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L'américanisation en Europe au xxe siècle : économie, culture, politique. Volume 1

 | 
Isabelle Lescent-Giles
, 
Dominique Barjot
, 
Marc de Ferrière

Deuxième partie. Mythes et réalités du projet américain

Americanisation and national identity

The case of the Italian Labour Movement (1947-1955)

Maria Eleonora Guasconi

Résumé

L’objet de cet article est d’exposer comment les américains se sont efforcés de développer en Italie un syndicalisme sur leur modèle, soulignant le succès autant que les limites de cette stratégie. Le cas du mouvement travailliste italien correspond parfaitement au concept d’« américanisation » en ce qu’il souligne tant les aspects clairs qu’obscurs de ce processus. Il montre d’une part les efforts extraordinaires déployés pas le gouvernement américain pour combattre le communisme en Italie pendant la première période de la Guerre Froide, tout en offrant un modèle de reconstruction, d’autre part les limites d’une stratégie privilégiant les arguments financiers pour convaincre les interlocuteurs italiens de suivre les suggestions américaines.

Texte intégral

INTRODUCTION

1American diplomacy towards trade unions in Italy during the Cold War: a case study of Americanisation.

  • 1 See S. Gundle, “L’americanizzazione del quotidiano. Televisione e consumismo nell’Italia degli anni (...)

2Since the early 1980s, debate has raged among historians regarding the question of the “Americanisation” of post-war Italy. Central to this debate are the links between new consumption patterns, mass-culture and the American myth as a model for Italian society. Historians argued that when Italy rushed into economic and cultural modernity with the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s, the American “way of life” and mass culture became the general framework for a transformation that was not guided or shaped by an independent, national set of values and customs and the Marshall Plan, with its extraordinary propaganda effort, was the vehicle of this process.1

  • 2 P. D'attorre, Nemici per la pelle. Sogno americano e mito sovietico nell'Italia contemporanea, Mila (...)
  • 3 S. Chillé, “Il Productivity and Technical Assistance Program per l'economia italiana (1949-1954): a (...)

3At the beginning of the 1990s, the publication of Pier Paolo d'Attorre’s volume on the “American dream” and the “Soviet myth” in post-war Italy, and the progressive release by the US government of documents dealing with American initiatives towards Italy during the 1950s and 1960s completely changed the perspective of such a debate.2 D'Attorre, with other historians of political economy, stressed the failures of American social reform projects contained in the Marshall Plan, which constrained the scope of “Americanisation”.3 Production and distribution Systems, industrial and labour relations, economic and social patterns were rejected and discussed by Italian politicians, managers and labour leaders, who preferred endogenous solutions to those proposed by the American government. The result was a peculiar hybrid: Italy was “half-Americanised”: if on one side blue jeans, chewing-gum and Coca-Cola became the symbols of American mass consumption in the 50s, on the other, Lambretta scooters, small Fiat cars and Olivetti typewriters represented the Italian way to modernity.

  • 4 George Meany Memorial Archives, Maryland, RG 18-003 Jay Lovestone Papers, Folder 38-24, Memorandum (...)

4The case of the Italian labour movement fits perfectly into this general framework. It points out the strengths and weaknesses of the “Americanisation” process: on the one hand, the US government deployed extraordinary efforts to fight Communism in Italy during the first phase of the Cold War and promoted a model of reconstruction. On the other hand, its strategy found its limit in the choice of the Financial tool for persuading Italian interlocutors to follow American suggestions. “We do think that our type of unionism would be a great help in combating communism here” explained an American labour representative in 1956 to Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paolo VI, then Archbishop of Milan, “not because we think American unionism is best per se, or because we mechanically desire to export it, as it were, but because we think the specific situation in Europe, especially Italy and France, call for it. I mention Italy and France because the communist movements are so strong there. We feel that unification of all anti-communist forces on the trade union level is very desirable, necessary if communism is to be beaten”.4

5The aim of this paper is to examine the US efforts in developing a trade unionism in Italy along the lines of the American model, stressing the achievements as well as the limits of this strategy.

