opened fire and reached the peak of their action with the kid­nap­ping of Moro (March 1978). One year after, April 7, 1979, the wave of arrests of all of the mil­i­tants of the dis­solved Potere Operaio began. There was no longer any “lib­er­ated path to post-Fordism.” The change in the par­a­digm of cap­i­tal bore only and uniquely the signs of class vengeance.

Workerism and the New Generation of the 1990s

For a decade the work­erist mole gave up dig­ging. In real­ity the “Golden Years” of work­erism had already ended long before. For Tronti, Asor Rosa, Cac­ciari and oth­ers it had already ended before 1968, with their entry into the PCI. For Negri and other com­rades it ended prob­a­bly with the dis­so­lu­tion of Potere Operaio.7 There was never an open dis­cus­sion of the his­tor­i­cal peri­odiza­tion of work­erism: there is no doubt regard­ing its date of birth, but there has never been agree­ment on its date of death; besides, a polit­i­cal the­ory, which is also a cog­ni­tive method­ol­ogy, never dies as long as there is some­one who con­sid­ers use­ful its ana­lyt­i­cal instru­ments and its prac­ti­cal con­se­quences.

So we can indeed speak of a “post-work­erism,” mean­ing by this the resur­fac­ing of an inter­est in its par­a­digms among a new gen­er­a­tion of mil­i­tants and researchers born at the end of the 1970s and who at the begin­ning of the 1990s were 20 years old. The jour­nal Primo Mag­gio was with­out doubt a cul­tural ini­tia­tive which explic­itly drew from work­erism. Its pub­li­ca­tions stopped in the autumn of 1988 with issue 29, but it was in its last years, under the edi­to­rial lead­er­ship of Cesare Bermani and Bruno Car­to­sio, that it started work­ing with a group of young peo­ple, who would then have an impor­tant role in the cri­tique of post-Fordism and in attempt­ing to orga­nize pre­car­i­ous, cog­ni­tive labor, within the social cen­ters.8 Oth­ers threw them­selves head­long into com­puter sci­ence and dig­i­tal cul­ture, con­tribut­ing to the cre­ation of an Ital­ian area in the cyber­punk and hacker move­ments, hav­ing as a first point of ref­er­ence the Libre­ria Calusca of Primo Moroni in Milan, which was also the cen­tral engine of dis­tri­b­u­tion for Primo Mag­gio. Raf­faele “Valvola” Scelsi and Ermanno “Gomma” Guarneri9 would be among the founders of the jour­nal Decoder and then of the pub­lish­ing house Shake, which played a fun­da­men­tal role in the dif­fu­sion of the “civ­i­liza­tion of com­put­ers” and dig­i­tal cul­ture. They, together with Rosie Fic­o­celli, Paola Mezza, and Marco Philopat (who later founded a proper pub­lish­ing house), belong to that new gen­er­a­tion pro­foundly influ­enced by work­erism, who would under­take orig­i­nal and inno­v­a­tive polit­i­cal paths. Oth­ers had the founders of work­erism as teach­ers and there­fore put their teach­ings to good use, like Devi Sac­chetto, stu­dent of Fer­ruc­cio Gam­bino, or Emil­iana Armano, stu­dent of Romano Alquati, who today is among the most active researchers at an inter­na­tional level on the the­matic of pre­car­ity.10

