A translated series from the archives


October 9, 2019

What follows is a series of translated documents from the Italian housing movement in the 1970s. They were originally collected by the Comitati autonomi operai di Roma and focus, in particular, on the role of squatting and occupations in that movement.1


Part 1. Squat the homes, defend the squats

The struggle for the self-reduction of prices in Italy—which in 1972-1973 existed only in an embryonic form—spread to a national level in 1974 with the revival of the squatting movement.

Despite the ruling class’s attempts at co-optation, supported by Prime Minister Mariano Rumor’s centre-left government as well as the Italian Community Party’s (PCI) “opposition of a new type,” the workers’ struggle gave no respite to those who wished to reconcile this “new political equilibrium” with the old methods of exploitation. These were the years of the false oil crisis, the rationing of gasoline, false price controls and the de facto freezing of wages. Bread, pasta, olive oil, and gasoline prices skyrocketed. The government sought credibility through moralistic campaigns and ad slogans, but the blackmail of the crisis didn’t cease. The entire movement responded by intensifying the struggle in the factory as well as in the neighbourhood.

In Milan and Marghera, the workers’ response to the attack on real wages took the form of “political shopping”. Meanwhile, Naples, Rome, Milan, and Genoa all witnessed an expansion of the housing movement.

In Rome, the year 1974 began with a vast front of housing occupations in which thousands of proletarians were determined to assert their right to a home. Three months of hard struggle made for cold and sleepless nights, street demonstrations and confrontations with police weren’t enough for the Roman proletariat to win this latest showdown with the state and the bosses. On one side, the movement was thwarted by the revisionist forces, who called for its boycott. On the other, it was divided by the opportunistic logic of the extra-parliamentary groups whose myopia prevented them from seeing the forest for the trees.

Only in September, with the battle of San Basilio, did proletarian anger, determination and consciousness come together with revolutionary leadership to show, once and for all, that it was possible to fight and to win.

The tendency of Organised Workers’ Autonomy [Autonomia Operaia Organizzata] became one with the growing response of the proletariat in this cycle of struggle. The political and organisational contribution given by the proletariat of San Basilio was unequalled in this period; a contribution which unfortunately cost the life of comrade Fabrizio Ceruso, killed by police at the young age of 19.

Part 2. January-March 1974: Chronicle of the struggle

From Controinformazione, July 1974

If on one hand the squatting movement is characterised by a strong element of spontaneity, on the other it has also expressed important elements of novelty compared to previous years. One of these elements is the fact that the squatted flats are privately owned, belonging to medium and large-sized real estate companies who speculate on real estate and who run the Roman Constructors’ Association (Associazione Costruttori Edili Romani, ACER). Other owners include real estate companies tied to FIAT, the National Bank of Labour, and various insurance companies. The violent confrontations and levels of repression which followed were a sounding board for the entire squatting movement. Furthermore, the bosses’ recruitment of armed squads to guard the buildings evicted by the police, and the constitution of a permanent mobile battalion ready to intervene within the hour, show how the state and bosses aim to suffocate and repress the needs of workers in this period of crisis.

The slogan fostered by the squatting movement has been “Squat the homes, defend the squats” [La casa si occupa, l’occupazione si difende]. This slogan is in opposition to previous political practices in which housing occupations were mere moments of pressure against local government and various other public entities. This only became the case during the downfall of the present movement, when some committees called for the occupation of churches.

The rising phase of the movement began in January. On the night of the 15th, the popular committees occupied about 200 apartments on the Subaugusta ring road owned by the Sara company, in which FIAT is investment. The squatting families hailed from a number of areas of Rome: Quadraro, Villa Gordiani, San Basilio, and Cinecittà.

Following this action, two further occupations were organised. The first against the Manfredi enterprise in Casal Bruciato, where 150 flats were taken. The second was against Appolloni, in Borgata Alessandrina.

The first institutional response arrived on January 19th when the flats on Subaugusta were evicted and two women were arrested for resisting. But contrary to the predictions of Lotta Continua, the struggle proceeded according to new lines. The homes were immediately re-occupied and the squatters took on more rigid and effective forms of organisation.

