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

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and the environment, as well as that between the legal disciplines that regulate both domains, is meaningless and outdated.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.

The Italian Workers Fighting Like Hell to Shut Down Their Workplaces

By Leopoldo Tartaglia - Labor Notes, March 22, 2020

Italy is the Western European country where the coronavirus pandemic spread first and where its tragic effects are being felt the most. As of March 17, the official data say 26,062 have tested positive in Italy for COVID-19, 12,894 have been hospitalized—including 2,060 in intensive care—and 2,503 have died.

The epidemic exploded in the richest and most industrialized regions of northern Italy. Lombardy is the most affected, followed by Emilia Romagna and Veneto.

Lombardy and Veneto are examples of one of the fundamental issues called into question by the pandemic crisis: the adequacy of the Italian health system, in particular the public one. Italy still has one of the best public health systems in the world. The health reform of 1978 established a universal and free health system, available to all citizens, financed by general taxation.

But this reform came at a time when the Italian Communist Party still existed and the Christian Democratic governments still had to deal with unions and the political power of the workers' movement. Since then, and with particular virulence since the late 1990s, three phenomena have overlapped which have weakened the system dramatically (even if, thanks to union struggles, they have not completely destroyed it): (1) the regionalization of the national health system, driven by agitation in the Northern Regions for secession; (2) the privatization of many health services, particularly in these regions; (3) European and national "austerity" policies that produced cuts in public spending and to worker pensions, cuts which have strongly affected public health.

In the last ten years, public health spending has been cut by 37 billion euros overall, with a huge reduction in hospital beds and a continuous drop in medical, nursing, and ancillary medical personnel. Today, there are probably no less than 50,000 doctors and 50,000 nurses missing from public health. The pandemic has highlighted the great shortage of intensive care facilities: in Italy there are 5,000 beds in ICU units for 60 million inhabitants. In France, with a few million more inhabitants, there are 25,000; in Germany there are 30,000 serving 80 million inhabitants.

The regionalization and the continuous cuts to state resources earmarked for health services—which are divided among the regions on the basis of "historical expenditure"—have led to the collapse of the public health system, especially in the Southern regions which, fortunately, are still to date the least affected by the pandemic. The drastic limitations on people's internal mobility should help limit the spread of contagion in these areas.

EMPLOYERS WANT PRODUCTION TO CONTINUE

In this context, workers and unions immediately mobilized to demand policies and procedures from the national government, regional governments, and employers which would guarantee the health and safety of workers and do the utmost to limit the spread of the virus.

The bosses, especially Confindustria (the General Confederation of Italian Industry, the largest employer association) but also small businesses (which are very common in the productive fabric of northern Italy), have insisted on the maximum functioning of all economic and production activities, including logistics and distribution, while asking that the emergency health measures imposed by public authorities not be mandatory, but simply recommendations.

They have insisted that the decision-making authority should remain in the hands of the companies, in a unilateral form, without any consultation with the unions on either a corporate or territorial level. The governors of Lombardy and Veneto have been "wavering" because on the one hand the drama of the situation in their regions required drastic measures to close down activities and oblige people to stay in their homes, but on the other hand they were subjected to strong pressure from their electoral base, companies, and small entrepreneurs who did not want to cease their economic activities in any way.

The turning point occurred on March 11, when the national government issued a decree that imposed the shutdown of a series of production and service activities and "required" everyone not to leave their homes except for proven reasons of “necessity.” But herein lies the problem: it is evident that essential public services and the whole agri-food chain—from production to retail distribution—should continue their activity, but why must other economic sectors continue their work, when the general precaution to slow down the spread of the virus is to sequester yourself in the house? And for those called to continue to work, what safety precautions for their health and the health of others exist at work? Suffice it to say that even in hospitals and health centers, with exhausting work shifts and scarce staff, there are not masks, gloves, overalls, or other necessary protective equipment for everyone!

Towards a just transition: coal, cars and the world of work

By Béla Galgóczi - European Trade Union Institute, 2019

The role of trade unions and social dialogue is key in demonstrating the major differences between coal-based energy generation and the automobile industry. This book presents two faces of a just transition towards a net-zero carbon economy by drawing lessons from these two carbon-intensive sectors. The authors regard just transition not as an abstract concept, but as a real practice in real workplaces. While decarbonisation itself is a common objective, particular transitions take place in work environments that are themselves determined by the state of the capital-labour relationship, with inherent conflicts of interest, during the transition process.

The case studies presented in this book highlight the major differences between these two sectors in the nature and magnitude of the challenge, how transition practices are applied and what role the actors play.