This new gen­er­a­tion, born and raised in post-Fordism, used for its the­o­ret­i­cal devel­op­ment and as a venue for its first pro­duc­tions of essays and reflec­tions the jour­nal Altr­era­gioni, launched in 1991 in the cli­mate of polit­i­cal ten­sion caused by the Gulf War, from the ini­tia­tive of some among the first par­tic­i­pants in Classe Operaia, Quaderni Pia­cen­tini, and the Ernesto de Mar­tino Insti­tute. Michele Ranchetti, one of the most impor­tant Ital­ian intel­lec­tu­als of the post­war period, his­to­rian, essay­ist, edi­tor, painter, poet, musi­cian; Franco For­tini, poet, writer, lit­er­ary critic, already close to Quaderni Rossi; Edoarda Masi, sinol­o­gist, librar­ian, essay­ist, par­tic­i­pant in Quaderni Pia­cen­tini together with Ser­gio Bologna; Fer­ruc­cio Gam­bino, Pier Paolo Pog­gio, Lapo Berti, Guido De Masi, Cesare Bermani, Bruno Car­to­sio, Primo Moroni, Gio­vanna Pro­cacci (all names which were also found among the par­tic­i­pants of Primo Mag­gio), and oth­ers launched the jour­nal Altr­era­gioni which was imme­di­ately approached by a new gen­er­a­tion that had been influ­enced by work­erism. One of these is Andrea Fuma­galli, who in the fol­low­ing years, together with his part­ner Cristina Morini, would rep­re­sent a the­o­ret­i­cal and polit­i­cal point of ref­er­ence for the move­ments of the “pre­cariat” and the “cog­ni­tariat.” After the first issues, the jour­nal would be edited by Fer­ruc­cio Gam­bino and Gio­vanna Pro­cacci, while Ser­gio Bologna, Primo Moroni, Lapo Berti, Chris­tian Marazzi, Pier Paolo Pog­gio, Mavi Defil­ippi, Marco Cabassi and oth­ers started another ini­tia­tive which had a cer­tain impor­tance in col­lect­ing the work­erist her­itage, the Lib­era Uni­ver­sità di Milano e del suo Hin­ter­land (LUMHI). Two of the cen­tral themes of its cul­tural activ­ity: the strug­gle against his­tor­i­cal revi­sion­ism and the def­i­n­i­tion of the social sub­jects of post-Fordism. From the activ­i­ties of LUMHI arose in cop­ub­li­ca­tion Shake-Fel­trinelli the col­lec­tive work which rep­re­sents a turn in the post-work­erist analy­sis of class: Il lavoro autonomo di sec­onda gen­er­azione. Sce­nari del post­fordismo in Italia (Sec­ond gen­er­a­tion self-employ­ment. Sce­nes from post-Fordism in Italy), edited by Ser­gio Bologna and Andrea Fuma­galli.11 It was 1997, the old and new gen­er­a­tions had found here a com­mon ter­rain of dia­logue and ana­lyt­i­cal pro­duc­tion.

The the­o­ries and research of some ex-mil­i­tants of work­erist groups on the con­di­tion of the mod­ern per­son in post-Fordism and in the debt econ­omy found a wide response also on the inter­na­tional level, which is the case for exam­ple with Mau­r­izio Laz­zarato, who grad­u­ated from the Uni­ver­sity of Padua, where he had among his pro­fes­sors Toni Negri, Fer­ruc­cio Gam­bino, Luciano Fer­rari-Bravo, and Ser­gio Bologna. The new gen­er­a­tion also dealt with the his­tory of work­erism, and began to write it on the basis of the tes­ti­mony of its prin­ci­pal pro­tag­o­nists.12 From abroad, not only from Italy, came other con­tri­bu­tions which, reflect­ing on the his­tory of work­erism, also drew from it, as in Steve Wright’s Storm­ing Heaven,13 a cul­tural and polit­i­cal bal­ance sheet. Today the prin­ci­pal source for the orig­i­nal doc­u­ments of work­erism is the series Bib­lioteca dell’operaismo (Library of Work­erism) by the pub­lish­ing house DeriveAp­prodi in Rome, founded by one of the com­rades of Potere Operaio, Ser­gio Bianchi.

