More work! Less pay!

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In the mid-1970s, a wave of contentious radicalism swept through Italy. Groups and movements such as ‘Proletarian Youth’, ‘Metropolitan Indians’ and ‘the area of Autonomy’ practised new forms of activism, confrontational and often violent. Creative and brutal, intransigent and playful, the movements flourished briefly before being suppressed through heavy policing and political exclusion.

More work! Less pay! is the first full-length study in English of these movements. Building on Sidney Tarrow’s ‘cycle of contention’ model and drawing on a range of Italian materials, it tells the story of a unique and fascinating group of political movements, and of their disastrous engagement with the mainstream Left. As well as shedding light on a neglected period of twentieth century history, this book offers lessons for understanding today’s contentious movements (‘No Global’, ‘Black Bloc’) and today’s ‘armed struggle’ groups.

Phil Edwards is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University.


“These movements deserve to be studied and understood … Phil Edwards’ book helps us in this understanding”
John Foot, Bulletin of Italian Politics

“This is a serious piece of work that deserves a much wider readership”
Paul Anderson, Red Pepper

Review by Andy Newman, Socialist Unity

Review by Henry Farrell, Crooked Timber

Where to get it

Manchester University Press


Preface (excerpt)


Ever since Milan’s Communist-Socialist government proposed a fare rise for the city’s bus and underground services a constant direct action campaign has been waged against the public transport authorities … The campaign, which has attracted support from autonomia groups, Circoli Giovanili (Youth Circles), the Indians and also the highly opportunistic Leninist groups Lotta Continua and MLS, has been organised by the recently formed Lega Libertaria (Libertarian League).

A tube occupation one Saturday in October went like this … On arrival one comrade walked through the ticket barrier, to be stopped by the ticket controller. Several others appeared to give support to the first, and this exchange took place: ‘This is a demonstration against the proposed fare increases. It is not a violent demonstration so please stay calm.’ ‘All right, but I must go and report it.’ ‘Look! we said a peaceful demonstration, but not a pacifist one, so just make yourself comfortable and stay put.’ By now other comrades had succeeded in blocking all the ticket machines with bits of metal, plastic and generous helpings of glue. Others were giving out leaflets and others inviting people through the barriers for free.

While the Lega Libertaria recognise many other areas of struggle that need to be fought and won, Milan’s anarchists and libertarians are determined to make these liberatory actions a daily feature of the city’s life until everyone rides for free.

I first read this news story in December 1977, when it appeared in the ‘anarchist/anarca-feminist monthly’ Zero. Even in that context it seemed like a bulletin from another planet. I was taken aback by the group’s unapologetically forceful version of non-violent direct action, and by its goal, which seemed at once surprisingly mundane and wildly utopian. At the same time I was fascinated by the glimpse of a seething pool of competing radical groups, from Leninists to the enigmatic ‘Indians’, all united in the cause of cutting the cost of living through wildcat sabotage.

Years later, studying Italian politics, I remembered the Milan tube action and wondered if the literature could tell me how things had turned out. I couldn’t find much on the period in English, but my attention was caught by Sidney Tarrow’s study of an earlier Italian ‘protest cycle’. Tarrow showed how, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a wave of contentious and disorderly activism spread across the country before being neutralised and absorbed into the political mainstream.

This book traces the progress of a second wave of activism, which was not absorbed and neutralised but excluded and defeated. Its two progenitors are Tarrow and Zero.


The Hot Autumn and after: a cycle of contention reconsidered
Innovation: 1966–8
Diffusion: 1968–9
Engagement: 1969–70
Aftermath: 1971–3
Towards a new repertoire: from defence to attack, 1969–72
Analysing the aftermath: ‘outbidding’ and beyond

A second cycle?
From Resistance to Historic Compromise: the politics of the PCI
The PCI from Fascism to Liberation
The PCI Left from Secchia to Ingrao
The PCI and the first cycle
The strange success of the Historic Compromise (1972–6)
The Historic Compromise hits the rocks (1976–8)
The Historic Compromise and the second cycle
A sleeping gatekeeper?

From Feltrinelli to Moro: a second cycle of contention
Autonomy, youth, armed struggle
Innovation and disintegration: Lotta Continua, Potere Operaio and the armed struggle groups
Autonomia emerges
‘Won’t pay!’ Autonomia leaves the factories
‘Time to rebel’: the proletarian youth movement
We have no choice: new armed groups
From innovation to diffusion
La Scala, la cacciata di Lama and the movement of 1977
Violence and repression
Ahead where? After the movement of 1977
From Segrate to Bologna: a cycle in review

‘Repudiate all forms of intolerance’: how the movements were framed
Framing the news, framing disorder
Framing the news, reading the frames
‘Disconnected, irresponsible and provocative’: framing the phase of innovation, 1972–3
‘Typical fascist violence’: framing the phase of diffusion, 1974–6
‘A kind of homogeneous, impassable block’: framing the phase of engagement, 1976–7
Framing, engagement and the closing of the cycle

A cycle and its aftermath
A cycle in review, 1: mass movements
Into the aftermath, 1: mass movements
A cycle in review, 2: ‘armed struggle’ groups
Into the aftermath, 2: engaging with the armed struggle
Into the aftermath, 3: the decline and fall of the PCI
Do you remember revolution?
Memory, history, forgetting
Closure: the PCI, the Historic Compromise and the end of the cycle
No alternative?
Invisibility and violence
Coda: could it happen here?

Social movements and cycles of contention: theoretical appendix
Social movements and framing processes
Political opportunities
Tarrow and the repertoire of contention
Contenders and gatekeepers: a model

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