Environmental issues and labour rights are at odds in the court-ordered closure of ILVA steelworks, in Taranto. Workers paralyze the city in an all-out strike in Taranto. Genoese ILVA workers also joined their strike.
In recent days there were rumours circulating in Taranto, one of the biggest coastal towns in southern Italy, about the court-ordered closure of the ILVA plant, and workers had already started protesting. On July 26 it became official. A judge ordered the closure of ILVA’s key production sections, in practice blocking the entire production process.
In addition, eight executives of the Riva Group (which owns the plant and five others in Italy) have been placed under house arrest. Among them are the head of the group, Emilio Riva, and his son Nicola. The charges are appalling; the investigating judge Patrizia Todisco has written of their continous and deliberate dumping of harmful substances that are toxic for human, animal and plant health. They are accused of culpable and intentional disaster, an intentional lack of precautions against industrial accidents, poisoning of food substances, aggravated damage against public goods, air pollution, dumping of dangerous substances and corruption. Taranto’s prosecutor estimated that 11,550 deaths occurred from pollution during the seven years it took to investigate, that is 1,650 a year. The number of hospital admissions has been around 27,000.
In 2002, ILVA produced 31% of the total dioxins in Italy. According to environmental organizations this percentage rose to 90% in 2005. Inhabitants of Taranto inhale 2.7 tons of carbon monoxide and 58 tons of carbon dioxide every year. Taranto was recognized as a high environmental risk area by the World Health Organization in 1986, and by the Italian Ministry of Environment in 1991. The Cancer Registry of Jonico Salentino states that if the regional average of deaths is 100, the figures for Taranto show 117 for all causes of death, 129 for lung cancer, 474 for pleural cancer and 124 for bladder cancer.
On July 27 in Rome the government and the Riva group signed an agreement to clean up the 15km² site of the plant. The operation will need an estimated investment of 336 million euros, just 7.5 million coming from the Riva group – a company that has an annual turnover of around 10,000 million euros.
It’s a bitter victory for the environmental associations that have been fighting for years against the plant. The ILVA steelworks employs 12,000 workers in Taranto, and produces (according to its ownership) 75% of the entire GDP of the province. In Taranto, the people’s only choice is between work at the factory, unemployment or emigration. That is why yesterday all the workers left the factory and all the unions (Fim, Fiom and Uilm) called for an all-out strike. The whole town is paralysed. The strike has spread around the country, with the steelworkers at the ILVA plant in Genova joining it. Currently 1000 of them are at work, while 800 receive solidarity payments after years of redundancy payment. Genova’s plant closed its blast furnace in 2005 because of the pollution it caused, and now the plant depends on the steel produced in Taranto. The unions say that the Taranto plant will keep on working just for two or three days, then it will be forced to stop. Currently, Italy has stopped producing steel.
Both the local and the national government have committed to taking legal action against judge Todisco’s decision. For security reasons the blast furnace will not be shut for another three weeks, and the hope of many is that the partial closure will be revoked before the complete closure of the factory. It’s a hope that forfeits people’s health for work.
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