On January 24th, 300 families occupied some houses in Portonaccio. These belonged to the Roch enterprise as well as Caltagirone, a massive tax dodger tied to the right wing of the Christian Democrats. In March, Caltagirone would lose 1.27 billion lira in the Casino of Monte Carlo. These occupations were organised by Avanguardia Operaia and Lotta Comunista.

After January, the autonomous workers’ committees began to organise occupations in the same neighbourhoods where they were already politically rooted. In Val Melaina, families who had already been self-reducing their light bills for two years, occupied 500 Caltagirone apartments and 80 apartments belonging to the boss Franceschi in the nearby neighbourhood of Nuovo Salario.

In the first week of the occupation, the police carried out two partial evictions. On February 2nd they charged high school students who had rallied in front of the squats, but were unable to disperse them. The students’ presence impeded the complete eviction of the buildings on Via Cavriglia.

As soon as the police moved away, the apartments were immediately reoccupied. Fascist squads, hired by contractors, made their first appearance during the second eviction on February 4th. Five busloads of fascists, paid 30,000 lira a day, are brought in to guard the evicted apartments. The occupiers attack the buses on their arrival and chase away the fascist “guardians”. A rally is immediately organised to push them completely away from the area. The police charges the rally: several women are beaten and a squatter, Ernesto Olivieri, is arrested. Some guardians manage to enter the buildings escorted by police.

The next evening, the squatters reoccupy some apartments and make a clean sweep of the guardians. Clashes follow, and gunshots are fired against the squatters. One suffers facial injuries and is arrested in the hospital emergency room along with his partner. The guardians, reduced to patrolling a single building, begin to shoot wildly, while police vehicles patrol the entire area and stop a number of comrades on the street.

At the same time as the Via Cavriglia occupation, a new occupation developed on Via Val di Non, in the same neighbourhood of Nuovo Salario. There were about 100 families, primarily composed of workers employed at Voxson, Autovox, Luciani, Alitalia and the Poligrafico2, organised by Autonomia Operaia.

On February 8th, houses belonging to the Alleanza Assicurazioni insurance company are occupied in Laurentino. Meanwhile, in Nuovo Salario, the guardians hold a rally outside the apartments occupied by the proletarian families of Via Val di Non. Construction workers in Prati Fiscali go on strike against the presence of these fascist squads.

Meanwhile, a hundred apartments on Via TIburtina in Setteville that belong to Franceschi were occupied by families coming from Pietralata. The homes are evicted the next day, only to be immediately reoccupied. During the eviction, carabinieri shoot gas canisters at eye level.

The occupations spread like wildfire all over the city. Urging police intervention in the newspapers, the construction companies themselves supply us with the numbers: 4,000 occupied apartments on about 50 different construction sites. The number increases by about 200 apartments per night.

On February 15th, two more occupations developed simultaneously on opposite sides of the city: Via di Villa Bonelli and Via Cassia.

The Villa Bonelli occupation was prepared by factory workers from the Fatme phone company as well as the autonomous committee of Donna Olimpia. The comrades in Fatme had already participated in a number of occupations, including the one on Via Pescaglia, but only on Via Bonelli did they direct the political terminology of the new forms of struggle. The occupation was in fact planned from the factory floor, with comrades who had lead struggles within the company for years.

From this moment onwards, the ruling class initiated a hard counterattack. On February 17th, the construction companies’ association published the following announcement seventeen times in the daily press: “The Roman construction companies denounce the subversive plot implemented through the occupation of construction sites and homes.”

At the same time, the movement had to clash on a daily basis with sabotage and attacks carried out by reformists. Exemplary in this respect is an interview with Canullo, secretary of the Roman Chamber of Labour, published in the Messaggero newspaper: “Let’s avoid giving poor people an illusion whose consequences they could pay for. The more houses are occupied, the more one plays into the trap of real estate companies […] In this way parasitic land rent is rewarded, as contractors are given the certainty of stable tenants on which they can continue to speculate.”