THE CGIL’S BREAK UP IN JULY 1948: A RESULT OF AMERICAN PRESSUPRESSURES?

6After World War II, the State Department deployed a set of initiatives in Italy with the aim of shaping the trade union movement. These formed the socalled “labour diplomacy”. The aims of this strategy, which consisted mainly of covert financial pressures and propaganda, were to convince the Italian trade unionists to break up the unified Communist-oriented trade union, the CGIL, and to set up a new organisation along the lines of the American model. The AFL played an essential role in this policy. Such cooperation appeared particularly useful and effective for two reasons: on the one hand, the “Italo-American connection”, well represent inside the AFL, was well aware of the Italian political situation and was helpful for the State Department's proposals; on the other hand, the American government used the labour channel to send covert aid, including some from the CIA, to several Italian political parties and trade unions.

7The unified organisation, the CGIL, was created in 1944 and comprised Communists, Socialists and Christian Democrats. From its First Congress in 1947, it had been dominated by its Communist wing. Since Communism sought to exert its influence through organised labour, American officials and diplomats in post in Italy saw the organisation as an instrument of the Communist Party with a view to control the workers and organise strikes and riots as a preliminary phase for a future hypothetical coup d'Etat. As a consequence American officials thought it necessary to undermine the labour “lever” in the Communist hands, by splitting the unified federation and creating a “free” union on the American model. The creation of such a new trade union was of paramount importance for the success of the Marshall Plan in Italy, as it would give the United States a reliable interlocutor and an instrument to put pressure on the Italian authorities for the achievement of the goals of the European Recovery Program (ERP).

  • 5 On this issue see: M. Antonioli, M. Bergamaschi, A. Ciampani, F. Romero, Le scissioni sindacali in (...)
  • 6 D. Macshane Macshane, International Labours and the Origins of the Cold War, Oxford, Oxford Univers (...)

8The split in the unified Confederation took place in July 1948, a few days after the assassination attempt on Palmiro Togliatti. Through the channels of Thomas Lane, labour attaché at the American Embassy in Rome, and Irving Brown, the AFL's representative in Europe, the United States tried to convince Christian-Democrats, Republicans and Social-Democrats to leave the unified Confederation, the CGIL. Historians have been sharply divided over the significance of the splits that occurred in 1947 in the French CGT, in 1948 in the Italian CGIL and in 1949 in the World Federation of Trade Unions, the international organisation that embraced all the trade unions and was clearly dominated by the Soviet Union. Whilst in the past these breaks were mainly considered by historians to bes a consequence of the Cold War, Denis MacShane’s publication of a volume focusing on the International Metalworkers Federation has completely changed this perspective, highlighting the role played by internal factors. In the Italian case, the documents clearly show that the split was not a consequence of American pressures. It is true that, like in the French case, it speeded up the process, but it cannot be regarded as the main cause.5 Internal factors, including disputes among its various wings regarding the adoption of different programs for Italian reconstruction, were the main cause of the break up. The Marshall Plan was indeed the catalyst of this process. Its implications for organised labour, in particular the new role played by trade unions inside industrial plants and in relation to management, caused a dilemma for the CGIL, which had spoken against the program.6

  • 7 See V. Saba, Giulio Pastore sindacalista, Roma, Ed. Lavoro, 1984; Ciampani, 2000.

9Nonetheless, the break up of the Communist-oriented confederation only represented one side of America’s “labour diplomacy” in Italy. Another and more ambitious goal was the creation of a labour organization “free” from any political and religious influence, along the lines of the American model. After the CGIL split, Giulio Pastore, the leader of the Christian-Democrat wing, formed the CISL, the so-called “Catholic” union, in 1950.7

  • 8 Thomas Lane wrote in a report of December 1948: “The non Communist labour currents in Italy are han (...)
  • 9 The use of CIA money to finance AFL labour diplomacy is clearly demonstrated by Carew, 1998, p. 27. (...)

