International Communist Party The Union Question

The Logic of Fascist Syndicalism and Regime Trade Unionism: The Defense of Capital
from Comunismo, issues no 4 and 6, 1980-81

 1. Nature of Fascist Trade Unionism  7. Social crisis keeps spiraling: fascist trade unions are forced to resort to strikes
 2. Material and ideological origins of fascist trade unionism and its first acts: from the establishment of the UIL to the Dalmine speech  8. Towards the legal and institutional recognition of fascist trade unions as the sole lawful representatives of the workers
 3. The National Economic Unions and their anti-worker action: fascist tradeunionism builds its organizational structure  9. Trade Unions and Corporations in the Fascist Order
 4. The National Confederation of Corporations is born and the fight against red unions intensifies  10. Substantial similarity between fascist and democratic regimes
 5. The contradictions of “integral trade unionism” explode: the polemics with the big bourgeoisie  11. The capitulation of the General Confederation of Labor when facing Fascism
 6. Fascist trade unions facing worsening living conditions of the working masses  12. The attitude of the Communist Left

Our aim with this work is to focus on the process of integration of workers’ unions into the meshes of bourgeois institutions, following its past stages and highlighting the characteristics peculiar to each and the similarities between them. In practice, it’s a matter of developing the synthetic work that appeared in issue no1 of this journal and pointing out, through the historical events of the various epochs, the general tendencies of this phenomenon that characterizes the epoch of imperialism in all capitalistically developed countries.

The reasons that prompt us to address these questions once again are not, of course, historiographical or academic in nature, but arise from the need to strengthen our positions today on the attitude toward “tricolor” trade union opportunism (the “Tricolore” is the national Italian flag), a question not easily solved on the level of practical application, as the Party still lacks the favorable terrain on which to act, both because of its extremely small forces and because of a general situation that, although expressing the first feeble attempts to climb out of the counter-revolutionary slope in which the proletariat has been led for more than half a century of opportunist leadership, sees the main proletarian units still absent from the historical scene of the class struggle, if only from the defensive battle against the increasingly pressing and less and less disguised attacks of the forces openly defending the general interests of capital and the ruling class. The slower and more troubled the process of deploying the forces of the proletarian army in the field, under the material pressure of the constant worsening of the living conditions of all workers, the more difficult it will be to identify the most suitable forms and operational instruments that the Party will have to undertake in its indispensable action of penetration into the class, with the classical weapon of participation in workers’ struggles and in the organizational forms in which they’ll be expressed. But even if this process would be more rapid than can be expected today, that wouldn’t make it any easier to identify the correct and most useful ways to intervene in the class, a task vital for the achievement of the general direction of the class in struggle and for the subsequent action of attacking the bourgeois institutions for the conquest of political power by the proletariat.

Precisely for this reason, we must always be very clear about the overall character of the social phenomena unfolding before our eyes, and above all clear about the tendency of the political and trade union forces in the field, the nature of the type of regime against which the proletarians will have to fight, the political orientations of the organizations which officially pose as guardians of the interests of the working classes, their relations with the bourgeois State and their real historical and immediate objectives. In short, the salient features and specific tendencies of political and trade union opportunism in the forms in which this manifests itself today and will manifest itself tomorrow. The Party must possess this clarity to the full in order to know how to convey to the proletariat the indications of actions to be taken to counter and attack the forts of the enemy and break down all obstacles that will stand in the way of the successful solution of the proletarian and communist revolution.

Above all, it’s necessary to this end that the Party shouldn’t rest on waiting for the developments that the resumption of the class struggle will have in the future, in order to draw from them a posteriori directions for action, but should know how to indicate as of now to the most combative proletarians what must be not only the objectives, but also the immediate organizational instruments that they must give themselves in order to carry on their struggle with good results and determination, so as not to risk at the moment of action finding themselves at the tail instead of at the head of the class movement. This clarity can only come from knowing how to value the enormous baggage of the class’s historical experience, its past struggles and the behavior of the opportunist organizations that from time to time have appeared on the scene in the history of the international proletarian class struggle. It’s necessary to know how to grasp the common thread linking the different forms of opportunism, their progressive involution along the line of a historical continuity that, in the imperialist phase of international capitalism, marked the evolution of the organizational forms of workers’ unions toward integration into the meshes of bourgeois institutions.

More generally, it’s the tendency of the bourgeoisies in all countries, in the need to preserve themselves in power, to subjugate proletarian-based organizations, either by the force of open and avowed totalitarianism, or, depending on historical periods and situations, by the lie of democratic tolerance, exploiting for reactionary purposes the irreversible historical tendency of proletarians towards economic associationism for the defense of their living conditions.

It’s imperative to trace the substantial nature of today’s trade union organizations, beyond the lying forms and appearances of freedom and democracy, and to see how their avowed allegiance to the needs of the national economy is an irreversible phenomenon of today’s trade union opportunism and translates on the level of action into close class collaboration with the bourgeoisie through all channels of the democratic regime.

Increasingly, today’s trade unions are characterized as “regime unions”, in the sense that they not only refer in their statutes to loyalty to the institutions of this regime, but increasingly tend to position themselves as the only recognized interlocutors of the State and the bosses. They thus increasingly become unions closed off to class action. Loyalty to the sacred values of democracy and social peace is now openly referred to as an indispensable condition for militating in its ranks. They thus tend more and more to configure themselves as true “regime unions”, linking themselves directly to the style of action of the fascist unions.

The perplexities that may arise in the face of such a definition are the result of an evaluation influenced and distorted by the widespread conviction that between the fascist regime and the democratic regime there exists a diametrical historical antithesis, and that therefore these two systems of government of the bourgeoisie can only be configured as irreducible enemies with no possibility of coexistence and compromise, so that, even if one recognizes them as different forms of bourgeois rule, and therefore both working for the preservation of the capitalist system, one ends up making their difference in form a difference in political substance as well, so that the democratic system is not considered the configuration of a true regime of the ruling class. If one doesn’t clearly get this analogy of substance between the two regimes, one ends up not having equally clear the analogy of substance between the organizational forms that characterize their supporting structures, among which cannot but be considered the trade unions, which we have not by chance called tricolor, taking up equally the definition with which the militants of the Communist Party of Italy called the fascist trade unions of the black twenty years. After all, our very clear definition in the immediate postwar period of tricolor unions “sewn on the Mussolini model” cannot make any other sense: a model, precisely, traced by Fascism and on which the Resistance parties sewed the “new type” of post-fascist unionism still prevailing today.

Certainly we aren’t so foolish and unrealistic as to regard fascist and post-fascist unions as exactly the same thing, but the comparison must be seen in the light of the differences between the two systems in relation to: the development of proletarian struggles, the institutional differences of the two forms of regime, and the different formal legislative structures.

The most recent events in the field of workers’ struggles have brought into clearer and clearer focus the identification between tricolor unionism and fascist unionism: expulsion of workers’ representatives not aligned with loyalty to democracy and its institutions from the union; setting up “workers’” demands that actually defend the interests of the national economy and thus worsen the living conditions of proletarians; accentuated siding of the confederal piecards with the “policy of sacrifices”, etc. Clearer positions, but such as to be considered a recent substantial “change” in the general conception of tricolor unionism, indeed it’s a quite natural consequence of it. Not as of today, then, have we “discovered” regime unionism, as some of our critics who claim to be more or less “related” to us squeal, but this was clear to the Party from their inception. That at the beginning of their establishment and throughout the period of postwar reconstruction and economic “boom” our attitude toward them was different from the present is because of changed economic-social situations in which their action takes place, not because of their changed nature as “regime unions”.

1 - Nature of fascist trade unionism

In order to bring this question into focus, one cannot disregard the analysis of what fascist trade unions were and above all how they came into being, and it’s expressly to this question that we devote this first chapter, which, together with those that will follow, shall trace a history of Italian trade unionism from the years immediately after World War I to the present period.

It’d be interesting to carry out this question more generally by analyzing the phenomenon of the involution of trade unions in all imperialist countries, which was a process typical of the years in which imperialism fully manifested its characteristics as the “supreme phase of capitalism”: the years of the first war and the immediate postwar period.

It’s a consequent and parallel involution to the collapse and betrayal of the parties of the Second International. In all countries the trade union organizations get arranged on the ground of class collaboration in war and peace, in various forms, but with identical opportunist spirit. The general weakness of the communist movement in Western countries was unable to counter this trend. However, it’s undeniable that the phenomenon of the subjugation of workers’ unions to the interests of the bourgeoisie in its own country takes on special characteristics in Italy, corresponding to the particular tradition of struggle of the Italian proletariat magnificently expressed in the “Red Biennium”, despite the continuous betrayals of the reformists leading the CGL and the continuous demagogic inaction of the maximalists who each time bring water to the mill of the former

This peculiarity shouldn’t be understood as an exception to the general phenomenon, but as a response by the Italian bourgeoisie, which treasured all previous political experiences, in unison with the tendency of international imperialism toward State totalitarianism in all countries. With Fascism, the Italian bourgeoisie achieved a modern synthesis of populist reformism, worthily inherited from the program of social democracy, and totalitarian political violence proper to capitalist dictatorship over the proletariat. With a unique organization into a governing party, Fascism intervened to increase the strength of counterrevolutionary resistance a hundredfold. The fascist party, in the chaos of political disorganization, placed itself at the head of the State and replaced the old cliques of politicians with a unified synthesis of bourgeois social forces. The methods of reactionary violence, without contrast, were combined with democratic demagogy. Fascism, as we have repeated a thousand times, merely took over from democracy and reformism in the centralized and totalitarian leadership of the political institutions of the bourgeois State.

In its effort to subjugate all the interests of the various social classes, not only proletarians and lumpenproletarians, but also petit-bourgeois and bourgeois in the narrow sense, to the superior interests of national capitalism, Fascism could certainly not underestimate the problem of trade unions and the economic struggles of the proletariat. Fascism also comes with its own canons of demagogy. It does not repudiate the class struggle, but openly proposes cooperation between classes, or, in its language, between “the different elements of production”, as a function of the higher interests of the nation. Nothing different from the tricolor unionism of our times, and this too is a demonstration of the modern, and not backward (in the capitalist sense) character of fascist trade unionism, as certain bourgeois and opportunist literature has long claimed.

Just as Fascism stood as the sole governing party in the political field, so its tendency toward absolute centralization under the total reign of the State could not fail to be reflected in the trade union field as well, in a way, however, as already mentioned, not different in substance from what was happening in all capitalistically advanced countries. The fact that fascist trade unionism was forced from its inception to come to terms with the principles and practice of class struggle is indicative of its modern, not backward, character. The contradiction it will carry in its bosom throughout its existence will be precisely the attempt to impose the principle of class collaboration, harmonizing it with the inescapable needs of the working masses. The supposed “fraternal collaboration” between capital and labor, presented as the fruit of a profound “national consciousness” freely felt by all classes, will always remain a theoretical chimera, destined to clash continually with the irreconcilability of interests between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat on the level of business and class conflicts.

At first, the promoters of fascist trade unionism and of the corporatist principle of unity of action between workers and bosses of each category to produce and increase the “welfare of the nation and its children”, will try to import these theses into the urban proletarian masses in competition with red and white trade unionism, a competition expressed by violence and blackmail but which, to a certain extent and at certain stages, didn’t disdain recourse to the democratic methods of persuasion and conviction, in an attempt to present itself as a legitimate and real defender of workers’ interests, trying to show in practice how the workers found the principle of collaboration more convenient than that of class confrontation.

Paradoxically, as we shall see, whenever Fascist trade unionism intended to give itself an image of efficient proletarian defense, it was forced to resort to the use of the execrated classist weapon of the strike, repudiating its own principles. This contradiction, which pervaded all the organizations of Fascist trade unionism, ended up resolving itself in the legal framing of the Fascist Corporations and trade unions, the sole lawful representatives of all workers, out and out appendages of the Ministry of Labor: the totalitarian framing of all working-class categories in the service of the bourgeois State and the bosses, with the absolute prohibition of the use of the strike.

2 - Material and ideological origins of fascist trade unionism and its first acts: from the establishment of the UIL to the Dalmine speech

The origins of fascist trade unionism date back to the “Red Biennium” and found its roots, significantly, among the remnants of the revolutionary syndicalism that took sides on the interventionist front during the war. Edmondo Rossoni would soon become one of the leading theorists of fascist trade unionism. The first glimmers of corporatist theorizing were determined in 1918 around the UIL (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Italian Labor Union) promoted precisely by Rossoni, along with De Ambris, though on different positions. The theorizations of Rossoni, then editor of the weekly L’Italia Nostra, organ of the Milanese Syndicalist Union, of precisely revolutionary syndicalist origin, takes up the themes of this current born as a reaction to the rampant opportunism of pre-war reformist leaders, updating them in light of the post-war situation. Under the motto “The fatherland is not to be denied, but conquered”, the theory of the “national function of the working class”, characteristic of Gramscian ordinovism, is carried to its logical extreme in a productivist and reactionary function, confirming the close connection, on the counter-revolutionary level, of the positions born in that period as a deviation from the Marxist principles defended by the Communist Left polarized around Naples’ Il Soviet.

