“Strike one to educate one hundred”
Chapter 4: The Red Brigades appear: factory actions
The first stage of the armed struggle was one of propaganda actions, not
directed to Italian society at large, but breaking out within the workers’
struggle already going on.
The Red Brigades were rooted in the Italian working class. This fact, which
imperialism has worked to conceal, was the explanation for their political
strength and fearless militancy. At the first large trial of BR prisoners
in 1978, the defendants issued a statement refuting all the misleading speculative
gossip about their origins that had been slyly circulated by the bourgeois
press, the intelligence agencies, and the revisionists:
“The Red Brigades were not born in the secret police office, nor in Moscow,
nor in Washington, and not even in the University of Trento or in the Italian
Communist Party federation of Reggio Emilia province. The Red Brigades simply
sprang to life at the beginning of the 1970s from the advanced units of the
working class…. More specifically, the Red Brigades were born in Milan
in the Pirelli plant.”
In the early days the Brigades held many lunch-time rallies in front of factories.
A “liberated” car would pull up, with loudspeakers temporarily mounted on
the roof, and several masked comrades spoke to the crowd of workers that
gathered. Leaflets were passed around. Company guards or foremen trying to
get close to the car found their way blocked. Just before the pigs arrived
the car would zoom off to cheers. A study of the “Historic Nucleus”, the
first, founding wave of the BR, revealed that the majority of them were young
working class men from the ages of 22 to 33. Among the first 172 persons
arrested or indicted as BR members, by the end of 1977, there were only 21
former university students.
To grasp why the Italian proletariat produced advanced elements that embraced
armed struggle, we can look at the FIAT Mirafiori auto works in Turin. There,
within the gigantic 60,000-worker FIAT complex that was like a small city,
the stamping plant (“presse”) became known as one BR stronghold. “Presse”
was officially a department, but it was really a factory itself. 8,800 men
labored there, feeding the huge hydraulic-powered presses that stamped out
FIAT’s steel auto body panels. It was one of the lowest-ranking jobs in the
complex. Working conditions were bad, hard and dangerous. The noise pollution
from the hammering of the presses was so bad that every year one-third of
the workers had to be transferred out due to deafness.
Those were unskilled laboring jobs, paying 3rd level wages (lowest at FIAT).
Many of the stamping plant workers were Southern immigrants. Unable to both
send support money back home to their families and pay rent for themselves,
some FIAT workers bought cheap round-trip train tickets every night, and
slept on trains. Other FIAT workers slept in the train stations or other
illegal shelters. Many auto workers lived in “hot bed” rooming houses, where
3 or 4 workers would share one bed in turns. To see why these workers understood
about imperialism is not difficult.
On November 16, 1977 one Carlo Casalegno, deputy editor of the newspaper
La Stampa in Turin (Italy’s second-biggest newspaper), was executed by a
BR unit. La Stampa is owned by FIAT, and Casalegno was one who eagerly took
up his bosses’ special assignment to slander the Red Brigades. He was notorious
in turning out falsehoods and journalistic intrigues against the BR, who
had warned him to either cease his dirty work or face the consequences. When
Casaiegno was executed both the imperialists and the revisionists (who were
engaging in slander of their own) became upset. The Italian Communist Party’s
(PCI) union called a brief political protest strike in Turin to support “freedom
of speech” and to condemn the Brigades for “terrorism”. At the FIAT stamping
plant, where after all the company encouraged the pro-imperialist demonstration,
907 of the men refused to stop work. This was a shock to the bosses, revealing
the depth of BR support.
