FIAT has branded me (An interview with a Fiat Worker, 1979)

Giampaolo Pansa
Translated by Lawrence Venuti

Giampaola Pansa, well-known for his interviews with Italian workers, talks here to a Fiat worker from the Mirafiori plant In Torino who was among the group of 61 workers fired on Tuesday October 9, 1979. This interview appeared in La Republica 3 days later. It was first published in English in Autonomia: Post-Political Politics, New York (1980), edited by Sylvère Lotringer and Christian Marazzi. We find this interview relevant for the ongoing discussions on growing working class militancy in India, especially in the context of recent workers struggles in Maruti Suzuki.

You have heard a foreman from Mirafiori vent himself. Now listen to me. I too come from Mirafiori and I am among the sixty-one workers fired by Fiat. Until Tuesday I worked in the painting department. I was a general worker at the third level. According to Fiat, I was also a violent worker, a quasi-terrorist, one who assists the Red Brigades: this is the mark that Agnelli is trying to brand on my forehead.

I must start at the beginning so you can understand the situation. I shall be 29 in November. I am from the province of Catanzaro, from a small village that offers no opportunities. We emigrate from there in droves. Before leaving, I attended secondary school and then took a technical course. But school was not for me. I subsequently decided to go and look for work in the north, at Turin.

I left my village In January of ’69, having just turned 18. I had never been outside it. Turin frightened me – its huge size, its ugliness, the clouds and the snow. I asked myself: where have you come? I found a job in a real hole, a small factory, but I lasted only 10 days there, I couldn’t take it much longer. Then I found another job. Things were going better there, yet I thought only of Fiat. I said to myself: Fiat Is a big company, you’ll be secure there; If you get into Fiat, you’ll never wind up out on your ass.

I entered Fiat on 28 May 1969 as an apprentice in the painting department. The apprenticeship was supposed to last 6 months, but it ended much sooner. The trouble in July of ’69 had already erupted; Fiat needed people who could start working at once, in order to fill the gaps left by those who were on strike or who sympathized with them. And so I went right on the assembly line immediately after the vacations.

At the beginning the painting department was horrible. I worked as if in the middle of a cloud, amid strange odors and terrible smells of every kind. It was an infernal scenario. Yet after a little while, even with these noxious fumes, I started to like the job. Painting cars is not a monotonous task. What I was learning could help later on. And then I always tried to work with my head too: I tried to do my job well. But also preserve my health. In short, I was rather satisfied.

It was autumn and still hot outside. I didn’t pay attention to it. I didn’t know anything about what was happening around me and then there was my mother’s advice: think about work and keep to yourself. Only in 1970 did I start to get a little involved. No, it wasn’t political activity at all, and it didn’t even have anything to do with the union. I concerned myself with the problem of the working conditions in the painting department. The situation was disastrous and I even felt the effects of it. I lost eight teeth. And then there was the nausea, the duodenal ulcer, the impaired hearing.

In a word, I was provoked when I saw that I was paying for my job at Fiat with my skin. But it was not an individual rebellion, nor was I interested in raising hell for its own sake. It was a collective rebellion by nearly the entire shop. We asked Fiat to alter the situation and Fiat answered no.

Anyhow, in that year I joined the union and then I had an important encounter with Lotta Continua. I had been fined since I had not completed the assigned work precisely because of the working conditions. I went out through the gates and showed these conditions to some of the people who were always there with newspapers and flyers. They told me: Come with us and we’ll talk about it.

Now Lotta Continua no longer exists as a group. And I am nostalgic for it, even if I do not feel that I am a former member. For me it was a great experience, political and human. I learned about things, I met exceptional people whom I would have never met otherwise. Lotta Continua had one great merit: it made you intellectually open to other people, it let them speak, it let them discuss…

I am not a popular leader. I’m a quiet man. You know what they call me in the painting department? “The priest,” “the good guy.” But from the first moment of my involvement with that political group, Fiat must have classified me as “a lottacontinua” and that was it. In my opinion, they have put me out because of that label, because of my political activity when the group existed. But this is a chapter to which we shall return later.

Now I want to say that in those first eight to nine months I was a Fiat worker like the others, and I was occasionally better than the others. My absences were few. In short, I have always done my share, as an electrical technician until 1977 and then in preventive overhaul, where the car is prepared for painting. I considered myself good on the job and my foremen have always considered me so.

In the meantime, the working conditions had improved and my duties became less oppressive and repetitive. Nonetheless, I had also grown bored. Lotta Continua was no longer there and Turin haunted me. The huge city never pleased me, but now I was really aching and I wanted to leave it. My dream was to go and work for Fiat abroad. And for two months they did send me away, to a branch office in Germany. When I returned, I renewed my request. In fact, I had recently done so with Varetto, the manager shot by the Red Brigades. And when the foreman brought me to the front office on Tuesday, I believed that they had heard my request. Instead they dealt me the letter of dismissal.

