The Secret is to Tell All!

The Blitz and Operation Salve

The echoes of our success, which was obtained by new methods of warfare, resounded, and all the people at Lope de Vega spoke of it, even Ignazio, the bartender, was impressed by the sums of money that proletarian optimism had inflated while being passed along by word of mouth. The first consequence of our actions was a spectacular decrease in absenteeism, which thus reached a level that no government in the world could hope to attain. Everyone wanted to take his or her chances with the new system, even if the results were often different and not always positive.

One person in particular became the focus of general attention as a negative hero, the object of all sorts of teasing and ironic jokes: poor Mimmo Capobianco. Always dressed like a scarecrow, with pants that were too short, he babbled by trying to transform his immigrant’s dialect into Italian, and he had no shame about declaring that he was illiterate. He slaved away like a beast and was timid to the point of never daring to protest against anything; then he suddenly got worked up and demanded twenty million lire in exchange for his dismissal. But his employers explained to him that they had no reason to do so because they were very happy with his work!

As for Giuseppe Sameli, he rejected such operations because they didn’t suit him, and he was incapable of working two months in a row. He didn’t have patience and had no intention of acquiring it.

At the Employment Office, we worked out a new technique – quick and yielding high returns – that was tailored for individual actions. In fact, it wasn’t always possible to assemble armies, and the cops, who were always ready to seize upon any misstep, were watching us. They often spoke of the “blitz” in the newspapers, and Michele, who had spent almost twenty years in Mannheim, explained to us that this meant “in a flash.” As a challenge, we adopted this term, because it seemed appropriate that we were able to steal faster than a policeman could slap the handcuffs on us!

In short, the game was based on the bullshit of the personnel services and their employees, brave little bastards who screeched at the weakest people, but were as stupid as donkeys. We sought out loopholes in the law: I will only provide a single example. The Labor Code mandates that any contract only has validity if it has been signed before the worker has begun his service. If not, the contract would be worth shit. Thus, one had to deftly avoid signing one and throw oneself into a job without asking or provoking any questions. Of course, such a gung-ho attitude pleased the bosses, and, without thinking of the consequences, they favored people who had it.

So many laughs. . . . I remember that, one time, as I led the way to the manager’s office, I broke away and ran like hell away from a luxury hotel, after only working there five hours, thus leaving them all dumbfounded. The next morning I returned, stammered out pathetic excuses, and then, 110 minutes later, I ran out again. I sent them a registered letter, accompanied by a medical certificate that prescribed seven days of rest. Those yokels reacted by firing me, which netted me three-and-a-half million lire. And I will never forget the day I landed at a cafeteria as a cook’s helper. At the end of two days of work, I still hadn’t been offered a contract, which was a real blessing. I amused myself by adding sugar to the stew of 70 people, and then angelically affirmed that I was right to do so because I liked my soup that way and that it was the best recipe in the world . . . so good that I hated to change it . . . which ended in a military expulsion rather than a simple dismissal. I pocketed four million lire from the episode.

There were several blitz-artists, and most loved their own performances. They were character actors, to use the jargon of the cinema. Giuseppe Salemi, for example, was able to hide in the most unlikely places in a department store and then unexpectedly pop out to give a helping hand to some diligent little worker,[1] whom he could spot with a flair worthy of a bloodhound. He would ask the worker for his name, which he took down in his dirty little notebook, and thus gained witnesses for his future court cases. His simpleton’s face prevented suspicions of bad faith, and so, as was customary with him, he benefited from his experience as a lazy seasonal worker who easily and frequently got sick.

As for Rocco, he and Cosimo pulled off a dangerous blitz, irresistibly funny, a real insult that could have gotten them arrested. With the permission of the Employment Office, he’d gone to the main headquarters of a huge supermarket chain and there had signed a perfectly legal contract. His job was to unload boxes and provisions at a faraway point of sale that apparently offered no possibilities for scams. But Rocco was not discouraged, and immediately proceeded to write a letter: “Dear _______, I have changed my mind and won’t take this job in the hope of finding a better one. I return to you my hiring letter with my sincere greetings, and I ask you to please return to me my work permit.”

As everyone knows, a registered letter ordinarily takes three days to arrive. During that time, Cosimo – calling himself Rocco – showed up at the subsidiary branch of the supermarket chain: he was expected, and all the formalities were taken care of, so there was no reason for him not to start work right away.

The consciences of the bosses are never clear and, even if they were, this wouldn’t prevent them from not paying their taxes on work conducted off the books. In fact, at this particular place, three undeclared warehousemen worked in the basement; they had obtained their jobs because they were the relatives of an upper-level functionary. Generally speaking, one didn’t ask for identity papers from workers at such low levels. Thus the boss was convinced that he’d hired a fourth warehouseman named Rocco, though it was actually Cosimo who showed up. This freebooter [filibustiere] presented himself to his colleagues by using his real name, and he did everything he could to get noticed. It was “Cosimo did this” and “Cosimo did that” – a high-quality laborer! When the letter finally arrived, several days later, no one understood it. The manager was obligated to go, in person, to the warehouse to clarify the situation and seek out the worker named Rocco, thus causing a great deal of surprise among the workers, who knew nothing about anyone by that name.