The typically councilist and Gramscian theory of the “producer class”, which would gradually conquer all factories and impose “workers’ control” over production as a prerequisite for the subsequent gradual seizure of political power, was itself derived from the productivist and culturalist evolutionism expressed by the PSI right-wing in the famous 14th Socialist Youth Congress, which advocated the proletariat’s acquisition of technical and labor skills as a cultural and practical preparation for the future management of the “socialist economy”. This theory is converted, with its logical consequences, into the exaltation as a national potentiality of the labor heritage of the working masses and of their very struggles toward better living conditions.

«The working class – wrote the May 1st, 1918 issue of L’Italia Nostra – has no interest in inheriting a poor nation. As the worker and the peasant conquer better conditions of existence, they will become more Italian, more citizens, more men. And vice versa, or rather reciprocally, the increase in political, cultural and moral capacity of the working classes will make them more worthy and more apt to assume their rightful place as the ruling class of the nation (...) Until the moment of their complete emancipation the proletarians all, therefore, must place themselves on the level of the nation and collaborate in its greater well-being».

And again:

«The class lives in the nation and must live for the nation. In this struggle the more numerous and more conscious class prevails and makes the fatherland its own, as one wins a beautiful woman after hard trials and bitter tests».

The class struggle, the article went on to say in essence, while it could not be denied, nevertheless had to have a definite limit: the two opposing categories of “employers and workers” had to reconcile their conflicts when prolonging them would harm the supreme interest of the nation. Nothing substantially different from what today’s labor confederations preach and implement.

It’s with this move towards avowed nationalism that revolutionary syndicalist opportunism marks its definitive passage to the shore of the preservation of the bourgeois social system and proposes to throw into this work of reinvigorating worn-out Italic capitalism the living forces of the proletariat, returned to the factories from the trenches. It’s during this period that, in a sense, the final detachment of the new opportunism, reborn in nationalist guise, from the old-style opportunism of the social-reformist leadership of the CGL and the center and right wing of the PSI takes place.

While there’s no contradiction between the two on the substantial level, in that the latter certainly did not disdain the “national function of the proletariat”, it’s nevertheless true that it was never expressed in such explicit form as in corporatist syndicalism. The CGL, in its statutes, demanded “the complete emancipation of the working class from the regime of wage labor”, and in fact placed itself, despite its ultra-reformist leadership, on the terrain of class confrontation with the bosses, seen not as the natural “collaborator” of the proletariat, but as the enemy to be fought against on the terrain of class clash between de facto irreconcilable interests. In it, the communists operated fully as a fraction organized within its core and carried out agitation and propaganda with the declared aim of winning its leadership in order to drag the whole organization to the level of direct confrontation with the bosses and their government, up to the armed insurrection of the proletariat against the bourgeois institutions for the conquest of political power.

That, on the practical level, the struggles sponsored by the Red Confederation hardly ever translated on the level of direct class confrontation to its extreme consequences, and indeed the reformist leadership works quickly to throw water on the fire of workers’ revolts when they become too dangerous for the purpose of disturbing the general social peace, depends solely on the reformist nature of the political forces controlling it. Instead, its nature as a class union, as an independent trade union, within which the dialectic of confrontation and clashes between all political positions that appealed to the defense of the interests of the proletariat was expressed, remained. It was to all intents and purposes a class union. What differentiates it from today’s confederations is not so much the form as the substance: the former is classist, today’s ones are tricolor, nationalist, collaborationist by principle and vocation.

It’s no coincidence that, going back to the origins of fascist trade unionism, the nascent UIL under the patronage of the leaders of late revolutionary syndicalism, had as its main goal differentiation from the CGL and advocated the need to act as a counterbalance to it. The founding congress, held on June 19 in Milan, saw the fusion of the barricade-fighting ideology of the old days of revolutionary syndicalism with the need of the national bourgeoisie to instill patriotic and nationalist sentiments in the proletariat. Two trends were contrasting that, significantly, expressed the same need, with different backgrounds.

Rossoni’s report is interesting, a true masterpiece in which all past and future trends of opportunism are concentrated:

«Trade unionism remains trade unionism and class struggle will stay with us as long as there are different classes in society. It’s puerile to think otherwise (...) It’s unquestionable that antipatriotism is outdated and that the proletariat has every interest in attaching itself to its country and winning it to justice. But as long as there are reasons for the battle for demands, the best directives will be those of unbridledness and syndicalist audacity, in the name of apoliticality, autonomy and proletarian unity».

These are the categories in the name of which opportunism has always passed all its filth. It was in the name of the apoliticality of the union, of its impossible independence from anyone, with the ever- present seasoning of “workers’ unity”, that the reformists in the CGL carried out their defeatist and castrating action on workers’ struggles. The Rossoni report, in perfect modern bourgeois style, acknowledges the existence of the class struggle and sets out to turn it to the ends of the national interest, again not unlike modern-day piecards.

As a counterbalance to “integral trade unionism” theorizing, according to which workers’ organizations, modeled on the style of the English Trade Unions, would gradually take over all the functions of the State, even to the point of replacing it, De Ambris argued more realistically that trade unions should

«carry out their activity within the State and as part of it, in coexistence with other institutions».

Rossoni’s thesis prevailed, and the Statute-program approved at the end of the work provided, in Article 1, for the possibility of

«attributing directly to the organized working class the management of production, distribution and exchange of wealth”, and also argued that the UIL would enhance and elevate the proletariat “to the dignity and capacity to solve all the problems of production, culture and social justice».

As can be seen, even the first hints of fascist trade unionism didn’t disdain to be tinged with populism and to demonstrate that there is no incompatibility between extremist revolutionary syndicalism, vaunting the “Trade Union State”, and the iron necessity of the ruling classes to integrate the proletarian masses in the service of the national economy, or, in fascist parlance, of the Nation tout court.

Utopian demagogy has always been characteristic of all political tendencies that have presented the interests of the bourgeoisie as the interests of “all of society” and of all classes. Fascist trade unionism could not be exempt from this in its need to draw proletarians to itself under empty buzzwords painted with leftism. Indeed, the whole history of the birth and establishment by force of fascist trade unionism is pervaded by the continuous attempt of its high-caliber “theorists” to give it a “proletarian” form, a semblance of defending the interests of the working classes. This tendency, peculiar, moreover, to any opportunist trade union organization, will on several occasions force the fascist unions to acquiesce to the pressure of the masses and call, in spite of themselves, strikes and agitations contrary to the supposed principle of the rejection of class struggle.

The founding congress of the UIL attracted the attention of the first fascist organizations reporting directly to Mussolini, who, throughout the year 1918, had been elaborating a program resting on the basis of the explicit “collaboration between employers and workers” for the purpose of “greater individual and social welfare”, a program that was the reformist soul of Fascism, passed on to it by the reformism of the social democratic sort.

It’s interesting to note how Mussolini, from the columns of the Popolo d’Italia, makes explicit reference to the program of the French CGT, going so far as to publish its economic program in the Sept. 17 issue, emphasizing the reasons it had in common with Fascist productivism. It was with the prospect of preparing a cocktail between the reformist program of demands, brutally borrowed from Second International-style revisionists, and revolutionary syndicalist bragging with overtly nationalist overtones, that the future Duce granted full confidence to the nascent UIL.

The latter immediately distinguished itself by sending two delegates, Edmondo Rossoni and Ciro Corradetti, to the Inter-Allied Labor Conference held in London from September 17 to 22, 1918 under the auspices of the American Federation of Labor, the powerful American trade union, which brought together various trade organizations and had enthusiastically supported U.S. intervention in the war. The conference was a striking example of the international character of nationalist trade unionism and in general of the process of subjugation of workers’ unions to the economic policies of the various nation- states and thus, ultimately, to imperialism that had matured throughout the capitalist West.

This feature emerged clearly in the decisive motion of the conference, which declared, among other things, that workers were entitled to representation in the governing bodies of their own countries, called for a world congress of all workers’ organizations to be held in the same place and at the same time as the conference that would end the war, and elaborated a set of workers’ demands to be included in the peace treaties. The motion finally endorsed the idea of “productive democracy”, to be implemented in all countries, which had the same spirit – as L’Italia Nostra wrote – of the UIL’s deliberations. Next came the International Labor Organization, which brought together representatives of all governments, all employers and all unions in every member country, so as to give substance to the corporatist spirit that animated not only Fascism but all Western democracies. It was signed and endorsed by the CGL itself, which, however, participated by demanding precisely in controversy with the representatives of the fascist unions, the exclusive right to represent Italian workers.

The UIL openly advocated trade union unification with the CGL with the declared aim of removing it from the influence of the PSU (Partito Socialista Unitario), and began its activities in competition with it. A demands program was drawn up that included the eight-hour workday, minimum wages, paid Saturdays and recognition of internal commissions, and it set out to translate it into practice in the heat of workers’ struggles. As early as November 1918 the UIL took the field in Milan with the category of foundry workers, most of whom adhered to it. It presented a memorial with all these claims to the Consortium of Mechanical and Metallurgical Industrialists. On January 23, 1919, faced with the employers’ refusal to discuss the contents of the demands, it proclaimed a strike. This was opposed by the FIOM, which submitted its own memorial demanding only the eight hours and not joining the strike. The affair ended with the conclusion of an agreement between the bosses and the FIOM on the basis of the eight hours. The UIL continued the strike, but finding itself bumping up against the bosses on one side and the CGL on the other, which unleashed a violent propaganda campaign against it, it ended up reaching an agreement that added to the eight hours a wage increase of 7 cents an hour.

Mussolini approved and supported the work of the UIL. Above all, he extolled the eight hours as a nationalist aim.

«The postulate of a eight hour workday – he wrote in Popolo d’Italia – is ripe, it stands in the fullness of times. The Italian nation must go out to meet the servicemen, that is, the proletarians who will come back, with this word: from now on you will work as men, no longer as slaves (...) Politicians and ruling classes of Italy! Go forth to meet the labor that returns triumphantly from the bloody trenches. Raise it up! And you will raise up the nation! The hour has struck. Let the ruling classes know how to yield in time, let them not wait for the storm to accumulate!”

Fascist forces, which were preparing to consolidate and broaden to launch the attack against the red trade union organizations, did not disdain at all to cloak themselves in workerism, and Mussolini repeatedly applauded during that period the legitimacy of workers’ demands as long as they were exclusively economic in nature and especially as long as they were not directed at harming production. Do we need to spend that many words pointing out that this is exactly the same spirit in which today’s trade unionism applauds workers’ demands?

It was at the same time as the foundry workers strike that, in Dalmine, Mussolini found an opportunity to extol the “productive strike” of the Franchi-Gregorini workers who, at the urging of workers adhering to the UIL, had occupied the factory, deprived of power the company representatives who had refused to discuss the UIL’s demands, and proceeded to work by hoisting the tricolor on the plant’s flagpole. The Popolo d’Italia immediately extolled the action:

«It’s the mass of the producers, educated and dominated by a nucleus of conscious and strong-willed leaders and workers, who recognize the damage that traditional strike action does to the class and the nation».

When the agitation was over, the police having cleared the factory, Mussolini went to the plant and delivered there the famous speech that can be considered the inaugural speech of corporative syndicalism in action:

“You”, he said, “have placed yourselves on class-based grounds but you have not forgotten the nation. You have spoken of the Italian people, not only of your class of metallurgic workers [do the home-grown piecards not speak ad nauseam of “the Italian people”, subordinating proletarian demands to its pretended superior demands?]. For the immediate interests of your class, you could have made an old-style strike, the negative and destructive strike, but thinking of the interests of the people, you ushered in the creative strike that does not interrupt production. You could not deny the nation after 500,000 of our men died for it. The nation that made this sacrifice does not deny itself since it’s a glorious, victorious reality. You are not the poor, the humble, the outcasts, according to the old rhetoric of literary socialism, you are the producers, and it’s in this self-declared quality of yours that you demand the right to deal as equals with the industrialists”.

The speech, not by chance, preceded by just three days the establishment of the Fasci di Combattimento, so as to take on almost programmatic value of the new movement, whose initial characteristics, it’s worth remembering, were significantly oriented “to the left”, that is, toward a social and even socialist commitment, all imbued with defense. in a nationalist function, of the “weak” against “the all-powerful and greedy bosses” and the affirmation of better “social justice”.