That letter brands me as violent. But I deny it! Of course, my strikes for a change in working conditions made them do it. And I have given some trouble to Fiat, but so have many others. Between ’74 and ’75, I was a union delegate and I did what was within my power. And even if I am not at all an orator, I have never laid back when there was some working method to be discussed with the foremen.

Take note of this: I said working method, not work. I do not refuse work. I am a born worker, and I must work, but not as a slave. And I am also convinced that it is necessary to work well; if you don’t do your job well, you make more work for the people who come after you on the chain. I have never swerved from this position with those of my co-workers who act badly. I say: if you do only a little work, at least do it well. And do a little work so it’ll all get done. This is one of the Fiat workers’ slogans.

What does a little work mean? Today we work for seven and a half hours a day. It’s too much. It must be seven hours a day, five days a week, or thirty-five hours. No more, if the working hours are not changed, the unemployed will stay that way. I have always maintained this point of view. I have always tried to put it into practice. I have even discussed it with my foremen, but without ever being reprimanded or quarrelling or resorting to violence.

Yes, there is much talk about violence against the foremen, I would like for the newspapers also to speak of the violence of the assembly line, which moves much too quickly. And isn’t it violence when certain foremen put their hands on the asses of the newly hired boys? Where, at any rate, are these acts of violence against the foremen? Of course, there have been moments of tension during contract negotiations. And many workers see the foreman as their immediate opponent. Sometimes the men are short-tempered: to be in a factory is hard on everyone.

Still, I have never done any violence. I have always been in the same work group. My foreman thinks highly of me. He gave me a pen as a gift. He has even invited me to his home. Do you invite to your home a violent man who threatens you? Tuesday, he was the first one to be struck with amazement. Ever since Lotta Continua dissolved, I have become completely peaceful. Moreover, someone who tries to raise hell for its own sake or who acts as the terrorist’s assistant doesn’t ask to go abroad; he stays here to threaten and to play the violent man.

Why then have they fired me? This is my answer. Fiat knows everything about its workers – their lives, deaths, miracles. I am a politicized worker. I have always tried to involve my co-workers in labor problems, with working conditions and rhythms. I used to go to contract negotiations, to talk, discuss. In a word, I used to make trouble. So they’ve pulled out their old lists: there I was on the list for Lotta Continua and so they’ve thrown me out.

I am evidence that Fiat is a terrorist organization. By eliminating people like me, Fiat wants to eliminate those who can speak on behalf of the others, those who do not bow their heads. And then there must be a grander design: once the “ball breakers” are eliminated, it will be easier to return to the past, to increase production more and more, to make people understand that only Fiat controls Mirafiori and that the workers must give up the idea of getting their rights.

But since the bosses at Fiat cannot say this, they make us pass for para-terrorists. It’s a lie. I do not agree with the Red Brigades, they are not the kind of people who can protect our interests. I have never considered delegating my representation to those who use weapons. And I do not believe that in Italy things can be changed by shooting people.

Yet I am also convinced that there is much too little discussion of terrorism among the workers. There is great indifference at Fiat. When they killed Ghiglieno, there was hardly any reaction in the shops. The other incidents have been received in the same way. The workers consider them material for the newspapers at this point. On the contrary, it is necessary to discuss and ask oneself why the Red Brigades shoot certain people and not others.

Of course, the Red Brigades don’t shoot only foremen. You remind me of Rossa, a worker like myself. What do I think of him? Well, I don’t know… What if I discovered that one of my co-workers was a brigatista? That’s a difficult question! It’s a big problem. No I wouldn’t say anything. I don’t want to play spy on anyone’s account… In any case, the Red Brigades are inside Fiat, but I don’t know them and I’m not one of them…

You say that my answers show it’s a little hard for me to talk about terrorism. It will be so, but there’s a reason for it. I have always been distrustful. Now that I’ve been fired by Fiat, I’m even more so. Your questions about terrorism, about denunciations, and so forth, seem to me a little provocatory….

However, I’m not the only one who talks about terrorism in this way. It’s a thorny problem, too thorny. Everyone has become distrustful. Take a short walk through the streets of Turin, ask people the questions you’ve asked me, and you’ll see disbanded, I no longer want to take part in anything. I’m only concerned about my ass. I hoped to go abroad, to decide whether I would marry or not, and instead this thing happened to me…

I’m disheartened and I feel persecuted. And then there’s one last thing I want to say to you. Just as I am nostalgic for Lotta Continua, so am I nostalgic for Fiat. I’m an emigrant; Fiat was my home for ten years. It seems unjust to me that they should chase me from my home. I have only one hope: that the unions, that all those who call themselves democratic, don’t give in.