Flanked by the head of the subsidiary, the manager spotted Cosimo, who coldly stated that he didn’t know what they were talking about: he’d received his work permit without anyone asking him any questions. Amazed and incredulous, the manager dryly commanded, “Get out!”

“Dear sir,” the actor replied, “I will remain here, and you shouldn’t pretend that you are stupid. If you want to fire me . . . you must do so in writing. . . or just call the cops,[2] and there will be a lot of laughs when they discover the undeclared workers who are unloading all the boxes here.”

The threat was effective. The enemy went completely pale, knowing full well that it would be impossible for him to justify the irregularity of the staff. Anger and agitation are bad counselors, and the boss’s servant piled mistake upon mistake, thoughtlessly giving Cosimo the following piece of paper, which used his real name and not that of Rocco: “We no longer desire to use your services, having never done the necessary paperwork to hire you,” etc. A supermarket chain can’t be taken seriously if it cries wolf, and each of the two scoundrels pocketed a tidy sum.

The risks were generally minimal with the blitz. The system also offered the advantages of being quick and very amusing on occasion. One day, several moments before the arrival of a government minister, I was reading Il Manifesto,[3] with my feet up on a table and my ass in an armchair, in the lobby of one of the best hotels in Milan, where I was employed. By my side was a small carton, on which I’d awkwardly written in capital letters: “Please do not disturb. Salvatore Messana is resting and will not be available for a half-hour.” Five guys rushed in to chase me out, rather brutally, with the help of the minister’s entourage. I thanked them, and they, not understanding that I’d tricked them, took me for a lunatic [and not an employee who could file a grievance and receive compensation].

But the blitz didn’t bring the same satisfactions one could get from a well-organized campaign. It didn’t put into crisis the entire structure of a business, as one could do by attacking it on several fronts. Motivated by my nostalgia for previous campaigns or perhaps by the simple taste for adventure, I could not refuse the opportunity that chance offered me when the “Salve” Restaurant[4] opened its doors in Milan on the initiative of a real colossus in the food-service industry. The reader will once again forgive me for changing the company’s name, but I fear I have no choice: it would be very imprudent to reveal everything in this confession.

Verter, Angelo and I seized the opportunity to be hired as dishwashers at Salve, for only four hours a day, knowing quite well (having collected very precise information) the manner in which this establishment exploited its workers.

Salve had spent a fortune on its publicity campaign, which announced a new formula in Italy: a self-service[5] restaurant with pretentions to good taste and luxury, open from morning until late at night. The place was decorated in the American style, with very bright colors, everything gleaming-clean and characterized – at least supposedly – by quick service and meticulous cuisine. But such modernity didn’t prevent the management from exploiting the workers in a particularly old-fashioned way. Those who were “good,” that is to say, slaved away in silence and submission, would be allowed the privilege to work eight hours a day and receive a full salary; those who weren’t “good,” who became ill frequently or demanded their full rights, never got more than part-time work and ended up leaving, because it was impossible to live on such a low wage. What a downright swindle!

During our trial period, we behaved with the humility of slaves who were satisfied with their condition, running everywhere they ordered us to go and even managing to work sixteen hours on a Sunday: it was more than part-time[6] work; it was worse than a Roman slave ship. We suffered in silence, and in silence we plotted our revenge, a real theatrical presentation, unexpectedly assisted by a strange character, who had made the art of wreaking havoc into his philosophy of life.[7] He gave us wise advice and personally drafted the text of the tract we later distributed.

The hour of the attack fell on a Saturday evening, that is to say, at the precise moment that the crowds were the largest, and the chaos was such that no one would notice anything if something went wrong. We invited for a free dinner that started at 8:30 pm all of the brigands of Lope de Vega, plus their friends and relatives, as well as people from Barona, Gratosoglio and the new apartment blocks in Rozzano. They were also a dozen nostalgic extremists who were recruited from the squatters’ milieu and, along with them, a French journalist armed with a video camera. In total, forty saboteurs, all of them ready to go to work, were mixed in among the normal clients. I brought a megaphone in my bag: it would serve for my waiting comrades as the trumpet that signaled the start of the hostilities: the signal for battle.

We didn’t appear to be very numerous, but we made up a large share of the people in the restaurant’s dining hall. We could also count on the snowball-effect that takes place at any mini-uprising, but the disturbance of the service was assured, in any case. As soon as my horn sounded its laughable electronic signal, I went off to grab the amplifier that I’d left in the cloakroom, and then, when I reappeared, I read aloud the text of the irreverent tract, which I have copied out for you.

HELLO, those who speak to you are employees at this canteen, and what we want to speak to you about are your interests and ours.

Have you ever wondered what we are forced to serve you? Take a good look at your plate, and if that isn’t enough, ask to see the kitchen. The company can soil its own name, if it wants, but it can’t soil ours: it has only taken us a few days to discover things that it would be better not to speak about,[8] inasmuch as the smell is horrible.

