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ITALY: Fortress Fiat Falls

2 minute read

For three decades the great Fiat works at Turin, Italy’s biggest single industrial establishment (automobiles, aircraft engines, refrigerators) has been a fortress of Communism in Italian labor. The first revolutionary factory councils at Fiat grew into the CGIL, the giant Communist-run labor federation. Neither Mussolini nor the Nazis were able to stamp out all the Red cells at the Fiat works. At World War II’s end the Communist leaders in Turin emerged as resistance heroes, began throwing their weight around like a trampling herd of elephants. Year after year they elected an overwhelming majority of the Fiat shop stewards. Management even put in a Communist as personnel manager. U.S. military men were horrified at such Communist-union dominion in plants which, among many other things, assembled Sabre jets. Fiat’s boss, Vittorio Valetta, Italy’s No. 1 Businessman, worked hard to combat Communism by improving the workers’ lot with new houses. CGIL still remained on top.

Last week the news out of Turin was that for the first time since World War II, the anti-Communist unions had won a clear-cut majority of the shop stewards. The vote surprised everybody, including the Communists themselves. They had sent in their leading labor orator, Giuseppe di Vittorio, and they had campaigned hard. They knew that their union strength in Italy was slipping (from 90% of the workers in 1949 to 60% last year). Yet Togliatti’s Communists felt that the Fiat fortress was safe. When 49,600 Fiat workers balloted last week, the Communist vote fell a surprising 27%. The Communists, who previously had 100 shop stewards, elected only 55. The two non-Communist unions between them elected 133 stewards.

Communism’s dramatic defeat was not due primarily to pressure by management or government. Workers had become increasingly disgusted by having their votes and allegiances cynically used to further Russian aims. That change of heart was accelerated by a U.S. policy of withdrawing offshore contracts from the Red-dominated Italian firms which fail to reduce their Communist majorities (TIME, Nov. 6). The U.S. policy, which critics said would rebound in the Communists’ favor, was now vindicated.

Premier Mario Scelba, who was visiting the U.S., rejoiced when he got the news in Washington. Said Turin’s Fiat-owned La Stampa: “For some time we have felt that something new was brewing in the union labor pattern in Italy. These election results give glamorous evidence of what that something new is.”

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