22 NOVEMBER 1969, Page 6


Vox pop


Rome—The battle that has been going on in Italy for the last two months between employers and labour unions is the fiercest the country has known since the war. Three- year contracts, affecting the pay of some five million workers, must be signed by Christ- mas, but the employers cannot look forward to a happy new year of industrial peace, whatever terms they concede. The new con- tract for nearly a million building labourers has already been signed, but this has not prevented them from joining Wednesday's general strike in support of demands for better housing for the lower-paid. This is a grim reminder for the government that when the unions have finished pressing their individual wage claims the struggle will be continued on a wider front.

Rumor's minority government, which must cope with this situation, is a chronically weak one. It has been liable to fall almost since the moment of its creation, and now has a maximum life span of five months. While the United Socialist party was tearing itself apart the Christian Democrats pru- dently masked their own internal disagree- ments. Now that the Socialists have split and are out of office, the left and right wing Christian Democrats are at each other's throats. The last month has seen the ousting of the party secretary, a Rumor man, and the break-up of the ruling clique, known as the 'Dorotheans'. It is thought that Rumor himself may resign by Christ- mas if his chances of heading a coalition government in the spring grow worse.

Journalists commenting on the parlia- mentary scene see this chronic instability as something negative. This is to ignore its underlying causes. What is new and healthy about Italian politics is that the power games of the politicians, the endless, tedious intrigues and alliances between rival groups and parties, are beginning to be con- ditioned by external forces. Popular move- ments have been set in motion over the last two years which the politicians are no longer able to ignore. If things go on as they are at present, a broad democratic wedge may be driven into Italy's oligarchical party system.

The novelty in the present wages battle is that for the first time since the war the unions are functioning democratically. Shop stewards who accept bribes from the man- agement and union chiefs accepting party

directives may soon become .figures of the past. Certainly the present claims were n decided on autocratically by. union leaders. In the first six months of the year. example, the metal workers held more than two thousand shop floor meetings to forma. late .their claims, and in the larger factories 260,000 workers out of a total of 650 took part. The unions are thus being fore- forward in the present fight by the worker they represent, and it is this which has give meaning to the struggle.

Possibly even greater significance should be attached to the smaller popular move- ments, whose clashes with authority hale seldom made the headlines. Farm labourers are not normally a politically consciou group—it is ten times harder for them t wage a common fight than factory workers Yet the peasantry of Puglia brought th province to a standstill this summer b blocking roads and railway stations. The the Roman and Neapolitan slum dwelle have staged a series of spontaneous agna tions to highlight the housing problem, an. Wednesday's general strike has been calk on their behalf. Rome has a slum popula tion of some hundred thousand people. moss of whom live in leaky one room huts along• side the ancient aqueducts. Of these onl 600 or 700 families have succeeded i securing flats to date, claiming squatters rights. In Naples a total of about 900 flat were occupied. But it is the way the occupa tions were carried out which has force communists and Christian Democrats socialists and trade unionists to chang their policies.

The first occupation took place in Rom at the end of June. It was a small affair thirty slum families who decided to occup some luxury flats built by !ACP, the Institut for Workers' Housing, and destined fo white-collar workers. A striking feature o the occupation was the popular support aroused in the whole neighbourhood. Th police intervened to evict the occupiers They arrested one man who had threaten to jump from a third storey window, an were taking him off to a mental hospital Immediately a furious crowd mobbed th• police car and he was released. When even tually evicted, instead of returning to the slums, the squatters camped outside th building. After trying to bribe them awa with housing subsidies the embarrass authorities had to give in. The occupaoo was legalised.

The second occupation, involving over hundred families, was also spontaneou The target was another block of Ita, flat They were not finished, but that raised n problems, for many of the occupiers we building workers. They raided the architect but to get the plans, and put in their on drains, water supply and electrical fittin After three weeks the authorities were fore to legalise this occupation as well.

Nor should it be assumed that th popular agitations necessarily favour left. The Communists are as embarrassed the Christian Democrats by spontaneo popular movements which escape their co trot and damage their image as the lea and spokesman of the working classes. Rome, to put a good face on things. th themselves organised two or three ve small token occupations, aided and abet by the police (unlike the larger. s taneous, occupations which were op with varying degrees of violence). In Nap the role of the Communists was even mo suspect : they helped the authorities to 0 the occupiers, in exchange for a housing 'dy of £5 a week. Whether they will inter- to help their protdges when the sub- es dry up is an open question.

This summer the ACLI, a Catholic Asso- non which delivers a million workers' es to the Christian Democrats, formally ounced its allegiance to the party. At ut the same time a group of Central mmittee communists founded a non- party magazine, I/ Manifesto, to challenge the official party line. Neither action was taken in response to popular demand, yet both reflect the way in which oligarchs are reacting to the mood of the masses. Italians are the first to admit that their body politic has not yet recovered from twenty years of fascism. Democracy is a slow growth. But there are signs that the plant may have begun to take firm root at last.