Industrial Socialism in Italy

Time was in Italy when the trust owned all the glass factories and gave employment to about three thousand men.

The men employed in that industry were paid such wages and worked under such conditions as the master saw fit to determine. In due course of time the men employed at one of the glass furnaces went on strike against an employer who had refused to accede to a series of demands made by the union.

This strike lasted a year, and out of the incidental troubles and hardships there was born the idea of starting a glass factory to be owned and operated by the workers themselves.

To accomplish this required a tremendous effort. Nevertheless, the Union Glass Blowers succeeded in starting a factory of their own, raising the necessary funds by their own efforts. Many of the bottle blowers sold all their belongings, including the beds they slept on, to contribute their share. In this manner was started an Industrial Union Glass Factory, owned entirely by the union.

This factory was an immediate success and it was not long until a second one was founded which gave employment to other members of the union. Without the help of masons or mechanics the second factory was builded and in operation at the end of six weeks.

By this means the great glass trust of Italy was whipped; the strikers going to work in their own factory and thus compelling the trust to grant union wages and conditions for the men in the bottle industry.

But still another problem presented itself to the owners of the trust. The Industrial Union Factory began to draw heavily on the trade and the Bottle Blowers’ Union became a most formidable competitor of the trust.

The trust therefore began an aggressive campaign against the Bottle Blowers’ Union, which resulted in more strikes. As each strike occurred, the strikers contributed what money they had, and started a co-operative bottle factory, the consequence of it all being that the trust was forced to relinquish much of the profit on their goods, and much of their patronage.

Thereupon the trust began to introduce some of the tactics employed in the United States, cutting prices and underselling the union in the bottle market. Finally, as a last resort, they attempted to induce the banks to refuse the union credit.

But even by these tactics the trust failed to obtain results, owing to the growing demand of the public for union factory goods. These men employed greater care and efficiency in the manufacture of bottles, and their product was so superior that their entire output was sold in advance and higher prices were obtained than the trust could command for their goods.

To-day there are in Italy about 3,500 members in the Bottle Blowers’ Industrial Union, 2,500 of them being employed by themselves in the factories owned by the union and the remaining 1,000 employed by the trust. All of the men are members of the union and all are shareholders in the union bottle works, including those who still remain in the employ of the trust.

All the bottle blowers of Italy are owners of their factories and the trust magnate realizes that he has in his employ men to whom he pays wages, who are at the same time in competition with him for the bottle trade of southern Europe. The trust uses the man’s time, but any new knowledge he acquires or new inventions introduced, he gives to the union to help his fellow workers to make a better bottle for the market. He draws wages from the capitalist, but his heart and mind are with his brothers in the union factory. If the boss fires him the union employs him, and in this way the Bottle Blowers’ Union of Italy dominates the trade.

That the workers have made a brilliant success of this venture is no longer questioned. Odon Por, writing for an English review, attributes the success of the bottle blowers to two factors, as follows:

First, the technical efficiency of the glass blowers, developed through their effort to create collectively something new and positive. Second, their moral solidarity evolved through this Socialistic training.

In their struggles, he says, they forget their immediate interests and work with all their might for the liberation of their whole class from the tyranny of capitalism. They are dominated by a social vision, by a greater sense of human fraternity. In all the factories of this union there is not a single overseer, and the technical and business managers are all bottle blowers.

When the men came to a realization of their success it revolutionized their lives. They gave up drink and dissipation and are now devoting their spare time to the study of industrial and social problems. They take no profits or dividends for themselves, but contribute such money to the support of mutual aid societies. The desire to become capitalists and prey upon their fellows has left them. They realize that the sooner they and the rest of the working class learn to free themselves from the tyranny of capitalism the better it will be for them and the world.

The Bottle Blowers’ Union of Italy has given a practical demonstration of what the workers can do when left to themselves. These men are directing their own affairs and doing it ably.

After this manner the Italian railway workmen, bottle blowers and other workers have demonstrated the power of labor, and the idea of industrial Socialism is fast permeating the education and political institutions of Italy.