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.

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