Brigades activity at “Presse” was ever-present. BR leaflets were put up in
washrooms and on coffee machines, and stuffed inside lockers. Six managers
from “Presse” who were over-zealous in oppressing the workers were knee-capped
(in this favored BR tactic an offender was stopped by a BR unit and shot
in the leg, which was a public warning without making a martyr of him). In
January 1976 the security police captured a BR unit, which included a union
activist from the FIAT stamping plant. This surprised the PCI, since the
captured BR militant, Basone, had been in the PCI and masquerading as a critic
of the Brigades. It was clear that the Brigades not only had considerable
support at FIAT, but had infiltrated and won over people within even the
opposing structures. As of February 1982 the State had convicted 26 FIAT
workers of being BR members, with
3 others having died in firefights. Of these 29 workers, some 14 were union
delegates in the Catholic, Social-Democratic, or PCI unions (an additional
32 FIAT workers were either awaiting trial or had been arrested and released
for insufficient evidence). And what was true at FIAT was also true at other
factories — at Alfa-Romeo, Lancia, Pirelli, Sit-Siemens and elsewhere.
The Red Brigades held their first public action in the spring of 1970, an
unannounced rally in Lorenteggio, a proletarian neighborhood in Milan, and
later, at the end of August 1970 during a labor contract fight at Sit-Siemens,
they distributed leaflets at the company’s Piazza Zavattari plant. A week
later the Brigades distributed a leaflet with a long list of scabs and others
at the Sit-Siemens Settimo Milan plant “tied to the bosses who had to be
hit with proletarian revenge”.
The first military actions of the Red Brigades took place, not surprisingly,
inside the factories of Sit-Siemens and Pirelli where CPM and later SP had
their strongest base. On September 17, 1970 the Brigades carried out their
first armed action. A Sit-Siemens manager’s car was set on fire. The Brigades
left their signature and symbol, a five-pointed star, but no leaflet. This
was a type of action that was already taking place spontaneously, and no
one thought it significant.
More importantly, the SP and BR led a violent contract struggle at
Pirelli tire corporation in October and November. On November 27, 1970 and
December 8, 1970 the BR set fire to the cars of the head of personnel and
the head of security at Pirelli’s Bicocca plant. Enrico Loriga, the head
of personnel, had fired a leading PCI (Italian Communist Party) union militant
and ex-partisan leader, Dellatorre.
December 1, 1970
Delia Torre, mechanic.
A good comrade: one of ours, 50 years old, two sons. Leading trade-union
comrade of the CGIL. 25 years of union activity. Partisan Commander
(during the World War II Resistance —ed.). Led the struggles.
They fired him. They did it together; first the bosses, then the unions.
This firing has to do with all of us. It is not a private matter, it is a
cowardly POLITICAL LINE which strikes all workers in struggle.
If if takes place without a firm answer
from a united factory, if it takes
place because of a cheap surrender by the unions and on our backs, then Pirelli
and associates will have a free hand, from now on, to get rid of whoever
raises their hand to demand their rights.
In the first communication we distributed, it said: “For every comrade they
strike at during the struggle one of them will have to pay.”
A comrade has been attacked.
And so one of them, precisely “the head of the list” (as many workers in
the factory suggested) found his auto destroyed.
But it’s not over.
We have said, in fact, “for one eye, two eyes…” and the Fiat 850 automobile
of the spy Ermanno Pellegrini… is for us, much, much less than an eye.
Without even considering that his real car is a white Giulia 1300 junior
GT which he has for some time “inexplicably” kept jealously guarded in his
But we are patient….!
If the spy Pellegrini were to FIRE HIMSELF then maybe the Peoples’
tribunal will concede him a pardon. In any case Della Torre must return
to work to continue the struggle of all the exploited against the bosses.
Collections, lawyers kindly offered by the union, gestures of “solidarity,”
these are not enough. So until Della Torre does not return the game
between all us workers and the boss’ servants and jailers must not and will
not be closed. The list is long, imagination is not lacking.
For the communist revolution, Red Brigade. 1
December 11, 1970
In the second communique we said; “For every repressive action that the boss
tries to carry out against the workers as a result of the struggle we are
conducting we will answer according to the principle: for an eye, two eyes,
for a tooth the whole face.”
Shortly afterward a comrade of ours, Della Torre, was fired. So:
– Pellegrini after having found his car burned up HAS NOT BEEN SEEN AGAIN
IN THE FACTORY. This big spy seems to have accepted the sentence handed down
by the People’s Tribunal in a “disciplined” way.
If this is so we will pardon him. In the meantime we remind him that
siding with the bosses against the workers is becoming more and more expensive.
