By Luciano Gallino
The threatened closure of the Carbosulcis mine [in Sardinia] will perhaps have economic explanations, but in many ways it has a strong political content, and offers no less significant potential for innovation of the industrial model. If economic criteria end up prevailing over others, as is also the risk with Alcoa’s Euroallumina [smelter] in Portovesme in Sardinia too, industrial relations in Italy would take another step backwards, and pressures to innovate today with an outdated industrial model will suffer a long delay.
The political aspect of this issue derives from the fact that it relates to miners. One cannot forget the harsh attack that was launched by the Thatcher government in 1984-85 against the National Union of Miners, the strongest in the country. Rather than simply to just reduce costs in the mining industry or to start some kind of conversion [of the industry], it had the express purpose of ripping the guts out of the entire trade union movement. The operation was successful.
The British trade unions have never recovered from that defeat inflicted on them by the government and the entire country paid a very high price. Between production losses, reduced tax revenue and subsidies that they had to pay for a long time, the victory of Mrs Thatcher cost the UK around £ 36 billion at the time, more than three percent of GDP.
The Carbosulcis mine is much smaller than the British mining industry in those days, but the issue is the same.
It is whether the priority is to reduce employees to submission, and with them a much greater number of workers who are forced to say “if I do not accept everything that they ask of me tomorrow it will be me,” or to agree that workers are right to oppose the closure.
At the same time it is also a question of deciding whether a difference in economic performance between a local production site and a similar site, who knows where, justifies the cuts to hundreds, perhaps thousands of jobs.
This is about a comparative difference in return, it should be noted, not about producing at a loss.
It is the same situation with Alcoa. Italian workers have paid and are paying a high price for the crisis, for which, however, they have no responsibility, even if someone has had the cheek to tell him that they live beyond their means.
A situation where there are currently four million unemployed, a billion hours of temporary layoffs (cassa integrazione] expected in 2014 and four million workers in casual employment, should be sufficient to stop any company, large or small, to close, from making people redundant. Instead, these cases should find support and be tackled in such a way as to transfer the affected workers to other jobs.
The regional and central government must find a way around dismantling another piece of our industrial fabric, the employment system and industrial relations in Italy, after the damage that it has suffered in recent years and months. There’s more. The crisis and the daily policies that are proposed to overcome it paint a depressing picture. But modernity appears to be on the side of the Sardinian miners.
They do not ask to continue to mine coal. The want to convert the mine into a container of carbon dioxide, that poisons our skies and our cities. It would be a significant step towards a production model that is not about continuing to produce exactly what was produced before, in increasing quantities, which would be a sure way of accelerating towards an environmental but also economic and social disaster. On the contrary, the miners’ demand is part of a concept of producing conditions and services and an environment that improves the quality of life.
We would all be defeated – the whole country – if once again we permitted a victory for the conservative and vengeful spirit that marked the British government quarter of a century ago.
Luciano Gallino is an author and professor of sociology
Translation by Revolting Europe