Italy: No to profit-guzzling and destructive projects at public’s expense!

Paul Murphy MEP and others visit militarised zone at Maddalena

On the last weekend in August, Paul Murphy, Member of the European Parliament for the Socialist Party in Ireland, along with other members of the Committee for a Workers’ International (from Italy, Germany, Ireland and England) were in the Susa Valley, Northern Italy. They attended an international forum, under the title ’Opposing Unnecessary Grand Projects’, hosted by the ’No TAV’ campaign, and visited the occupied, militarised zone in the mountains at Maddalena. (See previous articles on this site)

Forum agrees international coordinated action

All the campaigns represented at the forum had much in common. The projects they were fighting against were all environmentally destructive, dangerous, expensive, unnecessary and facing massive public opposition. One in Barcelona is fighting plans for an extensive tunnelling project in the city centre which could damage priceless monuments, including the famous Gaudi cathedral. 78% of the people polled oppose the project and 100,000 signatures against the project have been collected.

The ’Stuttgart 21’ project for a new station in the city which involves massive tunnel-boring is also arousing a high level of opposition (See reports on this site). There have been regular ’Monday demonstrations’ involving as many as 50,000 and one demonstration of 150,000 – in a city of just 600,000 people! Speakers, including Ursel Beck of the">SAV">">SAV (CWI Germany), said the estimated cost for the ’Stuttgart 21’ project is officially €4.1bn but many experts now put the cost at €10bn.

Vast sums of public money being spent on needless and destructive projects are providing massive profits for a few. Representatives of a 40 year-old campaign against the construction of an airport in Notre Dame des Landes, near Nantes in Western France, said it was originally planned for the long-retired Concorde aeroplane. Its construction would wipe out the milk industry in the area and cut across the use of other already established airports in the region.

Speaker after speaker explained how the projects they were fighting posed grave dangers to the local populations. There is a project, for example, to oppose the construction of a massive gas pipeline through the centre of Italy. Paul Murphy MEP spoke with campaigners from the town of L’Aquila, which suffered in 2009 from a large earthquake. Their reasons for opposing the pipeline going through their area are obvious. There is also a large area of ’protected’ national parkland that would be ruined by the major excavations proposed.

Paul Murphy MEP spoke at the conference about the ’Shell to Sea’ campaign in Ireland which is opposing the construction of a dangerous gas pipeline in County Mayo. He pledged to do what he can to be a voice for the campaigns in the European Parliament and to assist in the linking up and co-ordination of the campaigns. He also received a round of applause when mentioning the CWI policy of its elected representatives living on a workers’ wage and not the bloated salary of a politician.

The conference concluded by passing a resolution expressing solidarity with the various campaigns, condemning state repression and pledging to arrange a second European Day against unnecessary projects which would include internationally coordinated protests.

Mass opposition to TAV project in Val di Susa

The campaign in Val di Susa itself is extremely impressive. The mass opposition which the project faces in the valley is evident everywhere. The towns, roads and fields in the valley are covered in banners and flags from the campaign; anti-TAV graffiti is to be seen on walls and even on bridges throughout the valley.

The campaign is to stop a proposed high speed railway project (TAV) from Turin to Lyons tunnelling through a mountain (See articles on this site). It would destroy the local environment and cause major health problems for the local residents. Tunnelling would release into the atmosphere uranium and asbestos which occur naturally in the mountain. Scientists and doctors have all declared their opposition because of the inevitable health problems this would mean for the local people.

The plans also include the flattening of a whole village to make way for a depot for the building works. The project is also extremely expensive. The campaign estimates that the cost of the project will run to €20bn. This is a massive amount of money, especially considering the Berlusconi regime’s announcements about cutting another €45.5bn from the government budget over the next two years, involving a massive attack on the living standards of workers in Italy. Instead of wasting money on unwanted and unnecessary projects, like the TAV tunnel, the resources should be used to fill the gap in the public purse – to fund the public services being cut and programmes of socially useful public works.

