Joe Higgins visits NO TAV campaigners who are building a mass opposition against a high speed rail link
In November, at a national meeting of Controcorrente in Genova, MEP Joe Higgins met Nicholetta Dosio, one of the main activists in the campaign. There Joe was invited to Val di Susa to meet local people and to see what he could do to help the campaign accross Europe. The EU is funding the building of the high speed rail link from Turin to Lyon. This is planned to slice through the Val di Susa, a beautiful valley with a population of around 80,000 in 40 different towns, destroying the environment and endangering the health of local people.
Following his visit Joe sent out a press release: “My visit to Val di Susa on February 20th and 21st demonstrated to me that the stand taken by the NO TAV campaign is absolutely correct. This is a truly impressive mass campaign of opposition to a high speed train project that is not needed but would have catastrophic consequences for the communities in the Val di Susa and would involve major environmental destruction in an area of great natural beauty. In the face of police and mafia repression, thousands of people have bravely stood their ground to defend their communities. They are an inspiration to environmental and community activists worldwide.
"Having seen the area with my own eyes, I intend to redouble my efforts to assist the campaign. I will be submitting a detailed question to the European Commission to get the latest information for the campaign and to apply pressure on the European authorities to withdraw European Union funding. I will also be using my position and working with the sections of the Committee for a Workers’ International (www.socialistworld.net) to publicise and win support for this campaign internationally."
The EU is funding a high speed rail link that would slice through the Val di Susa
A mass campaign
Some local activists like Nicholetta have been campaigning for 21 years against the TAV project but it is really in the last ten years or so that the movement has become a mass one. In 2007 a petition was signed by 32,000 local people in the areas affected by the project and taken to the EU in Brussels. For the TAV project to go ahead, local people should be consulted first. As usual, speculators, big businesses and politicians are trampling over the rights of ordinary people in the interests of profit.
The campaign has reached a critical stage because in order to get EU funding soundings (drillings) have to be carried out in the area. On 23 January 40,000 people marched in opposition and permanent ‘presidi’ (protest sites) have been set up where the drillings are supposed to take place. These have been built by the people as places for protesters to meet, eat and sleep but also as a resource for the local community. In fact, an alternative way of life based on solidarity, cooperation and community spirit has been taking shape.
Faced with the overwhelming opposition of local people, intimidation and repression has increased. Presidi have been burned down and one of the recent night time protests (the drillings are attempted at night to try and minimise opposition) was brutally attacked by the police, injuring 22 people, 2 seriously. 600 police are deployed for each drilling shift and there are 4 shifts per drilling.
“He’s one of us”
Joe visited one of the victims of police brutality, Marinella, in hospital. With a broken nose, a head wound and her body covered in bruises, she pledged that whatever happened she was determined to continue the struggle.
Joe then toured the presidi to meet and talk to local people. At the first one, San Antonino, he was greeted by 200 applauding protesters and a band playing Irish music! “It’s clear that this high speed link is not necessary,” he said when addressing the crowd. “A beautiful valley just 2 km wide, flanked by mountains, already has a European railway, a motorway and two main roads… So why do the politicians want to build the TAV against the will of local people? Could it be that they are in the pockets of the speculators, big business, the building companies and the mafia who will be the main beneficiaries?”
“It seems like he’s been here 10 years not 10 minutes,” said one protester. “He understands everything.”
At all the presidi Joe was greeted warmly and informed about the environmental risks local people face. It is planned that the rail link will go into the mountain which contains asbestos and uranium, which if disturbed could cause major health problems. The land in the area is fragile with the risk of landslides, and where other rail links have been built, such as Muginello in Tuscany, precious local water resources have been depleted. How can this kind of destruction be justified when the current railway is running at just 30% capacity?
In the evening Joe spoke at a public meeting in Bussolano with Nicholetta. She introduced Joe to the 200 people present by talking about the local campaigns that Joe has been involved with in Ireland, against water charges, bin tax and a Shell oil refinery. When Joe explained that he only takes the wage of an average worker the hall erupted in applause. “He’s one of us,” cried someone. “He doesn’t wear Armani,” cried another.
One person thought “he should stand in Italy, we need people like him” but someone else said that "they wouldn’t let him – he’s too ethical”.
The next day, as well as continuing his tour of the presidi, Joe met with the president of the Mountain Community and various No Tav mayors and councillors. He pledged to do all he could in Europe to aid the campaign but throughout his visit he stressed that it will be the determination, the mass resistance and the unity of ordinary people in struggle that will defeat the project. “From what I have seen of that in these two days they will never be able to build the TAV,” he said.
Finally on Sunday evening Joe met with over 30 workers in struggle in various workplaces in Val di Susa. As they explained, virtually every factory in the valley has either closed or is in cassa integrazione (where workers are ‘temporarily’ laid off and paid a proportion of their wages, often as a prelude to unemployment). Marco, a young worker from Azimut, the biggest company in the area, which produces yachts, reported how 350 workers on short-time contracts have lost their jobs and the others are now having to do the work of those sacked, including working overtime. One of the arguments that is put forward by supporters of the TAV is that it will bring jobs to the area. But with the privatisation of the existing railway hundreds of local jobs were destroyed. Local people want decent permanent jobs, not temporary work in illegal and dangerous conditions which is the only kind, if any, that the TAV is likely to bring.
Joe has pledged to keep in touch with the NO TAV campaign and to act as their representative in the European Parliament. The slogan of the movement is “A sara’ dura” (it will be difficult), but the local people are determined to defend their community, their environment and their future.