1971: Via Tibaldi occupation

Aerial view of Via Tibaldi today

A short history of an occupation of empty housing in Italy by workers who had inadequate accomodation. Their direct action and solidarity forced the council to house hundreds of people.

The occupation at Via Tibaldi was a great step forward for the tenants’ and homeless movement in Italy. A whole neighbourhood was involved in it : factories, schools, housing projects took part in the organising of the struggle. There was a victory at Via Tibaldi because everyone there was fully aware of the issue: There were 70 families, all immigrants from Southern Italy, who had been promised a place by the Council and had to be re-housed.

When the confrontation came, it was clear who was on which side: It was homeless families, workers, and students against the bosses, the unions, the housing officials, and the police. In the six days of violence the people occupied everything; houses, the streets, the town hall, police wagons, and the Architecture Faculty at the University. Thousands of police were mobilised against those involved in the occupations. In one day there were two attempts to evict everyone. The forces of repression attacked with tear gas, clubbing everyone who got in their way. Twice they were beaten back and after the third attempt to shift them, the occupiers agreed to be re-housed temporarily by a charity. This was a tactical retreat. The mayor and his mob were forced to give in. Houses were allocated to the families who had squatted and to 140 other families who had been evicted and were “living” in hostels waiting to be re-housed. The alliance of workers, students, and tenants forged before and during “the taking of Via Tibaldi” shows how strong the working class is when it fights together. With this alliance the working class went on the offensive and won a famous victory in June of 1971.

The occupation began on Tuesday morning. The squatters were nearly all Southerners, workers at Pirelli and other smaller factories, building workers, and unemployed people. Some of the people had been involved in other struggles: Before this occupation the families from Crescenzago were on rent strike. The occupation was strengthened by a continual coming and going of workers (many of them from OM, a large factory only 150 yards away), students, and local people who supported the action. They offered help, brought useful materials, and worked alongside the squatters. The workers engaged in building this block of apartments were also sympathetic. The firm they worked for was about to close down. Because of the two months of organisation which had led up to the occupation the whole of Milan knew about it. Aniasi, the mayor, and the officials of the IACP (the Italian State building authority) knew about it too. Almost at the same time they both started denying responsibility. Barricades were built in the streets, particularly by the women and children.

Wednesday: A demonstration was organised to go to Porta Ticinesewhere there was the Festival of the Navigilo, where Mayor Aniasi was expected to be in attendance. The families wanted to confront him and let him know that they were ready for anything. The march was headed by a banner that read “Homes Occupied “. There are dozens of red flags. The marchers moved off shouting “We want houses NOW“, “Free houses for workers!”, and “Long live Communism!” When they reach Porta Ticinese they found that Aniasi had left. So everyone climbed up onto the rostrum and occupied it for a while. Then, with more and more people joining in, they set off back to the apartment building.

Thursday: The families decided that the struggle must become more militant. Twenty or so people went to the Marino Palace, to a meeting of the Council. Once again they refused to listen. A room in the Town Hall was occupied from 5 pm till midnight. When they get back to the Via Tibaldi there was a meeting of heads of families which decided that the struggle must continue to the bitter end. Nobody so much as mentions the idea of abandoning the building. The people of Milan were well aware of the Via Tibaldi struggle, and new families continued to arrive. The people who occupied and won the apartments in another street, Mac Mahon, came to give their support. There was also much discussion about new forms of struggle. Over the next few days a huge demonstration was organised to show that they had no intention of giving in.

Friday: The housing official Catalano arrived to negotiate, sent by the Town Hall and IACP. He had a reputation for cramming workers into shanty towns after having promised them homes. Catalano wanted a list of the families involved, which he got, alongside an impromptu hearing at a People’s Tribunal. The people told him what they thought of him, that he was nothing but a lackey of the bosses, a rat and an exploiter. A crowd of workers surrounded him, shouting: “We’re going to have the apartments, and you can get stuffed for the rents!” He was really swaggering when he arrived; but by the time he left, several hours later, he was pale and trembling. And he was forced to give the squatters some solid commitments.

Saturday: The mobilisation continued. In the afternoon another barricade was built in the streets.

Sunday morning: Two thousand police arrived to clear out the Via Tibaldi. The Town Hall and the bosses decided that they have to put down these people who, in six days of struggle, have become a reference point and an organisation central for the entire working class of Milan. The squatters knew that they had a right to defend what they had taken and what was rightfully theirs. But they wanted to make sure they built their strength and used it at the right time. On that Sunday morning they were still too weak. After long arguments with the police the squatters decided to leave the building and move to the Architecture Faculty of the local University, at the invitation of the students.