Read the report (Link).

No TAV: feeding the fire of resistance in northern Italy

Images and Words by Frank Barat - ROARMag, November 16, 2017

When I get to Turin airport, on a warm autumn day, the smell of smoke is overwhelming. The weather forecast on my phone shows me a big bright sun, but I can only see clouds outside. It is only when we enter the highway that I realize that this ocean of greyness has nothing to do with clouds. The Piedmont is in fact on fire, and the flames have engulfed the Susa Valley for close to a week.

The Susa Valley is a beautiful strip of land, located between Italy and France, with the Alps on either side overlooking the valley and acting as a protector. Its inhabitants are known for their stubbornness and attachment to the land. A montagnard mentality. For them, leaving is never an option. Their attachment and closeness to the land reminds me of the Native American communities in the US or the Aboriginal people in Australia, as it is both spiritual, physical and practical. People have been evacuated from their homes, and the rest of the inhabitants of the small villages dotted in the valley now live in the fear that they too, sooner or later, will be told to do the same.

When my local contacts — Mina, an activist, and the lawyers Valentina and Emmanuel — pick me up from the airport, they explain that another type of fire has engulfed the valley for more than twenty-five years: the fire of revolt.

Being a key route for trade, business and tourism for two of Europe’s powerhouses, the Susa Valley has attracted many mega-infrastructural projects throughout the years, none of them more controversial and virulently opposed than the Turin-Lyon high-speed freight railway line.

For a quarter of a century, people from all walks of life have fought against this mega-project, a railway line of 270 kilometers with at its core a tunnel of nearly sixty kilometers long, crossing the Alps between Susa Valley and the city of Maurienne in France.

The Italian and French governments together with the European Union, which is funding 40 percent of the 26 billion euro project, laud the railway as something that will benefit both the people and the freight companies, as well as provide hundreds of jobs. The inhabitants of the valley, who were never properly consulted in the first place, say that this new line is not only unnecessary — since the current line has, according to expert surveys and report, room to expand — but will only bring environmental destruction and economic and social disaster to the valley and its people.

Pitch Black: The Journey of Coal from Colombia to Italy; the Curse of Extractivism

By various - Re:Common, April 2016

By presenting the horrors suffered under the domination of multinational companies, this work by Re:Common will dispel any lingering doubt that the current economic system based on extractivism is a war against the poor (what subcommander Marcos called the “Fourth World War”).

If someone who trusts the mainstream media and academic analyses thinks that at some point colonialism disappeared from the face of the Earth, this work, based on documents and testimonies, demonstrates otherwise.

For those who believe that progress is the most striking characteristic of our times, starting with the post-World War II period, the voices of the missing that populate these pages will convince you that present-day capitalism is a just a revamped version of the Spanish conquest of five centuries ago.

Throughout this work, all the variables of extractivism can be seen: from occupation of the territory and displacement of people to the role of the offshore banking and financial system, as two complementary and inseparable parts of accumulation by theft/dispossession. In the occupied territories, the displacement occurs in the form of war, with the participation of military, paramilitary, guerrilla and the greatest variety of imaginable armed actors.

The victims are always the weak: poor women and their children, elderly men and women, peasants, Indians, blacks, mestizos, the “wretched of the Earth,” as Frantz Fanon calls them. I want to emphasize, though it may seem anachronistic, and without reference to academic sources, how the extractive model coincides with colonialism, despite the different eras. This is not only due to the violent occupation of territories and the displacement of populations, but also to the salient features of the model.

Economically, extractivism has generated enclave economies, as it did in the colonies, where the walled port and plantations with slaves were its masterworks. This colonial/extractive model held populations 6 hostage in both 1500 and 2000.

Extractivism produces powerful political interventions by multinational enterprises, often allied with States, which manage to modify legislation, co-opting municipalities and their governors. It is an asymmetrical relationship between powerful multinationals and weak states, or better, states weakened by their own local elite who benefit from the model.

Like colonialism, the extractive model promotes the militarization of the territories, because it is the only way to eradicate the population, which, recalling Subcommander Marcos, is the real enemy in this fourth world war. Militarization, violence, and systematic rape of women and girls are not excesses or errors; they are part of the model because the population is the military objective.

To understand extractivism, we must consider it not as an economic model, but as a system. Like capitalism. Certainly there is a capitalist economy, but capitalism is not just the economic aspect. Extractivism (as stated by Re:Common) is capitalism in its financial phase and cannot be understood only as an economic variable. It implies a culture that promotes not work but consumption, which has (systemic) corruption as one of its central features. Put in another way, corruption is the extraction mode of governing.

