Autumn 1969 — All Fiat’s Italian plant workers struck, for days, for weeks and more. This wonderful and optimistic novel We Want Everything by Nanni Balestrini tells the story from the eyes of a semi-skilled worker from Salerno in southern Italy, who travels north to Turin for a soulless, dangerous, and repetitive job at Fiat. Balestrini is a great novelist who paints with a broad brush,
and hides nothing in his contempt for the trade union bureaucrats who so often sided with the company. The fascinating ways the workers struck was delightful. In one plant, Fiat (with the union’s agreement) was paying workers who drove the finished cars off the production line into a big yard, less than other production workers. Rather than a typical picket, the “drivers” decided to physically push all the finished FIATs to the yard. It took 4 “drivers” much more time to push the cars off, than it would have taken to drive the cars. Ingenious.
photo from ’69 Fiat strike reads: Worker Power
The book is a window on the 60s and early 70s — and the changes to family, to education and to work that was taking Italy into the 20th century. If you compare We Want Everything to — for instance — Bertolucci’s drama 1900 — you can see how different turn of the century Italy was to 1960s Italy.
Balestrini was a famous socialist poet, novelist and activist in Italy. And his death in May 2019 must be mourned. Can’t wait to read another novel by him, in English translation: I want to note that American novelist Rachel Kushner wrote an amazing and insightful (and inciteful) introduction to the recently published version of We Want Everything so don’t skip the intro. .
I also just finished the delightful mystery — The Witch Elm. I heard the author, Tana French in a CBC Radio interview. She is American and spends half the year in Dublin. The interview showed her to be a witty and thoughtful person and this New Yorker profile of her shows how she gets it “right” with detectives and police matters. I decided to get the book as an E-book from the library– and I couldn’t put it down. The Witch Elm is about three 30- something year old cousins who live in upper middle class Dublin. The book is narrated by one cousin, a young man who admits to having had an easy go of it, a good education, a comfortable love life and a great job. But a break-in at his flat puts an end to the “charmed” part of his life — and events quickly connect him to some very unsavoury events and worse characters. I couldn’t put the book down. I read it compulsively in supermarket lineups and on the bus. The mystery part is second only to excellent and believable portrayals of the cousins and the extended families, as well as contemporary culture in the heart of the economic miracle of the “Irish Tiger”. I highly recommend it.
If you haven’t watched it yet, you should see the feature length documentary American Factory. It’s on Netflix. GM pulls out of its former windshield and parts factory — leaving hundreds of workers out of jobs. In comes a China-based company to save the factory with 200 Chinese workers and managers recruited from head office. Several hundred US workers drift back to work, only to face the culture clash, and the expectations of a new corporation. Both the Americans and the Chinese show their racism and inability to accept one another. The best American workers are given a free trip to China to get a taste of the company’s actual practices and its indoctrination scheme. An attempt to unionize the factory is unsettling and unwanted as far as the Chinese managers are concerned as well as others on the factory floor. The film seems a bit long, but it is the one film about real workers facing the reality of factory work today — that I’ve seen in years. It’s fascinating. Here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m36QeKOJ2Fc
If you want to see a delightful Swedish series, watch Bonus Family. Here in Canada we call it a “blended family” but the ups and downs of life in this family, and the larger extended family are both funny and poignant. Somehow the Swedes are able to put together a surprisingly good series which is neither maudlin nor pedantic– and with no “teachable moments”. Here’s a trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuLcbyo7hsE