3 - The national economic unions and their anti-worker action: fascist tradeunionism builds its organizational structure

It was, however, in the midst of the famous international strike of July 20-21, 1919, that the first organizations that really gave birth to the fascist unions proper and corporations saw the light of day, yet another demonstration that the forces of Fascism, political and trade unionist, were grafted onto the weakness of the socialists and of the actions promoted under their leadership in the CGL.

The July strike against the presence of Entente troops in proletarian Russia and Hungary, despite being successful in Italy in terms of participation, was generally a failure. The French CGT withdrew at the last moment, in England it had only a small following and in Italy it didn’t assume the revolutionary character it should have. The reformists endeavored to give it the character of an extremely peaceful demonstration without any bite, to the point that the forces of the bourgeoisie saw from that moment onwards the concrete possibility of launching a counter-attack on the proletarian forces in order to make up for the losses and mighty attacks they had suffered during the “Red Biennium”.

It was during this strike that a group of telegraph workers, led by some interventionist syndicalists, rebelled against the CGL’s strike order and, without stopping work, formed the Fascio Postelegrafonico, which later became the National Fascist Telegraph Workers’ Union. The UIL adhered to the strike only out of discipline to the international association of interventionist unions of which it was a member, while all the other national interventionist associations sided against it: The Syndicalist Union of Milan, the founder of the UIL, the Republican Party, the USI, the Demobilized Union and the combatants’ associations, of the Arditi and volunteers, which even merged for the occasion into a “Committee of Action and Understanding”, of which the Fasci di Combattimento were also members. The strike eventually saw the defection of vast white-collar sectors of the railways, which formed the Railworkers’ Economic Union.

When the strike ended these embryonic union nuclei developed on a broader basis, openly backed by the Fasci. Meanwhile, the UIL split internally into two sections: on the one hand, supporters of “apolitical unionism”, on the other supporters of open collaboration with the Fasci. This split marked the end of the UIL as a union organization backing up Fascism, and when it supported the strike of railway workers and postmen in January ’20, it was disavowed and attacked harshly by the Popolo d’Italia.

This strike, proclaimed by the trade confederations “to adjust wages to the new increase in the cost of living”, marked the fascists’ final departure from their initial populist and pro-proletarian attitude. Mussolini lashed out with fierce determination against the strike and called on “all Fascists and the healthy forces of the Nation” to move on and boycott the agitation in no uncertain terms:

«You want to assassinate the Nation – he wrote in Popolo d’Italia – but the Nation mustn’t die! And it will not die! (...) We did everything in our power to avoid the strike and we recognized the fairness of some of the demands, but now, with the strike declared, we say that it cannot end in the usual compromise, only to begin again in three months. We demand that there finally be a victor and a vanquished, we demand that the struggle be struggle, not trickery, perhaps combined in Rome: either the State wins and the trade union loses or vice versa (...) But an end is needed; a balance must be found; discipline is needed, a ‘power’ must function and impose itself. This is the general desire. This ’tarantella’ dance of dissolution, this disintegrating consciousness, this state of perpetual uncertainty, which is neither reaction nor revolution, must end».

Having disavowed the UIL, the fascists took to emphasizing the first independent trade union groups formed among certain predominantly white-collar categories and sectors. On Jan. 15, Popolo d’Italia gave the news that the Associazione Movimentisti, comprising stationmasters and foremen, and the Fascio Ferrovieri Italiani, comprising second-category railway workers, the Unione Impiegati and the Unione Lavoro, had decided to merge into a single “apolitical” trade union. Its promoter was Isidoro Provenza. It’s relevant to quote one of his statements in this regard:

«Ours will be a class organization, with a predominantly economic character, with the immediate aim of improving working conditions and living standards; it will be open, in fact, to all those who recognize the usefulness of the organization, whatever their particular political and religious views».

In fact, this association was the springboard for the true and proper fascist trade unions, despite the fact that the National Economic Unions, which immediately derived from it, officially presented themselves as independent of the fascist political movement. Still hovering, then, in the original matrix of Fascist syndicalism, is a demagogic call for class defense, just as it hovers high in the sails of today’s tricolor trade unionism.

The nature of the union born out of this fusion was seen at once in the immediate disposition to its members to refuse the strike that continued to agitate railway and postal workers and immediately resume interrupted work.

On Feb. 27, the Federation of National Unions was formed in Milan; it included second-category telegraph workers, the Railroaders’ Economic Union, junior State employees, the employees of the State secretariats and chancelleries, and the Union of Editorial Clerks; the National Association of Finance and Tax Agents and the Federation of Middle-School Teachers joined later. The Federation aimed to.

«cement in a strong and disciplined league all the independent trade union forces to flank and promote the civilized, complete and rapid solution of economic and social problems in harmony with the general interests of the national community».

At the same time, the Italian Confederation of Intellectual Labor was formed.

Fascist reaction recruited its best disciples in great waves from the ranks of the intellectual and white-collar petty-bourgeoisie and from certain sectors of the labor aristocracy, by now tired of the non- stop disturbances of “public peace”. On these strata fascist syndicalism, and Fascism in general, built its anti-worker squadrismo. Hence came an interpretation of Fascism as a movement of political and programmatic expression of the middle classes, a conception that the Left denied even then, but here’s not the place to return to that.

To categorically refute this interpretation, which was advocated by those who later had an interest in claiming that the big bourgeoisie was extraneous to Fascism, it was enough a month later to see the clearly pro-boss attitude of exultation assumed by the national economic unions in the face of the extremely harsh repression of the famous “clock hands’ strike” of the FIAT workers, which had taken on a clear political significance in the demand for the recognition of the Factory Councils. The agitation, after a month, was crushed by the Turin Confindustria through the use of lockouts and armed police intervention.

«At the risk of scandalizing – proclaimed Mussolini, backed by the national unions – some other half-dozen mummies or howler monkeys, we say, here high and loud, that the powerful Turin Industrial Association, by crushing by its firm resistance the filthy speculation of the Turin PSU, has deserved the merit by the Nation and by the Italian working class itself», and, after praising the Fascists and the Torinese Arditi «who have taken the field from the first moment against the mystifications of the false shepherds», he called on them to arm themselves «to disperse the despicable sheeple of the card-carrying members». Finally, he praised the Turin industrialists, «men of initiative, of courage, of daring, who resisted the workers’ demands to reestablish the necessary reign of discipline during work and did so very well».

The Railway Workers’ Economic Union shortly thereafter demonstrated in practice its true nature, boycotting extremely harshly a strike called by the SFI to demand the removal of a stationmaster who had given the order to drive a convoy loaded with war vehicles destined for the Entente armies installed in Russia despite the fact that SFI members had decided to block it in solidarity with the Third International. The agitation provoked a police reaction in Milan, which fired into the crowd during a rally at the Arena called by the CGL in solidarity with the Cremona railway workers. The workers, pressed by police forces and sabotaged from within by the fascist economic union, were defeated and forced to return to work.

The national unions, proud of this defeat, backed by Farinacci’s first squadristi, subsidized by numerous capitalists eager to reduce the class unions to impotence, began to spread throughout most of the northern regions, especially in the Veneto and lower Po Valley. Particularly in the Trieste and Venezia Giulia areas, the link between blackshirt squads’ assault actions on the Chambers of Labor, the headquarters of leftist newspapers and parties, and the development of economic unions was very close.

To coordinate this drive of Fascist syndicalism the CISE (Confederazione Italiana dei Sindacati Economici, Italian Confederation of Economic Unions) was founded in Milan on November 19, 1920. In the agricultural areas of Bologna and Ferrara, where Federterra had succeeded in wresting from the Agrarian Association improved contracts for farm laborers and settler and tenant farmers, the CISE experienced a remarkable quantitative development. The methods used to achieve it are well known: the destruction of the red leagues, the continuous intimidation of the workers, many of whom, terrorized by the squadristi, were induced to join the Economic Unions. Often peasants were invited individually to meetings of the black unions and then forced with beatings to take up membership and sign up for the organization. Financed by the big agrarian bourgeoisie, the Economic Unions followed the tactic of substituting themselves for the Federterra leagues, entering into contracts with the bosses that worsened wages and working conditions of agricultural laborers and tenants.

This conspicuous spread of fascist forces in the lower Po Valley generated that other false interpretation of Fascism as a political movement with a pre-capitalist background, intended to devolve “capitalist civilization”. Justification for this is brought by the argument that its original development is found in the “feudal” backwardness of the Emilian countryside. This interpretation, even more idiotic than the first, has also been abundantly answered by the Party, and here’s not the place to return to it. The very development of the fascist movement, but also its origins, which are anything but “agrarian”, are sufficient to refute it. After all, the agrarian bourgeoisie itself was anything but “pre-capitalist” and feudal.

In general then, if Fascist syndicalism succeeded in propagating itself more in the countryside and much less among the urban proletariat, this is due to the different characteristics of the two situations, in particular the greater fragmentation and dispersion of the rural workers and peasantry compared to the proletariat of the large factories, whose compactness and material unity were able to express a much more effective resistance to the terroristic and destructive action of Fascist syndicalism and its action squads.

As Fascism strengthened its squadre organizations and took on a political body by organizing itself into a party, and as it tended more and more explicitly to position itself as a replacement for the democratic and liberal bourgeois cliques, holders of the governmental levers but increasingly troubled by the crisis of progressive decomposition that was corroding it, the top echelons of Fascism increasingly felt the need to integrate independent national trade unionism under the close dependencies of the political organization. In other words, they felt the need to give independent trade unionism a clear fascist stamp, overcoming the initial phase in which it tended to present itself as a trade union organization of class defense, sometimes even, as we have seen, with explicit calls for class defense and free worker membership regardless of political faith.

Therefore, the CISE, a formally autonomous and independent trade union confederation, in the period of its greatest expansion (in October ’21 Popolo d’Italia attributed 250,000 members to it) faced these problems. The dilemma facing Fascism, and which provoked numerous internal controversies among its various factions during that period, could be traced to three hypotheses: build a “national” organization, but independent of the National Fascist Party; create a new autonomous body that was nevertheless in some way subject to its control; or give rise to genuine trade unions fully integrated into the party.

4 - The National Confederation of Corporations is born and the fight against red unions intensifies

It’s important to note at this point how Fascism uses the experience of proletarian communist political organizations. This feature is in fact the only “new” aspect of Fascism as an expression of the tendency toward the totalitarian centralization of all social forces characteristic of bourgeois politics in the imperialist phase of capitalism. Just as, on the purely political level, Fascism steals the concept of class dictatorship from Marxism and sets out to organize the bourgeois State in the most appropriate way to carry out its natural function as guarantor of the orderly course of capitalist production and the exploitation of wage-labor, in an attempt to shape society to its model, so on the level of trade union organization it finds itself solving the problem of the economic organization of the proletariat as a transmission belt between the bourgeois political party and the working class, in the same way as the Third International and its component communist parties had found themselves solving it in a revolutionary function for the overthrow of bourgeois society and the conquest of political power.

In this sense, it’s precisely in this period that the offensive within Fascism of the forces that best understood this matter developed, in order to eradicate the autonomist-oriented tendencies of social- revolutionary origin that still spoke of the “autonomy” of the union from the party. The “barricade fighting” phase of the development of fascist trade unionism, which pivoted on the demagogy of class defense as a national function and independently of the political forces in the field, was now about to be overcome: it was necessary to build true State trade unionism in its logical corporatist conclusion, legally reconstructed and ready to organize all workers in the exclusive service of the nation.

The offensive within Fascism came to coincide with the end of the disgraceful appeasement pact with the Socialists, which had seen a considerable part of Fascism siding against it. At the congress of Fasci at the Augusteo in Rome in October 1921, where the pact was buried, Dino Grandi launched the syndicalist philippic:

«Fascism’s task – he argued – is to make the masses adhere to the National State. A solution possible only if Fascism, throwing overboard the old liberalistic and collectivist conceptions, will become the pivot and propeller of a national syndicalism that considers the individual not as a subject or citizen, but as a producer and recognizes in syndicalism the cell of a new and broader social function, a true institutional expression destined to transform in this sense today’s decadent parliamentary State».

Pressures in this direction took on increasingly explicit tones in the following months. On January 10, 1922, at the provincial congress in Milan, political secretary Guido Ciarroca, speaking on the “trade union problem”, stated:

«We must finally decide to assume a precise physiognomy in the field of industrial and agricultural labor organizations. Fascist unions must be created, apolitical organization being an impudent lie. In the fascist unions must of course be able to participate even those worker elements who are not members of the political organization; but the unions must follow fascist directives and discipline, also because we don’t want to engage in class struggle, and in this sense we must also organize the employers».