Those behind the Val di Susa project argue that a high-speed railway, linking Lyons to Turin, will be of benefit to the area. However, the existing railway line is only running at 30% capacity! If necessary, that line could be upgraded at a fraction of the cost and with minimal environmental impact. The activists against the TAV project say it would do nothing good for the people of the area. The price of the tickets would be prohibitive and there would be a cut in regional and local trains to accommodate the TAV, meaning less access to the railway network for the people of the area.

The project is facing mass opposition. Everyone you talk to in the valley opposes the project and proudly tells stories of how, over the years, they have resisted attempts to force it through. Through their experiences they have seen that society is not run in the interests of the majority but for a tiny, corrupt elite.

New phase of campaign following police attack

Earlier this year, at dawn on 26 June, 2,000 police stormed a peaceful protest camp at a place called Maddalena. Many protesters were injured by the police. Their camping equipment was destroyed and they even had cars burned out by the police. Evidence of the brutality of the attack is still everywhere to be seen. CS gas was liberally fired on the protesters, despite its use being banned under international law for war situations! The Italian state denies using it, despite CS gas canisters being littered around the whole area!

The Maddalena camp was a focal point for the No TAV campaign. It was a place where activists came together to discuss and hold meetings and socialise. The police attacked it as they wanted to clear the way for some provisional drilling work in order to meet a deadline for funding from the European Union.

The camp was located beside a 6,000 year old late Neolithic burial chamber and an accompanying museum. Following the capture of the camp, in a vindictive move, the police destroyed the burial chamber with bull-dozers. An area of 17,000 square metres around the building site was then fenced off. The area was effectively militarised with entry only permitted to a handful of locals that live in the zone or farm land there.

Delegation visits to the ’occupied zone’

We visited the existing camp at Maddalena on the Saturday afternoon, walking up a long and winding mountain path with one of the main protest leaders, Nicoletta D’Osio. She wanted Paul Murphy MEP to see if he could use his official position to get inside the militarised area. It is defended by a high fence and razor wire. It is guarded by armed patrols of every different branch of the Italian state’s police force. We were told to come back the following day, when the authorities allowed us access for a small delegation. On the Sunday, this included, the leader of the Partito di Rifondazione Comunista, Paulo Ferrero, as well as some local elected representatives.

Entering the militarised area is like entering an occupied territory. On the entrance of the militarised zone there were two large imposing gates to pass. There is barbed wire everywhere in the zone; all around the perimeter of the zone as well as within the zone along slopes and in wooded areas.

There was a striking lack of people in the whole area. Only those living there or owning land there are permitted to enter and they are not allowed to bring guests or visitors into the zone. This has meant real hardship for the local people. With no customers, the house doing Bed and Breakfast for tourists and the shop located in the zone have been effectively shut down. The farmers of the vineyards, which were replanted with EU funding, will be unable to harvest their crop as they are not permitted to bring in labourers for the harvest. In any case, the crops grown in the zone are also most likely to be unusable as they have been polluted with CS gas. No compensation has been offered to those affected.

The zone is full of soldiers and police, including a regiment of ’Alpini’ that has just returned from Afghanistan, bringing with them the same armoured vehicles used there. The museum, which was dedicated to the now destroyed burial chamber has been turned into a military barracks!

Once in the militarised zone, the delegation met with the company that has the contract to build the railway (LTF). They refused access to the building site itself, claiming a safety risk despite the fact that no work was going on that day.

EU funding of project to be challenged in the European Parliament

This project has been allocated EU funding. Paul Murphy MEP has pledged to continue to raise in the European Parliament and with the Commission that this project is being rammed through against the wishes of the local population with brutal repression. Should the EU subsidise this project it will be complicit in this repression and environmental destruction.

The only people who will benefit will be the speculators, construction companies and the Mafia. The key to winning this fight and the fight against other similar projects is the power of a mass movement. CWI speakers at the Forum all stressed the need to link up the campaigns with the fight against public spending cuts and to look to the trade unions to add their weight to the struggle.

It is crucial that active campaigns based on mass mobilisation are continued and strengthened. In the absence of major parties fighting in the interests of working and poor people, it is essential that the trade unions support these campaigns in deeds as well as in words, following the example of the metal-mechanics union in Italy – the FIOM – that organised a one-day strike against the brutal police attack in June.

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September 2011