This article compares two areas, Sesto San Giovanni near Milan and V6nissieux near Lyon, which until recently were characterized by a working-class culture and a communist identity, which in turn stemmed from a concentration of large-scale heavy industry and the presence of powerful trade unions. Both areas have gone through a process of severe de-in-dustrialization and deep social change, accompanied by significant political developments. The article examines the effects these changes have had upon the two localities, both from the point of view of social identities and of the role and orientations of local political actors. Research findings in both towns indicate that there is a congruence between underlying social identities and the specific solutions attempted by the main political actors to deal with de-industrialization. In Sesto, the Communist Party and the left-dominated council have reacted to a weakening of the communist subculture by shedding their traditional proletarian image. They are keen to promote the development of small-scale industry, relying on the resilience and vitality of the family and social networks. In Venissieux the social situation is closer to 'anomie', while the left subculture is closing ranks and adopting a defensive stance. The local council relies on central government for large-scale schemes of urban regeneration. Nation-specific patterns of political behaviour and socioeconomic development prevail over crossnational similarities. A common phase as urban conurbations dominated by a small number of large corporations and as centres of trade-union militancy and communist culture has given way to contrasting scenarios.