10Between 1948 and 1950, the State Department and the AFL made every effort to influence the new organisation: with the help of Thomas Lane and Irving Brown, the AFL's representative in Europe, the United States supported Pastore in his attempt to create the new trade union, and tried to convince the Republicans and the Social-Democrats to leave the CGIL and merge with the CISL.8 But the CIA money indiscriminately dispensed in Italy by Thomas Lane had a negative influence on Italian labour, creating a debilitating dependency on American dollars for the most basic trade union operations.9 Moreover, in spite of these efforts, few Republicans and Social-Democrats joined the CISL. The vast majority decided to safeguard their autonomy and form another trade union, the UIL. They feared Pastore’s close ties with the Christian Democrat party and the Vatican.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MEDAL: THE UIL CASE AND THE LIMITS OF AMERICAN “LABOUR DIPLOMACY”

  • 10 S. Turone, Storia dell’Unione Italiana dei Lavoratori, Milano, Franco Angeli, 1990; A. Forbice, Sci (...)

11The CGIL's break up seemed to achieve the American goal of destroying Communist control on workers. But the creation in 1950 of two distinct anti-Communist trade unions, the CISL and the UIL, brought out in the open the limits of the US “labour diplomacy” and the difficulties of “Americanising” the Italian labour movement. The UIL was a social-democrat and republican trade union, which tried to identify a middle road between Communism and Christian Democracy.10 It viewed itself as a “third force” between the two larger confederations, hoping to bring them together whenever the welfare of the workers required it. Above all, it refused to stay out of specific negotiations merely because the CGIL took part in the same struggles, and even cooperated with the Communists now and again.

12In spite of its support for the Atlantic Pact and European integration, the UIL also developed a middle lane approach to Communism that was not appreciated by the State Department but which in many ways recalled the Trade Union Congress (TUC) experience. The British Trade Unions Confederation, then the most important and powerful union in Europe, did not consider anti-Communism as an ideological crusade. On the contrary, the best way to counter Communism's appeal for the oppressed was to build effective trade unionism and with it, the mechanism allowing workers to negotiate directly improvements in their living standards. Despite being strongly tied to the British Labour Party, the TUC shared the idea of strong unions with autonomy from political parties.

13Relations between the UIL and the State Department were often strained during the 1950s. The UIL was highly critical of Pastore's approach to productivity and the role of the American authorities in pressing for union participation in the program. From the onset of the program, its leaders were sceptical about the productivity experiments and frequently expressed dissatisfaction over the absence of binding agreements with management regarding workers’shares and benefits. The organisation attacked the National Productivity Committee, in charge of the Italian program, for being full of academic experts, for its paternalistic approach, and for not insisting on unions and employers negotiating the share out of productivity gains.

14Until 1955 the State Department and the AFL continued to favour an agreement between the CISL and the UIL as a first step towards unity of action. Despite this approach, the goal of a unified anti-Communist union along the lines of the American model was never achieved and, more importantly, pressures from America caused severe strains between the two Italian organisations.

  • 11 On this issue see M.E. Guasconi, L’altra faccia della medaglia. Guerra psicologica e diplomazia sin (...)

15Only in 1955, after the CGIL collapsed at the shop steward's elections of the largest Italian factories in the North and at a time when the political debate on the opening to the left was becoming a reality, did the State Department and the merged AFL-CIO re-evaluate American “labour diplomacy” in Italy. They subsequently changed their approach towards the two anti-Communist trade unions. In particular, the State Department recognised the need to support a social-democrat union, with a view of attracting those socialist workers who wanted to leave the CGIL but feared the close ties the CISL had forged with the Christian Democratic Party and the Vatican.11

LABOUR AND THE PRODUCTIVITY DRIVE IN ITALY

16The UIL's experience clearly stressed the limits of these attempt to “Americanise” the Italian labour movement. When the United States launched the productivity drive in Europe, the CISL tried to become a reliable interlocutor for the State Department and cooperated for the success of the program. Pastore believed implicitly in the productivity ethos. The American model of trade union activity and the workers’high standards of living made a strong impression on him during its visit to the US in 1949. In Detroit he visited the giant Ford automobile plants and appreciated the different aspects of American mass production, especially its technical, commercial and human factors, its managerial techniques and its new brand of labour relations.