Sunday evening: 3,000 police arrived to throw everyone out of the Architecture Faculty. They thought that it would be as easy as it was in the morning, but they couldn’t have been more mistaken. While the police squads took up their positions, a meeting of all the families decided that this time they had to defend themselves, that they were strong enough to do so, and that the cops were going to pay for the eviction from Via Tibaldi. Once again all the organisation came from the squatting families. Women and children stood on the upper floors, with all the men down below behind the gates, facing the riot squad. At 11 pm the cops charged. But they got their fingers burned. They hadn’t expected the fierce and powerful reaction from the people inside the building, or the attack from behind by people who hadn’t managed to get inside. When they eventually manage to force their way into the building, the police found no one there. Everyone had managed to get out and began regrouping in the streets, ready to carry on the fight. Having run out of tear gas, the riot squad retreated, completely disoriented, and was charged by the squatters. Participants lost count of the jeeps demolished by stones. The battle lasted until two in the morning.

Monday morning: Members of all the families met up on the university campus. They were all there; people decided to go along to a meeting of the architecture students. Here, in the afternoon, some of the squatters were chosen to explain the struggle In Via Tibaldi. A proposal was made that closer links be created between the students’ struggle and that of the homeless. On the basis of this proposal the meeting decided that the families should occupy the Architecture Faculty again later that day. As for the Faculty Board, they decided to initiate a permanent seminar on the housing problem with the people from Via Tibaldi who are “experts” on the subject.

At the Architecture Faculty, as always, decisions about how to carry on the struggle were made solely by the assembly of families, which met twice a day. During one of these meetings a huge demonstration was suggested for the following Saturday. This they hoped would help to bring home the meaning of the struggle to those who weren’t directly involved. The demonstration was to mobilise 30,000 people!

Wednesday: At five o’clock in the morning the police surrounded the whole university precinct in three huge circles. Traffic was at a complete standstill. It was a trial of strength. 250 students were arrested plus a dozen lecturers and even the Dean of the Faculty! The families were carried off once more in police vans. A few hours later, a general assembly held at the Polytechnic was also broken up by the police. Vittoria, the Chief of Police, De Peppo, the General Procurator of the Republic, and Aniasi, the Mayor, thought that they had finally beaten what was originally no more than a few dozen families, but what had become the symbol of Milan’s working class. They couldn’t have been more mistaken!

Wednesday dinnertime: All the families ate at the canteen of the ACLI (Action Group of Italian Catholic Workers), where they have been given shelter. From then on no one could avoid the struggle in Via Tibaldi. The ruling class were caught in enormous contradictions trying to reconcile the demands which were coming from every direction - from a section of the PSI (the Socialist Party) and local councillors; from the Communist Party, and the ACLI, which they’d always thought were under their thumb; from the FIM (one of the metal workers’ unions whose members are particularly militant)... Some orders were coming from Rome and others from local employers. The greatest danger was that the struggle would spread.

And the families were doing everything in their power to make it happen by organising Saturday’s demonstration, by going to the factory gates with placards and leaflets, by sending a delegation to the congress of the ACLI and to the general assembly of the student movement, where they were given a tumultuous reception. And before every action was taken, the assembly of families decided what should be said, what line to take, and what proposals to put forward.

As for Aniasi and company, had to cave in. Catalano, the same messenger boy who’d gone so arrogantly to the Via Tibaldi, now hurried to the ACLI with an offer. “Too vague”, said the families. “Your words and promises won’t be enough to solve the housing problem now. We want an agreement written and signed by Aniasi and the Council.” Two hours later the agreement was there.

Before July 31, the Council had to allocate 200 apartments, not only to the families from the Via Tibaldi, but also to 140 others in a similar situation. Each family received 100,000 lira ($1,665) compensation, plus 15,000 lira ($250) for each member of the family. There was not the usual stipulation of three months’ deposit before moving into the apartments. All evictions and all rent arrears were frozen by the Council. During this fortnight of struggle none of the squatters had ever imagined that the workers’ fight for housing would end at Via Tibaldi, or that the only problem was how to get a new home. This struggle was only a beginning. Subsequently the families attempted to help organise the struggle against rents, fares, and prices, and circulate information around local factories. For this reason the assembly of families from Via Tibaldi became long-term, involving people from every district in Milan.

Edited and altered by libcom from Lotta Continua. Translated and edited by Ernest Dowson. Taken From Radical America, vol. 7, #2. Taken from prole.info

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Sep 10 2006 22:27


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Jul 19 2014 18:10

For Italian speakers/readers, here there's an article from l'Unitá (left-wing Italian newspaper, originally found by the Communist Party) from 1971 blaming the violence between police and the occupiers (mostly families and migrant workers from southern Italy) on 'little groups' of the anti-parliamentary left, particularly Lotta Continua..