One case study of the pas­sage from an indus­trial Fordist soci­ety to a soci­ety of advanced ter­tiariza­tion in a neigh­bor­hood of Milan was ana­lyzed in Sabina Bologna’s doc­u­men­tary Oltre il ponte. Sto­rie di lavoro (Over the Bridge: Sto­ries of Labor).14

The Role of the Libreria Calusca in Milan

At this point it is nec­es­sary to bring into focus the very impor­tant role Primo Moroni and his book­store, the Calusca, had in cre­at­ing a bridge between the work­erist cul­ture and the new gen­er­a­tions.15 The book­store, dur­ing the 1970s and 1980s, played a role that is dif­fi­cult to clas­sify within the tra­di­tional para­me­ters of cul­tural orga­ni­za­tions. It was a place of encoun­ter, of con­ver­gence, of dia­logue between dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal ten­den­cies, but with a marked sym­pa­thy for the work­erist cur­rent, for var­i­ous anar­chist strands, and Sit­u­a­tion­ist and inter­na­tion­al­ist ten­den­cies. As you can see, tra­di­tions and trends, very dif­fer­ent from each other, or even con­flict­ing, were wel­comed and found refuge (in hard times) in this extra­or­di­nary place, because of the excep­tional per­son­al­ity of its owner, Primo Moroni, a man of great cul­ture and even greater sen­si­tiv­ity to cul­tural inno­va­tion, though with­out any uni­ver­sity edu­ca­tion. For­mer music hall dancer, for­mer book sales­man, son of Tus­can restau­ra­teurs who migrated to Milan, he grew up in work­ing-class neigh­bor­hoods where the small local crim­i­nal under­world had ways and codes of honor very dif­fer­ent from those of the mafia, where peo­ple prob­a­bly stole from the rich to give to the poor, the lat­est off­shoots of those Milanese crim­i­nal gangs that at the begin­ning of the past cen­tury pop­u­lated the Tici­nese neigh­bor­hoods and lived in sym­bio­sis with the “ten­e­ment houses,” with the indus­trial pro­le­tariat and the tra­di­tional arti­sans strongly influ­enced by social­ism. Thieves, rob­bers, drug deal­ers, inde­pen­dent pros­ti­tutes, bur­glars, forg­ers lived next to the fur­rier, to the printer, the electro­mechan­i­cal worker, the cooper, the car­pen­ter, and formed an amal­gam very resis­tant to the men­tal­ity of the bour­geois soci­ety. They were the com­po­nents of a unique pro­le­tar­ian cul­ture which defended its pre­rog­a­tives and rec­og­nized the prac­tices of ille­gal­ity and expro­pri­a­tion. Around this world arose myths and leg­ends, and from it arose a Can­zoniere that in the ’60s and ’70s came back into fash­ion, above all in the protest move­ments which exalted many forms of ille­gal­ity.

Primo Moroni was capa­ble of dia­logue with both the last traces of this world and the intel­lec­tu­als of Classe Operaia. He rec­og­nized in work­erism the most inno­v­a­tive sys­tem of polit­i­cal thought, he was fas­ci­nated with it, just as he was attracted by Sit­u­a­tion­ist thought. When in 1973 we pre­sented him our project Primo Mag­gio, he imme­di­ately rec­og­nized the wealth of ideas and sci­en­tific rigor, and became pub­lisher and dis­trib­u­tor of the jour­nal. When, after 1971-72, the first urban guerilla actions began and the Red Brigades and other armed groups made their appear­ance, Primo Moroni did not hes­i­tate to carry in his book­store and dis­sem­i­nate their pub­li­ca­tions and writ­ings; when the pris­ons began to fill with com­rades who mil­i­tated in the extra-par­lia­men­tary groups, Moroni’s book­store became a focal point for send­ing read­ing mate­ri­als to the pris­on­ers. It was thus that the jour­nal Primo Mag­gio gained a wide dif­fu­sion in the pris­ons (around 500 copies per issues were sent to the pris­ons at the request of the pris­on­ers). All this activ­ity of course ended up lead­ing inves­ti­ga­tors and the police to start con­sid­er­ing Primo Mag­gio a jour­nal affil­i­ated with ter­ror­ist groups, and only thanks to the deci­sive stances of some mem­bers of the edi­to­rial com­mit­tee, even towards Toni Negri, was it pos­si­ble to dis­pel the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of our jour­nal with the groups of Autono­mia or with the armed groups.