17In the face of strong Communist opposition (they considered the program was an American instrument for controlling the Italian economic reconstruction), the CISL put pressure on the Italian authorities to implement this program. But, in truth, the De Gasperi government was not interested in productivity theories and the Confindustria was opposed to the measures. The idea of a strong trade union movement, independent from political parties, in charge of negotiating with management wage improvements in exchange for productivity increases, was completely new in Italy. The country had a long tradition of labour organisations with strong political affiliations and managers always refused to negotiate with trade unions inside the factories. The CISL and the UIL were both too weak to exert sufficient pressure.

  • 12 A. Cariew, Labour under the Marshall Plan, London, Manchester University Press, 1987, p. 212. On th (...)

18Nonetheless, with American financial help, the CISL opened a training school for union leaders in Florence in 1951. Students were taught collective bargaining theories, human relations and job evaluation techniques. In the following years collective bargaining became the focus of the CISL's action. But in spite of Pastore's efforts, “the concept of militant, plant-based collective bargain advocated by the young graduates of CISL's training school in Florence remained more an ideal than a practical objective for most of the 1950s. Splits within the trade unions and the greater relative strength of hostile employers made the negotiation of plant agreements a difficult operation […]”.12

CONCLUSIONS

19It can quite obviously be affirmed that the United State’s attempt to “Americanise” the Italian labour movement met with many obstacles during the 1950s. Not only did the Italian tradition of trade unions affiliated to political parties remain unchanged, but the American model of powerful organisations negotiating collective agreements and benefits on a plant to plant basis could not materialise within the Italian context. The productivity drive was often enthusiastically adopted, but the “Italian path to productivity” had only passing resemblances with the American model. The outcome of the “labour strategy” thrashed many hopes. Italy's working class and public opinion were not ready to support a trade union free from confessional and political links, and the Christian Democrats strongly opposed it. This was in part a product of the Italian labour history. Political parties had felt the need to develop trade union arms. In spite of Pastore's efforts, the Christian Democrats disliked the idea of autonomous trade unions. In any case, Italian workers came to identify the CISL with Christian Democracy and clericalism, in spite of the organisation’s efforts to convey the opposite impression.

  • 13 L. Segreto, “Americanizzare o modernizzare l’economia? Progetti americani e risposte italiane negli (...)

20Both the CISL and the UIL were too weak to exert effective pressure on management. The largest union, the Communist CGIL, was totally opposed to a productivity campaign that they saw as an American tool to control and rule the Italian reconstruction. In spite of these obstacles, the CISL became the second trade union in Italy after the Communist CGIL with a membership that grew from 1,489,684 in 1950 to 2,054,462 in 1954 and remained unchanged during the 1960s. Its effort to create a new trade unionism along the lines of the American model opened a debate that was completely new for Italy. It turned out to be a useful instrument for “de-provincialising” the Italian labour movement. As for the social and technical modernisation of the working force, management did indeed benefit from US technical assistance initiatives, but actions toward the workers were postponed and in the end poorly implemented. Even if in the shortterm the reference to productivity and collective bargaining found little echo in Italian industrial relations, in the 1960s, when Italian unions became more powerful, such a debate would play an important role in the modernisation of the Italian economy.13 On the other hand, the UIL placed itself between two political extremes, representing a “midway mark” between Communists and the Christian Democrats. This approach was inspired by a different idea of anti-Communism, closer to the British experience than to the AFL's ideological crusade against the ‘red threat’, as well as by the hope of building a bridge between the CGIL and the CISL. Despite its inherent weaknesses, the UIL eventually found its own space and after 1956 attracted Socialist workers who wanted to leave the CGIL as a result of the process that led to the opening of the Italian left.

