Italy: Workers Occupy Sardinian Coal Mine

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

Some 460 jobs at risk, 350 kilos of explosives and more than 100 miners about 373 metres below ground. These are the figures involved in the latest drama to have erupted in Italy, prompted by the economic crisis affecting all of Europe.

It involves miners working in the Carbosulcis coal mine in Nuraxi Figus, a hamlet of Gonnesa on the island of Sardinia. A company controlled by the Sardinian regional government, Carbosulcis manages the only coal mine in Italy, located in one of the areas of the country that has been worst hit by unemployment.

On August 26, 2012, 50 miners (who were joined by 80 more the following day) occupied their workplace, declaring that they were “ready to do anything”, even blow up the mine, after threats that it would be closed at the end of the year. For eight days these men remained at a depth of nearly 400 metres, only deciding to end their occupation of the mine on September 3, following the government's announcement that the mine would not be closing.

Demonstration in support of the Nuraxi Figus miners. Photo via "Sulcis in Fundo" Facebook group.

Demonstration in support of the Nuraxi Figus miners. Photo via “Sulcis in Fundo” Facebook group.

Politicians stall, protests continue

While the effects of the economic crisis rumble on, politicians continue to stall for time and the protests carry on. Similar demonstrations have been conducted by the workers at the Ilva steel works in Taranto and those at the Alcoa aluminium plant in Sardinia.

At the Carbosulcis pit there is not enough coal being extracted to justify continuing operations, and therefore new business initiatives are needed, especially those to encourage CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) technology.

On August 28, two days after the occupation of the mine began, a new Facebook group, Sulcis in Fundo [it], was created in support of the miners. Below are some of the comments left on the group's page:

Mariano Attardi [it] writes:



Franco Giannoni [it]:

[…] la Miniera e’ un Industria e come tale deve essere gestita guardando ai mercati Internazionali coi giusti costi e non con passivi da spavento come la intendono in Italia negli ultimi 30 anni!

[…] Mining is an industry and as such, must be managed with an eye to international markets, with fair costs not with disturbing liabilities, as seems to have been the case in Italy for the past 30 years!
Banners on the gates of the Carbosulcis mine. Photo via the "Sulcis in Fundo" Facebook group.

Banners on the gates of the Carbosulcis mine. Photo via the “Sulcis in Fundo” Facebook group.

On this point, Roberto Serra [it], one of the miners involved in the dispute and an active member of the Facebook group Sulcis in Fundo, wrote:

Naturalmente non mancano i timori di quel che può causare una nuova tecnologia,ma non ci si può fermare nel progresso: o si va avanti crescendo o si resta fermi e non si va avanti nel tempo restando in uno stato di arretratezza.

Naturally people are anxious about the effects of new technologies but you cannot stop progress. Either you move forward and grow or you stay still, don't move with the times and remain underdeveloped.

The European Union is planning to finance six CCS projects in Europe but only one of these is in Italy, and the Carbosulcis miners are seeking a clear explanation from the government on the company's future, and that of the almost 500 families who depend on its existence.

In an interview on [it], Giovanni Matta, the regional secretary of the CISL (Confederazione Italiana Sindacato Lavoratori) trade union declared that:

La responsabilità del governo è che a oggi, nonostante gli impegni, non si pronuncia . . . Si parla di produrre energia da carbone, andare verso alcune opportunità alternative agli idrocarburi, ma il governo non ha scelto e nel caso della miniera del Sulcis addirittura pare che voglia scegliere di non intervenire e di non valorizzare il progetto.

It is the government's fault that, despite the need to do so, it has not made its position clear…Generating energy from coal, moving towards alternatives to hydrocarbons, have been mentioned but the government has not made up its mind and, in the case of the Sulcis mine, it seems almost unwilling to intervene and to place little value on the project.

Later in the same interview [it] he explained that:

La protesta è esplosa adesso perché solo ora il governo afferma che non intende perorare la causa e sostenere il progetto in sede comunitaria. Nel marzo scorso il presidente Ugo Cappellacci aveva dichiarato che era tutto a posto, in quanto era arrivato il via libera per il progetto e quindi finalmente i 400 posti della miniera erano salvi.