In the ’80s and ’90s the whole youth coun­ter­cul­ture of the new gen­er­a­tions that were part of the dig­i­tal era had the Calusca as a point of ref­er­ence. In the mean­time, the book­store had also become a relief agency for old mil­i­tants who were serv­ing many years in prison, above all to those with­out any sup­port, with­out orga­ni­za­tions of ref­er­ence, who had lost every­thing, house, fam­ily, work. We often saw these peo­ple, often ex-work­ers or at any rate of pro­le­tar­ian ori­gins, get­ting out in Milan, per­haps after 20 years in max­i­mum-secu­rity pris­ons, and not know­ing where to go for help, arriv­ing at the Calusca to ask for a loan for a train ticket, to go to the graves of their par­ents, who had died in the mean­time, in some ham­let in the South. In Primo Moroni they always found pro­le­tar­ian sol­i­dar­ity. His book­store gath­ered together the sur­vivors of the work­erist cul­ture, the youth of the social cen­ters and the cyber­punk move­ment, the vet­er­ans of the armed strug­gle but also many peo­ple with gen­uinely demo­c­ra­tic sen­ti­ments, uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sors, pro­fes­sion­als, teach­ers. The Calusca was a kind of “dis­en­fran­chised zone” where diverse peo­ple and milieus that never had any con­tact between them encoun­tered and respected each other. Primo Moroni was a great sto­ry­teller; he didn’t write much, but gave many inter­views and tes­ti­monies. With­out Primo Moroni work­erism would not have reached the young gen­er­a­tions of the dig­i­tal era.

Post-Workerism and the Unionization of the Self-Employed

The speci­fic char­ac­ter of work­erist thought is its strict adher­ence to real­ity, its con­stant rela­tion to action, to mil­i­tant prac­tice. The writ­ings of the work­erist tra­di­tion are not intended merely for read­ing or for pro­pa­ganda; their sci­en­tific rigor is not intended for aca­d­e­mic assess­ment, their mes­sage is a purely polit­i­cal mes­sage, it must pro­duce action, mobi­liza­tion, con­flict, con­fronta­tion. The analy­sis must not remain pure analy­sis, it has no mean­ing if it remains at the stage of analy­sis, how­ever sophis­ti­cated. The analy­sis can even be par­tial, insuf­fi­cient, but must pro­duce mobi­liza­tion, must awaken con­scious­ness, must put in motion sub­jec­tive dynam­ics that lead peo­ple to pro­tect and defend their rights, their own dig­nity, at the work­place and within rela­tions of work. The the­o­ries con­tained in the vol­ume Il lavoro autonomo di sec­onda gen­er­azione were harshly crit­i­cized by aca­d­e­mic soci­ol­o­gists, and with some rea­son – but, at the same time, these pages found res­o­nance among those who were begin­ning to move on their own behalf in order to con­sti­tute union rep­re­sen­ta­tion for the self-employed. And so it had to be. If the aca­d­e­mic cri­tique man­aged to con­temp­tu­ously define our analy­ses of self-employed labor as “unus­able,”16 we don’t care much – we take notice, but what ulti­mately mat­ters to us is that our analy­ses are under­stood, assim­i­lated, and shared by those liv­ing under the con­di­tions of self-employ­ment, by those who depend for their sur­vival on non-salaried inde­pen­dent labor. These peo­ple have been able to use our the­o­ries and have thus refuted the aca­d­e­mic cri­tique.

