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

13
Broadening the Sphere of Action: From
Workplace to Society

New Conflictual Agents

The cycle of protest which led to the 'Hot Autumn' of 1969 engendered a transformation in the Italian industrial relations system in which the sindacato achieved a new social and ideological legitimacy. Its fluctuating positions of relative strength and weakness vis-à-vis employers and government would henceforth operate within new boundaries. Immediately after the 'autunno caldo', the movement extended the scope of its demands in both the industrial and political spheres. It was able to do this because its conflictual capacity had, in a short space of time, acquired a force well beyond anything which could have been predicted. Not only had the popular committees and assemblies of the late sixties developed a staggering variety of forms of industrial action, but they had given vast, formerly non-militant sections of the population their first experiences of conflict and resistance.

The period of heightened protest lasted from 1968 to 1972. Among workers in industry the most significant change was the increase in the militancy of unskilled and semi-skilled workers (operai comuni). Strictly in terms of pay and the working environment the conditions of these groups of workers had been even more intolerable than those of their skilled colleagues, on whom the more militant Cgil had traditionally relied for support. There was thus an even larger pool of labour now ready to mobilise in its own interests. The demands of these operai comuni for equal pay increases, for regrading, for the rejection of Taylorist working methods and for the reduction of noise and other health hazards drew on new areas of support, particularly from the socialist left and the Catholic left, namely from those elements of the labour movement traditionally less dependent on a skilled workforce for

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