Thus the corporatist idea of the single organization of workers and bosses, on a national level, was taking shape more and more. An idea which, as we shall see, Fascism never succeeded in fully realizing precisely because of the objective irreconcilability of material interests between proletariat and bourgeoisie.

However, the CISE, which attempted, under the suggestion of Rossoni-style autonomous national unionism, to reject the idea of a PNF-controlled trade union organization, saw its membership dissolve within a few months. The time was ripe now for Fascism to shed its barricade-fighting soul, used to try to establish itself with more credit among the working-class ranks, and to move decisively to corporatist organizing. The rise of the fascists to government marked the final collapse of the CISE. Rossoni was not slow to sniff out the writing on the wall and promptly abandoned independent trade union theories to devote himself to the new verb of hierarchical corporatism advocated by the party. On January 24, ’22 at the Fascist convention in Bologna, the National Confederation of Corporations was born on the wave of this new effort, of which Rossoni himself was appointed secretary, at the culmination of a well-deserved career, and which gave birth to its own publication, Il Lavoro d’Italia. The paper sought to elaborate a valid system of ideas in which to frame fascist syndicalism.

«It’s necessary – it proclaimed – to moralize and refresh workers’ struggle [do we not hear echoes of the divisionist “new type” unionism of the immediate post-World War II period or Berlinguer’s “moralization of the struggle”?]. There’s no antithesis between syndicalism and nationalism, since the rise of the working masses can only occur in a prosperous nation, respected in the world”. Therefore, it was necessary to “abolish class struggle” and “work to arrive at building a State in which a single trade union confederation would operate, organizing all workers and bosses cemented in a single and common effort to increase the greatness of the Fatherland and consequently the welfare of all citizens”.

Beyond the admittedly rather ludicrous “theoretical” efforts by which the big trumpets of Fascist syndicalism tried to give a credible logical configuration in the eyes of the workers and the poor and exploited social classes, the blackshirt organizations continued to try to impose themselves among the workers through intimidation and terror, turning their destructive action toward the strongholds and headquarters of red trade unionism and the most active socialist leagues. Between the Fascist congress in Milan in June 1922 and the “March on Rome”, the national unions intensified their violent action against the labor movement.

This uninterrupted activity culminated in the violent fascist reaction to the August 1, 1922 strike called by the Alliance of Labor. As is well, known, this body, controlled by the reformists, operated in a weak and hesitant manner, and the strike which should have been proclaimed in secret at the last hour, but of which the Il Lavoro of Genoa instead gave advance notice benefiting the fascists, resulted in a complete failure, and the fascist squads, backed by the national unions which carried out scab and sabotage work, raged for a week, creating, in an atmosphere of growing anti-proletarian terror, a not inconsiderable hemorrhage of workers from the class unions to the fascist unions, which in the eyes of many workers appeared in those days as the only organization in which they would find some job security and wage guarantee.

To avoid any misunderstanding, we must maintain that never did the fascist unions win the consent of vast strata of workers, yet this not inconsiderable influx of workers into the black unions (on September 3, speaking in Genoa, Rossoni indicated in “more than 800,000” the members of the Confederation of Trade Union Corporations; although the figure is no doubt exaggerated for propaganda purposes) ended up worrying the fascist leaders themselves, who began seriously debating how to behave toward them.

As we shall see, the bosses, and especially the Confindustria, never looked kindly on the fascist unions and resisted considering them the only “counterparts” with whom to deal. Mussolini himself felt at one point obliged to reassure the big bourgeoisie about the aims and objectives of Fascist syndicalism and to dampen any illusions of those who joined it in the hope of seeing their interests defended.

On Aug. 26, Il Popolo d’Italia published an editorial in which it stigmatized the workers’ mass switch to Fascist associations in an effort to ease all anxieties:

«Fascism is an entirely different thing. Its members are, first and foremost, soldiers (...) No one has in mind to abolish the class struggle, but that struggle must be subordinated to the welfare of the nation, for there’s no place to divide the share where misery reigns. In short, for us collaboration is the rule, class struggle an exception. The manners of this exception are of but secondary importance, even if by adventure they were apparently similar from those adopted by the socialists».

5 - The contradictions of “integral trade unionism” explode: the polemics with the big bourgeoisie

Fascist syndicalism was thus beginning to detect its contradictions, which later exploded into open defections from its high-sounding collaborationist principles in the name of the Nation. The contradiction was not unlike that of any other opportunist and collaborationist trade union, in name or in substance: on the one hand the need to subjugate the workers to the interests of the national economy, and on the other hand the need not to lose face and somehow prove to be a defender of the interests of its members. It’s this irreconcilable contradiction that will lead them, before their compulsory legal recognition, to be forced to declare and promote class-based agitations and strikes, driven by the irreconcilability of those interests they claimed instead to “harmonize”.

The issue, directly linked to that of the integration that trade unions were to have within the Fascist State, aroused considerable controversy within the political forces and the various trade union components that recognized themselves in Fascism and that accompanied its entire development up to its institutional integration in the State machinery. We cannot, for understandable reasons of space, follow all its implications and events. We’ll limit ourselves to considering the most important issues and aspects that serve to highlight the issues we want to deal with.

The most glaring contradiction of Fascist trade unionism can be seen in its inability to bring to institutionalized fruition what was then called “Integral Unionism”, that is, the absolute principle of corporatist unionism: the unification of all workers and their respective bosses into a single trade or category union, under the supervision of the political forces of Fascism, to regulate the interests of workers and bosses to the “higher” interests of the country, of the Nation (with a capital N).

This contradiction appeared with blatant evidence in the years 1922 to ’26, when the main architects and theorists of Fascism tried to build the Corporations on the principle of the subordination of all classes, including the bourgeoisie, to the Nation, giving this political initiative a democratic aspect, that is, seeking to arrive at the corporatist organization of the State through the consent and acceptance of all social partners, to present class collaboration as a more effective tool than class struggle for the improvement of workers’ living conditions, in polemic and even in competition with the free trade unionism of the CGL.

In proceeding along this path, Fascist syndicalism didn’t take long to encounter resistance and open distrust from the big bosses themselves, who were reluctant to consider Fascist trade union organizations as the only interlocutors with whom to deal on the terrain of labor relations. This was because the bosses knew that they were scarcely representative and that any agreements concluded would have little chance of being approved by all workers.

In essence, despite the terror sown by Fascism, labor organizations that referred to class struggle continued to have considerable influence among the working masses, especially industrial workers, even though membership numbers had fallen sharply. No guarantee of social peace in the factory could be given by bodies that had arisen through terror and referred to political concepts repudiated in the depths of their souls by the great mass of workers, even by those who, terrified by Fascism, remained in the shadows, not daring to expose themselves openly by joining the red unions.

Fascism’s attempt to centralize to the utmost in the capacities of the Italian State the interests of all classes could not manifest itself as having developed “above classes”, for such it was not and could never have been. In reality it expressed, in a very modern political phenomenon, the need to subject the proletariat, in all respects, to the interests of the class holding political power. In this sense it was the latter that used Fascism to impose on the working masses the final reign of capitalist economic laws, operating on the favorable ground leveled by the betrayal of the social-reformists, and not the other way around. It was not the big bosses who submitted to Fascism, but the latter which carried out openly repressive and anti-worker political action in the interests of the former. It’s logical, then, that when confronted with the demands of the Rossonian rookies about the need for the employers’ organizations to recognize the need to disband and merge with the fascist unions in the Corporations, the former put up a rigorous resistance, reminding them that their task should be limited to clubbing the workers, not to present union demands in turn, thus agitating the workers.

Indeed, after Fascism had a free hand in the government, the Confederation of Corporations sought to give itself a firm organizational structure that would make it lose its character as a provisional movement and give everyone the feeling that it was moving in earnest toward the integral realization of its principles. On November 10, 1922, the National Council of Corporations defined the statutes and overall organization of the Confederation. It

«operated throughout the territory subject to the Italian State and united, under the tricolor, citizens of both sexes, whatever their religious profession, belonging to all classes and all categories of manual and intellectual labor».

Article 2 specified that the Confederation consisted of corporations, unions of trades, arts and professions related or co-interested in the same branch of labor and industry, and trade unions, composed of categories which, because of the specialty of their work or for other reasons, could not be part of a corporation. Each category of trade, art or profession was to be distinguished into classes, depending on whether they were capitalists, direct producers, entrepreneurs, cooperators, co-partners, professionals, employees or wage earners. Finally, the Confederation, which had a coordinating function of the various corporate, class or category activities, carried out its function through its own organs directly dependent on it, called the Federation of National Trade Unions.

In the programmatic part, after recalling that trade unionism was not only about classes, but about the whole people, it stated that it was in the interest of all categories to have an ever-increasing production, which would increase the national wealth and its diffusion,

«the result of an increase in Capital to be invested in ever new and more perfected means of labor”.

Fascist syndicalism therefore absorbed, in yet another demonstration of its modern and far from backward bourgeois character, the fundamental character of capitalism: production as a function of capital accumulation, and made its laws its own. It logically followed from this that general strikes were prohibited and only category strikes were permitted insofar as they could remain

«localized and limited to striking those groups that must be eliminated in the interest of labor and national production”.

As can be seen, another close link to today’s tricolor unionism, which, while there is no prohibition, makes less and less use of the weapon of the general strike and, on the rare occasions when it does resort to it, reduces it to a sterile and ineffective ritual, rigidly delimited in time and proclaimed dozens of days in advance. Moreover, it can be seen that the piecards’ “discovery” in the 1960s, the notorious articulate struggle, has proper origins in fascist syndicalism.

In any case, in “labor conflicts”, before resorting to strike action, the matter had to be referred to the “Competence Groups”, bodies created by Fascism and composed of PNF adherents competent for the various productive sectors. Here, too, government mediation in labor disputes is recognized, which has now become the rule of tricolor trade unionism, and not only in labor disputes but in actual national and company production planning.

Note also the mention of the weapon of the strike intended to “striking those groups that must be eliminated in the interest of labor and national production”, that is, the fight against “inefficient and incapable capitalists”, another workhorse of our present day trade unionism, committed in the platforms on which it claims to call workers to the struggle for the productive development of companies, against the bosses who’d only care about squandering the “working heritage of the factories” to achieve a “short- sighted immediate profit”. Defense of workers interests, then, but in a national productive function, against “the waste and inefficiency of certain groups of bosses”, as is long heard today from the lips of the leaders of the “triplice” [CGIL, UIL and CISL].

«We take care”, Mario Racheli had to say during said meeting for the statute of the Confederation, “even of the capitalist organization when it’s a matter of intelligent productive elements and not of capitalists who are absent or otherwise exploiting capital without devoting to it their own activity. We collaborate with those who want to collaborate, that is with the sound elements of the bourgeoisie and as we fought a battle to political parasitism, we will fight a battle to economic parasitism».

Here are the worthy predecessors of today’s collaborationism expressing themselves in the same language with which the “anti-fascist and Resistance” Di Vittorios will sing their fortunes, handing down their mystifying and anti-worker contents to today’s piecards, eager as ever to fight against the “absentee capitalists who make the investment strike” and wink at the “sound capitalists”. The continuity between fascist and post-fascist unionism is expressed here with unmistakable linearity.

6 - Fascist trade unions facing worsening living conditions of the working masses

Despite the organizing efforts of fascist trade unionism, the Confederation of Trade Union Corporations, which shortly thereafter also clearly took on the “fascist” adjective, in a polemic with those, even within Fascism, who were vague about a probable unification with the CGL when the latter abandoned its ties with the PSU, never had any serious following among the proletariat of large industries and in general among the most important working-class categories. Class-based trade unionism continued to have a wide following among the workers, despite constant persecution by the Blackshirts.

The most resounding confirmation came with the renewal of twenty internal commissions between March and September ’23: in fourteen of them, where it had presented its own list, the FIOM secured a majority or, indeed, all the available seats. In the other six, where the FIOM had no candidates, the Fascists secured five internal commissions with a minority vote and a high number of blank ballots; in the sixth, at Nebbiolo, they were defeated by the People’s Party.

Weak and insubstantial quantitatively, the Fascist unions then found themselves acting in an increasingly heavy-handed situation for the labor movement. Between 1923 and 1924, the Italian bosses, emboldened by the position of strength in which they had found themselves thanks to the destruction of proletarian organizations by the fascists, launched a very harsh attack on nominal wages, both by effectively reducing them and by resorting to dismissal with reemployment at lower wages. Given the soaring cost of living from 1920 to 1923, the living conditions of immense working-class masses, especially in the countryside, plummeted drastically, leading to an explosive social situation. Fascist trade unions, which in certain areas and localities had managed to “win” the adherence of a certain number of workers and worked to propagate the delights of corporatism and class collaboration, found themselves in considerable difficulty. Collaboration, preached and imposed, resulted, when the facts were tested, in the sacrifice of the working class, moreover put in the impossibility of defending itself and thus forced to accept disadvantageous agreements and, in addition, to tolerate the growing arrogance of the bosses.