I don’t hope this only to save my job. There is also a political reason for it, if the unions weaken, the Red Brigades and Front Line (Prima Linea) will be able to say: Do you see? No one protects the working class any more. The only ones left are we and our guns.

The Global Town Teach-In (April 25, 2012)

The Global Town Teach-In:
Building a New Economy and New Wealth through Democracy Networks,
Green Jobs and Planning and an Alternative Financial System
Time and Day: April 25, 2012, 12 Noon Eastern Standard


The Global Teach-In is designed to address the general problems associated with the Triple Crisis and the need to address alternative security policies. The “triple crisis” can be defined by: economics (inequality, deindustrialization, mass unemployment, or the privatization and “de-democratization” of public goods), the environment (pollution, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and depletion of species) and reliance on unsustainable energy supplies (diminished stocks of cheap oil, use of oil in hard to get or insecure areas, and substitution of land used to grow food to supply alternative fuels). The need for alternative security policies involves the need to transcend costly “hard power” and traditional military strategies in an era in which growing debt, ecological threats, the opportunity costs of military spending and the rise of asymmetric warfare reveal the limits to the traditional national security model.

Policies and Alternative Institutions

The Global Teach-In will discuss policy and institutional solutions at the global, national and local levels. First, we will discuss how a Green New Deal would expand jobs, investments and research in alternative energy and mass transportation. These will provide a means for reducing carbon emissions, creating new sources of wealth and increasing living standards. Second, we will examine how Green planning can lead to the creation of metropolitan regions where residential and labor markets are more proximate, where housing is sustainable and affordable, where products are designed to be durable and recyclable, and where designs generally reflect user interests and needs. Third, we will examine a variety of ways in which alternative economic institutions have been developed that serve to promote locally anchored and sustainable communities (in terms of ecological impacts and the durability of employment). These ways include institutions and policies such as: cooperatives, community and socially minded banks, sustainable utilities, buy local and green procurement policies, electoral measures mandating clean energy, campaigns to patronize alternative economic institutions, green civilian conversion of defense and petroleum-dependent firms, and more equitable taxation and alternative budgetary policies.


The Global Teach-In has been supported by academic, professional, media, labor, peace and environmental organizations and individuals associated with these. We aim to promote a broad coalition among such groups and political leaders, entrepreneurs, trade unions and interest citizens to foster a dialogue about the need for a new, comprehensive global agenda that can be initiated through a series of related local actions. We will showcase “best practices” and barriers to extending alternative models.

Format and Ambitions

The Global Teach-In will promote local study and action circles prior to the broadcast to facilitate an agenda for questions to guide discussions.

The Event

The April 25th, 2012 broadcast will be followed by discussions within localities about how to address the agenda proposed by the teach-in. The Global Teach-In will promote links and synergies between diverse constituencies and projects to help each locality achieve its objectives. For example, money moved into community banks can fund cooperatives and green technology projects. Alternative utilities and energy can help power new mass transit systems. Electoral measures to mandate alternative or clean energy can build green markets.

The Global Teach-In will take place in multiple locations through face to face meetings linked to an electronic broadcast in the U.S. and Europe including: Ann Arbor, Belfast (UK), Boston, Los Angeles, Madison, New York, San Francisco, Stockholm (Sweden), Washington, D.C. We are also interested organizing other locations and we welcome your suggestions and ideas. Interested parties should contact us at: Thank you for your interest!

Movie: Debtocracy

Courtesy: Debtocracy

For the first time in Greece a documentary produced by the audience. “Debtocracy” seeks the causes of the debt crisis and proposes solutions, hidden by the government and the dominant media. The documentary will be distributed free by the end of March without usage rights and broadcasted and subtitled in at least three languages.

Debtocracy International Version by BitsnBytes

Unrest becomes rage: Mobilizations against the crisis in Italy


Like many other countries in Europe and elsewhere (consider the recent confrontations in North Africa), Italy has for several months been the scene of social struggles qualitatively and quantitatively unlike any seen for some time.

Already two years ago the ‘Onda Anomala’ (‘anomalous wave’) student movement involved thousands of university students against the latest case of disinvestment in the public university (the notorious funding cuts in the summer budget plan). This was combined with wider mobilization in the world of education, in which middle-school students and primary and secondary school teachers opposed the school reform of education minister Mariastella Gelmini.

Yet this failed to intersect with wider social discontent (even the ‘legalist’ left opposition to the government, embodied in the daily La Repubblica, only followed the first stages of the movement), remaining substantially isolated until it waned inexorably with the regular post-autumn decline, winning little or nothing.

With the worsening of the economic crisis, however, 2010 has seen a succession of more or less silent struggles within or for jobs and for environmental protection (l’Aquila, Terzigno1), along with various outbreaks of anti-government discontent. An important moment was the brave attempt by workers at the Pomigliano (Naples) Fiat plant to resist the blackmail of CEO Sergio Marchionne, who used the threat of moving production to Poland to restrict union rights tightly and impose even harsher working conditions. Left isolated by the other confederated unions (FIM-CISL, UILM-UIL), the FIOM (mechanical engineering section of the CGIL) and the grassroots unions won wide support and agreement in the region.

