Date: Fri, 17 Nov 1995 12:14:54 -0500
Sender: Progressive News & Views List <PNEWS-L@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU>
From: PNEWS <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Solidarity with italian miners
To: Multiple recipients of list PNEWS-L <PNEWS-L@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU>
From: Alastair Wilson <email@example.com>
We are organizing solidarity with the Sardinian miners. Sardinia is the only part of Italy with coal mines. The mines are situated in the Sulcis area in the extreme South-west of Sardinia.
Over a long period of decades the number of mines has been gradually reduced. There are now only two mines left. One has to remember that Sardinia has a very high level of unemployment. Whereas parts of the North of Italy are in full boom, and some jobs have been created, none of this has benefited the South, and Sardinia has been hit particularly hard.
In the North of Sardinia a publicly owned chemical plant is also being privatized, with a sizeable reduction in the workforce, and many other small firms are also threatening redundancies.
The miners have always been a symbol of Sardinian working class militancy. Now they are facing the possibility of the pits being closed. The mines are publicly owned and belong to the Carbosulcis group, a company that is part of ENI, the state energy board. ENI decided to go for the closure of the pits but the miners' struggle stopped the decision. As a result the miners have been layed off, receiving pay without any coal being produced and ENI then proposed privatizing the mines, as an alternative to outright closure. A plan was drawn up to build a gasification plant so that the coal could be processed into gas. Sardinia is the only part of Italy without a natural gas supply. The gasification plant would have created jobs and also saved the mines, providing a clean supply of energy, without having to import gas from abroad. The workers worked out the cost of such a plan showing that it would actually be competitive and beneficial to the whole community, not only saving jobs but creating new ones.
The plan has never been put into action. One has to remember that the Italian state is in the process of privatizing a huge chunk of its property. One of the major privatization plans is that of ENEL, the state electricity board. This company actually makes a profit and that is why it is very attractive to private speculators. As a private firm it would be in the position of a monopoly. Now ENI is also to be privatized. It is quite clear that ENI did not want a private buyer to come into the Carbosulcis pits. They preferred to close them rather than create a competitor to ENI and ENEL.
The original idea was to find a private buyer who would run both pits and gasification plant. The problem was the initial expenditure on the gasification plant. To attract a private buyer the state would have to provide an initial subsidy. However the government seemed unwilling to meet the expenditure. In the summer of 1994, having lost their patience, 500 of the 1000 or so miners of the Nuraxi Figus pit in the Sulcis, took the overnight boat to Rome and marched straight to the Prime Minister's office. They almost managed to storm the building, but were stopped at the last minute. Berlusconi was then the Prime Minister, supposedly the hard man who was going to sort out the workers. Within a few hours of the miners arriving under the prime minister's office Berlusconi had signed an agreement giving the go ahead for the subsidy to build the gasification plant. The miners had shown the rest of the working class that the new right-wing government could be beaten.
Step two was an international tender to find a buyer for the pits. Only two companies have come forward. One is a US company, Westmoreland. However all the private offers involve sacking half the miners. In fact it seems that private buyers are only interested in the gasification plant where coal imported from abroad (Poland, South Africa…) would be processed.
After over a year of waiting the miners have taken up the struggle once more. They have occupied the Nuraxi Figus pit. In a meeting on the 9th November the miners voted for an occupation and took over control of the mine. The miners were worried because no maintenance was being carried out on the pit (that was the only work done over the last year). If maintenance wasn’t kept up then the mine would end up in a condition where it would have to be closed anyway. So the miners have declared that the managers are incapable of running the project and have taken over control themselves.
On Saturday 11th November there was a demonstration in Carbonia, the main town in the area, with the school students coming out in solidarity with the miners. The miners came out of the pits with 15 huge vehicles and drove through the town with the students.
The workers are discussing the possibility of a local general strike in the Iglesiente area of Sardinia (the whole of the South-west of the Island) and possibly a general strike of the whole island.
If the pits close the area will be transformed into an industrial desert with no future for workers and youth.
The miners of Sardinia need all the help and solidarity they can get.