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La Pira: A Catholic Communist - Part IX

Moving in for Industry Takeovers

Dr. Carol Byrne
The Pignone affair was La Pira’s first test case in the application of Article 76 of the ‘Code of Camaldoli,’ which called for state intervention to control, curtail and even exclude private ownership of the means of production (factories, corporations, banks etc) in which private capital is invested.

Montini’s men move in

La Pira explaining communism to Thomas Merton at the Camaldoli monastery

La Pira explaining his communist ideals to Thomas Merton at Camaldoli Monastery

It follows that state control is necessary to achieve this outcome for the whole of society. This is a recipe for totalitarian Socialism. All who had participated in the semi-clandestine meeting at Camaldoli in 1943 were ready to launch a coordinated offensive against free market Capitalism in the 1950s.

To this end, Fanfani set up the Ministry of the State Holdings in order to extend the influence of the government in the public sector, and he appointed several of his Camaldoli friends as Cabinet Ministers. (1)

This was designed not only to give the Christian Democrats more power over nationalized industries but also to increase government shareholding – and control – in private companies. La Pira could now carry out his vendetta against private entrepreneurs under cover of the big guns.

La Pira takes on Confindustria

La Pira raised a furor in Florence in the 1950s when he engaged in a protracted newspaper controversy with Angelo Costa, President of Confindustria, the Italian Manufacturers’ Association. The debate was acrimonious: Costa was an advocate of free market Capitalism while La Pira favored complete state intervention in the economy.

It ended on May 1, 1958, with La Pira’s letter to Pope Pius XII in which he denounced private entrepreneurs like Costa as too “greedy and impure” to be allowed to “hold the levers of the economy.” (But he never condemned the unscrupulous behavior of the socialist businessman, Enrico Mattei, whose sense of morality left much to be desired.) In the same letter, he criticized the free market as a “poison of civilization,” “the cause of Communism” and a “social cancer,” and announced his aim to “change the economic structures.”

A new concept of property

La Pira proclaimed: “An industry does not belong only to the capitalists who finance it,” elucidating the point by adding:

“Times have changed and the laws that govern Italy are no longer adapted to a modern society. There must be a new concept of property. A workman's skill and his right to work are property which must be protected by the law.” (2)

What La Pira was arguing for here was a change in the law to reflect a new concept of property: compulsory co-ownership by the workers. This was in accordance with the ‘Code of Camaldoli,’ which aimed to revolutionize the workplace by eliminating the role of captains of industry and replacing it with state control and self-managed cooperatives.

La Pira called this Social Justice, but the result would be to prevent the private owner from exercising his rights over what was legally his. Not only would this be a form of theft and, therefore, contrary to the Natural Law, but the notion that workers have a right (apart from to receive a just wage) to participate in the ownership of the capitalist production is not part of Catholic Social doctrine.

In fact, the very opposite pertains: The Church teaches that the law should be used “to prevent and to punish injury, and to protect every one in the possession of his own.” (Rerum Novarum, n. 37)

La Pira joins forces with a communist trade union

Flushed with success after his victory over the Pignone factory, La Pira targeted a number of firms throughout Florence who were laying off workers.

La Pira at the le Cure foundry

La Pira encouraged strikers at LeCure Foundry, which became a cooperative

These included some of the oldest and most respected institutions in the city: Manetti and Roberts (pharmaceuticals) and Richard Ginori (porcelain) in 1954, the Le Cure Foundry in 1955 and the Galileo factory (optical instruments) in 1959.

Like Pignone, these establishments had been infiltrated by the communist trade union, CGIL (General Confederation of Italian Workers), which was militating for a general strike in Florence that would seriously hamper the local economy.

Former Prime Minister of Italy, Giulio Andreotti, recalled that La Pira used the Le Cure Foundry as a weapon in his fight against private entrepreneurs. He quoted La Pira saying: “The Le Cure Foundry will be a real stronghold of resistance to injustice and we shall see who wins.” (3) La Pira did win, but injustice was on his side: He simply requisitioned the Company and turned it into a cooperative.

The Galileo takeover

The sit-in strike at the Galileo factory in 1959 was a protest against threatened redundancies. It was a virtual re-run of the Pignone strike, with input from the same communist trade union, CGIL, and had an identical outcome.

La Pira congratulating strikers at Pignone

La Pira congratulating strikers at Pignone

Long before the strike, the Galileo workers had pledged their support for a mass workers’ struggle against employers: They displayed banners with Marxist slogans such as “The workers of Galileo will always be on the side of the fighting workers.” (4)

We have two detailed contemporary eye-witness accounts of La Pira’s involvement. These witnesses were both natives of Florence: La Pira’s worker-priest friend, Don Bruno Borghi (who had said the Mass for the strikers in the Pignone factory in 1954) and Sergio Lepri, Editor of Florence’s Giornale del Mattino, who had covered the strike in the late 1950s.

Borghi’s account shows that La Pira telephoned him to announce his arrival at the Galileo factory and gain admittance past the pickets. Once inside, La Pira conducted a tour of the factory to check on the adequacy of the strikers’ accommodation and to attend a Mass celebrated by Borghi. But the police had to intervene to quell the violence connected with the event.

According to Lepri, when the Company directors complained to the Prime Minister about La Pira’s intrusion into their premises, Fanfani replied jocosely that he “did not have the power to prevent a Mayor from hearing Mass wherever he wished.” Lepri mentions a telegram sent by La Pira to Fanfani demanding that entrepreneurs who lay off workers be punished by losing their own jobs. (5) As Lepri noted, the strikers emerged victorious and the dispute ended with the Company being absorbed into Mattei’s emporium, the ENI.

The outcome was entirely to be expected. Fanfani aimed to swallow up as many privately owned firms as possible into the public sector, so he gave La Pira a free pass to abuse his professional powers as Mayor. Fanfani’s ‘little helper’ was in his element encouraging resentment towards the rich and condoning attempts to deprive them of their possessions.

And Borghi had the written support of the Archbishop of Florence, Msgr Dalla Costa, (6) as well as the general approval of Msgr. Montini – the future Paul VI - for worker priests and their pro-communist agenda.

  1. E.g. Ezio Vanoni (Finance Minister and then Minister of the Budget), who introduced a progressive income tax to severely reduce profits made by private entrepreneurs; and Giorgio Bo – a disciple and friend of Montini from his FUCI days – who was appointed by Fanfani as the Minister of State Holdings and Minister of Industry and Commerce.
  2. Catholic Herald, January 29, 1954
  3. Giulio Andreotti, “The extraordinary La Pira,” 30 Days, February 2004. Andreotti was Minister of the Interior in the 1950s. )
  4. I lavoratori della Galileo saranno sempre al fianco dei lavoratori in lotta!
  5. La Pira is quoted as stating that said entrepreneurs “dovrebbero essere puniti in un solo modo e cioè mettendo i licenziatori al posto dei licenziati.”
  6. A copy of his letter of 2 November 1958 to Don Lorenzo Milani in support of the Galileo strike(and La Pira’s reply) is found in Neéra Fallaci, Dalla parte dell’ultimo. Vita del prete Lorenzo Milani, Milano Libri Edizioni, 1974, pp. 300-301

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Posted July 26, 2013

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