At the same time a crisis developed within the country’s governing coalition, with the final break between parliamentary speaker Gianfranco Fini and prime minister Berlusconi. As sections of the bourgeoisie in Italy (primarily large industrial capital) and elsewhere (as in the repeated attacks of the Economist) gradually abandoned their support for the prime minister, the continual scandals around his private life and the personal use of public money and structures inexorably undermined his support.

In the midst of all this the agitation around the university resumed. Contestation of an imminent reform of tertiary education started with the protest of researchers penalised in economic and contractual terms; once classes began many university students were drawn into action against a law providing for a further authoritarian shift in university management structure (including, for the first time, the possibility of direct management by appointees from the economic or political rather than the academic world) and a nebulous restructuring of the ‘right to study’, which, accompanied by reduction of the dedicated resources, effectively amounted to its abolition.

When the FIOM called a day of protest for October 16, these various perspectives found their common ground and moment of convergence. A broad spectrum of subjects not always linked to the working class condition (students, knowledge workers, movements for public ownership of water, citizen associations for legality, ‘Popolo Viola’2 etc.) came together around the engineering union in a day of high participation.

This date, one day after a national assembly at Rome’s La Sapienza university, marked the first step towards an attempt at political recomposition which was perhaps less effective than promised. From that day onwards a series of assemblies, conventions, episodes of joint protest, etc represented the difficult, contradictory, often only symbolic attempt to build a process common of struggle between the fragmented world of work and a world of education which maintained a constant state of agitation in the battle against minister Gemini’s restructuring, albeit almost exclusively in the political practice of university students.

Meanwhile, in a climate of more or less manifest political upheaval, the internal crisis in the governing coalition continued, with the government forced to schedule a new confidence vote for December 14. The social movements took the opportunity to manifest their vote of no confidence, which had no need to pass through parliamentary balancing acts, but was built from below: they called a day of street protest for the same date.

‘Inside the palazzo’ that day the buying and selling3 of MPs narrowly guaranteed the survival of the Berlusconi government, while in the street young students, workers and the unemployed wrought havoc in the city. The street actions had the broad support of the students, who had withdrawn from the game of reformist politicians who sought to distinguish ‘good’ students from ‘bad’ ones. For all its contradictions and its largely incidental nature, this was a moment of meeting and consolidation between diverse subjects in the same practice of conflict.

Partial confirmation of this came shortly afterwards when Fiat CEO Marchionne turned his blackmail on the workers of the company’s Turin Mirafiori plant (Italy’s largest industrial complex), once again threatening closure unless a new agreement was accepted including the substantial elimination of significant union rights along with harsher working conditions. Although the other confederated unions sided with management again, FIOM and the grassroots unions were not alone in their contestation. Despite a narrow defeat in the plant ‘referendum’, which nonetheless showed workers’ determination not to give in to the blackmail4, many demonstrations of support and solidarity came from a large part of the student movement – which immediately joined in the January 28 strike – and beyond.

In relation to capital, the FIOM, the union of Italian mechanical engineering workers, has been and is a counterpower and a co-manager according to varying circumstances. Its base is classically working-class, although with a new composition today, incorporating young people, migrants and women. In contrast to other European countries, new forms of worker organization are not emerging alongside historic unions. Rather, over the last few months an alliance has developed under the slogan ‘United against the crisis’ between FIOM and other grassroots subjects (certain social centres associated with the so-called disobbedienti). Currently there is an attempt to hold together the most typically welfare-oriented demands (basic income) with the historic demands of the unions (working conditions). Significantly, the January 28 marches opened with the slogan: ‘labour is a common good’.

Struggles in the worlds of work and education continue to intersect, fluctuating between, on one hand, genuine moments of confrontation and conflict undertaken collectively and, on the other, tactical alliances, manoeuvres around institutional margins and more or less symbolic encounters.

The roots of the trouble

In the last two decades the Italian economy has seen the withdrawal of big business (which now seems to be reaching its final stage with the fate of Fiat), privatization transforming public goods into easy income for rent-seekers, the crisis of industrial districts and perpetual industrial dwarfism. At the same time it has seen the emergence of thriving small and medium businesses, the so-called pocket multinationals. What has been called Italy’s ‘fourth capitalism’ has therefore combined a labour market dominated by deregulation, fragmentation across large and small companies and ever more accelerated precarization with the capacity to become Europe’s second-largest manufacturing exporter, including significant niches and sectors. Thus Italy is a link between the high-technical composition production of the north, where high-end consumer goods are produced, and the high-exploitation production of eastern Europe and Asia, where conditions of low-cost, long-duration, high-intensity labour are accompanied – in contrast to the old underdevelopment – by the ability to enter non-mature sectors and relatively advanced production.

