Yet, from the late 1950s onwards, concentrated within its metalworking federation (FIM), changes began to be noticed here and there. As is often the case in large organizations, such efforts at tentative reorientations could first be noted at the periphery rather than the centre of CISL operations based, as was the case with the CGIL, in Rome. ‘This switch began to be prepared from 1955 onwards, but was first translated into actual practices between 1958 and 1972, first in Brescia, then in Turin, in Milan, in Genoa, in Bergamo.’11 ‘Historically, Brescia was the starting point: a Catholic working-class milieu with distinct characteristics had given rise to an autonomous leadership group’12 based on the strong presence of skilled workers in the industrial zones of the Val Trompia in the foothills of the Alps to the north of Brescia.

contradictory role of American sociology in the cradle of the Italian student movement, the Higher Institute of Social Studies in what became the University of Trento, note the discussion of ‘Sociology in Trento’ in Horn, The Spirit of ’68, pp. 74-7.

  • 9 On the conspicuous absence of the social doctrine of the church from the learning outcomes of the Florentine study centre, see Bentivogli, ‘La laicita’, pp. 54-5. For the parameters guiding the training of cislini cadres and other elements of continuing education within the CISL’s ranks, see Silvio Costantini, ‘La formazione del gruppo dirigente della Cisl (1950-1968)’, in Baglioni (ed.), Analisi della Cisl, pp. 121-57.
  • 10 Pasquale Colella, ‘Cisl e mondo cattolico’, in Elisabetta Benenati Marconi etal., CISL 1948-1968 (Messina: Hobelix, 1981), p. 260.
  • 11 Manghi, ‘La Fim-Cisl’, p. 217. 12 Manghi, ‘La Fim’, p. 664.

Based on a tradition of deep-rooted Catholic antifascism in the province of Brescia, this courageous and radical nucleus of activists soon made inroads into Brescia proper. Catholic radical populism in Brescia deserves a much closer inspection.

Until 1960, the local CISL leadership team, together with representatives of all other local Catholic associations, each Christmas paid the local church authorities a visit ‘as a sign of devotion’ and to express their best wishes for the upcoming year. Normally, the CISL had little direct contact with the local church authorities, leaving all direct negotiations in the hands of the Catholic Action organization designated to assist blue-collar workers, the Associazioni Cristiane dei Lavoratori Italiani (ACLI). Yet by 1963 the ACLI and the CISL representing bresciani Catholic workers went separate ways, the ACLI then still closely allied to the hierarchy, with cislini evolving towards greater independence.[1] What had happened to cause the break-up of this apparently seemless alliance?

The decisive first step by Brescia Catholic workers towards emancipation had been a series of conflicts at the important FIAT subsidiary OM in Brescia around the issue of bonuses paid to workers in return for a no-strike pledge. Radicalized by the Left Catholic sentiment spreading southwards into Brescia proper from the Val Trompia, local CISL leaders began to reconsider the entire tradition of social Catholicism which militated in favour of peaceful labour relations. They were assisted in this reconfiguration of attitudes towards class relationships and class struggle by several local figures within Brescia Catholicism. The premier diocesan theologian, Tullio Goffi, invited to do so by the Brescia CISL, published a widely noted article in the provincewide CISL publication in which he encouraged local cislini to strike out in the direction of emancipation and greater autonomy for lay activists. Father Giulio Bevilacqua, a lifelong friend and confidant of Giuseppe Battista Montini, the latter soon to become Pope Paul VI, likewise exhorted cislini to rely on their own resources. Asked to intervene in the flagship conflict at OM, Giulio Bevilacqua declined the honour, exhorting lay unionists to assume and rely on their own responsibility and authority if they wished to achieve their goals.

Pope John XXIII’s May 1961 encyclical, Mater et Magistra, then provided powerful papal support. For Mater et Magistra explicitly called for a greater say for workers in the running of their own affairs and in the running of their enterprises, a radical inversion of Catholic social theory. John XXIII also advocated—another first in the history of official papal documents—a more nuanced, historical approach to the Marxist tradition, effectively abandoning the hitherto unbending wholesale condemnation of Marxism in all its variants. Mater et Magistra thus not only validated a more conflictual trade union strategy vis-a-vis employers, but it also gave an implicit green light to efforts to bridge the divide between the two ‘enemy brothers’, CISL and CGIL. But by the time the cislini in Brescia felt further empowered by Mater et Magistra, the initial example of Brescia had been emulated elsewhere already. And, of course, it was not solely Mater et Magistra which blew wind in the sails of the cislini, with Turin cislini following in the footsteps of their bresciani colleagues almost immediately. The Decree on the Lay Apostolate proclaimed by Vatican II, approved in the closing moments of the World Council on 18 November 1965 by an astounding 2,340:2 majority, not only created free space for the deployment of lay energies and initiatives. Apostolicam actuositatem went even one step further and explicitly prodded the laity to take an active role in the development of Catholic social theory![2]

Nevertheless, the radicalization of the CISL proceeded along hesitant and contradictory lines. ‘It all happened in a process which was by no means linear but evolved via internal tensions which only got worse as the decade proceeded, with new insights guiding this evolution, some of them fundamentally changing over time from the initial and original intuitions.’[3] And, for all the importance of the impulse emanating from Vatican II, these clarion calls for qualitatively enhanced freedoms for lay activists in the last analysis merely further stimulated processes that were already under way. If there was one starting point, it was the aforementioned 1958 conflict at Officine Mecchaniche (OM) in Brescia, a car factory, which happened at a moment when Pius XII was still ruling the roost. But, in turn, Brescia stood in the front ranks of progressive change within the Italian Catholic universe in part because of the tenacity of the radical popular Catholicism in the province of Brescia and, most pointedly, in the Val Trompia. Giulio Bevilacqua was only the most prominent local representative of this local tradition. In short, theological influences, local heritage, and pragmatic engagement in fearless battles on the factory floor all played a role in the crystallization of a radical Catholic working-class current. It was a virtuous circle of interlocking influences which shaped Brescia—and then Turin, Milan, Bergamo, Genoa—into a beacon of change.[4]

  • [1] The key study of Catholic working-class politics in postwar Brescia is Franco Gheza,Cattolici e sindacato. Un esperienza di base. La Fim-Cisl di Brescia (Rome: Coines, 1975). Themove from harmony towards a rift in the relationship between the Brescia CISL and ACLI in theearly 1960s is sketched on pp. 189-91 of this important book, citation on p. 189. The remainderof this subsection relies on this indispensable source.
  • [2] The most convincing depiction of the impact and relevance of the innovations of Vatican IIas well as John XXIII and Paul VI for the daily practice of the CISL is Mario Reina, ‘L’orienta-mento dell’insegnamento sociale della chiesa e le linee dell’azione sindacale’, in Guido Baglionietal., Lavoratori cattolici e sindacato (Rome: Lavoro, 1979), pp. 13-33.
  • [3] Tiziano Treu, ‘Cultura e valori dei lavoratori cattolici e concezione sindacale della Cisl’, inBaglioni et al., Lavoratori cattolici, p. 43.
  • [4] It is perhaps accidental but certainly symbolic that Guido Baglioni, the foremost socialscientist to cast light on the multiform conjunctures of cislini traditions and the long-time headof the CISL’s Florence Study Centre, was born and raised in the Val Trompia.
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