Danilo Dolci leads fast and reverse strike for employment, 1956

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The campaign lasted five days, and the main demonstrations took place on Jan 30 and Feb 2.
29 January
2 February
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Partinico, Trappeto, Balestrate
Location Description: 
Southern Italy, Sicily
Provide assistance and work for the unemployed people and regulate fishing laws on the coastline.

One of the most prophetic activists and philosophers from the Western World was Danilo Dolci of Italy. To many he was known as the “Gandhi of Italy” and he devoted the majority of his life’s work to improve the conditions of the impoverished parts of Italy and especially the slums of Sicily. When he was 24 he renounced his middle class heritage, and moved to Western Sicily in order to begin a campaign to ease the poor conditions of southern Italy. He identified the problems that plagued Sicily as: severe unemployment, starvation, poverty, and Mafia influences. Dolci implemented a plan to alleviate poverty and create jobs over twenty years. With the aim of fulfilling his goals, Dolci executed numerous hunger strikes in towns such as Trappeto in 1952 (see “Danilo Dolci hunger strikes for irrigation project in Sicily, 1952”) and created the Centro di studi e iniziative (the Center to promote research of Social Change) in 1955.

Danilo Dolci saw the need for another campaign because of the amount of unemployed men in Western Sicily. Also, the fishing laws along the coast were being ignored, which was detrimental to employment and food supplies. Dolci and his followers planned to fast for a day in preparation for a “reverse strike” where a number of unemployed men would work on road construction without payment.

In preparation for the fast and reverse strike, Dolci notified the authorities in December 1955 that the campaign would occur throughout the last days of January and the first week of February. In the preceding time, Dolci travelled around Italy eliciting support and help from friends, mayors, writers, students, and Trade Unions—UIL (Italian Labor Union) and Camera del Lavoro. The campaign was centralized around the idea that the authorities were not following the 4th Amendment to the Constitution, which dealt with employment for Italian citizens. Dolci and his followers spread the ideas through use of posters, manifestos, and newspaper publishings. While he spread his ideas, Dolci made it clear that the fast was meant to let the authorities know they had peaceful intentions when concerning the reverse strike.

The night before the fast occurred, the authorities insisted that Dolci call off the fast. They threatened to meet the fast with police force, but Dolci was adamant and followed through despite the pleas to cancel. In hindsight, Dolci knew the police resistance that would await the fasters, so he figured the fast would be safest if it took place in three different places along the Sicilian coast: Trappeto, Balestrate, and Partinico.

On the rainy morning of Monday, January 30, Dolci and thousands of fisherman and other jobless citizens arrived on the beaches of Trappeto, Balestrate, and Partinico. On Trappeto beach there were at least 200 police and carabinieri awaiting the fasters. Conversations took place between authorities and Dolci in which Dolci explained how the fast was preparation for the forthcoming strike in early February. The entire day passed according to plan with no violent outbursts or police intervention.

The next day, Dolci made a statement for the national press stating that underprivileged citizens of Partinico and other impoverished cities deserved the same rights and opportunities that other Italians had. On February 1, two days after the hunger strike occurred, unemployed citizens gathered in the Camera del Lavoro (Center for Italian Syndicalist Labor Unions) in Western Sicily. Salvatore Termini, union secretary and Town Councilor of Palermo led the gathering, spreading Dolci’s ideas of the strike in reverse—that they were willing to work, even for no money. However, as this activism among labor unions grew, the UIL (Italian Labor Union) retracted their support of the campaign that day. They did not think that Dolci’s campaign would have a positive outcome and that the authorities would stop it.

At 6 AM on Thursday February 2, the reverse strike took place. Dolci and 200 jobless citizens walked to the dirt road in Partinico that had been destroyed by the rain and water overflow. Men spread out on both sides of the road armed with only work tools and began working on building a functional road. Within twenty minutes of working, truckloads of almost 400 policemen and carabinieri arrived, heavily armed with tear gas and clubs. The authorities ordered the workers to stop, and nobody complied. Dolci and 6 other men—Carlo Zanini, Salvatore Termini, Ciccio Abbate, and Ignazio Speciale—stopped to speak to the authorities. Once the police heard chants from Dolci stating that the authorities were “murderers” by taking their rights away, they immediately took the seven men into custody. The other workers did not go home, and instead marched through the Partinico main street to the town hall. Those who went to town hall and asked for jobs were met with promises of employment, but they only received court charges.

Danilo Dolci and the other men who were arrested went to court and pleaded their case, but each of the men were sentenced to at least one month in prison and various fines and penalties up to 20,000 lire. The Italian government did not have any immediate reactions to this demonstration, but Dolci and his ideas got international recognition. Dolci’s supporters and acquaintances, in order to make efforts in raising employment and lessening poverty in southern Italy, created many groups across the country and the rest of Europe.

Research Notes

Other hunger strikes and campaigns by Danilo Dolci in the past influenced this demonstration. These smaller campaigns were part of a bigger long-term plan of Danilo Dolci to alleviate poverty and unemployment in Sicily. (1)

Dolci, Danilo. Outlaws. New York, New York: The Orion Press, Inc., 1961. 217-261. Print.

McNeish, James. Fire Under the Ashes: The Life of Danilo Dolci. Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd., 1965. 115-124. Print.

Powers, Roger S., William B. Vogele, and Christopher Kruegler. "Dolci, Danilo." Protest Power & Change: An Encyclopedia of Nonviolent Action. Library of Congress, 1997. Print.

Sharp, Gene. "181. Reverse Strike". The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part Two: The Methods of Nonviolent Action. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973. pp. 402

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Kevin Strand, 23/03/2012