Entire sectors of Italian technological research, such as chemicals and electronics, have been broken up, even as economic miracle of the northeast is praised: a low-investment economy which has compensated for a low technological level and almost non-existent research with long working hours stretching through Saturday and Sunday, the atomization of the production process and the elimination of unions. Where investment and technology remain, the subordination of labour is maintained and aggravated, thanks in part to the network structure of the new capitalism, which has overcome the dichotomy between large companies (where unified working conditions and contracts applied under a single roof) and small ones. This centralization without concentration of capitals was certainly made possible by innovations in transport and communications, electronics and information, but it was above all the response to a high level of conflict which still leads the capitalist class to fear large concentrations of workers.

The individualization of labour contracts and dismemberment of collective labour have reached paroxysmal levels, sometimes counterproductive for the work itself. But in this situation the youth have found their own sea to swim in, refusing as far as possible to stay trapped for life in monotonous, repetitive or low-waged work. The youth live on benefits, parents’ savings and often in their parents’ houses, with restricted consumption and informal work. Almost a third of young Italians are unemployed, but among them are many fleeing a fate of precariousness and lowered expectations. What sociologists call a ‘mismatch’ in the labour market, i.e. the presence of the unemployed and of available jobs, is increasing. Young people with high educational credentials do not find corresponding jobs. These young people, together with those who are still in education and already recognize their miserable future prospects, form the hard core of the protest.

The recovery of a collective dimension

The struggles of the last year appeared against this background of economic and social dislocation, with the institutional and political crisis of the Berlusconi government superimposed. If in recent years precarization as a psychological and ideological means of governing labour power has pitted everyone against everyone else, these struggles seem slowly to be picking up the red thread of the collective dimension. If fear and resignation continue to prevail among many workers and students, many others sucked into the crisis respond, as we have seen, with practices of openness towards other social and working subjects.

In Rome as in Athens with the attempted assault on parliament and in London with the successful assault on the Tory headquarters, this has culminated in a tough response to the violent self-referentiality of a political class which has cut off every relation to so-called ‘civil society’. If the demonstrators have been violent, this has been in order to end the violence of European governments. This latter violence, manifest today in states-of-exception-become-the-norm and continuous emergency government, cannot be contained within the limits of the legal state [Stato di diritto]5, because it constitutes and expresses the nature of the state itself. Just as the police baton charges express the ‘democratic’ nature of the maintenance of public order in the name of the people. The undisguised violence of the state today is not the result of a ‘deficit of democracy’, to be corrected by a bit of democratic participation and ‘civil society’; it is the outcome of a process begun symbolically in 1987 with Margaret Thatcher’s words: there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.

That phrase was not a beginning but already an epilogue to a series of struggles and conflicts. It initiated a new round of attack on every remaining echo of the ‘common’ and ‘collective’: rights, work contracts, health, services, housing. These rights and collective contracts did not grow through some natural maturing of legal civilization: they were won by the struggles of the labour movement, which defended them as far as it could. These collective rights are an anomaly in the normal course of the modern state, which whenever it is necessary or useful to do so redefines the relation between power on one hand and the mass of individuals on the other, hollowing from the root or abolishing the supposed guarantees or presumed rights regarded as the ‘normality’ of the legal state by politicians and unions of the ‘left’, whether moderate or radical. It is not a question of putting the state machinery back on the rails of juridical normality, but of restoring the anomaly.

The deception of the ’80s and ’90s is not a matter of a political class that failed to care for its children, but of the neutralization of politics through legal rights. The so-called left wanted to democratize the state through creation of new rights to be conceded to individuals and disadvantaged minorities. As this logic gradually acquired legitimacy even among the representatives of the labour movement, collective rights were undermined and the right of the working class to exercise violence in their defence was eroded. This perspective was generalized, at least until a few months ago.

The current mobilizations have cut across this perspective, revealing the deception of political representation and bearing witness to a conflict between struggle for rights and for common goods.

Capitalism, which develops the conditions of struggle for democracy, erodes them at the same time. Capital is fundamentally incompatible with democracy: rather, its nature is totalitarian in a strict sense. Democracy comes to it from ‘outside’, from that radical alterity which it must nonetheless always ‘incorporate’: that is, from ‘living labour’, from its dependence on the struggles of workers in flesh and bone, mind and body. Rights are either founded on a power that passes through places of work, or sooner or later they simply become an empty simulacrum. But this requires the construction of a different politics and practice of democracy: of another kind of democracy. One that moves with uncertain steps, prefigurations and anticipations every day, in concrete and material struggles.

