Politics and Ideology in the Italian Workers' Movement: Union Development and the Changing Role of the Catholic and Communist Subcultures in Postwar Italy

By Gino Bedani | Go to book overview

11
The Unforgettable Autumn of '69

Mounting Social Tensions

The protest movements of the late 1960s affected most of the industrialised countries of the West, focusing on a wide variety of global issues ranging from the war in Vietnam to the repressive nature of traditional sexual values. There were undoubtedly some common underlying factors contributing to this widespread phenomenon, particularly the fact that the protagonists were, on the whole, the first postwar generation of young people coming to maturity in a highly consumer-oriented Western world and attempting to shake off many traditional beliefs. It was a period during which young people were extremely receptive to new ideas. But the feeling of being part of a vast international wave of protest frequently concealed important differences specific to national situations.

In Italy, the period of protest involved wider sections of society than almost anywhere else, rooted as it was in the social fabric of a society caught up in an unusually intense and rapid transformation. The 'economic miracle' had profoundly changed the material basis of Italian society, but had left its framework of social supports untouched and in need of urgent reform. It is important, therefore, when we examine the industrial disputes at the centre of the 'autunno caldo', not to perceive them in isolation. While there was undoubtedly a continuity in strictly contractual terms between the demands of the period and earlier industrial struggles, the explosive quality of the 'Hot Autumn' was fuelled by the broader social tensions which had been mounting from the beginning of the decade. The increasing demands on the nation's social and productive resources were being made with an assertiveness that could no longer be controlled by traditional methods of containing protest, which had lost their effectiveness and credibility. Old-style labour repression was no longer possible. Not only had it lost both its social and ideological legitimacy in the country at large, but it

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