Bibliographie

***

Antonioli M., Bergamaschi M., Ciampani A., Romero F. 1999. Le scissioni sindacali in Italia e in Europa, Pisa, Biblioteca Franco Serantini.

Bartocci E. 1979. “La CISL e il modello sindacale nordamericano”, in Economia e Lavoro, no 13, p. 167-184

Ciampani A. 2000. La CISL tra integrazione europea e mondializzazione, Roma, Edizioni Lavoro.

D'Attorre P. 1985. “Anche noi possiamo essere prosperi. Aiuti ERP e politiche della produttività negli anni'50”, in Quaderni Storici, 20, p. 55-93

D'Attorre P. 1991. Nemici per la pelle. Sogno americano e mito sovietico nell'Italia contemporanea, Milano, Franco Angeli.

Carew A. 1987. Labour under the Marshall Plan, London, Manchester University Press.

Carew A. 1998. “The American Labour Movement in Fizzland”, in Labour History 39 p. 25-42

Chillé S. 1993. “Il Productivity and Technical Assistance Program per l'economia italiana (1949-1954): accettazione e resistenze ai progetti statunitensi di rinnovamento al sistema produttivo nazionale”, in Annali della Fondazione Pastore, 23, p. 895-926

Ellwood D. 1992. Rebuilding Europe. Western Europe, America and Postwar Reconstruction, London, Longman.

Esposito C. 1994. America’s Feeble Weapon. Funding the Marshall Plan in France and Italy 1948-1950, Westport, Greenwood Press.

Filippelli R. 1989. American labour and Postwar Italy, Stanford, Stanford University Press.

Forbice A. 1981. Scissioni sindacali e origini della UIL, Roma, Edizioni Lavoro.

Godson R. 1976. American Labour and European Politics, New York, Crane.

Guasconi M.E. 1999. L'altrafaccia della medaglia. Guerrapsicologica e diplomazia sindacale nelle relazioni Italia-Stati Uniti durante la prima fase della guerra fredda, Soveria Mannelli, Rubbettino.

Gundle S. 1986. “L'americanizzazione del quotidiano. Televisione e consumismo nell'Italia degli anni Cinquanta”, in Quaderni Storici, XXI, p. 561-594.

Macshane D. 1992. International Labours and the Origins of the Cold War, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Osti G.L. 1993. L'industria di stato dall'ascesa al degrado. Trent'anni nel gruppo Finsider. Conversagioni con Ruggero Ranieri, Bologna, il Mulino.

Romero F. 1990. “Americanizzazione e modernizzazione nell'Europa postbellica”, in Passato e Presente, p. 20-46.

Romero F. 1991. Gli Stati Uniti e ilsindacalismo europeo, Roma, Edizioni Lavoro.

Romero F. 2000. “Americanisation and National Identity”, in Tosi L. (ed.), Europe, its Borders and the Others, Napoli, ESI, p. 263-277

Saba V. 1984. Giulio Pastore sindacalista, Roma, Ed. Lavoro.

Sciarra S. 1980. “L'influenza del sindacalismo americano sulla CISL”, in Baglioni G. (ed.), Analisi della CISL. Fatti e giudizi di un'esperienza sindacale, Roma, Edizioni Lavoro, p. 283-306.

Segreto L. 1996. “Americanizzare o modernizzare l'economia? Progetti americani e risposte italiane negli anni '50 e '60”, in Italia Contemporanea, no 82, p. 55-83.

Turonii S. 1990. Storia dell'Unione Italiana dei Lavoratori, Milano, Franco Angeli.

Wall I. 1991. The United States and the Making of Postwar France, 1945-1954, New York, Cambridge Press.

Notes

1 See S. Gundle, “L’americanizzazione del quotidiano. Televisione e consumismo nell’Italia degli anni Cinquanta”, in Quaderni Storici, XXI, 1986, p. 561-594.

2 P. D'attorre, Nemici per la pelle. Sogno americano e mito sovietico nell'Italia contemporanea, Milano, Franco Angeli, 1991.