In search of a common ground

But for as long as the unifying category for the various subjects involved in this political practice is identified in the common condition of ‘precarity’ – a descriptive and psychological category which cannot give a name to the rage expressed in the episodes of collective revolt – any prospect of real collectivity [comunanza] remains substantially vulnerable.

For as long as the student revolt remains the expression of the rage of a young generation that fears being left with ‘no future’, feels ‘predestined to live marginal or precarious lives’ and comes onto the streets to ‘force the older generation to accept responsibility’, this rage, as undefined as the expression ‘precariat’ (which follows the Italian fashion for turning adjectives in to nouns), remains the rage of someone betrayed, directed against another who should have protected him or her and failed to do so. It closely resembles adolescent rage against social maternalism, which first almost drowned its children in the warm honeyed milk of a social existence totally organized and protected by benevolent institutions and friendly parents, then betrayed the expectations of the same young people who claimed as an individual right a guaranteed job matching educational qualifications. For as long as the talk is still of ‘young people’ and ‘students’ and the latter continue to represent themselves this way, they can demand a ‘basic income’, which is no more than the perpetuation of pocket money from mom and dad, but the scenario has not changed by a millimetre from Thatcher’s: there are individual men and women, and there are families.

When, as is particularly clear in the claims of the engineering and natural sciences students, this rage seems exclusively directed against a political class guilty of failing to grasp the syllogism that research investment leads to innovation and innovation to competitiveness against ‘first division’ countries – in short, against a political class guilty of managing a ragged capitalism – it’s clear that this ground, rather than constituting the basis for a ‘recomposition’ of social movements, lends itself quickly to their ‘decomposition’, given that the burden of defending the ‘young’ and the ‘students’ from precarity could be transferred to their ‘sheltered’ elders, perhaps by cutting pensions or other parts of the welfare state, or by further squeezing workers within the productive cycle. Or by positioning Italy ‘better’ within the international division of labour, asking the public system (and the private) for more investment in research and development.

Whether a ‘living income’ is claimed based on the illusion that human beings produce value generically in their every activity (or inactivity), or whether a place in the sun is claimed only for the ‘men of science’ precious for economic growth, the political result is the same: instead of struggling for historical and social subsistence as part of a class, independently of any contribution to valorization of capital or use value determined in capitalistic terms, the claim is limited to elevation of one’s own status, improvement of the conditions of one’s own category even at the cost of exploiting someone else. (There is a distinction to be made between ‘guaranteed minimum income’ [reddito minimo garantito] and ‘basic income’ [in English in the original and in many Italian texts making this demand]. But the political question is that of overcoming the redistributive plane and connecting the wage struggle to what, how and how much is produced.)

The dynamic of capitalist development in Italy and elsewhere shows how fragile this prospect can be. The so-called ‘road to competitiveness’– invoked by those who call for more research investment and exalt an over-generic ‘knowledge economy’, counterposed to ‘material’ labour – produces surplus value only thanks to the convergence of higher labour productivity, higher intensity of labour and a longer working day. This simultaneous extraction of relative and absolute surplus value is present everywhere, throughout the transnational chains of valorization. Thus the combination recurs in various geographical areas (the western metropoli, eastern and southern Europe, etc) and in various sectors of production (units of ‘low’ and ‘high’-technology capital). As the case of Marchionne demonstrates, in supposedly high-relative surplus value production the violence with which capital imposes its autocracy in the factory is increasing vertiginously, showing ever more complete indifference to the physical and mental health of workers.

The reforms of the education cycle over the last 15 years – of which the ‘Gelmini reform’ is only the latest episode in a largely continuous series – are not just a mistake of foolish political bureaucrats, but an attempt to synchronize the education mechanism with the capitalist rationalization of knowledge. The reduction of knowledge to packets of information does not require large-scale investment, because these packets are socially available thanks to cheap technology and can be taught in secondary schools and universities by teachers as ‘precarious’ as the information they transmit. These packets are commodities like any other, they can be bought and sold on the market and their production in research laboratories offshored.

However education as a system of production has another function, that of producing workers. This production is as essential as that of commodities. For one part of ‘post-fordist’ production the workers produced by the education cycle need not have particular qualities, but they must learn a particular attitude, that of ‘learning to learn’, designated by the EU as a key skill. They must ‘learn’ the packets of ‘disposable’ information administered through the education process, thereby ‘learning’ that education now functions as ‘operating instructions’ for a new procedure that will quickly become obsolete, at which point new operating instructions will be required in the course of ‘continuous education’.

