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As heat strikes, so do workers

By Katie Myers - Grist, August 1, 2023

The heatwave enveloping much of the world is so deadly that, in Europe, it has acquired two hellish mythical names: Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards Hades, and Charon, the man who, legend has it, ferries the dead to the afterlife.

Workers are taking a stand against the brutal conditions, using walkouts, strikes, and protests to call attention to the outsize danger the heat poses to the people who must work outdoors or in conditions where air condition isn’t available. The ongoing threat has taken the lives of people, from a construction worker in the Italian city of Lodi to farmworkers in Florida, and letter carriers in Texas. 

The organizing efforts started in Greece, where workers in the tourism industry — which accounts for 20% of the country’s GDP — are chafing under the strain. Athens’s most famous archaeological site, the Acropolis, closed for a few days earlier this month, but even as the government reopened it, temperatures continued soaring to 111 degrees Fahrenheit. The Acropolis’s staff, which is unionized through the Panhellenic Union for the Guarding of Antiquities voted to strike during the hottest four hours of each day.

In Largest May Day Turnout Since Pandemic, Workers Around the World March for Better Conditions

By Olivia Rosane - Common Dreams, May 1, 2023

Marches from South Korea to Italy called for higher wages and targeted anti-worker policies.

Workers from Japan to France took to the street on Monday for the largest May Day demonstrations since Covid-19 restrictions pushed people inside three years ago.

Marchers expressed frustration with both their nations' policies—such as French President Emmanuel Macron's raising of the retirement age in March—and global issues like the rising cost of living and the climate crisis.

"The price of everything has increased except for our wages. Increase our minimum wages!" one activist speaking in Seoul told the crowd, as TheAssociated Pressreported. "Reduce our working hours!"

South Korea's protests were the largest in the nation since the pandemic, with organizers predicting 30,000 people each would attend the two biggest rallies planned for the nation's capital alone, Al Jazeerareported.

#Insorgiamo: A Factory Occupation for the Climate

By Lukas Ferrari and Julia Kaiser - Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, January 11, 2023

Over the last two years, Italian autoworkers have built a broad and inspiring alliance for ecological transformation:

Imagine a climate strike in which 40,000 industrial workers, climate activists, pacifists, and other non-politically active people are brought together. In their speeches, they denounce the shutdown of an automotive supply factory. They all agree that what is needed is a conversion of production instead of layoffs. The bloc right at the front of the demonstration is made up of workers from the affected factory, and behind them are masses of militant climate activists and spontaneous demonstrators.

The workers of the plant join forces with scientists to develop a conversion plan together and, based on their skills and the latest research in environmental sciences, a vision emerges of producing components for hydrogen-powered buses. More and more people agree: we need production centred on people instead of profits!

This vision — one that would not be at all out of place in an ecosocialist manifesto — became a reality in Tuscany, Italy. After the 422 employees and approximately 80 agency workers of the automotive supplier GKN Driveline received an email on 9 July 2021 informing them that they didn’t need to come to work next Monday, they occupied their plant in Campi Bisenzio, on the outskirts of Florence.

The strategic centre of the occupation and the wave of mobilization that developed around it came to be known collectively as the Collettivo di Fabbrica GKN, which operates autonomously from but closely with official trade union structures. The majority of the more than 500 workers, including the workers’ councils organized within the Federazione Impiegati Operai Metallurgici (FIOM), the Italian metalworkers’ union, identify as part of the collective, which meets outside of working hours.

GKN is an automotive supplier with more than 50 production plants worldwide. Up until the production halt in summer 2021 the plant in Campi Bisenzio mainly produced axle shafts for Fiat (Ducato), Maserati, and Ferrari. The plant has changed ownership many times over the last decades. Once under the property of Fiat, in 1994 it was bought by the company GKN, which in turn was bought by the British investment fund Melrose Industries in 2018 for 8 billion pounds. Only three years later management announced the shutdown of the plant in Campi Bisenzio and the layoff of all its employees, days after the Italian government lifted the ban on dismissals it imposed during the pandemic.

Italian factories on strike over extreme heat after worker dies

By staff - The Local, July 22, 2022

For a non pay-walled version of the article, see the Red Green Labor version.

A worker operates machinery at a factory in Trezzano sul Naviglio, near Milan, Northern Italy, on June 25, 2021. Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP.

The man, 61, fell unconscious and hit his head while performing routine tasks, according to La Stampa news daily. Efforts by colleagues to revive him with a defibrillator were unsuccessful.

The official cause of death is currently being investigated by police, but with temperatures pushing 40 degrees Celsius in parts of the country, heat exhaustion is thought likely to be responsible.

Factory workers from the local area organised an eight-hour picket on Friday outside the Dana Graziano plant in Rivoli where the man worked.

Italy is in the midst of a scorching mid-July heatwave, and most factories do not have air conditioning systems.

The Fiom CGIL metal workers’ union say they have recently received multiple reports of factory temperatures reaching over 35 degrees Celsius in the Piedmont area. At the Mirafiori Fiat manufacturing plant in Turin, workers have reportedly recorded highs of 40 degrees.

