Among the workers of the steel mills of Cornigliano, on the sea of Genoa, a thousand kilometers further north from the blast furnaces of Taranto, the confused moment of the (once) great Italian steel industry can be explained with the nose up, the gaze turned to the company sign, thirty meters high on the facade of the first workshop. “In the last two years we have worked almost more up there than in the factory”, he smiles bitterly at the change of shift. «First there were the four letters from Ilva, then a tarpaulin with the new logo popped up, then again – thus the recent corporate changes are displayed – they mounted the entire Arcelor Mittal sign. Now it has only been up for a year and who knows what will happen to it: they don’t know the government, let alone us. “
Even after the signing that at the beginning of December sanctioned the return of state steel, with the agreement between Arcelor Mittal and Invitalia, the Mef company entered 50 per cent of the company’s shares, the future of the operation seems to be still nebulous, and is also and above all worrying here. In this other Ilva remained in the shadow of the debate on the Apulian plant, where workers take to the streets, occupy, involve in their mobilizations the metalworkers of the other industries in the city. And where the watchword, in this hot January for the rebirth of the national steel industry, has the flavor of past times. “We need to fight and fight, the only way to make us consider.”
For years, in reality, the steel mills that were Ansaldo, then Italsider and then again Ilva, first state and then private, for a long time the most important in the country, remain in the shadow of the Taranto epic. «This is where the history of the company and the country has passed», the oldest of the factory proudly say, citing Guido Rossa and the recent visit of Pope Francis. To monopolize the gazes and concerns of negotiations and governments, however, are more than anything else the judicial events and political battles in Taranto. Mainly for an (inevitable) question of “weight”, in the former southern Ilva there are 7 thousand more works, 8 thousand against a thousand, and in Cornigliano the hot area has now stopped almost 16 years ago. But perhaps not only that. “We are smaller, but we also have the problem of being able to annoy much more than everyone else, and it doesn’t help us”, reflects Bruno Manganaro, Fiom secretary in Genoa. “In recent times, in order not to be crushed, we have always had to flex our muscles. We occupied the factories, walked around the city during the Covid emergency, went on strike for ten days to prevent work from stopping. It looks like stuff from the last century, but obviously there is still a need for it ».
Health first, then production, the government repeated. But the opposite has been said for years in the city of Ilva. and the alternative continues to be: either you die of cancer or starve. I travel to neighborhoods used to living with uncertainty
If in Taranto the latest, great workers’ agitations have run aground on the sensitivity of the environmental issue and an increasingly difficult relationship between the factory and the city, in the west of Genoa the rule seems much clearer. “The fight always pays off”. A conviction due to necessity, “because if you do not raise your voice you do not exist now – it is a mantra recited by many voices in these parts – at work as elsewhere”. And at the same time a question of trade union history, partly also of a “training school”, explains Franco Grondona, historical memory of the factory, for almost twenty years at the helm of the provincial Fiom. In the workshops where it is said with pride that they have defeated terrorism, the color of hearts and brains “is still red, the real one”. He wants to dispel “the false myth of the workers who vote for the League, all lies, at least here”, it is rather admitted that “the majority of workers today do not vote, win abstention, they no longer trust”. And the school is still that of the great workers’ struggles of the past, “the same as when I entered the factory, in 1971, – recalls Grondona – when the internal section of the PCI had over a thousand members, and the factory was a city”.
Whether it is a matter of genes or culture, what is clear is that it was this spirit that brought small and large trade union victories to Cornigliano, the most recent and the most distant. In the months of the first wave of coronavirus infections, last May, the first post lockdown procession had forced the company to retrace its steps on the massive use of the Covid layoffs. “There are orders, and the company doesn’t want us to work”, then the protest was explained. The same happened in November, the first day of the anti Covid orange zone in Liguria, with a demonstration that crossed the city to avoid lockouts and layoffs. For some time now, the mother of all the achievements has been the program agreement that has governed relations between the governance of the former Ilva, institutions and trade unions in Genoa for 15 years. The pact that decided once and for all to close the blast furnace, in 2005, but by binding the change of farewell to hot working to the maintenance of employment and wage levels of the workforce. A ‘life insurance’, it is defined, which, however, has not spared the factory from the uncertainty of these times.
