Bruno Trentin, ten years after

Archivio storico CGIL nazionale

A biography by images and documents

Bruno Trentin was born on December 9, 1926 in Pavie, France, having his father Silvio, Professor of Public Law and Administration at the University of Venice and follower of Giovanni Amendola, decided to go into exile in France with his family to not comply with the fascist impositions punishing freedom of education and opinion. The family, consisting by Silvio and his wife Beppa Nardari and the sons Giorgio and Franca, who are respectively eight and seven years older than Bruno, returned to Italy after the fall of Mussolini, few days before September 8. Bruno, first with his father and after his death alone, participates actively in the Resistance and after the Liberation he joined the Action Party (Partito d’Azione). He lives in this period between Milan, Padua, where he enrolled at the Faculty of Law, and Treviso, where the family resides. After graduating, at the end of 1949, it is called by Vittorio Foa to join as a researcher the CGIL Research office. He moves then to Rome, becoming one of Giuseppe Di Vittorio's closest collaborators. He remains at the Research office even after his death, becoming in 1960 deputy national secretary of the Confederation. In 1962 he replaces Luciano Lama as FIOM’s leader. Bruno lives a unique and unrepeatable season, the FLM and the union of councils, whose strength imposes on employers a more  humane and dignified way of working, widening the spaces of freedom in the factory, and obtaining an unprecedented recognition of workers' rights. In 1977 he arrives again at the CGIL Secretariat, becoming Secretary General just over a decade later. Member of European Parliament for DS in the 1999-2004 term, in 1994 he stepped down as Secretary General of the Confederation. The following documents portrait a Trentin in some unusual aspects, telling of a man who is reserved and sometimes shy, of immense personality and human energy: "To many he could appear, at first glance, like an aristocrat, a refined intellectual, locked in his ivory tower - tell about him Bruno Ugolini - But it was the same man who in the ‘hot autumn’ faced stormy workers' assemblies, and at times he threatened to be hit by bolts in his head”.. "When someone like Trentin speaks- write Giorgio Bocca in 1975 on "Il Giorno"- it makes no sense to wonder if he belongs to the right or left of the Communist Party, because when one like him speaks you understand that hard critical rethinking and creative research belong to all those who want to get out of commonplaces, of laziness".
Return to Italy and Resistance
Silvio Trentin, with his wife Beppa and his sons Giorgio and Bruno (Franca remains in France), returns to Italy after the fall of Mussolini a few days before the 8th of September. It is then that Bruno, not yet seventeen, begins to write his wartime journal, compiled in his mother tongue, French. Silvio and Bruno are arrested and imprisoned in Padua in mid-November 1943, then released but under surveillance. In prison, Silvio is hit by another heart attack: he is first admitted to the hospital in Treviso, then in Monastier where he died in March 1944, after dictating to Bruno in January of the same year a sketch of a plan to delineate Italy's constitutional figure at the end of the federalist revolution under development and making a last appeal to the workers of the Venice area. Bruno, who is not yet 18 years old at the death of his father, devotes body and soul to the partisan war with the pseudonym Leone: first in the Treviso area especially in the Prealps above Conegliano, then, after the German raid of summer 1944 in Milan, at the orders of the National Liberation Committee of Northern Italy and of Leo Valiani, to which his father had entrusted him before dying.
The years of formation: the University of Padua and the Action Party
After the Liberation Bruno enters the Action Party (Partito d’Azione). He lives in this period between Milan, Padua - where he enrolls at the University in Law School - and Treviso where his family resides. He participates intensely in the tormented story of the Action Party until his dissolution in October 1947. In the meantime, thanks to Gaetano Salvemini's interest, he travels to the United States, Harvard, to deepen his thesis. He graduates from Padua on October 16, 1949, at the Institute of Philosophy of Law of Norberto Bobbio with the thesis "The Function of Equity Judgment in the Contemporary Juridical Crisis (with particular reference to the American legal experience)". Rapporteur Enrico Opocher, replacement of Bobbio who shortly moved to Turin. The documentation relating to the academic career of Trentin is kept at the General Archives of the University of Padua. His application for enrollment in the first year of the Faculty of Law is accepted by the Council of the same Faculty on February 12, 1944, although the session is verbalized almost two years later, on January 29, 1946. As it turns out from the enrollment book he got the registration number 3839. The first three examinations (History of Roman Law, Legal Medicine and Institutions of Roman Law) are transcribed by the Secretariat and not signed by the professor of teaching. He passes the first examination (History of Roman Law) on February 22, 1946, obtaining a vote of 24/30, while the last one (Criminal Procedural Law) is recorded on 11 November 1949 with the vote of 26/30. During his studies, he prepares three papers on Civil Law ("The contract with which a non-domino servitude is constituted is soluble and not null"), Political Economy ("Interest rate as a means of price stabilization") and Administrative Law ("Also the violation of the practice deliberately imposed by the Public Administration constitutes a symptom of excessive power").