3 S. Chillé, “Il Productivity and Technical Assistance Program per l'economia italiana (1949-1954): accettazione e resistenze ai progetti statunitensi di rinnovamento al sistema produttivo nazionale”, in Annali della Fondazione Pastore, 23, 1993, p. 895-926; P. D'attorre, “Anche noi possiamo essere prosperi. Aiuti ERP e politiche della produttività negli anni '50”, in Quaderni Storici, 20, 1985, p. 55-93; C. Esposito, America's Feeble Weapon. Funding the Marshall Plan in France and Italy 1948-1950, Westport, Greenwood Press, 1994; F. Romero, “Americanizzazione e modernizzazione nell'Europa postbellica”, in Passato e Presente, 1990, p. 20-46.

4 George Meany Memorial Archives, Maryland, RG 18-003 Jay Lovestone Papers, Folder 38-24, Memorandum written by Harry Goldberg, AFL'S representative in Italy titled “Vatican Developments”, February 15, 1956.

5 On this issue see: M. Antonioli, M. Bergamaschi, A. Ciampani, F. Romero, Le scissioni sindacali in Italia e in Europa, Pisa, Biblioteca Franco Serantini, 1999, p. 115-126; A. Ciampani, La CISL tra integrazione europea e mondializzazione, Roma, Edizioni Lavoro, 2000, p. 21-99; R. Fillippelli, American Labour and Postwar Italy, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1989; R. Godson, American Labour and European Politics, New York, Crane, 1976, p. 117.

6 D. Macshane Macshane, International Labours and the Origins of the Cold War, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992. On the Marshall Plan impact in Italy see: D. Ellwood, Rebuilding Europe. Western Europe, America and Postwar Reconstruction, London, Longman, 1992.

7 See V. Saba, Giulio Pastore sindacalista, Roma, Ed. Lavoro, 1984; Ciampani, 2000.

8 Thomas Lane wrote in a report of December 1948: “The non Communist labour currents in Italy are handicapped in their efforts to organize and abstract membership by lack of funds [...] United States Government cannot at this time be publicly associated with the birth and the growth of a non-Communist labour movement; it can however and should discretely lend moral and material support to such a movement and should encourage the American unions, who are already interested to do likewise”, NA, RG 84, Rome Embassy File, Italy, Confidential File, Report written by Thomas Lane, titled United State Labour Policy toward the non-Communist Labour Movement in Italy, December 1948, Secret.

9 The use of CIA money to finance AFL labour diplomacy is clearly demonstrated by Carew, 1998, p. 27. Carew wrote: “From 1949 to 1958 the FTUC received 5464. 167 directly from the CIA in the form of numerous relatively small contribution. All were earmarked for particular operations

10 S. Turone, Storia dell’Unione Italiana dei Lavoratori, Milano, Franco Angeli, 1990; A. Forbice, Scissioni sindacali e origini della UIL, Roma, Edizioni Lavoro, 1981.

11 On this issue see M.E. Guasconi, L’altra faccia della medaglia. Guerra psicologica e diplomazia sindacale nelle relazioni Italia-Stati Unité durante la prima fase della guerra fredda, Soveria Mannelli, Rubbettino, 1999, p. 155-172.

12 A. Cariew, Labour under the Marshall Plan, London, Manchester University Press, 1987, p. 212. On the Florence school see: E. Bartocci, “La CISL e il modello sindacale nordamericano”, in Economia e Lavoro, no 13, 1979, p. 167-184; S. Sciarra, “L’influenza del sindacalismo americano sulla CISL”, in G. Baglioni (ed.), Analisi della CISL. Fatti giudizi di un’esperienza sindacale, Roma, Edizioni Lavoro, 1980, p. 283-306.

13 L. Segreto, “Americanizzare o modernizzare l’economia? Progetti americani e risposte italiane negli anni’50 e’60”, in Italia Contemporanea, no 82, 1996, p. 55-83.

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University of Florence

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