posted by: By Graeme Atkinson | on: Wednesday, 3 April 2013, 11:59
Italy, after the WWI, was in a desperate state of economic and political crisis. Hopes of social reform were frustrated and industrial and agricultural workers rose in protest at their living conditions. In the industrial cities of the north, workers occupied factories and, in the countryside, farmworkers fought bitter battles against landowners.
The main objective of Mussolini’s fascists was to destroy the organisations of working people. This task was undertaken long before they took power in 1923. The first targets of Mussolini’s thugs were the weakest sectors, above all the unions of agricultural workers. In the early 1920s, bands of fascist hooligans attacked and wrecked the offices of the farmworkers’ unions and cooperatives and some leaders of these organisations were assassinated.
By waging a terror against the farmworkers with the full political and financial backing of the big landowners, the fascists were able to set up bogus “unions” which quickly bullied their way into dominance.
Only workers belonging to these fake unions could get employment, while small farmers were refused credit and loans from the banks unless they belonged to the fascist “unions”. Unemployed people were shipped in from the cities – escorted by fascist thugs – and employed immediately, enabling the landowners to tear up contracts without fear of resistance.
It was only after the Fascist Party’s conquest of power, however, that fascism dared to launch an onslaught on the well-organised industrial workers’ unions. Members of Mussolini’s 250,000-strong party were ordered to get hold of lists of union members who were then told, under threats of violence and death, to join the fascist unions.
In the process of building up these bosses’ unions, trade union members were hounded, beaten up and victimised. Employers hired and employment offices accepted only those workers with fascist “union” cards. Some of the bigger employers even “enrolled” their workers in the fascist “unions” and forcibly deducted membership dues from their wages.
By December 1923, the Fascist Grand Council had secured “recognition” of the fascist “unions” by Italy’s biggest industrialists’ and employers’ association, the General Federation of Industry. This formed the “legal” basis for the final abolition of independent trades unions in Italy.
Within two months, by government decree and backed up by armed terror, the fascist “unions” took over the property of the Federation of Labour (the Italian TUC), jailing union leaders without trial and torturing and killing many of them.
Despite this, the Federation of Labour continued to resist and, in elections for fascist-installed “factory shop committees”, the fascist candidates were buried under an avalanche of votes for the workers’ former representatives.
This situation was intolerable for Mussolini’s still shaky regime and the fascists dealt with it violently. When Italy became a fascist dictatorship in 1925, free, independent trades unions were suppressed and dissolved once and for all. In October 1925, the so-called “Vidoni Palace” agreement between the fascists and employers granted the fascist “unions” the sole right to make contracts.
At the same time, the right to strike was abolished and factory committees were made illegal. By the end of November, the entire trades union movement was formally dissolved and its property confiscated. Membership of the fascist “unions” was made compulsory as was the duty to “obey”.
No free discussion was allowed, intimidation was the order of the day and employers now had the green light to slash wages and to embark on massive reprisals against those who had fought to defend trade union rights. The threat of terror and murder was ever-present for those who tried to resist. Effectively, the fascists had broken the power of the organised working class.
The victory of the fascist “unions” turned out to be a very hollow one. Having served their function as a battering ram against real workers’ organisations, they too were dissolved on 22 November 1928, and their leaders, who fancied themselves as “national revolutionaries” were disgraced.
The results were soon evident. Between 1928 and 1932, nominal wages were reduced by 50% while the cost of living almost doubled and working hours were lengthened. A full-scale assault on every sphere of workers’ rights then took place while workers, deprived of any means to fight back, were incorporated into the fascist corporate state and entirely at the mercy of the employers.
Hitler took Mussolini’s actions on board and used the lesson to smash and murderously destroy the German workers’ movement in 1933.
Posted: 3 Apr 2013 | There are 3 comments
Comment 1 | From: Nigel Baldwin | Date: 3 April 2013, 17:58
Here's poetic justice. In March 1943, 2 months after the collapse of the Axis armies at Stalingrad, the industrial workers of Milan and Turin were the first to dare to parade the anti-fascist banner out in the open, calling for "Pace! Pace et Liberta!" - Bread, Peace and Freedom". And in the following July, he fell from power. As all tyrannies do, in time.
Comment 2 | From: john Mason | Date: 3 April 2013, 15:27
Everyone should read this. Not only because of the de canio issue but because the right of the tory party UKip and the Bnp of course are going down this road
Comment 3 | From: Neil M | Date: 3 April 2013, 16:30
I don't know a great deal about football, but I am aware that the sport is trying hard to overcome what has been described as institutionalized racism. The appointment of Di Canio appears to me to be a big step backwards. However hard he tries to deny it there is good evidence that this man has some extreme and very unpleasant political ideas. We should be on our guard against the rise of right-wing reactionaries who,such as UKIP and the reactionary wing of the Tory Party, appear to be deliberately provoking racist attitudes in order to gain political popularity. The article makes unpleasant reading, but is thought provoking.
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