Then it was the turn of:
– Loriga Attorney Professor Enrico, the executioner who signed management’s
letter firing comrade Della Torre, who even though he parked his Alfa Romeo
1750 far away from his house, did not escape the execution of the verdict
which the People’s Tribunal issued for him as well.
At 1:05pm Tuesday, December 8, 1970 (and not at night as the “Corriere della
Sera” wrote) nothing was left of that auto but a little scrap-iron.
Two million (lire) up in smoke.
This is not the first time that the workers have, in their own way of course,
shown their “recognition” for this new personality, the new hardliner of
the contract talks. In fact, once already when he was head of personnel
at Carbosarda (plant in Sardinia) as a result of the great “proletarian”
merits he acquired, our Sardinian comrades of Carbonia after having hung
a nice sign around his neck (like the IGNIS workers did with the fascist
provocateurs in Trento) put him on a docile donkey and took him to “visit”
the countryside, guarding him with a long line of marchers so nothing would
happen to him.
A beautiful proletarian festival, in other words, which only those like him
failed to understand.
Now we will give Professor Attorney Loriga some advice.
If he should have trouble getting to work to earn his cake there’s always
the little donkey toward which we promise clemency.
Whereas for the ass…!
And now two news items. Management has proletarianized the managers
cars. In fact, it recently advised all the managers at Bicocca to take their
precious big machines out of the underground parking lot and park them next
to the broken down “utilitare” (the cheapest model Fiats made for workers)
of the workers on the streets.
Just as management promised in their “communication to all managers.”
Here are their “appropriate measures”! One more proof of the fact that
capital only protects its profits.
The second news item regards the “second on the list,” the big spy Palmitessa,
who for some time now has “fallen sick.” We wish him a quick recovery.
Finally two words on basic questions. The active struggle against the bosses’
repression, in the form of a direct attack on the personified structure of
power, must not let us forget that the power structure bases itself not only
on its servants, but also on “things” and on “production.”
It is worth thinking about.
To conclude: – Della Torre in the factory.
Pellegrini at home.
In the meantime accounts are not closed.
For the communist revolution. Red Brigade.
N.B.: The “Corriere della Sera” wants to make us think-the auto suffered
Maybe Attorney Prof. Loriga is not of the same opinion! Red Brigade
With these actions the BR became well-known to the workers at Pirelli. However,
outside of Pirelli little notice was taken of the Red Brigades at this stage
since the general level of workers’ violence in the factories was very high
during this same period. Armed attacks by Fascist gangs, beatings by company
guards, were common. In response the workers developed an arsenal of new
tactics. Marches through the factory were a mini-strike and also physically
drove out the Fascist thugs. The workers took over the factory-floor. Sabotage
mushroomed. The practice of “proletarian justice” was, in fact, very widespread
in this period. Continuous Struggle (“Lotta Continua”) described the situation
in its January 28, 1971 issue:
“After every action, every procession, every blockade of products, or blockade
of office buildings, etc. every department is turned into a proletarian court:
those workers who could have participated but did not were made to leave
the factory. An example that illustrates this point: in one warehousing department
it is learned that people worked on Sunday, 4 workers and 3 supervisors.
A discussion is held and the scabs are ‘suspended’: 2 days suspension for
the workers and 3 days for the bosses. 3 days for the supervisors because
they are bosses and because during the discussion one of them showed a lack
of respect for the workers saying he didn’t give a damn what they said….
It is not only a matter of maintaining unity: the workers learn to exercise
power and take pleasure
in doing so.”
The Red Brigades did not become known in the rest of Italy until anuary 25,
1971. On that date a BR commando planted 8 firebombs with timer devices under
8 trucks sitting on the Pirelli tire testing track in the Lainate neighborhood
of Milan. Only 3 of the firebombs went off but the next day Italy’s leading
newspaper, the Corriere Della Sera ran a big 5-column article on the BR describing
them as “a phantom extra-parliamentary organization”. The PCI’s newspaper
L’Unita also ran its first article, attacking the BR as “provocateurs’ and
inciting the workers to take vigilante action against them. The BR left a
leaflet at the entrance to the testing track with the words: “Della Torre
— contract — pay cuts — Mac Mahon — Red Brigades”. The BR later issued
a leaflet criticizing itself for technical errors which caused 5 of the 8
bombs to malfunction. The leaflet pointed out however, that they had still
caused 20 million lire worth of damage (about $25,000 in 1971).