A previous strike called by auto parts workers on Tuesday protested the “intense pace of work” workers are required to keep up in the “unbearable heat of these past few days”.

“There are many of our members who are reporting illnesses in the factory due to the intense heat of the last few weeks,” Edi Lazzi, Fiom CGIL’s Turin general secretary, told La Stampa.

Italy does not have a nationally unified labor code, but worker’s rights are enshrined in the constitution and touched on in various laws.

According to the site Lavori e diretti (work and rights), article 2087 of the Italian civil code requires employers to protect employees’ health and wellbeing.

National legislation does not require companies to keep the workplace within any particular temperature range, though workplace accident insurance institute Inail recommends in summer there should not be more than a seven degree difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures.

A 2015 Supreme Court case recognised the right of workers to stop working while retaining the right to pay in excessively cold conditions.

The Workers' Committees of Porto Marghera and 'Workerist Environmentalism'

Ranking G7 Green Recovery Plans and Jobs: Can the UK boost its climate action and green job creation in line with its G7 peers?

By staff - Trades Union Caucus (TUC)May 2021

This report ranks G7 countries’ green recovery and job creation plans. It shows how the UK is lagging behind its G7 peers, and the potential to do much more to expand green jobs and accelerate climate action.

The TUC’s ranking of all G7 countries’ green recovery and jobs investments shows that the UK comes sixth. Only Japan scores worse per person.

The UK’s green recovery plans remain only a tiny fraction of that in other G7 countries, despite the government’s flagship Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution which purports to support the UK’s climate targets and establish UK world leadership in some areas of green technology. Scaled by population, the UK green investment plans are only 26% of France’s, 21% of Canada, 13% of Italy’s and 6% of the USA’s.

This means that the UK Prime Minister would need five Ten Point Plans to match Prime Minister Trudeau in Canada, eight Ten Point Plans to match Prime Minister Draghi in Italy, and sixteen Ten Point Plans to match President Biden’s in the US.

Read the text (PDF).

Against Noxiousness (1971): The Political Committee of the Porto Marghera Workers

By Lorenzo Feltrin - Viewpoint Magazine, April 1, 2021

The paper “Against Noxiousness,” signed by the Political Committee of the Porto Marghera Workers, was presented 50 years ago, on February 28, 1971, at the Veneto Workers’ Congress in Mestre (Municipality of Venice, Italy). The Political Committee was an alliance between the local branches of two radical-left extra-parliamentary groups: Potere Operaio and il Manifesto. The paper, however, is best understood as part of the theory and praxis on noxiousness carried out by the Porto Marghera workerist group.

The Porto Marghera workerist group originated in the early 1960s through an encounter between intellectuals and students – mostly based in Padua and Venice – and militant workers disaffected with the line of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and its associated union, the Italian General Confederation of labor (CGIL).1 While the industrial area of Porto Marghera2 was an important setting for the early activism of theorists such as Antonio Negri, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, and Massimo Cacciari, the theories produced by the workers themselves have been largely forgotten. Yet this experience was remarkable because it involved workers employed by polluting industries denouncing in both words and deeds the environmental degradation caused by their companies from as early as 1968, when the workerists had a key influence in the local factories.

The Italian word nocività refers to the property of causing harm. Through its use by the labor movement, it came to encompass damage to both human and non-human life; hence it can be translated neither as “harm to (human) health” nor as “(non-human) environmental degradation.” It is rendered here literally as “noxiousness.” Struggles against noxiousness at Porto Marghera contradict the widespread belief that what is today known as working-class environmentalism did not have much significance in the labor unrest of Italy’s Long 1968.

The Porto Marghera group’s core was made up of blue-collar workers, although it also featured a significant presence of technicians and clerks, as well as activists external to the factories. Its stronghold was the major integrated petrochemical complex known as Petrolchimico, which employed some of its main leaders, including Franco Bellotto, Armando Penzo, and Italo Sbrogiò. The group’s theorizing around noxiousness was spearheaded by the Petrolchimico technician Augusto Finzi. Born in 1941 from a well-off Jewish family based in insular Venice, Finzi spent part of his early childhood in a refugee camp in Switzerland to escape the Shoah, in which the German chemical industry – the most advanced of the time – had played a key and dreadful role. 

The group’s original contribution was based on the thesis of the inherent noxiousness of capitalist work and an antagonistic-transformative approach to capitalist technology. This led to the proposal of a counterpower able to determine “what, how, and how much to produce”3 on the basis of common needs, pointing to the utopian prospect of struggling for a different, anti-capitalist technology that would be compatible with the sustainable reproduction of life on the planet.

The group linked noxiousness to the workerist “strategy of refusal.” In this perspective, capitalist work is the production of value and thus the reproduction of a society of exploitation. Therefore, class struggle is not an affirmation of work as a positive value, but its negation. As Mario Tronti put it: “a working-class struggle against work, struggle of the worker against himself [sic] as worker, labor-power’s refusal to become labor.”4 The combination of the refusal of work with the dire health and safety conditions they experienced led the Porto Marghera group to the core idea that capitalist work is inherently noxious.

