International Communist Party The Union Question

In Italy the proletariat occupied the factories...

Prometeo, n.7, 1 ottobre 1928

The occupation of the factories in the memory of a militant

When the order for occupying the factories came, the awareness of the importance of this great movement in proletarian circles was ripe, and the workers, with glee, broke through the doors of the factories to take over them.

I remember under what circumstances the order of the Metal Federation was communicated to me. The bosses, having learned of the order, closed the factory doors, guarding them with armed security. The first workers who went to their usual shift from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. found the doors locked. At that point the workers didn’t argue too much. There was the order of organization; there were no means but there was an iron will, the fury of the proletarian effort: with a stone bollard the first door of No. 35 Corso Dante yielded to the fighting will of the Turin proletariat.

This was the signal: immediately afterwards the other workers did the same, and soon the doors were all knocked down and the guards were disarmed and replaced with proletarian guards.

The workers in the factories, as their first demonstration, gathered in a large rally at which the Internal Commission was given full powers to organize the factory.

The Internal Commission found it necessary to double the number of its members in order to cope with all the problems facing the workers in their struggle against the bosses.

This was immense work, above all for technical operation given the almost complete absence of the clerk category. Despite this, a division of labor was quickly reached within the Internal Commission. This divided its work as follows: Technical Management – Administrative Management – Defense of the Factory – Liaison between the Chamber of Labor and the factory – Liaison with other factories.

The Internal Commission, in order to ensure the constant presence of the workers in the factory, established three eight-hour shifts and thereby effectively provided for the defense of the factory.

The Internal Commission – as its first political act – established that all its work was to be controlled by the Department Commissioners. This also stabilized the connection between the mass of workers and the Internal Commission.

One of the difficulties that immediately arose was the arrangement of labor. The forges manufactured swords and spears. The Experience Department armored a truck stocked with machine guns that was still in storage at FIAT. In the other departments, some more and some less, all the workers were engaged in the construction and repair of weapons, including making bombs.

The technicians attempted to carry out their counterrevolutionary work. Replacing the clerks with the more educated proletarian elements and student volunteers didn’t ensure defense against the counterrevolutionary work of the technicians. As a result, the vanguard proletarians intervened and neutralized this danger by subjecting the technicians to strict control by the Internal Commission and Department Commissioners.

At the same time a special armament department was being formed which served to reassure the masses, and thus proceeded to the smooth operation of the factory.

From the point of view of production, the workers – despite the absence of the clerks, and the cloaked sabotage of the technicians – managed in a short time to exceed the previous production, when the bosses commanded and directed. And this, in spite of the fact that labor had decreased because the workers we had had to provide for the defense of the workshop and all managerial work.

An internal newspaper entitled Il Marciapiede was published, which contained news about the movement, the course of events in the other factories, the deliberations of the Internal Committee, etc., etc.

The first task of the Proletarian Management Office was to take possession of the archives. It was thus possible to see how closely the factory owners followed the internal events of the proletarian organization and how well informed they were. In fact, many copies of the minutes of the Turin Socialist Section were found. Individual files with conventional signs relating to the compilation of work certificates were also found. Workers who left the factory were given a “well served” where a simple exclamation mark was sometimes used to indicate whether they were subversives, or a question mark was used to make it clear that the element was not very “agreeable” to the bosses. These revelations were the subject of many arguments and comments by the workers who continued to work so assiduously that production increased every day. I remember that a very good result was had with the appointment of Technical Commissions composed of workers and technicians and which went to check the departments to ensure continuous technical refinement. Working methods were always improved as a result, and successes in this area were quickly generalized to all the factories.

Defense was organized perfectly. Sentries were very strict in enforcing compliance with their delivery. Night patrol teams were composed of the best youth, determined to go into action as soon as the need called for it.

In fact, one night a patrol of Red Guards seized four individuals who were in the vicinity of the factory. They took them inside the factory and managed – after a lengthy interrogation – to ascertain that they were four former officers who had come on patrol to organize an attack against the workers. The punishment decided consisted of the obligation to work at the ovens (to put coal in them) for twenty-four hours. Imagine those daddy’s boys who never worked a day in their lives!

After this punishment, these officers were asked whether or not the workers who toiled under the conditions they had a taste of had the right to declare themselves the masters of the factory. These messengers then replied that the workers were right because the work was a lot of effort. After the punishment ended, the officers were released.

In the factory departments, enthusiasm was high. The workers had decorated the walls with distinct proletarian writings.