In the face of this offensive, there was a real danger of an awakening of the working masses and an influx of workers back to the class union organizations, resulting in at least a partial reconstitution of what the action squads and fascist unions had destroyed. The latter then found themselves in the need to practically demonstrate the effectiveness of their existence as labor organizations. The controversy exploded precisely through a forcibly “hard” attitude of the fascist trade unionists toward the bosses in general. Urged to act by the very workers and white-collar strata they represented, on several occasions they found themselves forced to disregard their principles and resort to the much-hated class struggle, naturally in good opportunist spirit, resorting to it as a last-resort remedy, when nothing else could be done: the strike, thrown out the door, came back in through the window, in yet another confirmation that no disciplinary measure, no organized movement can prevent the violent explosion of the irreconcilable interests between proletariat and bourgeoisie in capitalist society.

On the “theoretical” and propaganda level, this attitude meant a high-sounding reaffirmation of “integral trade unionism”, of the need, that is, for the bosses’ organizations, too, to conform to the principle of collaboration and thus submit to the imperium of Fascism, to get as much as possible to meet workers’ demands.

Skilled opportunists, no less good than their today’ heirs, the ringleaders of fascist trade unionism began to shout against “the eagerness for ambition and wealth of certain greedy and irresponsible bosses”.

«The fascist State – Rossoni proclaimed – in order to be national, cannot allow the resurgence of class struggle. That workers’ unions exist under Fascist discipline is fine; but that the employers must also submit to the same law seems an offense brought against their dignity! The latter begin to grumble against Fascism, which they can only conceive of as the stick to be used against the workers, under the orders of the employers’ interests, and they secretly swear at syndicalism as to a deviation and a betrayal of their magnanimous ideals”.

In reality, this reaction of Fascist syndicalism responded not only to the need for “credibility” among workers and the poorer classes, but also to the tendency of the Fascist political movement to erect itself as the embodiment of the interests of the national economy in the narrow sense, and thus also to contain the interests of bourgeois and landowners. It’s the tendency that precisely makes it an advanced movement, not a retrograde one, on the grounds of the defense and better functioning of capitalist society.

The democratic State has also inherited this function and tends to harmonize the interests of all national capital while also countering the immediate needs of certain capitalist sectors. More properly, the political forces embodying the general interests of the bourgeoisie have a higher consciousness of class and social preservation than individual capitalists, who, in their short-sighted vision of the highest possible immediate profit, can also act in a way that conflicts in the longer term with their own more general interests.

Fascism thus sought to carry out this function to the fullest extent, clashing with the bosses’ own resistance. On March 12, 1923, Il Lavoro d’Italia published an article signed by Signoretti that harshly attacked the bosses as a whole. The author recalled the conditions of Italy in the immediate postwar period and claimed Fascism as having saved the capitalists from the ruin of the so-called “red threat”.

«Not only did it save them from the oppressive nightmare of a tomorrow of robbery, confiscation, and communism, but aware from experience of how grotesque and harmful it is to bump up against complex economic uniformities, it restored to them full freedom of initiative (...) To forget for the sake of petty momentary interests such advantages provided by Fascism, would constitute the direst ingratitude; and since Fascism is a movement that acts and reacts, that defends itself by attacking and counterattacking, it would mercilessly strike at individuals and categories and shady aggregates that stood in the way of the realization of its superior goals of national political and national productive synthesis”.

He then argued that it was the right of Fascist syndicalism to organize the bourgeoisie as well, stating that it was at the same time the duty of the industrial and agrarian classes to join the Corporations. Just as there was no possibility of carrying out “political action” outside Fascism, so there was no room for trade union and economic activity outside the Corporations,

«which are – he concluded with obvious falsehood and demagogy – the totality of Italian social and union life».

On the basis of these attacks, a heated controversy developed in the following months with the employers’ organizations, which tended to say: rightly so, Fascism should do its duty as the government of the nation, at the head of which the bourgeoisie felt, given the social circumstances, that it had to put it in that position; the Fascist trade unions should work for propaganda among the workers of class collaboration, breaking the backs of the still existing class organizations, possibly without getting too carried away by the material needs of their members in order to avoid falling back into the uncontrolled demandism of the “Reds”; we, as capitalists, will continue to do our “work” independently.

Fascist forces accentuated the pressure on the employers’ bodies. In the agricultural field, fascist syndicalists founded the FISA (Federazione Italiana Sindacati Agricoli, Italian Federation of Agricultural Unions), which several landowners immediately joined. The Confagricoltura remained independent for a time, in a polemic with the fascist unions, then, on the eve of 1924 elections, merged with FISA, perhaps for electoral reasons, as all big landowners were sympathizers of Fascism. Confindustria, on the other hand, remained formally outside the Corporations and indeed sanctioned this attitude, in the Palazzo Chigi pact of Dec. 20, 1923. Confindustria’s estrangement from the Corporations should not mislead, however, since a certain formal independence between actual bosses’ organs and the political institutions of the bourgeois State has always existed, the figure of the capitalist and that of the institutional apparatus that defends its class interests being indeed two different things. The agreement in substance on general political issues was in fact total as the same joint communiqué between fascist unions and industrialists points out, which recognized the “complete correctness” of class collaboration as a political concept and the need for it to be implemented by the national productive forces and affirmed the principle that

«trade union organization should not be based on the criterion of relentless contrast of interests between industrialists and workers, but be inspired by the need to forge ever more cordial relations between individual bosses and workers and their trade union organizations, seeking to assure each of the productive elements the best conditions for the development of their respective functions and the fairest compensation for their work, which is also reflected in the stipulations of labor contracts in accordance with the spirit of national trade unionism».

To no different criterion corresponds today, anyway, the convergence of political line and general objectives, in substance, between Confindustria and tricolor trade unionism, both of which aiming at harmonizing their relations in the superior interest of the national economy, under the patronage of the institutions of the democratic regime, while the formal independence of organizations between the various “social partners” and the State, which protects the orderly course of their respective political and economic tasks, remains, confirming the substantial programmatic and political continuity between fascist and democratic corporatism.

7 - Social crisis keeps spiraling: fascist trade unions are forced to resort to strikes

Between 1924 and 1925, and especially after the Matteotti murder, the social crisis troubling the Italian proletariat threatened to spiral out of control. Numerous categories and factories went into unrest and the Corporations were faced with great difficulties, which ended up accentuating the contradictions with the bosses and resulted in the definitive elimination of the rules of the democratic game and the establishment of the openly totalitarian regime.

In many parts of Italy, the fascist unions were forced to take on the burden of proclaiming strikes and found themselves, willingly or unwillingly, at the head of workers’ agitations, competing with the class unions which, however, thanks to their reformist leadership, were never able to fight back against fascist unionism and the bosses with a class line of action that matched the tense situation that was being determined.

Thus we witnessed, on the one hand, the forcibly demagogic attitude, and in some circumstances even a repudiation of class collaboration, of Fascist syndicalism, moreover always siding in the end with whatever the bosses were willing to concede, on the direct instructions of the Duce and his collaborators; on the other to the extreme weakness of the red trade unions, led by the FIOM, which also ended up submitting to the bosses’ arrogance, unable, exactly because of its political line, collaborationist and legalitarian, to mobilize on the terrain of open and decisive class struggle the proletarians enraged by the continuous deterioration of their living and working conditions.

One of the most violent strikes was in the Carrara quarries, where the fascist unions had succeeded in imposing themselves on the area’s solid anarchist tradition through a true and proper civil war that cost several lives. Remaining however separate from the workers after the Matteotti murder, they had suffered a continuous loss of members and therefore felt obliged to intervene in some way against the dramatic decrease of the purchasing power of wages and demanded the revision of the employers’ agreements in force. The situation devolved to the point that they were forced to declare a strike. Tensions grew further to the point that the fascist authorities in Carrara themselves intervened alongside the struggling workers.

The town’s secretary, Renato Ricci, went so far as to write incendiary posters for the workers through an agitation committee against the local bosses and to attack Mussolini in a number of press conferences, proclaiming the failure of fascist collaborationism. The strike ended miserably after 47 days, thanks to the bosses’ intransigence and after Mussolini himself forced the Corporations to accept what the bosses were willing to concede from the start.

Another mighty agitation was that of the Lombard metallurgists in March 1925, called at the initiative of both the FIOM and the Corporations. The strike was of such magnitude that it aroused serious concern in the government, which, while it was forced to verbally support the workers in order not to lose control of the situation and to give a workerist image to Fascism, shaken at that time by the wave of discontent following the Matteotti murder, negotiated in secret with the industrialists to arrive at an acceptable solution to be imposed later on the Confederations. The struggle assumed at a certain point the character of a real competition between the Corporations and the free trade unions, united for the occasion in an inter-union committee grouping, in addition to the FIOM, the anarchist, Catholic and republican metallurgical unions. Because of the usual weakness of the “anti-fascist” Aventino front, fearful of stepping outside the plane of legality, the FIOM ended up finding itself initially in tow of the agitation and only later, prodded by the internal opposition of the Communists, did it manage to carry out an agitation partially in its favor. Both the Corporations and the FIOM separately demanded the wage adjustment to the cost of living, minimum wages and some regulatory improvements.

Faced with the bosses’ intransigence, the agitation threatened to spread throughout Lombardy, so negotiations between industrialists and fascist unions, mediated by ministers and directly by the Prime Minister, became frantic. Reading the chronicle of the time, one has the feeling, and this too says a lot, of following the concluding stages of one of the many contractual disputes of our days, in which “closures” and “sudden toughenings” are followed by “openings”, “clearings”, etc, etc, in interminable meetings between union delegations and industrialists with government mediation by the Ministry of Labor: the corporatist triangle had by now become regular with all its hallowed rituals to fool the working masses in the most democratic of ways. The negotiations excluded the FIOM, however, and ended with only the wage increase and to a significantly lesser extent than the fascist unions demanded, to the point that their rank-and-file representatives, who were present on the side of the negotiations, just as in our days, opposed the agreement until the last moment and hesitated to bring its contents to the workers. FIOM at first proclaimed the continuation of the strikes, but after two days, despite some success in the agitation, it called on the workers to return to work, discrediting itself even more among the workers than for the contractual defeat.

Another notable agitation was, in August 1923, that of workers in the Valdarno lignite mines operated by a mining company. The strike was promoted by the Corporations, with the support of the Council of the provincial fascist federation of Arezzo, following the failure of negotiations initiated on the basis of the demand for wage increases made by the fascist unions in the area. The Mussolini government thought at this point to politically exploit the issue for propaganda purposes, and, with much demagoguery, deliberated on a plan to support the strikers, in which there was provision for the disbursement of money to the neediest families and even the appointment of an extraordinary commission to manage the mines. That this was only a snare and a delusion was soon demonstrated by the conclusion of the dispute, by order of Mussolini himself, on the basis of wage increases significantly lower than the initial demands.

But the strike, which threatened at one point to alarmingly spread among mine workers in the province of Grosseto, aroused everyone’s attention, to the point that Il Lavoro d’Italia, the organ of the Corporations, felt the duty to intervene to explain the difference between the “fascist strike” and the socialist strike. It’s relevant to note this because it’s the same justification given by the Triplice piecards today.

«Fascist strikes – the paper wrote – are occasional and dictated by necessity, while the socialists had become professionals of the strike (the famous revolutionary gymnastics), necessarily disturbing the rhythm of production. Fascist strikes are exclusively economic; the socialists, on the other hand, had politicized all strikes. For them it was always an episode in that Marxist class struggle that was supposed to culminate with the general strike in the expropriation of the expropriators. Fascist organizers merely protect the just rights of the workers, while socialists use trade unions to subvert the established order».

Beyond propagandistic exaggerations, in that the reformists who headed the CGL were far removed, as all their action in the preceding years and the current one showed, from the revolutionary strategy of using the strike as a school of war for insurrection, which if anything was proper to the Communist Left, it’s interesting to note how the justification for the use of the strike is expressed in an economicist sense, as a pure economic defense for being constrained by the situation. But we know how this defense cannot be such if it’s separated from the defense of the historical and political interests of the working class, and so the weapon of the strike, if not understood as a school of war for the education for proletarian combat, ends up being reduced to a dull and harmless weapon precisely because it’s never decisively directed against the bosses, but always used with the scruple of avoiding the most harmful consequences to production, precisely in the sense in which the tradeunion-fascists were concerned about it, which is exactly the same sense in which the union and political opportunism of our times sees it.

