While the Sardinian miners’ protest momentarily grabs the headlines, workers in the nearby aluminium smelter continue their struggle for jobs too. It is a struggle against a foreign corporate giant that is addicted to public hand outs and now they’ve dried up its on its way.
Owner Alcoa, a US multinational with 25 billion dollars turnover worldwide, is planning to quit the island. The reason, it states, is to cut capacity in order to bolster profits, which grew handsomely last year to 614 million dollars from 262 million dollars in 2010.
Alcoa bought the smelter on the south west of the island from the Italian state in 1995. In 2008 it started complaining about production costs of its plants in Europe, including the Sardianian smelter. And moves to close it followed the same year. The workers mounted a stiff defence and the decision was withdrawn – but only temporarily and by the end of the year latest it is due to close indefinitely unless a buyer is found.
Alcoa, according to a report in Il Fatto Quotidiano, has obtained something like 3 billion euros in state aid over the past 15 years since it purchased the plant. All money approved by the EU.
But when the company understood that the EU permissiveness was coming to an end, it started looking out for new profitable ventures. It found one in Ma’aden, Saudi Arabian Mining Company, with which it signed a deal in December 2009 to build a huge smelter in the Gulf state. Production is moving – where energy and labour is cheaper.
A plan agreed with the government is to maintain full production until 31 August and then keep the smelter working until October 31 when it would be decommissioned. If a serious buyer has been meanwhile found then, Alcoa’s stewardship could be extended to December 31 to allow time for a hand-over. But no buyer has been found, yet.
A parliamentary committee for industry passed a motion confirming ‘the national strategic value of the aluminium sector’ in a country that can only supply 12% of its domestic needs, which is apparently the lowest of any developed country.
So Italy has to import 90% of its aluminium needs. But it is going to stand by and allow its only aluminium production plant to close. 500 skilled workers, who are directly employed, and as many again work in related nearby industries will be made jobless. Their families impoverished. Their communities in this poor island too. And meanwhile, the American fat cats have taken the money and run.
More on Alcoa workers’ struggle