Meanwhile the other aspect of production really does entail a higher level of labour participation and qualification, requiring workers’ active engagement more than ever before, given the construction of apparently idiosyncratic and non-massified use values, the flexibility of a labour cycle subject to countless alterations and shocks, and the transfer of value from means of production at risk of ever-faster obsolescence. But the partial requalification of labour and the limited autonomy of men and women in production constitute an intolerable risk. Therefore they must be controlled, no longer directly or through an overly linear dequalification, but through the appearance of market domination over production (the stock market that sets the pace for valorization of capital, the spurious restrictions of foreign trade or public finances, but also the ‘make or buy’ system, decentralization, outsourcing, in-house-outsourcing). Through the pursuit of ‘education credits’, workers learn from their student experience onwards not only to regard the content of study with the utmost indifference, but to respect and adjust to the time-imperatives and the logic of the market. Confusedly present withinthe student struggles, therefore, are both the awareness that not everyone can reach this level of education – although it is supposedly open to all – and the disappointment or rage of unmet expectations.

The process of capitalist rationalization of knowledge has changed not only educational institutions but also the nature of knowledge itself. On one hand it is broken down into packets coded according to objective mechanical function, and on the other it must provide qualifications and specializations exceeding their given sense and context. The ‘how’ must be taught without the questions of ‘why’ and ‘for whom’ ever arising. The alternative is no longer between public and private schooling; the question is not even that of common appropriation of this intrinsically capitalistic and informationalized knowledge: these are dreams, yearnings of those educated in the school of Gentile and of young people in search of easy slogans.

Thus education, knowledge and labour must be discussed starting from our own needs, in order to determine what and how much is produced and how. Whether in a factory or call centre, where knowledge incorporated into means of production serves to squeeze labour, or in the places where knowledge is produced without regard for any real quality or significance other than market value, the purpose is perpetuation of a model of development whose dedication to profit is matched by its indifference to physical, moral and environmental devastation.

Until a few years ago these ideas would have been regarded as mere ideology; their reappearance now is imposed by the objective crisis of capital and by the struggles of subjects within and against this infernal mechanism. Today the common ground can be constructed on which workers and those in university struggles, researchers and students, are able to meet, as they have already met in the struggles of recent months.

Comrades from Italy, march 2011


[1] Terzigno: town at the foot of Vesuvius with a huge toxic waste dump and abnormally high incidence of cancers and other lethal diseases. Locals have resisted plans for a second dump with physical force.
L’Aquila (Abruzzo): survivors of the 2008 earthquake were attacked by police in July 2010 when they protested in Rome against derisory ‘reconstruction’ and ongoing homelessness. Apparently they failed to appreciate the ‘solidarity’ (Reuters) shown by the government in moving a G8 meeting to the ruined city.

[2] The Popolo Viola (purple people) movement was formed through the internet. The name emphasises non-alignment to any political party. They are against Berlusconi and deeply attached to the legal state, demandng ‘legality’ and freedom of information. Through virtual ‘social networks’ the movement brings together petit-bourgeois who think the question lies in an awakening of democratic consciousness.

[3] Palazzo: literally, not a palace but a large, usually official, building. Since its use by Pasolini in a newspaper article of 1975, the phrase ‘inside/outside the palazzo’ has taken on the wider connotation of inclusion in/exclusion from the hermetic system of official business, politics and history.

‘Buying and selling’: at least according to the ‘legalist’ opposition press, this should be understood literally rather than figuratively.

[4] In the ‘referenda’ of workers at Pomigliano and Mirafiori the percentage of votes against compliance with the Marchionne blackmail significantly exceeded combined membership of the FIOM and the grassroots unions.

[5] Stato di diritto: sometimes also translated as ‘rights state’; no exact English equivalent exists for the convergence of ‘right’ and ‘law’ in diritto. Whenever either ‘law’ or ‘rights’ [diritti] appears in this text, the other is also strongly implied.


Organized by the journals:


The venue of the Conference will be the city of Athens and possibly the surrounding areas.

Conference and Local Organizing Committee Coordinators:
Dave Hill, (Middlesex University, UK)
Peter McLaren, (UCLA, USA)
Kostas Skordoulis, (University of Athens, Greece)

Keynote Speakers:
To be announced, to include Dave Hill, (Middlesex University, UK), Peter McLaren, (UCLA, USA), Ravi Kumar (Jamia Milia Islamia University, Delhi, India). There will also be keynote speakers from Greece. Key women Marxist writers are being invited as Plenary speakers.

Important Dates

Participants should submit an abstract of 300 words by: 15 December 2010.
Notification of acceptance of paper presentation by: 15 January 2011.
Full papers should be submitted by: 30 May 2011.

The papers will be peer reviewed and published in the Conference Proceedings.

Selected papers will be published in Special Issues of JCEPS, Cultural Logic and KRITIKI.

There will be 6 plenary presentations (two per day), each plenary session lasting one hour. Other papers will have 30 minutes (inclusive of the paper presentation plus discussion)

Conference Fee

The Conference fee is 300 Euros. (approx $380, or £245). The fee covers participation in the conference, the book of abstracts, coffee/tea/refreshments during conference breaks and participation in the conference dinner in a traditional taverna.