After all, the response at the time of La Giustizia, a social-reformist organ, was symptomatic in this regard:

«Fascists – the “opposition” paper wrote – may cover socialists with insults, but they must explain to the public why their ideas don’t match the facts. One can siphon off the masses from one organization to another, but, when an insoluble conflict occurs peacefully, the fascist leaders are as incapable as the socialist ones of avoiding a strike».

The meaning was clear: socialists and fascists both shared the directive of “avoiding strikes”, but due to material causes, which are precisely those that make us say that under capitalist regime strikes are inevitable, it’s unfortunately necessary to resort to them. And what’s different in what today’s piecards say when they protest against the intransigence of the bosses who “force us” to use strikes. They’d be the first not to want it, but they can’t help but resort to it. For them, as for their worthy blackshirted predecessors, having acknowledged the inevitability of the class struggle, it’s a matter of harmonizing it to the ends of the “interests of the Country” (with a capital C), the same spirit of the fascists when they spoke of the “interests of the Nation” (with a capital N).

8 - Towards the legal and institutional recognition of fascist trade unions as the sole lawful representatives of the workers

This general resurgence of proletarian tension, which among other things saw in certain more traditionally combative areas a certain return of workers to the class-based trade union organizations (in 1925 the FIAT internal committees obtained an overwhelming majority of FIOM representatives and saw, among other things, a clear affirmation of Communist delegates), ended up worrying the industrialists in no small measure and accentuating their distrust of considering the Corporations as their only valid counterparts, precisely because it was becoming increasingly evident that, beyond formal membership, they enjoyed no real following among the workers and therefore agreements with them were ultimately worthless. The Corporations, for their part, accentuated their demand to be recognized as the only legal representatives of the workers and in this sense proclaimed more and more openly the need to be legally integrated within the Fascist State.

At the same time, they emphasized the physical struggle against the internal commissions, accusing the industrialists of granting them excessive importance, and proposed replacing them with “factory trustees”, who were to operate on exclusive external instructions, unaffected by the influence of the environment in which they operated.

Once again it’s important to note how, beyond terminology and form, this is exactly the sort of worker representation in the factories that today’s tricolor piecards would like to make: elements totally disciplined to the dispositions of union structures outside the factory, uncaring to the moods of the workers and in general to the working-class environment in which they operate.

This in theory; in practice, of course, it appears difficult to achieve since workers’ representatives directly elected by the workers cannot disregard the moods of their base and so continually try to mediate between the two functions. However, it’s clear how the push by the union centers is increasingly aimed at obtaining factory representatives framed on the basis of corporatist collaborationism and thus ready to fight hard against the workers’ vanguards, who express themselves instead on the terrain of class confrontation.

The Confindustria, especially the Turin industrialists who were forced in the factories to deal also with the red representatives of the internal committees, proved unwilling to accept negotiation with the trustees. It’s interesting to quote the industrialists’ stance, through the mouth of one of their representatives, who declared:

«We knew that the internal commissions effectively and exclusively represented the workers. Instead, these fascist trustees looming on the horizon represent both too much and too little. Too little if we take into account that they have nearly no following among the masses; too much if behind them stands the fascist party, which in turn, as was repeated to us to the point of satiety, identifies itself with the government. It has often happened to me to sustain bitter struggles with the internal committees, and of some I retain bitter memories; but I couldn’t dispute that behind those men who came to argue with me, and not always politely, stood almost all my workers. On the other hand, if and when I happen to discuss with fascist trustees, who will I really have before me? The workers? Certainly not, because, at least in Turin, the workers adhering to the Corporations are next to zero, and even after the reform, the trustees will certainly not be able to delude themselves, let alone convince us that they’re actually the interpreters of the workers’ thoughts and feelings. Do they then represent the fascist party? I don’t think it has the right to meddle in an internal union matter. The government? In the latter case, I, who am a man of order, bow down; but, if so, I would rather have Mr. Prefect send for me and say, ‘I order you to sign the agreement in the following terms.’”

Confindustria’s message was clear: we will agree to deal exclusively with the fascist unions on the sole condition that it is imposed by the government. This was a clear way of demanding legal recognition of fascist syndicalism, integrating it in State institutions.

The question presented itself in even more explicit terms following the August 19, 1926 agreement between FIAT and the Internal Commissions, with a Communist majority, convened expressly by Agnelli, who signed an agreement with them on the basis of a wage increase of 80 cents a day, which in fact excluded in substance any relationship with the Corporations. The industrialists admitted “the danger of such a situation” and called for

«a government act declaring the internal commissions dissolved or abolished, declaring as of now that they would accept that subsequent arrangement which would be agreed upon between the Industrial Confederation and the Confederation of Fascist Corporations».

At this point the fascists’ violent campaign of frontal attack against the internal commissions resumed to the point that by the end of the same month almost all the members of the internal commissions in Turin had resigned. In their work the fascist union leaders not only resorted to violent intimidation, but were explicitly supported by the Party and the head of the government. Pressure from the Corporations themselves to be legally recognized increased, and all components of Fascism agreed that it was time to deliver the coup de grace to the class organizations and impose by force of law the validity of the Fascist concordats between the Corporations and employers’ organizations. The offensive didn’t even spare the Piedmont and Lombardy industrialists who were accused by many of “disloyalty to Fascism” because they continued to place the Corporations and the red unions on the same level, when not even giving the latter preference during negotiations.

But the Fascists were aware of the impossibility of drawing the bulk of the main proletarian categories, metallurgists in the lead, into the ranks of Fascist syndicalism, in the same way as the industrialists were aware that they could not grant any practical reliance to the concordats with the Corporations because of their lack of representativeness.

Such a situation could only result, as many industrialists were now clamoring for, in the final accommodation of the Fascist regime on the political level with its explicit assertion of itself as the sole party of government and regime, and on the trade union level with the framing of the Corporations and employers’ associations under the iron discipline of the State. But while for the latter this discipline corresponded to the formal fulfillment of their overall ruling-class interests, for the workers it was the subordination of their interests, historically antagonistic to those of capital, to the capitalist State.

Thus, while on the level of action the fierce struggle against the internal commissions and any form of workers’ representation not sponsored by the Corporations still intensified, on the institutional and legal level Fascism moved rapidly toward the final settlement of the “trade union question”.

It was Alfredo Rocco, later draftsman of the government bill on the legal framework of trade unions, who marked, with his August 30, 1925 speech at the University of Perugia, the definitive orientation in this direction. He attempted to elaborate a “programmatic doctrine” of fascism as a theoretical justification for what was being attempted. He enunciated with emphasis the necessity of the Corporatist State, not denying but disciplining the classes to the nation, as an overcoming of classical liberalism, theorizing the “free dialectic” between the interests of classes and individuals as a natural harmonizer of the overall interests of society converging naturally in the State, through universal suffrage.

We’re not here to theoretically refute this conception, that is, Fascism’s claim to represent and elaborate an original theory of society and its own “new vision” of social relations between classes. The Communist Left ever since refuted this claim with extreme Marxist clarity, tracing the “novelty” of Fascism back to the attempt to organically regulate all opposing social interests even within the ruling class, and thus in this sense an expression of the centralizing needs of State power proper to modern imperialist capitalism. Thus, the purported “overcoming of classical liberalism” was nothing more than the recognition of the falsity of the ideals of freedom and equality with which the bourgeoisie had cloaked the advent of its class domination and the open recognition of the totalitarian character of this domination, even when it was formally cloaked in democracy.

Rocco thus theorized the necessity of the subjection of class interests to the State:

«The organization of classes – he stated – is thus a fact and a necessity and as such cannot be ignored by the State, but must be regulated, controlled, integrated into the State. Instead of being organs of extra-legal self-defense, as they were in the past, such organizations must become organs of legal defense».

Finally, he theorized the use of the class-based defense organization, now correctly considered inevitable as an irreversible product of “modern industrial society”, for the purpose of enforcing the social discipline necessary for capitalist society; obviously, out of propagandistic and ideological necessity, he never named it as such.

«In the first place – he said – class organization as such, outside the dialectical atmosphere of liberal open society, proves to be not a ferment of unrest, but a means to a firmer social discipline, and indeed an integral and necessary element of every edifice of authority in modern times. Secondly, such an edifice cannot durably establish itself except on the condition of an almost obsessive effort of compactness that doesn’t exclude making economic concessions to the organized categories, but only if at the same time its absolute control is guaranteed, giving the Corporations authority and a figure of public law, in order to assert more firmly the authority of the state apparatus».

The essence of the totalitarian set-up of bourgeois society under mature capitalism, which the post- war “anti-fascist” democracy inherited and continued in complete consistency with the preservation purposes of capitalist society, is set out here very succinctly. Economic improvements to the various categories aren’t excluded, when prosperous times allow substantial strata of proletarians to be given a bit of that prosperity, thus enlisting them in the army of defenders of this society. In this context, today’s tricolor trade unionism fits in like a glove, being the best regulator and manager of the labor force organized in the democratic regime, dispenser, on occasion, of “bonuses and guarantees” to the labor aristocracy, on the condition precisely that it be deployed and organized by the regime unions in defense of order and State institutions.

Rocco’s discourse soon materialized with the Palazzo Vidoni pact of October 2, by which the Confindustria and the Confederation of Corporations mutually recognized the exclusive representation of bosses and workers and pledged to regulate contractual relations directly, so that internal commissions were de facto abolished.

The fascist unions thus deprived the opposing union centers of power, assuming the exclusive representation of the workers, and this, among other things, without even recourse to the factory trustees, rejected by the bosses because, although under PNF control, they could bring disturbance into the life of the factories and workshops where, as Il Giornale d’Italia, the Confindustria daily, proclaimed on the occasion, “political passions should not penetrate” and where one should “only work in the disciplined dependence on the bosses”.

The agreement was ratified by the Grand Council of Fascism three days later and found full implementation in the bill prepared by Rocco and presented to the Chamber of Deputies on Oct. 25, which provided for the definitive incorporation of trade unions into the State.

In its basic concepts, the bill fixed the mandatory legal recognition of only a single trade union per category, provided it gathered at least one-tenth of the workers and its leaders gave a guarantee of “sure national faith”. Recognized unions acquired legal character and represented all workers in the category, including nonmembers, so that the collective agreements they entered into had mandatory effect.

Other unions continued to have theoretical possibility of existence as de facto associations, subject to private law and public security law. This clause was intended to give a semblance of liberality to the law, but in fact the red or free trade unions no longer had any bargaining power and, persecuted by Fascist violence, no longer had any possibility of existence except in hiding.

Disputes concerning collective labor relations fell under the jurisdiction of a special section of the Court of Appeal, which would function as a labor judiciary. Recourse to it was at first mandatory for the bosses’ associations in agriculture and optional for those in industry, as Confindustria had repeatedly expressed. At a later stage, however, it too adhered to this constraint. Consequently, class self-defense and thus the use of strikes and lockouts was forbidden.

The State thus began to build its steel armor to compress and regulate all its components and to protect itself from their disruptive conflicts, first and foremost proletarian class action.

The first effects of the law in the economic field didn’t take long in coming. Out of objective economic necessity, the government decided on a series of deflationary measures in 1926, including a new general reduction in wages, which, of course, was not followed by an equally drastic drop in the cost of living, and which thus resulted in the containment of production costs of enterprises.

The Ministry of National Economy could state in early 1028 that

«(...) our industries have thus been able to achieve considerable savings in production costs, partly through more rational methods [sic!] of determining the compensation of labor, which has been stimulated to produce at top performance and which has willingly accepted the new systems [!!]».

But in the same year unemployment grew frighteningly, rising between December 1927 and the same month the following year from 181,000 to 414,000, while the partially unemployed increased in the same time frame from 10,000 to 108,000. Despite the legal ban strikes and unrest resumed with particular vigor, confirming the materialistic impossibility of the bourgeois State to eliminate class struggle even by ferocious repression and legal bans. According to some confidential data from the Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs, there had been 154 strikes, for which as many criminal prosecutions had been initiated, in 1927, and as many as 149 of them had affected industry, involving a total of 18,663 workers. Of particular note were the Legnano and Olona Valley textile strikes and, above all, the October 25 agitation in Gallarate by as many as 4,000 women in 19 factories against the 25% reduction in the cost-of-living bonus, which lasted four days and was crushed only after the Police ordered the arrest of a number of female workers in each factory. It was to this growing worker unrest that Fascism responded in April 1927 with the famous “Labor Charter”, a basic model from which tricolor “democratic” unionism copied its structure.

9 - Trade unions and corporations in the fascist order

Let us now take a look at the actual nature of Corporations and Trade Unions and their legal function. It’s essential to highlight the substantial historical continuity between fascist totalitarian corporatism and democratic collaborationist corporatism.

