\•, i •....'. Reviews < ' ' 239 NOTES 1 Ellen Chase, Tenant Friends in Old Deptford, London, 1929,173. , ., . , 2 John Law, pseud., (Margaret Harkness), Captain Lobe, London, 1891,3. Women and Italian Fascism by Tobias Abse PERRY R. WILLSON, The Clockwork Factory: Women and Work in Fascist Italy, Oxford, 1993, pp. viii + 291, £35. Downloaded from hwj.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 21, 2011 The Clockwork Factory is a remarkable book, combining rigorous and thorough empirical research, of both traditional archivial and more innovative types, with an extremely intelligent discussion of a broad range of issues concerning women, workers, industrialists, scientific management, Italian fascism and the Italian Resistance. Although the book originated in a doctoral thesis, it covers a far wider spectrum of topics than many avowedly general texts about the fascist period - with their concentration on political history and male experience- and, perhaps because of the author's academic starting point as a student of modern languages, engages with a much wider range of Italian secondary literature than the majority of Anglo-American works on related questions, which-sometimes surreptitiously trade on the Anglophone reader's ignorance of native scholarship. At the risk of arousing Willson's own ire, given her considerable admiration for Luisa Passerini, I would argue'that she has made a more significant contribution to our understanding of the experience of Italian industrial workers during the fascist regime than the much cited text Fascism in Popular Memory (Cambridge, 1987). Willson's study of the Magneti Marelli light engineering factory in Sesto San' Giovanni, Milan's most famous industrial suburb, during the years between 1919 and 1945 is an outstanding example of what can be achieved through theoretically informed micro-history, amply demonstrating that a commitment to 'history from below' in no way excludes abroad understanding of economic, social and political transformations on the national and in this case - given the detailed treatment of Fordism and Taylorism - indeed international level.1 Rarely can an historian have combined such a sensitive employment of oral testimony with such technical skill in making maximum use of statistical information processed through the latest computer technology, which has enabled such breakthroughs in factory level studies in-the last decade as Willson acknowledges in her discussion of the Marghera research project, which inspired some aspects of her own study. Generally oral historians, even those of the calibre of Ronald Fraser and Luisa Passerini, attracted as they are by the beguiling notion of exploring the complexities of human subjectivity through painstaking face-to-face interviews and the curious workings of memory revealed by them, have little interest in detailed statistical analysis of humdrum data like company files on employees, whilst cliometricians with their desperate, sometimes insatiable, hunger for objec- tively verifiable facts usually produce arid prose that shies away from any vestige of the subjective, of the life experience of the individual human being. Whilst some . . . • , - - . . , i - , - . , / . . i , • : . , , . . • • . . • . • . i - , . . . . ' . . : • • , - , . , , . . . 240 History Workshop Journal might argue that Maurizio Gribaudi's Mondo operaio e mito operaio: Spazi e percorsi sociali a Torino nel primo novecento (Turin, 1987) is broadly comparable in its combination of the methodologies of statistical demography and oral history, such far-reaching claims are undermined by Gribaudi's deployment of the frequently distorting prism of a variant of modernisation theory, with its barely concealed anti-Marxist agenda, through which the experience of a younger generation of workers growing up under fascism is interpreted; it is of course no accident that Gribaudi's focus is entirely on the male working class for as Willson's book makes only too clear young female workers, whose lives were dominated by factory, housework and family commitments, had little or no opportunity to develop an individualistic mentality centred around new leisure pursuits during the fascist years. Willson's book is the first detailed full-length local monograph on the Italian working class under fascism that gives due weight to women's experience of the factory; it is also the first book in English on the experience of Italian women during the fascist Downloaded from hwj.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 21, 2011 period to give due weight to the experience of working class women, since Victoria De Grazia's major study How Fascism Ruled Women: Italy 1922-1945 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1992) is heavily weighted towards the experience of educated middle class women. The vast abyss between the Americanisation of women's leisure, the changes in female fashion and the increasing female participation rate in higher education discussed in meticulous detail by De Grazia and the harsh quotidian reality of the life of Sesto factory girls in the fascist period is most poignantly exemplified by the intensely vivid recall one of Willson's female informants had of the one day of freedom she and her female friends achieved in their entire youth when they managed to escape to the cinema by pretending to their families to be setting off for work on a day when they were temporarily laid off (p. 210). 1 It would be misleading to argue that the Magneti Marelli factory was in some sense a microcosm of Italian industry as a whole and Willson never seeks to do this - if anything she is perhaps a little too cautious about generalising. The Magneti Marelli is interesting precisely because of its atypicality. It had a roughly even balance between female and male workers in a sector - engineering - that had traditionally been a male preserve. This enables Willson to explore trie important role of gender in the allocation of various types of work - some tasks were considered too skilled and others too heavy or too dirty for women - and the relationship between female and male workers within one factor - albeit a partially segregated one with an almost exclusively female winding shop - in a way which would have been impossible if she had studied the almost exclusively female textile mills where the bulk of female factory workers were concentrated in this period. Similarly the management's rather thoroughgoing adaptation of Fordist, Taylorist and even neo-Taylorist ideas to Italian realities at a time when in most Italian factories 'scientific management' was merely a euphemism for wage-cutting, speed-up and the adoption of the Bedaux system, makes it easier to discuss the nature of the relationship between changes in the organisation of work and in the labour force on the one hand and a political environment in which the working class had no access to either political democracy or free trade unions on the other. The experience of Magneti Marelli should serve to indicate that, contrary to the dogmatic line devised by Togliatti and repeated by many subsequent writers, there was no necessary linkage between Italian fascism and backward or archaic sections of the economy - the leading figures in thisfirm- Benni, the Quintavalle brothers - were all dedicated fascists until 1938, and in some cases remained so until the end. As Willson points out Reviews 241 'it is evident that Magneti was run by men who were closely implicated in the Fascist regime, and they in turn benefitted from it both in the sense of winning government orders for their products and of enjoying a union-free atmosphere which gave them great room for manoeuvre with the work force' (p. 33). Willson demonstrates, with a battery of statistics, that, contrary to the traditional stereotypes about male industrial labour forces being far more stable than female ones, the female workers at Magneti Marelli tended to stay with the firm for far longer than their male counterparts and, after analysing a variety of factors including both the availability of, and wage rates in, other work in the area, ascribes this phenomenon primarily to the nursery facilities offered by the Magneti Marelli management, indicating the contradictory relationship between fascist ideology concerning the role of women as mothers and housewives and the overriding imperatives of industrial capitalism. Willson's discussion of male and female participation in the Resistance in the Sesto area in general and in the Magneti Marelli works in particular is one of the most Downloaded from hwj.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 21, 2011 interesting sections of the book and certainly does not confirm the impression created, intentionally or otherwise, by De Grazia's concentration on the Civitella massacre that the Resistance was a negative experience for Italian women; indeed Willson unhesitatingly asserts that for women 'this period was one where the protective shell of family and factory could no longer totally separate them from the public sphere' (p. 242), a development she regards as very positive indeed. Considerations of space preclude detailed discussion of Willson's findings about linkages between fascism, re-armament and women's employment or the role of rural-urban migration in Sesto; suffice it to say that this work confronts all the relevant debates about working class history in this period with great clarity. To conclude, The Clockwork Factory, which adopts gender as a primary category of analysis without in any way endorsing the fashionable post-modern retreat from class, is one of the most important books on the social history of Fascist Italy to appear for at least a decade.