The first evictions took place in those very occupations which gave a political point of reference for the movement.

On March 1st, the police intervened in Portonaccio. After an attempted reoccupation, twenty women were arrested. On March 17th, Nuovo Salario, Prati Fiscali and Montesacro Alto are evicted. The squatters find refuge in another building only to be evicted again by the police, who arrest 18 people.

The evictions extend simultaneously throughout the whole city on Via Newton, Pineta Sacchetti, Casal Bruciato, Garbatella, Via Cassia, Laurentina, and Casal Bertone.

By mid-March this first cycle of struggle has been broken under the deployment of police violence. While political forces such as Autonomia Operaia tried to maintain the momentum through the occupation of churches, these actions lost steam within a few days. Self-satisfied, the PCI waved farewell to the movement on the pages of “l’Unità”.

Part 3. The squatting movement spreads: 3,000 apartments occupied in Rome!

A leaflet

Against the attack on wages through rises in prices and rent: the bosses’ attempt to resolve their crisis.
Against real estate speculation, which deprives workers of one of their most fundamental rights: housing.
Against the shameful blackmail of the [locked up/serrata] of construction sites, which seeks to divide the working class.
For the reprisal of proletarian struggles and the break-up of social peace.
All workers deserve a house with cheap rent in proportion to the wage (10% = 2,500 lira per room).

Demonstration every Wednesday. February 6th, 18:00, Piazza Esedra.

COMITATO UNITARIO PER LA CASA
COMITATO PER L’OCCUPAZIONE DELLA CASA

Part 4. Milan, March 27th

[from Ti spremono e ti buttano (They squeeze you and chuck you away), Autonomous Assembly of Alfa Romeo]

The struggle ignited again after an assembly. Tiboni, a representative of the FLM union, announced that the company had offered an increase of 800 lira a month. Immediately, a demonstration began and exited the factory intending to block traffic. One after the other, the various bureaucrats of the executive pleaded with us to stop. They were almost successful until we were joined by a number of comrades who had dispersed to wipe away the scabs. The blockade, now 200-300 workers strong, had become sturdy. In a last ditch attempt, the firemen3 distributed flyers urging us to let the cars pass along the road. Seeing that there was nothing they could do, they disappeared.

In Arese the response was identical. Workers from the first shift blocked the highway between the lakes, allowing only small cars to pass through without paying the toll. Upon returning to the factory, the outbound goods exit was blocked.

During the second shift, a demonstration headed towards a supermarket belonging to IRI.

“L’olio, lo zucchero è aumentato—ce lo prendiamo al supermercato” [Oil and sugar prices skyrocket—we’ll go get them at the supermarket]. This slogan became louder and louder as we approached the store. The revisionists’ attempts to contain this proletarian exigency were in vain, as were those of a police “gazelle” which was forced to run away. About a hundred workers entered the supermarket and filled a shopping cart with wine, cheese, salami, cold cuts, bread, and other goods. They then stopped at the cashier and, to everyone’s astonishment, told the director to send the bill to Prime Minister Rumor. After having minutely explained the reasons for this action to the supermarket staff and the housewives who were shopping there, the workers invited the women to leave without stopping at the cashier, though many had already done so out of their own accord. Shortly after, with full trolleys, the demonstration took off towards the factory exit, where a night-shift picket was organised with provisions included. For the occasion, a bakery gave us about 10kg of bread. Solidarity with our struggle also manifested itself in these direct and concrete forms.

All of this gave the union and the PCI the signal to begin a campaign of condemnation against the Autonomous Assembly.

Part 5: San Basilio: working class revolt

[Rivolta di Classe, October 1974]

On the evening of Thursday, September 5th, police broke into the neighbourhood with great force, taking by surprise the families which had occupied 147 apartments built by the IACP about a year earlier on Via Montecarotto and Via Fabriano.

By the next day, Friday, the squatters had already organised themselves to block Via Tiburtina from the early hours of the morning.