The work-technology nexus and working-class environmentalism: Workerism versus capitalist noxiousness in Italy’s Long 1968

By Lorenzo Feltrin and Devi Sacchetto - Theory and Society, March 5, 2021

This article traces the trajectory of theory and praxis around nocività or noxiousness – i.e., health damage and environmental degradation – drawn by the workerist group rooted in the petrochemical complex of Porto Marghera, Venice. While Porto Maghera was an important setting for the early activism of influential theorists such as the post-workerist Antonio Negri and the autonomist feminist Mariarosa Dalla Costa, the theories produced by the workers themselves have been largely forgotten. Yet, this experience was remarkable because it involved workers employed by polluting industries denouncing in words and actions the environmental degradation caused by their companies from as early as 1968, when the workerists had a determining influence in the local factories.

The Porto Marghera struggles against noxiousness contradict the widespread belief that what is today known as working-class environmentalism did not have much significance in the labour unrest of Italy’s Long 1968. The Porto Marghera group’s original contribution was based on the thesis of the inherent noxiousness of capitalist work and an antagonistic-transformative approach to capitalist technology. This led to the proposal of a counterpower able to determine “what, how, and how much to produce” on the basis of common needs encompassing the environment, pointing to the utopian prospect of struggling for a different, anti-capitalist technology, compatible with the sustainable reproduction of life on the planet.

Read the text (Link).

Labour and Environmental Sustainability

By Juan Escribano Gutiérrez, in collaboration with Paolo Tomassetti - Adapt, December 2020

There is consensus that the separation between labour and the environment, as well as that between the legal disciplines that regulate both domains, is meaningless and outdated. Since business activities affect the health and the environment of workers and human beings, synergies between the two spheres have to be created. Yet there is still a long way to go in order to bring together labour and environmental regulation.

In all the selected countries (France, the Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain) the legal systems regulating salaried work, on the one hand, and the environment, on the other hand, remain disconnected, although no formal obstacles exist to their integration. With regard to the scope for collective bargaining to become a means to integrate both spheres, no legal restrictions apply in any of the framework considered, although explicit references to workers and employers (or their representatives) to bargain over environmental aspects are far less evident.

It is up to the social partners to promote environmental sustainability as a goal for collective bargaining or to continue with the traditional inertia that divides labour and environmental regulation. Despite research shows how the social partners, especially trade unions, are more and more willing to negotiate environmental aspects, the narrative on the trade-off between labour and the environment is still evident, especially in the Hungarian context. Collective agreements could take a leading role in driving the just transition towards a low-carbon economy, but in practice they do not regard this mission as a priority. Environmental clauses in collective agreements are still exceptional and lack momentum.

One explanation is that the legal mechanisms in place to limit the impact of business activity on the environment (i.e. environmental law) legitimize firms to consider environmental aspects as their own prerogative. For this reason, in some legal systems, employers tend to discuss environmental commitments outside collective bargaining, including them into corporate social responsibility (CSR) mechanisms. By doing so, the company avoids enforceability, limiting the effectiveness of the tools to regulate environmental issues.

Read the text (Link).

Exiting the False "Jobs Versus Environment" Dilemma

By Lorenzo Feltrin - ROAR Magazine, November 16, 2020

The workerist environmentalism of Italy’s Porto Marghera group connects the workplace and the community in the struggle against capitalist “noxiousness.”

Amidst the renewed rise of obscene inequalities, a wave of protests is sweeping through Italy, from south to north. On the one hand, the pandemic has engendered an upsurge in workplace disputes to defend health and in mobilizations to protect the income of workers affected by COVID-19-related restrictions. On the other hand, however, we have also witnessed successful interventions coordinated by the right and infused with a bewildering array of conspiracy theories in response to such measures.

Different from the slogan that emerged at a mass demonstration in Naples on October 23, 2020 — “If you lock us down, pay up!” — the right-wing discourse does not ask for more collective and egalitarian forms of prevention. It demands instead that “the economy” be allowed to run smoothly. Nonetheless, the right-wing side of dissent appears to attract a significant working-class presence, as many workers — rightly concerned about the impact of months-long lockdowns on their livelihoods — find an answer in negating the gravity of the pandemic and of the environmental crisis more generally.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Marxist commentators have underlined how the health crisis cannot be separated from the economic system that shapes our lives. This does not just concern inadequate healthcare systems: the very spillover of the novel coronavirus from non-human animals to humans was caused by the capitalist imperative to appropriate natural “resources” to safeguard the profit margins that drive the economy forward.

In a way, the pandemic is a global manifestation of the “jobs versus environment dilemma” and the related “job blackmail,” a situation in which workers are faced with a choice between defending their health and environment or keeping their jobs. There is no easy way out of this dilemma. However, the reflections developed some 50 years ago by a workerist collective mainly composed of workers employed in the highly toxic industrial complex of Porto Marghera in Venice, Italy could still provide a source of inspiration.

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