From August 26th to September 3rd they have been 400 meters under sea level and now that they’re back to light they don’t mean to stop their struggle. The prize for the miners of Carbosulcis is the continued existence of their mine, the last productive coal mine in Italy. The owner of Carbonsulcis is the region of Sardinia, and the miners are asking the state for an answer for which they have been kept waiting for too long.
European Union will fund six project for “clean carbon” processing, one of those in Italy, but the end of the international tender is getting closer and no announcement has been made. Workers blame the government for prefering preferring Porto Tolle, in Veneto (the region of Venice), a site that Enel (National Electricity Company) looks at favourably. Enel itself is the only buyer of Sardinian coal, even if it keeps the price of energy in Sardinia very high, the highest in Italy. The result is that other companies flee from the island, where even transport is very expensive, often after they’ve taken advantage of the public subsidies.
This is what happened at Alcoa in Porto Vesme, the only aluminium productive site left in Italy. A public company until 1995, when Alcoa (Aluminium Company of America) a North American multinational worth 25 billion dollars, bought it.
In November 2009 the company decided to close down the Sardinian plant. The close-down is part of the delocalization project that is leading the productive sites out of Europe, a plan that also involves severe cuts to the Spanish plants of the company. The Sardinian plant, on the other hand, will be completely closed, even if Alcoa enjoyed the privilege of state aid (disguised as refunding for the energy bills) for 10 years from 1995, privileges that were also extended by the Berlusconi government after their final date. The European union considered these aids illegal and Italy will have to pay high fines for them.
In the last few years, Alcoa kept receiving public money, between 158 and 210 millions million euros a year. The overall estimated amount that Alcoa received is circa 3 billion euros. After the European Commission decided to stop the subsidies, Alcoa decided to move abroad, to Saudi Arabia, where it has planned the construction of a 11-billion euros plant .
The deadline to find a buyer for the plant is 31st October, but at the moment there’s no one. Italy imports almost 90% of the aluminum aluminium requirement, but the only plant left seems to have no future. Alcoa workers have been fighting for years and the destiny of the Suclis Sulcis region, the poorest Italian province, is bound to the future of the company they work for.
Far from enough, after high industrial pollution and the consequences of such devastating productions, now Sulcis has also to fight for its mine. On Thursday 30 a miner cut his wrist in front of the journalists, the event got a lot of media coverage. What the workers are asking for is public investment in order to restart extraction with lower environmental impact, and commitment by Enel to lower the energy price to the Italian average. On the fourth day of struggle the government gave a slight opening, declaring that they could keep the Carbonsulcis mine running if the “costs of the new line of production are sustainable”. One out of the many formulas that the “technical government” uses to avoid the political responsibility of its choices.
The future of Carbosulcis and Alcoa
Sulcis coal mine is far from being an important mineral resource for Italy. The coal that’s extracted has a very low value on the market because of the high levels of sulphur it contains. This is why the only client is Enel, that buys the mineral below cost while the public coffers offers cover the losses. It’s a common story in Italy: a poor territory receiving aids based on the worst possible model of development. Public money are thrown into the venture for electoral or pure mafia purposes, until something changes and the bag has to be closed, or someone decides to raise the price. Who really pays for this sick system are above all the workers and the people living in those territories, where the only work opportunities are bound to dangerous and low rates jobs. Not only they suffer for the presence of polluting plants on their territories and for the economic and social consequences of being subjected to a XIX century development model, but they have to struggle for the same industries that have completely compromised any other possibility. That’s even the case, for example, of Ilva in Taranto.
The Minister of Environment Corrado Clini has talked about an high technology project to produce energy from the Carbosulcis coal, but “it certainly has an high cost” he said. While the Region of Sardinia has committed to realize a new plan for Carbosulcis in only four weeks, the miners are back to work. This doesn’t mean, they said, that they’re not ready to start the protest again.
For Alcoa workers there seems to be less hopes. The protest has grown while the switching off gets closer and no buyer makes a significant step. Last week (Sept. 5th) three workers have spent four days on the top of a tower inside the plant. The next day On the 8th a fake bomb has been found next to the gates of Porto Vesme plant. On Monday the 10th the workers will be in Rome, to ask for a real commitment from the government and from a buyer. Until now, there are only two companies that have shown some interest. They are Glencore and Klesh, two multinationals both from Switzerland.
However their interest is not priceless, because they ask for a cut in energy costs and even in the number of workers.