At the end of the ’90s in the United States and at the begin­ning of the new mil­le­nium in Italy, many asso­ci­a­tions for the pro­tec­tion of inde­pen­dent, free­lance work­ers were founded. His­tor­i­cally, these work­ers, on either side of the Atlantic, have always been excluded from the wel­fare state and from labor laws because they are con­sid­ered “enter­prises.” Since these pro­fes­sional roles, which exploded in the era of infor­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, belong socially to the “lower mid­dle class,” the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with entre­pre­neur­ship rather than labor has been a heavy legacy of their bour­geois cul­ture.17 The union orga­ni­za­tions of employed work­ers have never taken them into con­sid­er­a­tion, have never con­sid­ered them as sub­jects mak­ing up a part of the world of labor. Only very recently, in the past two years in Italy, the CGIL union, fear­ful of see­ing the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of these social groups, which have begun to self-orga­nize, escape their grasp, has begun to cre­ate work groups ded­i­cated to pro­fes­sion­als and to the self-employed.

Post-work­erism suc­ceeded there­fore in cap­tur­ing this trans­for­ma­tion in the world of work, suc­ceeded in giv­ing a col­lec­tive body of thought to the self-employed – by mak­ing them aware of their iden­tity as work­ers, it demon­strated the absur­dity of con­sid­er­ing a per­son as an enter­prise (the one-man/one woman busi­ness).18 An enter­prise is always a com­plex orga­ni­za­tion of coop­er­a­tion between sev­eral peo­ple with diverse roles for the cre­ation of profit in exchange for wages. What are the prin­ci­pal demands of the self-employed? First of all the recog­ni­tion of their right, as cit­i­zens, to pub­lic assis­tance in case of ill­ness, to unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits and tax treat­ment equal to employed labor­ers.19 The pres­sure that the asso­ci­a­tions for the defense of the rights of the self-employed have exer­cised in Europe in the last five years have attained some results, in par­tic­u­lar the state­ment of the Euro­pean par­lia­ment in Jan­u­ary 2014 which affirms that all cit­i­zens have the same rights inde­pen­dent of the labor they per­form.20

On the other hand the union­iza­tion of free­lance work­ers in the United State has assumed a much greater ampli­tude, thanks to a woman named Sara Horow­itz, who in the last years of the ’90s cre­ated the Free­lancers Union (FU) which today counts almost 250,000 mem­bers. Thanks to the finan­cial sup­port of many pri­vate foun­da­tions, the FU has con­sti­tuted an Insur­ance Com­pany which offers to its mem­bers finan­cial cov­er­age and assis­tance in case of ill­ness.21

In Italy, the asso­ci­a­tion that has adopted post-work­erist analy­sis is the Asso­ci­azione Con­sulenti Terziario Avan­zato (ACTA), founded in Milan in 2003, which is unfor­tu­nately still very small, though rec­og­nized as a sis­ter orga­ni­za­tion by the Free­lancers Union.22 ACTA is also a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Forum of Inde­pen­dent Pro­fes­sion­als, of which it holds the vice-pres­i­dency.23 If in the his­tory of the wage earn­ers’ move­ment, union­iza­tion was always accom­pa­nied by adhe­sion to social­ist ideas, in the union­iza­tion of the self-employed apoliti­cism prevails.This is also because the Left is no longer a polit­i­cal force in Europe. In Italy, for exam­ple, which had the strongest Com­mu­nist Party in the West, there is no trace of Marx­ist-inspired social thought, if not in social move­ments that are not rep­re­sented in Par­lia­ment. The Demo­c­ra­tic Party, which is in part the heir of the old Com­mu­nist Party, and which over the years has changed its name sev­eral times to try and erase the traces of its Marx­ist ori­gins, is now a polit­i­cal for­ma­tion that com­pletely espouses the neolib­eral doc­tri­nes of the finan­cial lob­bies. Being apo­lit­i­cal does not mean not hav­ing polit­i­cal views, but means not iden­ti­fy­ing with the par­ties rep­re­sented in Par­lia­ment.


