On the third of December 1968, forty thousand school students marched through the streets of Rome. While they went up Via Nazionale, one of the main streets of the city, the bourgeois ladies out shopping and the clerks in the offices above stared at them apprehensively.

Children out walking when they should be at school was something familiar, which had never worried anybody. But this time it was different. The ‘children’ were many, and they felt neither guilty nor naughty for what they were doing. Whereas normally they would have avoided meeting their teachers on such a day, this time they seemed not to fear anybody. They seemed suddenly to have discovered that it is possible not to obey your teacher, not to think what they tell you to think, not to accept all the violence and repression hidden behind the word ‘discipline’. And they used a big word for all this: ‘general strike’.

A general strike, be it of school kids or of industrial workers, doesn’t just happen from day to night. It needs days and days of patient work, discussions, meetings, leaflets, individual strikes, etc, to make it happen. It can’t be decided from above unless there is real agitation and feeling for it at the base.

In Rome, the first agitation in schools had started around March last year, when the student movement in the Universities was at its height. At that time, a small number of school students used to attend the meetings and demonstrations held by their older colleagues, and tried to start something similar in their schools. It was only with the new academic year, though, that University students themselves decided to work hard on the schools question, contacting people in every school, using all possible channels—leaflets, personal friends and relatives, political connections of all sorts (Party branches, left-wing Catholics, Maoist or Trotskist groups, etc.) Day by day, we would work with these small groups of students (often not more than four or five in each school, and not always political people), trying to give them suggestions about possible action in the school and at the same time to stimulate their political consciousness. Action developed very fast, maybe with better results than we had expected, often ending up in one-day or two-day strikes in individual schools. Finally, one afternoon, a large assembly of technical and professional students decided that the time had come for a big united strike; after two days, trainee teachers and grammar school students joined in and the general strike was proclaimed.

That technical students should be the first ones to call for a general strike did not surprise us. They had been the most militant ones right from the beginning.