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

17
Some Regional and Sectoral Developments

Numerous commentators have observed that the most potent symbol of the workers' movement during the 1960s and 1970s was the operaio massa, and even more typically the unskilled metalworker, such as at Fiat in Turin or at Breda in Milan. During the sindacato's period of ascendancy, the industrial working class was able to aggregate the demands of all sectors of society in a remarkable way. Indeed, one of Italy's leading observers of the industrial relations scene has recently refined this point and argued forcefully that the most powerful ideological ingredient of the sindacato's mobilising capacity was the egalitarianism of the Catholic and communist metalworkers' federations which underlay all the economic and social demands of the late 1960s and the 1970s. 1 Accornero contends that the centrality of this perspective, itself the result of a peculiarly Italian fusion of Catholic and communist ideological elements, was a major cause of the comparative decline which the movement later suffered in the 1980s.

While it is true that the sindacato's egalitarianism eventually began to damage its capacity to mobilise, there were other reasons for its loss of momentum which should not be ignored. There was, for example, widespread support for the movement's ambitions as a social and political agent. But its subsequent inability to live up to expectations and promote reforms from the mid-1970s also contributed to a decline in its public credibility.

So long as ideological factors continued to weigh heavily on the sindacato's development, the Catholic and communist union confederations were practically alone in shaping the destiny of the movement. But these confederations were not monoliths, and a brief discussion of how they differed in some regions and economic sectors, in addition to having an intrinsic value of its own, may also produce some insights into the broader question of the changing

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1
See A. Accornero, La parabola del sindacato, especially pp. 20ff.

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