Work­erist thought has proven that it can ren­o­vate itself, and that it can inter­pret the great trans­for­ma­tions in soci­ety and in new forms of work. But the hopes of work­erism, the moral, polit­i­cal, and social val­ues for which it had fought, were bru­tally chal­lenged and mar­gin­al­ized, almost erased, by the neolib­eral thought of the post-Fordist era, and in par­tic­u­lar by the Ital­ian rul­ing classes of Catholic, social­ist, and lib­eral ori­gins. The sys­tem­atic per­se­cu­tion of Potere Operaio mil­i­tants, some­times more obses­sive than the repres­sion against the urban guerilla mil­i­tants, and the mar­gin­al­iza­tion of work­erist thought in the cul­tural and aca­d­e­mic sce­nes has not suc­ceeded, how­ever, in pre­vent­ing the new gen­er­a­tions from rec­og­niz­ing in this thought a use­ful tool for lib­er­a­tion. The rul­ing classes who fought work­erism with stu­pid obsti­nacy are the same ones who have today dragged Italy into this mis­er­able state, both from the eco­nomic and from the civil point of view. The 40% youth unem­ploy­ment rate is per­haps not the most seri­ous aspect of the poverty of the new gen­er­a­tions; the pre­car­i­ous work­ing con­di­tions of mil­lions of peo­ple, the low wages, the unpaid intern­ships, in addi­tion to the lack of pro­tec­tion, are equally, if not more, seri­ous. If this mass of humil­i­ated cit­i­zens even­tu­ally finds the strength to rebel, work­erist and post-work­erist thought will once again spread widely, and might have a long life.

Trans­lated by Asad Haider, Salar Mohan­desi, and Ful­via Serra

  1. For those who par­tic­i­pated in the birth of work­erist thought, writ­ing its his­tory is not easy. One always always runs the risk of forc­ing a sub­jec­tive take on it. This arti­cle should there­fore be read as a tes­ti­mony rather than as a his­tor­i­cal recon­struc­tion. It might be because of my pro­fes­sional bias, but this is not the first time that I have tried to write the his­tory of work­erism in the form of tes­ti­mony, see Ser­gio Bologna, Work­erism: An inside View. From the Mass-Worker to Self-employed Labour, in “Beyond Marx: The­o­ris­ing the Global Labour Rela­tions of the Twenty-First cen­tury,” Marcel van den Lin­den and Karl Heinz Roth, eds. in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Max Hen­ninger (Ley­den-Bostom: Brill, 2014), 121-143; the Ital­ian text was pub­lished in L’altronovecento: Comu­nismo eretico e pen­siero critico. Vol. II: Il sis­tema e i movi­menti, Europa 1945-1989, Pier Paolo Pog­gio, ed., (Milano: Jaca Book, 2011), 205-222. The most com­plete work on the his­tory of work­erism is Giuseppe Trotta and Fabio Milana, L’operaismo degli anni Ses­santa: Da “Quaderni Rossi” a “Classe Operaia,” intro­duced by Mario Tronti (Roma: DeriveAp­prodi, 2008), with a CD of the entire run of “Classe Operaia.” 

  2. Raniero Panzieri, “Sull’uso cap­i­tal­is­tico delle macchine nel neo­cap­i­tal­ismo,” in Quaderni Rossi 1 (1961): 53. Eng­lish trans­la­tion: “The Cap­i­tal­ist Use of Machin­ery: Marx ver­sus the Objec­tivists,” trans. Quintin Hoare, avail­able via 

  3. Translator’s Note: “per­sonal com­puter” in Eng­lish in orig­i­nal. 

  4. Ser­gio Bologna in L’altronovecento, 205-206; the Eng­lish trans­la­tion can be found in Beyond Marx, 122. 

  5. Translator’s Note: in Eng­lish in the orig­i­nal. 

  6. These ana­lyzes have been pub­lished for most part in the review Quaderni del Ter­ri­to­rio, founded by Alberto Mag­naghi, and last­ing from 1975 to 1979. A new edi­tion of the note­books that Mag­naghi wrote from 1979 to 1982, dur­ing his deten­tion in the pris­ons of Milan and Roma, has just been pub­lished, Un’idea di lib­ertà, with a pref­ace by Alberto Asor Rosa and a post­face by Rossana Rossanda (Roma: DeriveAp­prodi, 2014). 