The final structure of the Corporations was achieves in 1934 with the Law of February 5, which outlined the essential guidelines for the organization and legal arrangement of this organ and the Trade Unions. At the base of the criteria for the establishment of the Corporations is the “major branch of production” articulated on the basis of the production cycle, that is, embracing various production processes (cycles) relating to products that present characteristics of productive affinity (cereals, textiles, chemicals, etc) for which problems arise between them in a closely related and coordinated fashion.

Thus, in each Corporation the various categories spread across the cycles of the various products of the branch, from the production of raw materials to the consumption of the finished product, come to be represented and connected. Thus, for example, the Textile Products Corporation includes sheep husbandry and sericulture, the various textile industries (seeds and silkworms, silk reeling and throwing, rayon industry, flax, hemp, jute, textile dyeing and pressing, etc) and the corresponding product trade enterprises.

Thus, according to this criterion, the 22 constituted Corporations were divided into three major groups, precisely according to the characteristics of the production cycle: 8 were the corporations with agricultural, industrial and commercial production cycle, 8 those with an industrial and commercial cycle, and 6 those for the service industry. At the top they were unified by the National Council of Corporations.

The Corporations were practically in charge of coordinating the production and distribution processes of the entire national economy.

It would take too long to describe their composition in detailed form vertically and horizontally, which, after all, varied greatly according to the type of Corporation. However, it’s important to briefly point out the criteria by which they were organized. Each Corporation included representatives of State administrations, the PNF, capital, and workers, as well as “technical” representatives competent on the field. All groups of homogeneous activities were represented in them, and each group was set on equal representation between capitalists and workers. In the Corporations, therefore, all economic interests of the branch of production were represented, both in the sense of class interests and in the sense of economic relations among the various capitalists or companies operating in the sector into which the life of the Corporation was articulated.

The Corporations were thus structured in such a way as to incorporate the entire national capitalist productive structure under the command economy direction of the State, to compress all the particular drives and interests, of class and of productive sector, in view of the general interest of national capitalism. They constituted the de facto institutionalized encounter between Capital and Labor, class collaboration elevated to a legal principle in a productive function.

Obviously, since capitalist production was impossible to plan and frame seriously toward uniform and harmonious ends, no matter if capitalist ends, those who really suffered all the suffocating weight of the Corporations was the proletariat, nailed by law to the needs of the nation.

However, it’s important to note that Corporation and Trade Union were two distinct organizations, and separate not only formally but also legally. Trade Unions, associations attached to the respective Corporation, became autonomous from the respective Confederation, but continued to adhere to it. In other words, the trade unions did not emanate from the Corporations, but maintained their own life, distinct not only from them but also from the employers’ unions, which also were organizationally independent from the Corporations.

The latter, in fact, had mainly economic regulatory functions, in the sense of regulating relations between all branches of the industries concerned and framed by the Corporation.

As concerns labor relations between workers and employers, the Corporations were vested only with “accessory competence”, that is, they functioned as regulators of the category labor contracts done between workers’ unions and bosses’ associations. In fact, Article l0 of the Law of April 3, 1926, later taken up in full by the regulations of the Decree-Law of 1934, provides that

«the central liaison bodies may establish, after agreement with the employers’ and workers’ representatives, general rules on working conditions in the enterprises to which they refer. Such norms shall have effect with respect to all employers and workers in the category to which the norms refer and which the linked associations represent».

In order to make rules concerning labor relations, the Corporation needed the investiture of the Fascist trade unions and employers’ organizations.

This organizational distinction between Corporations and fascist trade unions is important in that it underlines how Fascism itself, even in its fiercely hierarchical and “authoritarian” conception of social organization by the State, was careful to distinguish between trade union association, in any case reflecting to some extent the particular interests of its members, workers and capitalists, and the State organ of control and coordination of national economic activity, and therefore of subjugation of the proletariat to the interests of capital. The importance of this distinction in Fascism, which is then the same one implemented and continued by the post-fascist democratic-Resistance regime, albeit in different forms, appears even more evident when considered on the legal level, which represents the institutional formalization of the political essence of the two bodies.

It’s interesting in this regard to quote in full the analysis of a jurist of the time, Amleto Di Marcantonio, in his extensive text on the “Nature and Functions of the Corporation”.

«Institutions of a public legal nature can take on, in the State, either the shape of organs or that of public legal persons. The former represent the category of the instruments of direct action, the latter that of the instruments of indirect action; the former are completely inserted into the State organism and serve for the constitution and implementation of the will of the State (and therefore do not have legal personality), the latter have an autarchical nature: that is, they have their own interests and their own capacity to govern them, but since these interests also concern the State, their action must be such as to harmonize their own interests with those of the State (public function). To this end, they have been granted public legal personality, which implicitly contains the responsibility to perform that function. Of the two basic institutions of the corporatist system, the trade union was organized as a public legal person, the corporation among State organs.

“The reason why the corporation has been integrated in the category of State organs rather than as a public legal person can be said to derive from these two elements: a) the purpose for which it was established (unitary discipline and development of production, which is the interest of the state); b) its political and technical economic structure, established to achieve this purpose.

“Even the trade union - it should be noted - which, although it’s not a State organ, ultimately achieves, by its action, the general interest, since such is the equitable regulation of labor relations achieved by the meeting (cooperation) of the wills of associations. But the interests reflected in the union and, as a result, its action, have an entirely particular physiognomy that determines a constitution of the institution such that it is identified as a person having its own will and its own end.

“The trade union comes into being by the will of the members of a category and for the protection of the interests of the category itself, interests which for the most part relate to working conditions or capital, or welfare needs, etc, in other words to a factor of production.

“Thus the institution is presented with that autonomy which is proper to any association which groups individuals carrying on the same activity together (in our case workers or employers), and therefore having common interests which are different and often conflicting with those of other similar associations.

“This autonomy cannot disappear even if the institution is brought to the level of public law. For although most of the union’s interests concern, under the fascist regime, the State as well, they do not cease to be of that category; the State is above it, and since it’s concerned that the interests of antagonistic unions should be harmonized, it achieves this by organizing the unions themselves as public legal persons. It cannot leave them outside the sphere of public law, because it cannot admit that their activities might conflict with the general interest; on the other hand, it couldn’t integrate them among its organs either, because the interests of the State cannot at the same time identify with those of the unions having often conflicting ends among themselves.

“The legal capacity of the union implies that the protective action carried out by this body is at first found to be distinct with respect to the action of the antagonistic union. Collaboration is implemented but later and externally, when with the contract, two declarations of will establish the bridge between the employers’ and workers’ unions. At this moment the new goal achieved by the two unions – through collaboration – comes to coincide with that of the State, but is not identified with it, just as the will of the State is not identified with that of the unions.

“Finally, it should be noted that, although the legal recognition of public law implicitly entails for the union the duty to implement collaboration, it’s nevertheless not excluded, at least theoretically – and precisely because of the characteristic autonomy of the union – that such collaboration doesn’t take place: this is provided, moreover, by the law that has provided the means to reach it by other means (labor judiciary, which can, among other things, dictate labor regulations; corporations, which have a similar function).

“The matter with the corporation is quite different. The purpose for which it’s intended concerns the unitary regulation of productive forces, which stand in manifold relations that have vast and complex repercussions on the whole scale of the economic process. Here the State’s interest is, let us say, more direct and immediate: the State isn’t faced with labor relations, simple and circumscribed, for which a regulation implemented by the unions themselves is sufficient as long as it doesn’t harm general interests: but it’s faced with complex relations, which affect simultaneously employers and workers, technicians and consumers, State and Party, in essence the collectivity, even if the problems are related to a single branch of production. Given the need to regulate these relations in a unified manner, the State creates for this purpose (it does not recognize) an institution – the corporation – into whose core it calls, for a more suitable evaluation of the problems and so that the necessary collaboration can take place, the elements of the categories as well as those of the institutions interested in regulating those relations. It thus happens that in a single institution (college) various elements come together, which consequently do not reflect the interests of one factor of production, but rather the most diverse interests, in other words, the interests of production as a whole, which are general interests; the will of such elements or representatives, unified into a single will, is not a means to an end of its own (the college, precisely as such, has no end of its own). Thus, the physiognomy of the corporation is not the same as that of the trade union, nor that of other public bodies that have their own end, and could not therefore recommend its integration among public legal persons.

“In fact, the various and often conflicting interests reflected in the corporation cause it to lose all particularistic character and make it a direct exponent of general economic interests: let it not be forgotten, related to this, that the State and the Party are not above or even outside the corporation, but are within the corporation, like the blood that circulates in an organ that gives it life. The elements designated by the categories represent the interests of the categories and enforce them within the corporation, but the composition of the various interests, that is, the collaboration, takes place within the institution itself, not outside, at the moment, that is, when the different wills meet and merge into the single will that must manifest itself. The angles are smoothed out below the surface, the various needs are reconciled, interests come to be balanced, and the convergence of ends toward that one end which is constituted by the unitary interest of production is thus reached; there takes place, in other words, an internal operation which results in a unilateral act of will».

Beyond the contrived overall harmony with which the matter is described here, which as always reflects the strident contradiction between the purported rational equilibrium of bourgeois legal expressions and the harsh and quite different reality of the conflicting interests that characterize all social and economic sectors of capitalist society, the role of the trade union as an “instrument of indirect action” of the State is nevertheless highlighted with extreme clarity; that is, in our Marxist language stripped of bourgeois legal fictions, a means which the ruling class uses in an indirect form to enslave the proletariat to the needs of its own economy. The Corporation, on the other hand, is a direct instrument of the State, is finally a real State institution, belongs organically to it, constitutes a structural backbone of its functioning, and, in this sphere, the trade unions carry out their collaborationist function of anti- proletarian direction; but carried out in an autonomous form, inasmuch as formally they represent a precise social class having its own interests antagonistic to those of the institutions properly representing the interests of the bosses.

Fascism characterized the organization of the State thus not by having given birth to mixed unions of workers and bosses, as is often mistakenly believed, organs which were, as we have seen, theorized by Rossonists in the early, heated period of Fascist syndicalism, but which never had nor will ever have any practical possibility of implementation precisely because of the irreconcilability of interests of the two classes, whose natural antagonism can only ever be in some way recognized by any capitalist State, but for giving a precise configuration to collaborationist trade union opportunism, for having, in short, institutionalized its historical role by the force of the organization of the State, for having made it not so much a State organ in the proper sense of the term, but in the improper sense, for having given it the guise of a legal personality of the State, that is, of an organization which, while representing and managing its own interests, carries out its action in such a way as to harmonize its interests with those of the State.

10 - Substantial similarity between fascist and democratic regimes

The question in the post-fascist democratic regime of our times is no different in substance. It has copied and developed the criterion of corporatist societal organization, unfolding it in a form befitting the requirements of democratic deception, which are peculiar to the “pluralistic” organization of the democratic State.

In democracy, too, the classic corporatist triangle of unions-bosses-government is constituted and acted upon. In democracy, as in Fascism, the state is presented as the synthesizer of the social demands proper to the natural antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, whose proper interests are in both regimes represented by their respective trade unions: the tricolor unions for the workers, the Confindustria, Confagricoltura and other employers’ associations for the capitalists. The only difference between the two regimes lies in the legal framework of workers’ unions, to which the democratic regime does not recognize public legal personality, but contemplates them as de facto associations falling under the constraint of private jurisdiction and “public security” laws. But the tricolor trade unions are themselves emanations of the parties that form the political backbone of the regime, and in their statutes absolute allegiance to the laws of the State and the Republican Constitution prevails. In this way their role as “indirect instruments” of the State in its work of squeezing and enslaving the working class to the interests of the national economy is equally guaranteed.

On the contrary, their formal nature as independent organizations not bound by State institutions, together with their outward appeal to the tradition of class unionism on which they were built in the immediate postwar period, and thus their opportunistic influence on the working masses, an influence that the fascist trade unions certainly did not enjoy, constitute the best guarantee toward the State, far more effective than any legal constraint, which would certainly have the effect of driving away from its ranks the layer of proletarians most combative and most sensitive to the defense of the real interests of their class.

The difference between fascist syndicalism and the tricolor unions of the democratic regime appears here in all its evidence as being purely legal in form, befitting the formal differences between the two political regimes but which in no way invests the field of the union’s position as an indirect instrument of the regime, whether fascist or democratic, and thus its nature as a “regime union”.

However, it’s obvious that the two organizations are not exactly the same thing, if only because the unions of the democratic regime enjoy, or at least have enjoyed, a following and credibility certainly not comparable to those of the fascist unions.

It was precisely this consideration, together with taking into account the social situation in the proletarian camp that had come about in the period of postwar reconstruction and the subsequent economic “boom”, that led our party to take a different tactical attitude toward the tricolor CGIL than that followed by the communists toward the fascist unions.

