Italian workers killed by capitalism

Author: 
Hugh Edwards

After the second earthquake in Italy's Emilia province (21 May) Marco Travaglio, Italy’s best and most radical journalist, asked this question: why did a quake of 5.8 magnitude bring death and destruction in Italy, unlike other countries of the developed world? [Such a magnitude is serious but is also something that can be planned for.] The answer, he continued, was provided unwittingly by the Vice President of the employers' organisation, Confindustria, who claimed that the thousands of jerry-built industrial sheds (capannoni) that collapsed in the quake were "state of the art" constructions. In this phrase, Travaglio mordantly adds, is revealed the bottomless depth of cynical indifference of the Italian bourgeoisie.

For these shacks — for that is what they are! — have been a principal component part of the richest and most dynamic part of the Italian economy, encompassing tens of thousands of micro businesses and workforces of 5,10,15 20 at most.

From the capannoni come a range of the most sophisticated products — biomedical, textiles, ceramics, agricultural machinery — on a scale second only to the US.
Their output and profits remain, even in the depth of the present global crisis, the last redoubt of the failing italian economy and its plunging GDP.

Yet these deathtraps were built according to the logic of maximum cheapness, lacking, as has tragically been revealed, elementary anti-seismic protection required by international and European regulations. This in a country chronically prone to the most devastating earthquakes!

Of course the authorities nationally, regionally and locally know of these regulations and the systematic evasion of them. All of them have been complicit, along with the building contractors, those who hired them, and the companies of so called experts assigned the contracts of control by public authorities.

The regime of minimum control in the construction of the sheds was extended to the family homes that have also collapsed, leaving nearly 20,000 people homeless.
One example quintessentially reveals the nature of the obscenity at the heart of a system whose predatory compulsion of cut-throat competition in the drive to maximise profit, renders even death and mass destruction a mere item of calculation.

The first earthquake of 20 May brought down the capannoni in huge numbers, killing and injuring groups of night-shift workers, most of them immigrant, or children of immigrant workers. Within a matter of days the owners, having got official "guarantees" from various "experts" paid to cerify those still standing as secure, forced the terrified workers to either return to work or lose their jobs, in one case asserting the loss of one's life a risk worth running to hold on to a job! The outcome we know: a second quake taking more workers lives and reducing the remaing deathtrapps to rubble, 10,000 jobs lost, 20,0000 people out of their homes and 4 billion euros gone from the economy.

2,000 workers die every year in “accidents| at work in Italy. A million or so are injured. So the official trade union movement’s silent assent to the recent criminal events is par for the course. Too harsh perhaps. Were the unions not, after all, preparing in the midst of the unending canonade of austerity unleased by the Monti goverment, and the horror of Emilia to parade on the 2 June in defense of the Italian constitution, particularly Article 1, proclaiming “Italian society is founded on labour.....”?

What more can one ask?