  7. “The Ital­ian operaismo of the 1960s starts with the birth of Quaderni rossi and stops with the death of Classe operaia. End of story.” Mario Tronti, “Our Operaismo,” trans. Eleanor Chiari, New Left Review 73 (Jan­u­ary-Feb­ru­ary 2012), 119. 

  8. Cesare Bermani et al., La riv­ista “Primo Mag­gio:” 1973-1989 (Roma: Derive & Approdi, 2010), which includes a DVD of every issue of the review. 

  9. See his con­tri­bu­tion to num­ber 22 of Primo Mag­gio, autumn 1984. 

  10. We must not for­get the impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions of Luciano Fer­rari-Bravo, who par­tic­i­pated in the activ­i­ties of the work­erist groups from the begin­ning; some of his writ­ings were pub­lished in the vol­ume Dal fordismo alla glob­al­iz­zazione: Cristalli di tempo politico, pref­ace by Ser­gio Bologna (Roma: Il Man­i­festo Libri, 2001). 

  11. The vol­ume was jointly pub­lished by Shake-Fel­trinelli in 1997 in Milan. 

  12. Futuro ante­ri­ore. Dai ‘Quaderni Rossi’ ai movi­menti glob­ali: Ric­chezze e lim­iti dell’operaismo ital­iano, Guido Borio, Francesca Pozzi, and Gigi Rog­gero, eds. (Roma: DeriveAp­prodi, 2002). 

  13. Steve Wright, Storm­ing Heaven: Class com­po­si­tion and strug­gle in Ital­ian Auton­o­mist Marx­ism (Lon­don: Pluto Press, 2002). 

  14. DeriveAp­prodi has recounted how it was born and how this project was real­ized in “Dalla classe operaia alla cre­ative class. Le trans­for­mazioni di un quartiere di Milano” which is in also included in the DVD with the doc­u­men­tary, 39 min­utes long, with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles. 

  15. Calusca is the name of an alley that leads to the Piazza Sant’Eustorgio in the Tici­nese neigh­bor­hood of Milan, its origin deriv­ing from the expres­sion in dialect ca’ lusc (“shady houses,” broth­els). The book­store then moved about a hun­dred meters for­ward, to the Corso di Porta Tici­nese, and next to via Conchetta, on the Nav­iglio Pavese, where it still exists within a social cen­ter. Primo Moroni died of can­cer in 1998, a pro­file of him was pub­lished in vol­ume 77 (2012) of the Dizionario Biografico degli Ital­iani of the Enci­clo­pe­dia Trec­cani. 

  16. See in par­tic­u­lar the review of Paolo Bar­bi­eri, of the Uni­ver­sity of Trento, for the Cat­ta­neo Insti­tute. This critic was par­tic­u­larly revolted by “Dieci tesi sul lavoro autonomo di sec­onda gen­er­azione” in the vol­ume edited by Bologna and Fuma­galli, Il lavoro autonomo, 13-42. 

  17. Translator’s Note: “lower mid­dle class” in Eng­lish in orig­i­nal. 

  18. Translator’s Note: “the one-man/one woman busi­ness” in Eng­lish orig­i­nal. 

  19. An analy­sis of the process of union­iza­tion of the self-employed in Dario Banfi, Ser­gio Bologna, Vita de free­lance. I lavo­ra­tori della conoscenza e loro futuro (Milan: Fel­trinelli, 2011), par­tic­u­larly the last chap­ter. 

  20. 2013/2011 (INI) – 14.01.2014 Texte adopté du Par­lement Lec­ture unique. 

  21. See The site is the most effec­tive instru­ment of pro­pa­ganda and infor­ma­tion on the activ­ity of the asso­ci­a­tions of the self-employed. 

  22. Translator’s note: “sis­ter orga­ni­za­tion” in Eng­lish orig­i­nal. 

  23. Joel Dull­roy, an EFIP activist who lives in Berlin, has launched a cam­paign for a free­lance move­ment this year:  

Author of the article

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