At the CGIL Research Office
After graduating, at the end of 1949, Bruno is invited by Vittorio Foa to join the CGIL Research Office as a researcher. He moves to Rome and becomes one of Giuseppe Di Vittorio's closest collaborators. He remains at the Research Office even after his death, becoming in 1960 deputy national secretary of the Confederation. In 1953, he has a moment of hesitation and asks to be moved to the PCI, due to disagreements with the head of the Research Office. Di Vittorio does not let Trentin to leave, and he will remain at the Confederation Research Office until his appointment as Secretary of FIOM. Only in 1950 Trentin would join the PCI, entering the Central Committee in 1960; In 1963 he is elected member of Parliament. In 1954 he is a member of the first trade union delegation in visit in China after the Maoist revolution. He participates in various initiatives concerning the CGIL Work Plan and in 1955, after the serious defeat of FIOM in the elections of the Fiat's Internal Commissions, he is sent by Di Vittorio to Turin to understand what does not go and the changes in workers' conditions. The report, drafted with the executives of the Turin Chamber of Labour, is decisive for changing CGIL's strategy and in particular Di Vittorio's orientation, resulting in the so-called return to the factory of the union. However, the true watersheds of Bruno's thinking occur in the years 1956-1957, following the events concerning socialism in Eastern European countries and especially in Hungary. Located on Di Vittorio's side, Trentin is among the protagonists of the battle for the renewal of the communist cell of CGIL and the Roman Party Federation, with strong political solidarity with the positions taken by Antonio Giolitti within the Eighth PCI Congress.
Secretary of metalworkers
In February 1962 Trentin is elected secretary-general of FIOM, he will hold office for fifteen years, until 1977. Piero Boni will write years later in "FIOM. 100 years of an industrial union": "Luciano Lama was elected in January 1962 secretary of CGIL and left the FIOM. Lama's succession was the object of CGIL's and FIOM's lively confrontation between socialists and communists. The former believed that, after the confederal conferences in Rome and Milan, in which any differentiation between the two currents on trade union policy disappeared, a socialist could be elected as secretary general. The latter argued that the unity of the trade union policy did not erase the fact that the communists were the majority in the organization. The issue was resolved with an original formula, the only one adopted in the history of FIOM, of two general secretaries" (Piero Boni, "100 years of an industrial union", Meta-Ediesse, Rome, 1993, p.163). So in his unpublished personal diary, Trentin tells his early years at the helm of metalworkers: "The struggles of Milan, my first experiences. The Gramsci Conference: a lesson for me. I have to continue studying. Just to find oneself [...] My first experiences of negotiation. I feel put to the test and this excites me. Rarely, there is the possibility in such concrete terms to pass the other side of the barricade and to become the protagonists of a phenomenon that was first critically observed [...] The strike at Fiat is an unforgettable day. The monstrous heat [...] the first attempt to establish a personal relationship with distant faces, abstract entities. In the evening in front of the gates of Mirafiori. It seems to me I’m dreaming [...] Facing the same gates on the morning of August 4. The strike oscillates, then, at the last moment, near 6 am, it collapses and bends its head. Never been so vivid the feeling, the cinematographic vision of the defeat. September, the fight in Fiat and the negotiations [...] The agreement signed at dawn". On the thrust of the students and workers struggles of the two-year 1968-1969, Bruno's commitment is mainly to affirm the experience of the Councils of Trade Union until the constitution in October 1972 of the Federation of Metalworkers. He will remember years later: "I remember a party meeting held in Frattocchie in April 1970, to make under review the decision of FIOM to consider the Councils as the basic unitary structure of the union in the workplace, therefore, to end the experience of the Internal Commissions [...] The attack on FIOM's decisions was immediately expounded by the interventions of Giorgio Amendola and, subsequently, by Agostino Novella, who had just left the CGIL leadership [...] Pietro Ingrao intervened and deployed unreservedly in support of the choice made by FIOM [...] Luciano Lama, new secretary of the CGIL, asked that a space of autonomy should be left to the Confederation so that it could take a meditated decision on the Councils [...] The conclusion of the debate was entrusted to a seemingly Solomonic talk by Enrico Berlinguer "(Bruno Trentin, "Hot Autumn, The Second Red Biennial 1968-1969", Interview by Guido Liguori, Editori Riuniti, Rome, 1999, pp. 123-135)
In the Secretariat with Lama and Pizzinato
After having resigned as FIOM secretary, Trentin becomes part of the CGIL National Secretariat, where he directs various areas of work: economic and industrial democracy, labor market, public employment, studies and research, etc. It promotes in these years the idea of the business plan, the IRES (CGIL Economic and Social Research Institute), the Higher Education Institute and the Legal Labor Consultative body.