It was expected from day to day that workers from other organizations would seize the means of production, but this did not happen, while the economic situation of many families began to worsen. It was then that the Internal Commission decided to break through the safes in order to be able to meet the needs of the workers. The funds found were limited and were soon distributed. The sale of automobile production was still carried out in order to be able to cope with all the difficulties and to ensure the needs of the families. With a deposit of copper that the old Direction had purchased, it was proposed to make coins that were put into circulation at the value corresponding to the price of the copper in them. Engravers were called in and samples of these coins were made: on one side was “hammer and sickle” and on the other side an inscription recalling “the FIAT Soviet”. This proposal to make coins was taken to the Chamber of Labor – which sunk it.

Despite all this the workers didn’t tire and production always marched on. The exchange of raw materials between individual factories was organized in order to be able to standardize the whole movement.

When the Confederation of Labor’s order to give up the factories came, the workers rose up against this betrayal. For three more days they remained in the factories; they us wanted to surrender.

The experience they had had, that is, the proof made about the superiority of the quantity and quality of production under proletarian rule, had deepened and fortified the consciousness of the masses. But all this was not worthwhile. After the betrayal of the Social-Democrats who were then in charge of the workers’ organizations, the Internal Commission had to organize the surrender of the factories to the bosses, gloating with joy.

Never had the departments been kept with such care and cleanliness; the four leaders of the old bourgeois administration passed between two cordons of proletarians who wore a red carnation in the buttonhole of their vests. The looks of these workers made it clear to the capitalists that sooner or later the workers will be able to seize what’s theirs forever and that the betrayal of the leaders won’t be able to save the bourgeoisie.

The situation in the army during the factory occupations

During the factory occupations the same classes from 1898 and 1899 were still armed, those who now knew the massacres of the greatwar and daily waited for the discharge order.

Proletarian events were followed with great attention by the soldiers who were well determined to stand by the proletariat of which they were an integral part.

The officers had almost completely lost their authority over the soldiers and, when in the morning the news came that the workers had occupied the factories, a great enthusiasm arose among the soldiers and we, who were in the Lamarmora Barracks which is almost to direct opposite side of the “Itala” factory, admired from the windows the movement of the workers who on the terraces of the workshop hurried to prepare the defense by building – with sandbags on the ground – the trenches that overlooked the whole of Corso Vinzaglio and Orbassano.

Soldiers from their windows waved red handkerchiefs, and workers in the factories did likewise.

By now no one was waiting for the discharge order anymore and everyone was convinced that the day of the final liberation of the entire proletariat had finally come.

For two days only the soldiers were allowed to take advantage of free leave, and everyone, when they entered the barracks, reported some news gathered in proletarian circles.

Soon after – by the Command – all the troops were turned in. But this was of no avail because the soldiers equally found the means of catching up with the proletariat.

Every day the officers held conferences, but the soldiers were extremely dismissive of them. Door-to-door searches were very strict and frequent for those who were allowed out because they were commanded in special duty. I remember that many soldiers were found in possession of newspapers or manifestos and for this they were jailed.

Searches were also made in the troop’s backpacks and many pamphlets and newspapers were found, including a few Socialist Youth Federation cards.

The rifles were taken back from the soldiers and were put in a special storage room under special surveillance.

The patrol of soldiers that was supposed to circulate at night in the city was once found plotting with a group of workers and as a consequence the entire patrol went to prison.

I remember that one day an officer took it upon himself to tear down a workers’ poster that was posted on a tree in front of the main entrance to Itala. The workers who were on guard on the roof of the factory and who had seen this gesture, fired two or three rifle shots at the officer, which ran away. After this episode the officers could no longer pass in front of the factories because the workers would welcome them as such. As a result, command organized a division of soldiers into two groups: one in the barracks and the other in Borgo Orbassano. This was for the purpose of having the officers accompanied by the soldiers in order to make it impossible for the workers to act when the unit approached the factory. Had they decided to act, they would have had to attack even the uniformed proletarians who served as meat shields for the officers.

There was one officer who had the bravado to say that if he could find ten more soldiers of his temperament, he would without a doubt proceed to storm the Itala to drive out its workers. This officer learned a very good lesson. One evening a group of workers – who were aware of his ramblings – gave him a beating as he deserved, and for about forty days he had to stay at the Hospital.