February 5, 1971
— Della Torre in the factory
— pay cuts
Piazza Fontana (the fascist terror-bombing massacre -ed.), Pinelli, cops
who kill, comrades in jail, Della Torre and many others fired, gangs of fascist
thugs protected by the police, judges-politicians-governors, servants of
These are the instruments of violence that the bosses turn against the working
class to squeeze it more and more. Asking us to struggle respecting the laws
of the bosses is like asking us to cut off our balls!
But one thing is sure; we will not turn back! We will continue with
more advanced forms of struggle on the road already chosen; attack production,
lots of damage for the bosses, little cost to us.
We have already begun to take the first steps on this path.
Monday night January 26, on the tire testing track at Lainate, 3 Pirelli
trucks were burned. 20 million gone up in smoke!
From a “technical” point of view this action was not good and 5 other trucks
were left undamaged. But one learns by making mistakes and the next time
we will know how to do better…
The bosses have made their calculations poorly. The intensification of their
violence, cannot help but make the intensity of our attack grow. Until
they cancel the new provision and reimburse us for the money they’ve stolen,
their accounts will not return… In Milan, Rome, Trento,
Reggio Calabria the bosses are using
police and armed fascists.
Processions, “solidarity” and various kinds of petitions can only lead us
We have begun to strike persons and “things.” We forced Pellegrini, one of
the bosses’ pigs, to fire himself. Some other pigs, seeing how things stand
shit on themselves.
It must be made very clear: We will continue on this road!
Why MacMahon as well?
The boss that squeezes us in the factory is the same boss that increases
the cost of living, who does not permit us to have a decent home without
stealing back those few lire we extract from him through hard struggle.
Those families forced to occupy the houses on via Mac Mahon, which they’ve
already paid for with their taxes, did it to remove themselves and their
children from the unhealthy shacks of the infamous “centers for the evicted.”
The bosses have answered them with the violence of tear gas and police truncheons.
At Lainate we struck the same boss that exploits us in the factory and makes
our life insufferable on the outside.
Who are the provocateurs?
The bosses are always the provocateurs.
Provocateur is Leopoldo Pirelli, via Borgonuovo //18, tel. 651-421-Milan,
who, kidding himself that he could stop the struggle which strikes at his
power with ever growing force, set fire to the warehouses at Bicocca and
He hopes to kill two birds with one stone this way: kill the struggle by
blaming it for things it hasn’t done and get the insurance company to pay
for new buildings.
Provocation is a weapon the bosses will never stop using.
But the bosses and their “useful idiots” should not fool themselves, because
the working class by now knows how to distinguish clearly between the just
violence of the proletariat in struggle and the dumb criminal violence of
For the Communist Revolution. Red Brigade. 3
Continuous Struggle (“Lotta Continua”), the biggest of the extra-parliamentary
New Left groups, was critical of the BR’s first actions. In its newspaper
Continuous Struggle criticized them as “not a mass action”, as “only exemplary”,
concluding that they were “objectively a provocation”. Continuous Struggle
argued that “the military organization of the masses is not built by some
group carrying out military actions” but by “the creation of stable and autonomous
mass political organizations”. Continuous Struggle concluded that the BR’s
actions were only helping the Fascists, were an obstacle to the growth of
proletarian autonomy and predicted that they would be isolated by the workers
themselves and the revolutionary vanguards.
Despite this peculiar united front of the bourgeoisie, the revisionists and
the largest New Left group against the BR’s first actions, the Milan working
class rank and file openly approved of the BR’s sabotage actions at Lainate
just as earlier they had approved of the BR actions at Pirelli, seeing them
as an integral part of their own mass struggle.