General secretary of the CGIL
On November 29 1988, Bruno Trentin is elected Secretary General of CGIL. The first act of his Secretariat is the Programming Conference of Chianciano in the following April. Trentin illustrates his project, advancing the hypothesis of a new CGIL, a syndicate of rights and solidarity, and launching a process of self-reform that will continue with the Florence Conference of November 1989 and the Congress of Rimini in 1991 to end in June 1994 in Chianciano with the Confederation's Conference. On the organizational level, the most important novelty is the dissolution of the historical components linked to the political parties of the Italian left. In this way, the dynamics between majority and opposition would develop within the union, not so much on the basis of proximity to a party or a government coalition, but because of sharing or not a governing program of the organization. At the claim level, CGIL agrees to contribute to the reform of collective bargaining and to discuss with the public and private stakeholders the introduction of income policy through the system of consultation, identified as the main instrument to bring the national debt explosion back under control; both of these themes will be introduced with the historic agreement signed in July 1993 with the Ciampi Government, an event which was soon identified as a decisive factor for the consolidation of public accounts and Italy's entry into the European Union
The passion for the mountain
Trentin will tell Stefano Ardito in June 1989: "I can climb at least once a month, and about fifteen days every summer. Apart from climbing gyms, it means that I can do three or four tracks each year at Gran Sasso, and a dozen in the Dolomites. It is a space that I have gained over time, and that I defend with tooths and nails [...] I took some time to understand it: for me, climbing has become a therapeutic need, an element of salvation. It's the only thing I can do to get a complete brainwash. After all, this is the difference between mountaineering and any other sport. There is an intellectual commitment, there is that much risk that forces you to the attention, to the rationale. After years of mountain, I discovered with joy that mountaineering is the only thing that makes me live for 12 hours without thinking of anything else [...] The mountain, understood as a walk, I've known it forever. I started climbing when I was a bit more than thirty years old, by degrees. First I got a guide, I made some easy track on the Dolomites. Then one Sunday, I went to see the Gran Sasso: I was in Rome since short, I was already deputy secretary of the CGIL”
Secretary in the foreground
Photo by Piero Ravagli
At the European Parliament
In 1999, upon proposal by Left Democrats, Trentin was nominated and elected to the European Parliament. In the wake of an election campaign devoted mainly to the role of Europe in the international scenario of NATO intervention in the Balkans against the ethnic cleansing of Serbia's Milošević in Kosovo, Trentin's commitment to the European Parliament is marked by the ability to connect the building of a political Europe with the economic and social dynamics of the countries of the single currency. Bruno finds Europe again, without ever losing sight of the Italian reality of which remains a lucid commentator and inevitable protagonist
Ciao Bruno
Victim of a trivial bicycle crash, Bruno Trentin is hospitalized in critical conditions in Bolzano hospital in August 2006. He will die exactly one year later, killed by an antibiotic-resistant pneumonia. "I express my pain and the one of the whole CGIL for the disappearance of Bruno Trentin - said the Secretary General Guglielmo Epifani - Bruno represented throughout the post war a fundamental reference point in the struggle for democracy, social equality and the rights of the world of work. It can be said that there is no page in the history of the CGIL and of the Italian trade union movement in which he has not been a protagonist. The plan for work, the economic planning, the centrality of the South, the hot autumn workers' struggles, the season of the union of rights, the fundamental agreements of 1992 and 1993 saw him undoubtedly protagonist [...] Bruno leaves a lesson of great moral rigor, coherence and autonomy defended with intransigence, attention to social values, and defense of the value of confederalism. Not only the CGIL owe him a lot, but also the whole of the workers' movement, the country's political forces and other trade unions, towards whom he always had a great unitìary attention starting from the experience of metalworkers"
Archivio Storico CGIL Nazionale
Credits: Story

All photos and documents reproduced are owned by the Historical Archive of the National CGIL.

Exceptions are the reproductions of the War Journal and the young Trentin's images taken from Bruno Trentin, 'Diary of War (September-November 1943)', Donzelli, Rome 2008 or kindly granted by the Trentin Family Documentation and Research Center, which we also thank for the video 'A family in exile. Trentin in the European antifascism.'

Thanks for the kind permission of the other videos to AAMOD, Rassegna.it, FP CGIL Lombardia and thanks to Paolo Perna for the reproductions of the university documentation.

Edited by Ilaria Romeo, Head of National Archives CGIL
Technical support and English version by Marco Rendina

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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