‘The Public Force of the Private State’ – Strikebreaking and Visions of Subversion in Liberal Italy (1880s To 1914) – European History Quarterly – article

‘The Public Force of the Private State’ – Strikebreaking and Visions of Subversion in Liberal Italy (1880s To 1914)

Matteo Millan | European History Quarterly

2019-10-22

From the end of the nineteenth century onwards, Italy witnessed a significant increase in labour conflicts, trade unionism and social protests, all of which shook the foundations of the liberal state. Following the failure of the authorities’ attempts to deal with mass protests, efforts were made under the governments of Giovanni Giolitti to adopt new policing policies that embraced state neutrality in social conflicts and the deployment at the same time of substantial police forces to prevent the escalation of conflict and bloodshed. The success of these policies is highly questionable and there were major differences in this respect between northern and southern Italy, and between rural and industrial areas. Nevertheless, these policies contributed to the fear of abandonment and desire for revenge felt by significant sections of the propertied classes, and the issue of strikebreaking was at the centre of the controversy. Focusing on the Po Valley, this article first presents a broad overview of the political situation in Italy with emphasis on policing policies and work replacement, then analyses the various forms of legal and illegal private strike-breaker protection organizations that took on clear subversive aims. Drawing on newspapers and archival records, the article highlights the overlap between private and public law enforcement and the combination of coercion and consensus in the Italian countryside. The long-term consequences of the unresolved issue of strikebreaking and private policing help explain the rise of Fascism after the Great War.

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