1968: Memoirs of a Workerist


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

Old Marzotto

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

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

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

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

Direct Action in the Factory

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

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

The Theory of the Mass Worker

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

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

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

The New res publica

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

The Refusal of Exploitation

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

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

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

The French May changed every­thing.

After the French May

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

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

The Class Universe

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

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

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

The Worker-Students

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

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

Against Entryism

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

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

Guerilla in the Departments

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

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

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

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

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

The “Self-Reduction” of Production

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

Workers and Technicians

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

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

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

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

Settling Accounts with the Lawyer

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

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

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

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

La Classe, a Workerist Paper

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

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

Something New at Fiat

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

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

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

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

A New Political Class Emerges

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

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

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

Impracticability of a Dream

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

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

Primo Maggio

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

– Trans­lated by Alessan­dra Guar­ino

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author of the article

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