The question marks that the “investment agreement” between Arcelor Mittal and Invitalia still carries with them, to date, are still many. The details of the corporate restructuring are well known, except those of the industrial plan. The planned state recapitalisations of 400 and 680 million are both bound, the first to the opinion of the European antitrust (expected by 31 January), the second (by May 2022) to the release from seizure of the hot area of Taranto. Trade union agreements should be reached by the end of January, but at the moment Fim, Fiom and Uilm know “little or nothing” about redundancies, strategies, prospects, and the latest videoconference meeting between the parties, last December 22 , was – definition of the trade union front – “a mockery”. And while Taranto is aware of its intention to invest in a new electric oven, “Cornigliano and Novi Ligure, the second Arcelor Mittal plant in the north, once again come in the alternative”, accuse Fiom. “An attitude that hurts, discourages, drives away workers who find an alternative”, and together explains many things. The state of the Genoese steel mill, for example, like the fury with which its thousand blue overalls defend its history, work and future.
Although now a distant relative of the city in the city that until the 1980s made the western Genoese the Manchester of Italy, today the ex Ilva di Genova is the only Italian factory to produce tinplate. Its present are two galvanizing lines, one of which is practically new, and the one for tin. Products for the car, household appliances and canned goods of the food industry pass through its docks. “We produce and we could produce much more” is the belief of everyone, technicians and workers, and it is true because here, for example, not even a quarter of the country’s tinplate needs are covered. “We would have areas, energies, experience to work, and even well, on the basis of real perspectives – say the workers – and instead the impression, in the last two years, is that those who managed it have treated it more than anything else as an asset to be liquidated “.
Today that of Cornigliano is “a humiliated potential”, argue the Genoese trade unions, and as you enter the streets inside the factory, you understand the meaning of the definition. Most of the fleet of vehicles for transport between the workshops remains stationary, for example, because “there is no diesel fuel”. They give up the structures (it happened last to a light tower on the docks, last month, fortunately without tragic consequences), because there is no money to secure them. Of the abandoned areas, then, the desolation is striking. “The new management on this plant has not invested a single euro – insists Armando Palombo, factory representative, in Cornigliano for more than thirty years – On the one hand there is the virtual world of big announcements and negotiations, on the other the reality of a world that is falling apart. And those who work in this sector know very well what it means not to carry out maintenance on the plants: it means making them die ».
Equally symbolic, then, is thereon condition of the 260 Genoese workers (1700 nationwide) who for 16 years have lived in the limbo of the extraordinary Ilva administration. Cassintegrati passed to the socially useful works with the restructuring of the mid-2000s. “Pure redundancies, in fact, who no longer wanted to reinstate either the Riva, the commissioners, or Arcelor Mittal, and no one will want again this time”, – says Luciano Costella, who joined the factory when he was not even twenty in 1989 and in this limbo 2005 – “a paradox that should warn everyone”. And because, at the moment, there does not seem to be any certainty about their fate in the December agreement, “only vague promises”. “It’s because you don’t believe it – the worker reflects – the many others will be better off who, at least until 2025, when 8 million full-fledged production should be reached, are destined to remain out. The box lets live but kills slowly, condemns them to live for the day, without prospects, at the mercy of the waves ».
And if it is not yet clear on what kind of shock absorbers the thousands of workers who seem destined to remain in layoffs until 2025, overall, even less is known what kind of relaunch Genoa could have. “Cornigliano, that is known, is not even mentioned in the agreement – resumes Manganaro – When instead such a plant should be a central part of the program”.
The ideas to enhance “the other Ilva”, after all, there would be. Just as there would be spaces to do it, even if the areas currently unused are tempting to many who would like to see them reassigned, first of all the city administration. “We talked about electric ovens, modern rolling mills, but even relatively little would be enough, the strengthening of the tin cycle, and in front of us we had grasslands, not a market – is the reflection – A serious government should consider it a strategy for the country , but trusting this government, especially if it deals with managers like those who have brought us to the lowest point in our history, only 3 million tons of production and skyrocketing trade union conflict, is more difficult every day. We are only at the beginning of a long climb full of curves, and at every bend there is a risk of crashing down. We will need to fight, and we will fight again ».
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