Therefore, extractivism is not an economic actor; it is a political, social, cultural, and of course also economic actor. At this point, it’s crucial that the central part of this work describes human beings and the Earth as the subjects for looting, which is much more than the theft of the commons. Understanding dispossession only as robbery places property ownership at the center of the matter, in the place of people and land; e.g., life.

Read the text (PDF).

Europe's energy transformation in the austerity trap

By Béla Galgóczi - European Trade Union Institute, 2015

Our planetary limits demand a radical transition from the energy-intensive economic model based on the extraction of finite resources, which has been dominant since the first industrial revolution, to a model that is both sustainable and equitable.

Unfortunately however, energy transformation in Europe has, after a promising start, fallen hostage to austerity and to the main philosophy underpinning the crisis management policies in which overall competitiveness is reduced to the much narrower concept of cost-competitiveness. Regulatory uncertainty, design failures built into incentive systems, and unjust distribution of the costs, have also contributed to the reversal of progress in energy transformation currently observable across Europe.

In this book three country case studies highlight the different facets of these conflicts, while additional light is thrown on the situation by an account of the lack of progress in achieving energy efficiency.

By way of conclusion, a mapping of the main conflicts and obstacles to progress will be of help in formulating policy recommendations. Ambitious climate and energy policy targets should be regarded not as a burden on the economy but rather as investment targets able to pave the way to higher employment and sustainable growth. It is high time for this perception to be recognised and implemented in the context of Europe’s new Investment Plan, thereby enabling clean energy investment to come to form its central pillar. A shift in this direction will require an overhaul of the regulatory and incentive systems to ensure that the need for just burden-sharing is adequately taken into account.

Read the report (Link).

Appeal from the Families of the Four No-TAV Demonstrators Arrested for Terrorism

From libcom.org, February 22, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

An extremely moving and heartfelt appeal from the families of four No Tav protesters, charged with terrorism and held in maximum security detention for allegedly damaging equipment on construction sites for the high speed rail link.

You’ve heard them talked about over the past few weeks. They are the people arrested on 9 December and charged (still to be proven) with attacking the TAV construction site in Chiomonte. A compressor was damaged in this attack and not a single person was injured. The charge, though, is of terrorism because ‘in this context’ these alleged actions ‘could have’ created panic in the population and severe damage to Italy. What? Damage to the public image. We’ll say it again: to the public image. The charge is based on the potential of this behaviour but, as the crime of unintentional terrorism does not exist in our legal system, this charge is of real and intentional terrorism. To make things clear, this is the same charge as in the ’70s and ’80s massacres, the bombs on trains and in the piazzas and, recently, in airports, underground metros and skyscrapers. Terrorism against people who were oblivious and unaware, which killed and which, yes, terrorised the entire population.

By contrast, our sons, brothers, sisters have always respected the lives of other people. They are generous people, they have ideas, they want a better world and are struggling to achieve that. They fight against every form of racism, denouncing the horrors of the CIE detention centres long before the press and public opinion discovered them and about which there is so much indignation today. They have created space and moments of confrontation. They’ve chosen to defend the life of an area, not to terrorise the population. Everyone in Val Susa will tell you this, as they are doing continually on their websites. And are these the people being terrorised? And can a burnt compressor really create severe damage to Italy?

Protecting Public Health on the Italian Riviera: the Maersk Case

From libcom.org, February 25, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Liguria, with its beautiful coastline and wonderful mountainous hinterland, has been a place for people from Northern Europe and the north of Italy to take holidays since the 19th century. After the Second World War the region saw a boom in tourism and in industrial development with all the attendant consequences: illegal building activity, destruction of the environment, very large numbers of migrants and urbanisation of the rural population.

Today the region is being hit by de-industrialization and a difficult rebuilding of the economy. Local government is focusing on mass tourism (particularly cruise ships) and port development, seemingly ignoring the increasingly impoverished population which pays the environmental costs of the associated pollution. Each autumn and winter there are devastating floods which claim lives, caused by the destruction of forests, the abandonment of rural areas and uncontrolled building. Little Liguria comes first on the list of Northern Italian regions for crime connected to illegal development (often involving the mafia and politicians) and second for unemployment.

Looking at the issue of the Maersk platform in Vado Ligure is a good way to understand Liguria’s economic system: public money serving private companies, indifference to the needs of the region and its inhabitants’ wishes and opinions, and the destruction of the natural environment.

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