Participation of unemployed, and of colleagues from the third world is free/ no fees.

Further Information about the Invited speakers will be announced in the second circular. As will the contact address and registration details for the conference. Though in the meantime it would be interesting to see who might intend to offer papers… send me a provisional (non-binding) indication of interest if you like? ( and ) (It’s not mandatory to let me know in advance… … paper abstracts can be submitted until 15 Dec 2010.

Many thanks

Dave Hill, Kostas Skordoulis and Peter McLaren

Video: Privatization of Public Services and Consequences for Labour

Experiences from Europe – with author and researcher Christoph Hermann, Working Life Research Centre, Vienna, Austria.

Sponsored by Centre for Social Justice, Centre for Research on Work and Society (York University), Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, Socialist Project.


FORBA Forschungs- und Beratungsstelle Arbeitswelt
PIQUE Privatisation of Public Services and the Impact on Quality, Employment and Productivity
Powerpoint presentation

Courtesy: Socialist Project (Canada)

Finance, Class and Politics in the European Economic Crisis

Was the German Election a Turning Point?

Courtesy: Socialist Project

Joseph Stiglitz’s “Another World”

Pratyush Chandra

Joseph Stiglitz is counted as one of a few dissenting economists in mainstream academia, and for some time now his dissent has been attracting quite a number of activists. He is officially invited by the “Another World is Possible” people to their meetings. Naturally he will think himself authorised to tell people how another world is possible, and what will be that world. He precisely does this job in his March column, “The EU’s Global Mission” distributed through Project-Syndicate:

“Another world is possible. But it is up to Europe to take the lead in achieving it.”

So the revolutionary project already has a vanguard, the only job left for the foot soldiers is to convince him/her/it to lead. How insightful! Any pessimism in this regard is ill-founded as

“the European project has been an enormous success, not only for Europe, but also for the world.”

Of course, like our Indian monkey-god Hanuman, Europe lacks ready self-confidence and needs a bear bard for encouragement. Stiglitz’s article does that job. Questioning the economistic common sense, he tells Europeans not to feel unconfident before the warlords in the US, as their competitors’ supremacy is baseless and phoney –

“…while GDP per capita has been rising in the US, most Americans are worse off today than they were five years ago. An economy that, year after year, leaves most of its citizens worse off is not a success.”

Moreover, the European Union’s mission is distinct, which are not laws, regulation, or phoney prosperity, but “long-lasting peace”, “greater understanding, underpinned by the myriad interactions that inevitably flow from commerce”. And “The EU has realized that dream” – “neighbors live together more peacefully”, “people move more freely and with greater security”. Stringent immigrant laws for and policing of the people from the South (this identity is very broad since it includes Black and Arab French, Muslim Europeans…) etc are perhaps aberrations, or may be the Southerners are racially ‘uncountable’ “within a new European identity that is not bound to national citizenship”.

Furthermore, Europe has mastered the competitive art of giving, and has surpassed the US –

“Europe has led the way, providing more assistance to developing countries than anyone else (and at a markedly higher fraction of its GDP than the US).”

Do we need to tell our Nobel laureate the economics of Aid, even AIDS?

Stiglitz too feels (not unlike Bush) that the world has changed during the past six years. However, he finds “democratic multilateralism” being challenged, human rights abrogated. Obviously he ignores all the contributions in grounding Bushism that earlier US governments made, especially Clinton’s, of which Stiglitz himself was a part. What if NATO was not less active earlier, Iraq too was continuously bombarded…

Stiglitz feels the need for multipolarity, and that Europe

“must become one of the central pillars of such a world by projecting what has come to be called “soft power” – the power and influence of ideas and example. Indeed, Europe’s success is due in part to its promotion of a set of values that, while quintessentially European, are at the same time global.”

Does it really matter if this whole discourse of “a set of [quintessentially European, but universal] values” seems hardly any different from Bush’s? Moreover, what are these values? First is “Democracy” – not just elections, “but also active and meaningful participation in decision making, which requires an engaged civil society, strong freedom of information norms, and a vibrant and diversified media that are not controlled by the state or a few oligarchs.”

Which formally democratic country officially denies these, and how many countries, including the EU members, provide safeguards against corporate-state monopoly over information and media? Further, the whole logic of the European monetary integration was to insulate strategic financial and economic institutions from any “active and meaningful” democratic influence, as it was considered external and an economic nuisance.

“The second value is social justice”, which is just individualism, however realized “only if we live in harmony with each other”. Does Bush deny this? The issue is rather who will establish the rules for that “harmony”.

What else?

In Stiglitz’s dream, the White Man’s burden definitely changes shoulders, but it remains the white man’s burden all the same –

“For the sake of all of us, Europe must continue to speak out – even more forcibly than it has in the past.”

Back to the old world – while the “world” remains the same – a white man’s world.