The protest has now become explosive because the government has only just confirmed that it does not intend to champion the cause and support the project locally. Just last March the President of the Region, Ugo Cappellacci, declared that everything was on track, that they had received the green light and that the jobs of 400 miners were, therefore, safe.

In an interview [it] with the Tiscali news site on August 28, mine employee Sandro Mereu explained what had motivated him and his colleagues to occupy the mine:

La miniera è la nostra vita e vogliamo tenerla aperta. Dicono che ciò è roba del passato, ma negli anni abbiamo anche presentato dei progetti innovativi di sfruttamento del carbone Sulcis, e ogni volta che la soluzione sembrava vicina, qualcuno ci ha messo i bastoni tra le ruote, portandoci a un nulla di fatto.[…]Noi in miniera abbiamo dell’esplosivo per le necessità lavorative, ed abbiamo però paura che qualche minatore possa perdere la testa e fare qualcosa di sconsiderato, visto che la situazione può diventare ingovernabile.

The mine is our life and we want to keep it open. They say it's a relic but over the years we have proposed innovative projects to exploit the Sulcis coal and every time that a solution seemed to close, someone put a spanner in the works, and nothing came of it. […] In the mine we have explosives for our work and we are afraid that one of the miners could lose his head and do something unwise, given that the situation could become uncontrollable.

The situation became even more dramatic the following day when an employee and RSU (Rappresentanze sindacali unitarie) trade unionist, Stefano Meletti, slit his wrist [WARNING: Graphic content] in front of journalists. The images spread like wildfire.

Online, however, the gesture prompted mixed reactions. One YouTube commenter, yyuri51, declared:

..che idiozia! Cosa insegna a suo figlio un uomo che fa finta di suicidarsi? Che i problemi si risolvono con atti folli? Se avesse voluto suicidarsi non lo avrebbe fatto davanti alle telecamere…complimenti ha un posto di lavoro assicurato come sindacalista. Le aziende assistite e non sono competitive è giusto che chiudano! I lavoratori devono avere un supporto economico ma non si aiutano le aziende fallimentari. Questo vale anche per la Fiat.? La Sardegna è piena di laureati disoccupati!

…what an idiot! By pretending to kill himself what is this man teaching his son? That problems can be solved by acts of madness? If he'd really wanted to kill himself he wouldn't have done it in front of the cameras… congratulations, your job as a trade unionist is assured. It's only right that subsidised and non competitive companies should close! Workers should receive economic support but you shouldn't prop up failing businesses. Does this applies to Fiat [car manufacturer] as well? Sardinia is full of unemployed graduates!

But many people have spoken out in support of the miners. On the website of the Sardinian newspaper La Nuova Sardegna [it], Andrea Randaccio commented:

E così nel paese che si interroga sul nuovo centrocampista del milan irrompe il minatore disperato. Gli scioperi, le manifestazioni anche eclatanti, non servono a nulla. Vogliono il sangue.

And that's how a desperate miner makes himself heard amidst the country's speculations about who will be [AC] Milan's [football team's] new midfielder. Strikes, even prominent demonstrations are of no use. They want blood.

On the blog, Running Life, Carolina Duepuntozero [it] wrote on August 30:

Ho visto ieri il servizio al tg e sono rimasta davvero colpita da tutta questa vicenda e dal gesto disperato di quell'uomo. In effetti, se non ci fosse stato di mezzo l'esplosivo.. forse i giornali nemmeno se ne sarebbero accorti

I saw the report on the news yesterday and I was really struck by the affair and this man's desperate gesture. In fact, if they hadn't been surrounded by explosives the newspapers might not even have taken note of it.
The flags and banners of the trade unions representing the miners. Photo via the "Sulcis in Fundo" Facebook page.

The flags and banners of the trade unions representing the miners. Photo via the “Sulcis in Fundo” Facebook page.

On August 31, after almost a week of underground protest, a march took place from Carbonia to Gonessa, 14 kilometres away. Some 200 people participated in the demonstration, including workers from Sulcis companies affected by the crisis and citizens who sympathized with their circumstances, which – for the most part – remain unresolved.

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

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