They have only hired us to work four hours a day, but sometimes we are here twelve or even sixteen hours, with the promise that, if we are “good,” we might someday have the right to a full salary. The company seeks our complicity against you.

We are not good: STRIKE!

Without saying a word, Verter and Angelo used a hammer and nails to affix to the wall a gigantic yellow and red banner that proclaimed “STRIKE!” Meanwhile, 500 copies of the tract were distributed to the curious customers and waiters, but the latter, too frightened by such an unusual action, didn’t have the courage to join us.

It was pandemonium. Our invited guests didn’t hesitate to encourage us and screamed out their complete solidarity. Forming small groups, they contributed the best they could to increase the general confusion, so much so that many people demanded to see the kitchens and refrigerators, despite the refusal of the restaurant’s poor manager to allow it. The revelation of the systematic and clandestine deep-freezing of the supposedly fresh foodstuffs displeased even the most complacent of the diners, and, in the blink of an eye, there was complete chaos. Without heeding the useless lunges made by the cashiers, the most insolent of those in attendance began to drink up the wine, beer and spirits for free and in great quantities. The French journalist walked among the tables, videotaping the scene in all of its details, recording interviews and commentaries. Even a slightly gray Austrian tourist felt the need to intervene. In a voice slurred by drink, he defended our initiative. In fact, he fought with the headwaiter, who had refused to refund his money.

“I paid you for fresh meat . . . you gave me frozen . . . it’s a swindle. . . . I want my ambassador,” the sauerkraut-eater screamed into the megaphone, and then he chased after Salve’s manager with this unequivocal judgment: “You poisoner . . . you [should be] in prison!”

We laughed when the cops arrived and were greeted by the drunk Austrian, who demanded that they arrest the restaurant’s owners. The police sergeant didn’t manage to bring the situation under control by giving the usually effective order to “shut up and clear out,” without forgetting to add “otherwise, I will throw you in jail.” With great effort, the police finally managed to empty the dining hall of both honest citizens (thus wiping out the evening’s take) and crooks. The cameraman, carrying sixty minutes of tape, managed to get away clean.

This unexpected revolution aroused great interest in the press, and, the next day, all the newspapers used three or four columns to speak of the curious committee of bad workers and the contested food. The restaurant could neither keep quiet about nor confront the merits of the controversy, because its profits were essentially founded on the art of presenting shit in beautiful crockery. On the counter-attack, the restaurant immediately dismissed us, assured by the support of the unions, which were always ready to badmouth “anarchy,” and it issued a vague statement that assured the public of the good quality of their food: they could no longer tolerate our presence, but they couldn’t offer us money without losing face. As for us, starting the next morning, we stationed ourselves outside the doors, without going in, with un banchetto[9] and a megaphone to piss them off with a little negative propaganda. We also displayed a banner on which we’d written with a large felt-tip pen: “Warning! The food here is radioactive.” The cops returned and unceremoniously forced us to decamp. While we were retreating, Salve’s manager, thoroughly out of breath, joined us, bearing freshly baked letters of dismissal (hot hot hot) that were full of nonsense that tried to justify our expulsion and to avoid an embarrassing investigation of our allegations. We finally entered into a state of war in the courts, with the possibility of victory on our side, because the enemy had made a mistake: it had not followed the law that granted fired employees five days to prepare a defense, and thus it risked the nullification of its action.

I do not know how all this will end up, and it is likely that the State will do us wrong, since it cannot grant final victory to troublemakers like us: the poor district judge who accepted our original arguments will eventually be transferred to some unimportant place or at least will be in perpetual conflict with his superiors. In any event, there will be fetid humiliation for those [at Salve] who suffered incalculable damage, and the beautiful image that they spent a fortune to create will be burnt. Economic power has been forced to confront individuals who laugh at it and, to punish them, it will have to arrogantly break the law and upset the balance of justice. In court, the embarrassment cut like a knife, and when the Salve realized that it had lost the first round, there weren’t smiles, but angry threats.

When they want to, the bosses can put justice in their pockets. I know it well, and it makes me laugh. Therefore allow me the pleasure of predicting that, by the time this book has been finished, our dismissal will have been upheld by the court of appeals, and that we will have concretely demonstrated the relativity and vanity of the Law. Without having experienced any other difficulty than a loss of earnings, and with the certainty of being able to do it again.

[1] For apparently no good reason, the French translation renders qualche operaio poco diligente as un ouvrier flemmard (“a lazy worker”).

[2] The French translation has Cosimo threatening to call the cops (“sinon, j’appelle les flics”), which is obviously something he would never do.

[3] A dissident Communist newspaper, founded in 1969.

[4] In Italian, Salve means “Hello.”

[5] English in original.

[6] English in original.

[7] A good definition of a situationist.

[8] cose che il tacere è bello: a quotation from Dante Aligheri’s Inferno, Canto IV, line 104.

[9] Can mean either a booth (an information booth) or a banquet: both would be appropriate here. The French translation employs un pliant (“a folding stool”).

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