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ACLI, BELGIUM, AND THE CFDT

The CISL was of course by no means the only Catholic workers’ association which was profoundly affected by the spirit of Vatican II and the associated wave of social movements inspired by Rome’s unexpected course correction. In Italy alone there existed an amazing—and sometimes confusing—welter of organizations within Catholic Action which had as their major goal to carry out work within the working-class milieux. For instance, the flagship Catholic Action organization for working-class youth, the Movimento Lavoratori di Azione Cattolica (MLAC), underwent some very important changes in this time period.[1] But the most astounding experiments occurred within one of the very largest mass organizations of Catholic workers in Italy as a whole, the aforementioned ACLI.

The ACLI had been founded in newly liberated Rome in the summer of 1944, and one of its original missions had been to organize the nucleus of what might eventually become a Catholic trade union federation when all of Italy would be liberated, which did not happen until late April 1945. Eventually the CISL emerged to take on this particular task. The ACLI, thus, primarily took on the function of Catholic Action organization for Catholic workers, although it developed additional roles. For much of the 1950s and into the 1960s, the ACLI remained loyal to the hierarchy’s vision for Catholic Action groupings, and there was no question about the ACLI’s role as a transmission belt for DC policies. When the CISL began to develop an appetite for an autonomous course in the late fifties and early sixties, it was the ACLI which served as a moderating influence in this milieu. But by the mid-1960s the ACLI, too, began to flex its muscles.

By 1966, voices openly critical of the guiding role of conservative DC could be heard with increasing frequency and resonance within the ACLI leadership and within its ranks. A first intellectual and organizational crystallization of such a new course occurred at the June 1969 national ACLI congress in Turin. The ensuing Hot Autumn of 1969 ensured that this radical turn towards autonomy and independence would emerge victorious. The 1970 Summer School in the Vallombrosa, the traditional summer retreat of ACLI activists, signed and sealed the ACLI’s determination to break with DC and to openly proclaim the need for a socialist solution to the problems and issues confronting Italian politics and society. A mass organization of Catholic Action, which in 1969 counted at least 600,000 members in 7,205 local sections throughout Italy, had broken with the traditionally conservative Catholic mainstream tradition and struck out on a path of its own.[2]

And, of course, it was by no means ‘just’ Italy which reflected the new winds blowing in the wake of Vatican II, powerfully reinforced by global ‘1968’. The Belgian Catholic workers’ movement, for instance, from 1970 onwards proved to be even more enthusiastic than its Socialist counterparts to adopt ‘selfmanagement’ as its own banner. Wildcat strikes and factory occupations found more practical assistance and support within the ranks of the Catholic trade union federation, dominant in the Flemish half of Belgium, than in the Socialist federation. The Catholic Confederation des Syndicats Chretiens in 1971 published a programmatic brochure, The Democratization of the

Workplace, in which it explicitly advocated self-management not just for factories and offices but for society as a whole.[3]

Perhaps the most internationally famous manifestation of such trends could be observed within the quintessential French Catholic trade union federation, the Confederation Fran^aise Democratique du Travail (CFDT), which, nominally, had separated from the Catholic church in 1964 but whose membership and leadership remained fundamentally influenced by Christian social theory for quite some time. It was the CFDT, rather than the Communist Confederation Generale du Travail, which proved itself to be open to the spirit of ’68. And it was the CFDT, marching in step with radical students, which proudly proclaimed on 16 May 1968, at the very onset of the three-week-long general strike which shook the foundations of the French state: ‘To civil liberties and rights within universities must correspond the same liberties and rights within enterprises; in this demand the struggle of university students joins up with those which workers have fought for since the origin of the labour movement. We must replace industrial and administrative monarchy with democratic structures based on workers’ self-management.’[4]