The eviction operation thus led to a series of clashes which continued into the afternoon until the police were forced to suspend the evictions. The building on Via Fabriano was completely evacuated, while only a few families were evicted from the eight buildings on Via Montecarrotto.

On Saturday morning, while a delegation of squatters headed to the court and the IACP the police began new attempts at evictions. But this time it found itself in an unexpected situation. A large mobilisation of militant proletarians from all areas of Rome had gathered on San Basilio to join the squatters. The proletarian detachment, while slightly lesser in numbers than the police, was far superior in determination.

Saturday proceeded with a number of “truces” requested by Lotta Continua (LC) and “granted” by the police. These gave way to what would turn out to be a deceitful accord, deployed to buy time and demobilise the proletarian forces.

The delegation returned to San Basilio with the accord suspending the evictions at nine in the morning on Monday, September 9th. LC immediately organised a victory march through the streets of the neighbourhood.

The next morning, Sunday September 8th, at 8 o’clock sharp, the police were again in front of the buildings on Via Montecarotto. The previous evening’s agreement was scrapped, and the homes were entered without ceremony.

The cops entered the apartments smashing everything in their way and hurling furniture out the window. They opened fridges, ate the food, and threw the scraps on the floor. They pissed in front of women and children. They shot tear gas into houses and onto people, and not just to intimidate them.

In spite of the shock, the squatters reorganised themselves and responded to the provocation. A phone tree which had remained active quickly gathered comrades and proletarians from other areas. The clashes thus became ruthless, and continued into the afternoon. As they finished, the San Basilio Struggle Committee called for a popular assembly in the neighbourhood square.

At about six thirty, the police charged the assembly. Hundreds of tear gas canisters were shot at eye level. After this first wave of tear gas, the comrades lined up at the crossing of Via Fiuminata and Via Fabriano. On Via Fabriano, opposite one of the occupied buildings, a platoon of cops tried to come into contact with the proletarians. This manoeuvre was sustained by a rainfall of tear gas coming from another platoon on Via Fiuminata. As the cops on Via Fabriano were forced to retreat, the second platoon began to fire numerous gunshots. One of these bullets hit a comrade. His name was Fabrizio Ceruso, a 19-year-old worker and militant of the Tivoli Proletarian Committee, a part of Organised Workers’ Autonomy.

It was about seven in the afternoon. He died shortly after in the taxi which was bringing him to the emergency room.

Only a half hour later, Dr. Improta told the police headquarters that he had checked all of the agents’ guns (about a thousand of them) and hadn’t found any “anomaly”. He invited public officials to visit the crime scene, and invited the cops to declare that none of them had shot any bullets.

Shortly after eight o’clock, news reached the neighbourhood that the comrade had died. The police fell back and regrouped further off. All the lights of the neighbourhood, apart from those where the police were standing, were switched off by the proletarians. The whole of San Basilio was in the square to oppose the police. The police pulled their guns out again. This time, to their bitter surprise, the lead also came from the opposite side. Eight cops were injured. Four of them, including the captain of the infamous officials academy of Nettuno, were wounded badly.

The winds had changed. The few teargas canisters remaining in the hands of the police had become a double-edged sword. To prevent the disbandment of the police, officials told them that a truckful of machine guns and hand grenades would soon arrive. But they had already lost the clash of San Basilio.

This was the end of the military occupation of the neighbourhood, which had lasted four days. The next day, negotiations began to give a home to the 147 families of San Basilio, the 30 families who occupied Casal Bruciato, and the 40 families of Bagni di Tivoli.


  1. Comitati autonomi operai di Roma. 1976. Autonomia Operaia. Milan: Savelli. 

  2. Voxson and Autovox are consumer electronics manufacturers, Luciani produced woolen goods, and Alitalia is an airline. Poligrafico refers to the state mint and printing press, where coins, passports, residence permits, etc, are produced. 

  3. Union and party officials who tried to placate the class struggle by trying to, “throwing water” on the flames. 


authors

Felice Campanile

Felice Campanile is a member of the London IWW.

Comitati autonomi operai di Roma

The Autonomous Workers Committee of Rome