Similar considerations later led us to return toward the attitude of that time.

Let us limit ourselves for now to noting that in recent years the degree of subjugation and collaboration of the tricolor trade union centers has seen them reach levels that the fascist unions themselves could only ever dream of. At no time in the history of bourgeois Italy has the symbiosis between State machinery, government, trade unions, and employers’ associations been expressed in such an accomplished and exquisitely corporatist form as in the present day, and this process of progressive integration of the trade unions into the State apparatus is destined to intensify as the crisis deepens and the final catastrophic solution of the world war approaches.

While it’s true that there are no longer structured Corporations as there were during Fascism, it’s also true that trade unions are included with full representation in all the main institutional bodies of so- called economic planning, such as the CNEL, and in many political-economic institutions at the regional and provincial levels. The adherence of the federal and confederal representations of tricolor trade unionism to the organs of the bourgeois State is a clear inheritance of Fascism and consistently expresses the opportunist and defeatist function of the national trade unions, now true anti-worker organizations in the core of the proletariat, a phenomenon that now characterizes, with different formal nuances, all the main advanced capitalist countries and even the so-called “developing” ones.

At this point it’s obvious that the formal legal recognition of trade unions as entities invested with full public law is of less and less importance for the practical purposes of the role they are called upon to play within capitalist society. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the democratic Constitution itself provides for the legal recognition of trade unions.

11 - The capitulation of the General Confederation of Labor when facing fascism

Going back to the fascist period, it’s appropriate to say a few words about the attitude of the CGL toward fascist syndicalism and, more generally, toward the government.

We’ve already mentioned how the red unions were gradually violently marginalized from the terrain of workers’ representation vis-à-vis the bosses. Faced with the blackshirt offensive, the CGL was unable to put up any serious class resistance. The reformist leadership of the CGL influenced all the action of the class unions toward the fascist government and contributed with the forces of reaction to the complete dismantling of the entire organizational structure built up over more than two decades. Faced with the violence of the blackshirts against the Chambers of Labor and workers’ representation in the factories, the CGL leadership suffered the attack without ever responding on the level of class defense action. The same pacifist and submissive attitude of the socialists and, beyond their words, the maximalists, could not fail to be reflected on the trade union level as well.

Consistent with their collaborationist nature, the CGL high-ups didn’t even hesitate to offer the fascist government their cooperation. Mussolini himself, treasuring his past battles against the reformists in the PSI, was well aware of this spirit of renunciation that has always animated social-reformism, in its action on the daily trade union level, and tried to throw the hook of collaboration from the heights of the Head of Government office to bring the most right-wing part of the CGL closer to fascist syndicalism. It didn’t, in fact, decisively reject it. Although timidly disavowed by the PSU leadership, D’Aragona and Colombino declared themselves open to the appeal. Opposed were the maximalists of the CGL, but it was well known that some of them didn’t hate the possibility of some collaboration, in view of the fact that it had now become difficult for the red unions to carry out any activity among workers’ ranks, and only the offer of consensus to fascist syndicalism could have created a situation of greater tolerance on the part of the latter, and thus give the CGL a greater chance of survival. Instead of openly fighting against the enemy on its own ground, of violence and armed struggle, it preferred to declare itself defeated and beg for understanding in exchange for a bit of cooperation.

Beyond certain resistance, contacts between CGL leaders and representatives of the fascist government continued in 1923 until on July 25 a CGL representation, consisting of D’Aragona, Azimonti, Buozzi, Colombino and Cabrini, was received by Mussolini. The talk was “frank and cordial” as the bourgeois press of those days called it, and after it the collaborationist tendency of the CGL leaders was emphasized. Even in the early stages of the negotiations, some Socialist deputies of trade unionist origin declared:

«We have the impression that the Honorable Mussolini wants to test our souls, to carry out a review among us. Well, we wish to affirm that to the concepts of collaboration we fully adhere on condition that: 1) our forces are not shattered or absorbed by fascist syndicalism; 2) a platform of balance and a lowest common denominator is established between the two trade unionisms on which to collaborate for the resolution of fundamental problems; 3) neither the CGL deputies, nor the CGL, nor the multiple annexed organizations are forced to abandon the Socialist Party, of which they have been and are a unique energy».

D’Aragona then added that the CGL’s task, if anything, should be to lead the Party, so that politics would depend on practical and realistic economic interests, «for the ever-increasing prosperity of the nation of which all of us – Socialists and Fascists, Reds and Whites – are a living and palpitant expression».

Finally Azimonti specified in Battaglie Sindacali that such an attitude «was not only necessary, but indispensable for the defense of labor rights to be carried out directly against the bosses and by means of the CGL delegates in the advisory bodies of the State and in the organs of social security (...) The Confederation is willing to participate directly with all its energies in the elections and in the activity of the parliament or of the national council if the government – as it has repeatedly promised – will decide to establish it».

The collaborationist thrusts continued for a while until the fascist trade unions themselves rose up to stem them, worried that this attitude would eventually overshadow their function before the government. They were joined by almost all the components of Fascism, from the nationalists, who had just joined Fascism at that time, to Farinacci’s ultra-rightists, to the so-called “revisionists”, who were headed by Giuseppe Bottai and the magazine Critica Fascista. They all proclaimed collaboration between fascist unions and “red trade unionists” impossible, so that the ongoing negotiations with the government were practically broken off. It’s thus to be attributed to the forces of Fascism themselves that the CGL was not stained with such infamy.

The affair spoke volumes about the real intentions of the reformist piecards and their willingness to assimilate the concepts of loyalty to the nation and the economy, State and private, flaunted by fascist syndicalism. Devoted by historical vocation to class collaboration, the CGL leaders openly manifested a propensity to collaborate with their own enemies, thus drawing the backbone of future postwar Resistance tricolor unionism along the lines of loyalty to the nation and, in democratic terms, to the “Italian people”.

On the level of action the red unions manifested in full all their weakness. Bound to the Socialists’ policy of aventinist pacifism, at no time, not even in the heat of the struggle, did the CGL trade unions succeed in expressing a class response to the bosses and the natural reluctance of the fascist unions to take sides on the ground of direct confrontation with the capitalists and their State. This is all the more serious when one considers that, despite the persecution of the blackshirts, the influence of the CGL federations in the factories remained very high and in the main points of proletarian deployment, as at FIAT, almost total. Yet even at the moments that would have lent themselves best to action against the fascist unions, the substantial pacifism and collaborationism of the reformist majority prevented a drastic class-based stance, despite the determined battle of the communists in the CGL.

Such was the case with the agitations that, in the fall of 1924, affected the Milanese metalworkers in which both the FIOM and the fascist unions had presented their own demands. After a few meetings between FIOM and industrialists went in vain, suddenly on September 29 the latter stipulated a concordat with the corporations that was far removed in content from even the demands of the fascist unions. The FIOM, under pressure from the Communists, opposed acceptance of the pact, which was spontaneously rejected by the vast majority of workers in the workshops of Milan and the province.

The Catholic union SNOM and the anarchist Italian Syndicalist Union also sided with the FIOM’s positions. But this united proletarian front became immobilized at the decisive moment of action. The Communists were pushing to weld the metalworkers’ action to the other workers’ struggles that were going on at the time, to widen the range of the struggle and give it a political significance as an action of direct attack not only on the bosses but on their fascist government. The FIOM, on the other hand, faithful to the renunciative directives of the CGdL, nipped the agitation in the bud, deeming it not useful, as the usual D’Aragona ruled, “a full-scale struggle that, at this delicate political moment, would frighten the Crown”, in the intervention of which the reformists and all the aventinist parties hoped for to curb the raging of the fascist gangs! The matter dragged on like that wearily for a few weeks without ever taking direct action, until on November 7 the FIOM gave orders to all the workshops in Milan, Sesto S. Giovanni and Monza to suspend work at 4 p.m., recommending that workers leave the factories «in the most perfect order, without demonstrations of any kind, silently. Don’t even stop – it urged – near the workshops and go to your homes. Reject any invitation that has not been issued by your organization». Despite this defeatist appeal, the abstention was overwhelming, but this action was not followed by others and the whole agitation ebbed within a few days.

It resumed with vigor in January 1925 as a result of the drastic increase in the cost of living at that time. We’ve already seen in brief the unfolding of this agitation, which can undoubtedly be considered the most powerful of the fascist period, and the defeatist role that the FIOM played in it. The agitation, called by the fascists under pressure from the most combative rank-and-file workers, was then led by the reformists, pushed by the communists, and then crushed by the FIOM itself when the strike was taking on an impressive scale. In this sense the renunciative and defeatist attitude of the reformists came to coincide with the disruptive and anti-worker action of fascist syndicalism.

Rightly had an Italian delegate said in his speech to the VI Enlarged Executive of the Communist International in March 1926: «The history of fascist syndicalism is also the history of the betrayals of the reformists. The trade union policy of capitulation was the basis of the reformist trade union policy».

12 - The attitude of the Communist Left

The communists fought a fierce battle on the anti-reformist and anti-fascist front, using different tactics toward the CGL depending on the different situation. Faced with the destruction of the union’s organizational structures in the factory and outside, the Communists launched the watchword of “rebuilding the red unions”. In carrying it out, they came up against not only the obvious violent reaction of the blackshirts, but also against the CGL leaders who, beyond the shouts demanding greater freedom of action and an end to blackshirt violence, ended up submitting to the will of the fascists by contributing to the dissolution of peripheral organizations hit by the blackshirts, as in Turin in December 1922, when the CGL dissolved that city’s Chamber of Labor and the local Federation of Metallurgists because its leader, Ferrero, had been killed by the fascists.

As a matter of fact, on several occasions the reformists openly boycotted the rebuilding of the trade unions by the communists, kicking them out of the organization, as in Turin during the elections to the Mutual Fund in the FIAT factories and the elections to the Internal Commissions, when the reformists proceeded to expel numerous communists from the union, guilty of having presented class lists against Fascism, lists which, by the way, won an overwhelming majority.

The reformists then proceeded to dissolve trade union organizations headed by communists, and even disbanded a few headed by maximalists, even though they merely masked their behavior of backing up the classical reformists with empty revolutionary phraseology.

The terrain of trade union action was considered vital by the Communist Left; it was in fact the field of action in which the Communist Party’s ability to carry out with revolutionary coherence and with correctness its indispensable function of guiding and directing the working masses on the move was measured in full. So, naturally, the Left attached great importance to trade union tactics, because they were decisive for the proper functioning of that famous “transmission belt” between the Party and the class that the trade unions were supposed to be. Obviously it would make the attitude to be taken towards the reformist leadership of the CGL a matter of such importance that it would be submitted to the Communist International for scrutiny and discussion.

The Left, as always, in dealing with the question posed the objective analysis of the situation as an indispensable prerequisite to choosing correct tactics. Having posed the exclusion of working in the fascist unions, because they were organs based statutorily and practically on class collaboration and the subjugation of the interests of the proletarians to the “higher interests of the nation”, the problem of the reconstruction of free and class unions, against the hesitation and betrayals of the reformists, was posed. From the Left’s report to the VI Enlarged Executive of the Communist International the question is developed with precise Marxist rigor.

As we’ve seen, the history of fascist syndicalism can be divided into two periods. The first, in which Fascist syndicalism tries in vain to establish itself in competition with the other trade unions; the trade union activity of the CGL is still permitted, although it’s expressed with extreme difficulty in the devastating fury of the blackshirts and the substantial capitulation of the reformists. The second period sees Fascism now the total arbiter of the situation, having failed in its attempt to wrest from the “Reds” the influence and leadership of the urban proletariat in the large factories. With exceptional laws investing the Fascist unions with the exclusive right to represent workers and thus declaring the Internal Commissions dissolved, the activity of the other unions, even though formally the right to their existence was provided for, became impossible.

Two different situations therefore had to be matched by two different tactics, and so the Left, against the centrists who now controlled the Party, placed the question before the Communist International, which was now also controlled by the Stalinists.

The correct approach of the Left regarded the still existing remnants of the old CGL as having a long class-based tradition behind them, and so likely to attract the bulk of the workers to their ranks when a more favorable situation for union work emerged. After the advent of the Exceptional Fascist Laws, the reformists at the head of the Confederation moved more and more toward completely stopping all activity.

Not a year passed in fact, and, in January 1927, the reformists dissolved the CGL altogether, postponing its reconstruction to “better times”. The exit of the Left from the leadership of the Communist Party of Italy, consequent on the final arrangement of the new Stalinist leadership, made the reconstruction of a minimum of class union organization impossible. Free trade union organizations did not reappear until after the military fall of Fascism, but on a completely different basis from the pre- Fascist free trade unions.