The CFDT would remain in the thick of social movement unionism until the early 1980s. Thus, it played a singularly important role in the flagship factory occupation and subsequent attempt at production under workers’ selfmanagement by the workforce at the watchmaking plant of LIP near Besan- $on. From June 1973 to January 1974, the LIP watch factory became the internationally most famous cause celebre of the radical Left, including notably the increasingly radicalized battalions of the Catholic Left. In Besan^on itself, virtually the entire Catholic community in this strongly Catholic town stood behind the LIP workers, notably the archbishop of Besan^on, Marc Lallier.[5] But, if the cauldron of France in the aftermath of 1968 and the Italian

Hot Autumn seem highly unusual venues for working-class missionary work in the fulfilment of a newly reinvented social doctrine of the Catholic church, an even more astounding case is provided by Francoist Spain, often left completely outside the orbit of scholars concerned with the vagaries of social Catholicism in post-World War II Europe.

  • [1] Storia del Movimento Lavoratori di Azione Cattolica (Rome: Ave, 2005).
  • [2] On the history of the ACLI, consult Carlo Felice Casula, Le ACLI. Una bella storia italiana(Rome: Anicia, 2008), notably the interview with Emilio Gabaglio, who was ACLI President inthe hottest phase of radical action, 1969-72, on pp. 29-52. The most detailed account of theperiod of rapid and far-reaching changes within ACLI remains Maria Cristina Sermanni, LeACLI. Alla prova della politica 1961-1972 (Naples: Dehoniane, 1986). An astute and conciseinsider’s perspective is also accessible in Fausto Tortora, ‘Le ACLI e la scelta socialista’, inLorenzo Bedeschi etal., I cristiani nella sinistra. Dalla Resistenza a oggi (Rome: Coines, 1976),pp. 199-213. An informative collection of Italian newspaper articles on key moments in ACLIhistory is presented by Mariangela Maraviglia (ed.), ACLI. 50 anni a servicio della Chiesa e dellasocieta italiana (Cinisello Balsamo: San Paolo, 1996). The concrete membership data for 1969 aretaken from Ivan Moscati, ‘Le ACLI e lo spontaneismo’, Tempi moderni 7 (1971), pp. 125-8.I thank Giovanni Scirocco for sending me this reference. Internal ACLI documents for thatperiod claim up to one million members!
  • [3] Patrick Pasture, ‘Histoire et representation d’une utopie. L’idee autogestionnaire en Belgique’, in Frank Georgi (ed.), Autogestion. La Derniere Utopie? (Paris: Publications de laSorbonne, 2003), pp. 143-56. On parallel sentiments percolating within the ranks of theinfluential Flemish functional equivalent of the ACLI, see Walter Nauwelaerts, ‘Le KristelijkeWerknemersbeweging’, in Emmanuel Gerard and Paul Wynants (eds), Histoire du MouvementOuvrier Chretien en Belgique, Vol. II (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1994), pp. 501-43.
  • [4] The key study of the transformation of the erstwhile Catholic trade union federation intothe motor force of radical societal, self-management-oriented change is Frank Georgi, L’lnven-tion de la CFDT 1957-1970 (Paris: Atelier, 1995). The same author furnishes a superb analysis ofthe specifically Christian impulses behind this revolution; see Frank Georgi, ‘De la CFTC a laCFDT. Un choix chretien?’, in Bruno Duriez etal. (eds), Chretiens et ouvriers en France,1937-1970 (Paris: Atelier, 2001), pp. 183-93. Perhaps the most inspiring overall survey of thehistory of the CFDT from the 1940s to the 1980s remains Pierre Cours-Salies, La CFDT. Un passeporteur d’avenir. Pratiques syndicales et debats strategiques depuis 1946 (Montreuil: La Breche,1988). The 13 May 1968 citation is taken from Albert Detraz, ‘Le Mouvement ouvrier, la CFDTet l’idee d’autogestion’, in Edmond Maire, Alfred Krumnow, and Albert Detraz, La CFDT etI’autogestion (Paris: Cerf, 1975), p. 77.
  • [5] Jean Divo, L’Affaire LIP et les catholiques de Franche-Comte (Yens-sur-Morges: Cabedita,2003).
 
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