But what really stunned the officers was when anti-militarist placards were found in the courtyard and stairwells inciting the soldiers to solidarity with the proletariat in struggle. These manifestos were proudly read by the troops. As a response to these demonstrations came the fact that the entire marching riff-raff was mobilized and at ten o’clock that morning a large conference of the entire troop was held. A captain spoke first, but the “centerpiece” was the speech by Colonel Lanzia, commander-in-chief of the 4th Bersaglieri Regiment. This messenger tried to be skillful; he didn’t make the slightest threat to the soldiers because he had seen how all such bravado was treated. He was very humble and reconciling and ended by saying that if history were to see the soldiers in the red beret, for the bersaglieri there would be no change since they already wore a red beret.

One day later things changed. The factories were being abandoned by the workers under the orders of the leaders of the Confederation of Labor and with the direct complicity of the leaders of the socialist party.

The proletariat was once again betrayed!

About eighty royal guards with armored cars came to our barracks in order to prevent the workers from coming to liberate us who were in the barracks.

The crushing of this great movement had an enormous repercussion in the ranks of the army: the soldiers all were moved out and demoralized.

At the Lancia in Turin

This factory then had 3,500 workers. In the morning the bosses had provided for the closure of the factory, but the masses were certainly not willing to suffer.

A group of the most determined climbed over the gate and headed for the gatekeeper’s house and the place where the night guards resided. As soon as the night guards were found, they asked them to open the entrance gates. The guards replied that they had to obey an order from the management and couldn’t open them. The comrades insisted. The guards in response began to threaten. But the workers resolutely drew their revolvers and then the loyal servants, the watchdogs of capitalism, went to open the gates.

The workers entered en masse. The Internal Commission made it known that the union organization had decided on the occupation of the factory. A rally was held announcing freedom to leave the factory for those who didn’t agree to follow the occupation movement. No more than a tenth of workers came out.

Material defense then proceeded immediately amid general enthusiasm as the fever of action ruled. The arrangements were carried out with marvelous speed, and by the same evening the defense works were completed: latticework, fortifications with sandbag observers; everything was ready. A few young men in the meantime had accomplished an enormous amount of work by forewarning all the families of the workers as well.

The organization of work was very orderly: production intensified every day under the direct supervision of the Internal Commission. The workers understood exactly the full importance of this great movement that proved their high degree of class consciousness. Internal kitchens were organized and pay by means of vouchers that could be spent at the Turin Cooperative Alliance.

This great class movement could only blossom into the logical supreme struggle. But the leaders didn’t want the final struggle, but the suffocation of the movement, and they succeeded.

After about a month of struggle the workers had to abandon the factories not because they were beaten out by enemy force, but because the order had come from the leaders who had betrayed them. The workers left the factories singing. But in that singing was the regret of the lost battle. The bourgeoisie on the other hand sneered with joy at the great gains made.

Memories of September 1920

The factories are occupied. The bourgeoisie has mobilized all its forces in the most diverse forms.

What are the proletarians doing? They prepare for what should be the supreme battle. Scarce means, but will and confidence is abound.

One weakness remains: confidence. Not low confidence; but on the contrary, overconfidence and this was the “Achilles’ heel” of the proletariat, The trust placed by it in the leaders will be let down by corruption, a mighty lever in the realm of capital.

But before this happens what did we see?

The highest spirit of sacrifice and solidarity. The railroad workers, for example are outside the active struggle, they don’t join the movement, but effectively participate in the movement.

The railroad management, well-known reactionaries, issues orders and restrictions, emanating from the bosses. The "Amma" has a lot to say about its State power. The railroad is a State enterprise. But the Railway Union, a truly proletarian organization, exceeds all expectations.

“Neither a wagon nor a parcel is to enter or exit the occupied factories”. This is the order of the management.

“No shortage of material shall be made to suffer, nor stranding of traffic to the occupied factories” this is the order of the organization. And then one sees humble transport workers serenely assuming the revolutionary responsibility of solidarity in the movement and in spite of governmental anger; assuring the normal ebb and flow of goods and raw materials: thus the occupation lasts for dozens of days.

Betrayal from above was once again to frustrate the good will and sacrifice of the masses.

Turin Dora, where one of the worst reactionaries of Bourbon origin was then stationmaster – one such Baroni – had well organized in agreement with his son one of the first blackshirt squads in Piedmont in agreement with the various under-tails of the administration of the various factories in the area. But the most devious and draconian measures were to no avail. The staff knew with true technical skill how to evade every restriction, and every column in maneuver always succeeded in “providing for” the various establishments.

And it was not for nothing that Torino Dora gave 80% layoffs after Fascism came to power, of course, due to… “poor performance”. Let us remember that!