Commentary. Beyond the pandemic, ever-growing emergencies mean that development must give way to the need for survival: a genuine rupture.

Energy production and consumption are not infinite

The response by the Filctem CGIL union to the appeal by Castellina and Muroni reveals how a part of the labor movement is still far from having understood the drama of the historical moment we are living through. The message from Pope Francis, from Greta and the school kids and from the scientific world is questioning the relationship between man, the natural elements and the biosphere, making clear how survival and social justice are irreversibly at risk. The magnitude of the disaster and the limited time available to deal with it—which Castellina and Muroni discuss in their appeal—together with the slow decline of plant and animal life might convince the world of labor to get out of a purely defensive position and become an essential point of reference for a radical transformation of the development model.

Beyond the pandemic, ever-growing emergencies mean that development must give way to the need for survival: a genuine rupture. For example, the need to place the health issue at the center of scientific research and of the very prospect of production is already breaking the cycle of technological growth, since the vaccine works in the perspective of the preservation of the species instead of the care for the single individual. From the idea of linear and infinite progress within the mechanism of consumption, the logic of an egalitarian preservation of the species is becoming prevalent in human thought. This had not happened even in the face of the call of climate change, despite the efforts of by Pope Francis, Greta, the school kids and the ecologists, still working within different national cultures.

Showing a lack of foresight, the document by the energy union does not taking into account these changes. It is not the top engineers and technicians enrolled in the CGIL union who need to clarify the directions for the necessary change: they, like us, are the offspring of a non-interdisciplinary education, which knows how to deal with the transformation of matter and energy, but does not pay attention to the irreversible effects that, beyond a certain threshold, technology might cause to the human community, to life and reproduction of all living things. After all, at least in the last fifty years, we got used to water shortages, tornadoes, soil erosion, but we have neglected, not without blame, the damages caused by an irrepressible growth in energy.

Until now, the fallout in the local territories has been eluded and the discussion has remained top-heavy. But this will no longer be the case ever again. We now have the ongoing experience of Civitavecchia, where the intention by the energy agencies to tie the populations already affected in the past to a methane-based future is arousing an authentic popular movement, and where the local CGIL, together with UIL, has put forward the call to link together all the committees and associations advancing alternative proposals for the reconversion of the coal plant, getting the attention of doctors, students, environmental associations, trade unions and citizens, who have made public their full agreement in a very significant broadcast on the local TV network.

As the participants in the broadcast said, we are at a historic moment, a time of turning the page, which can be based on research, qualified employment and the development of the territory with a reduced impact on the environment and with the support—for the first time—of EU financing that is loosening the criteria of pure competition between individual nations. Unfortunately, the illusion that there shouldn’t be any brake on energy consumption has been in the intellectual baggage of our generations since we were in school. The energy workers’ union risks remaining stuck within that narrative,  because when it talks about transition, it thinks that much can change, at least in words, but that there is a threshold of damage—the one caused by new investments in gas—which is tolerable for the “greenwashing” of companies and useful for the protection of workers currently employed. They are thus ignoring the much more substantial employment opportunities for them and for young people in the area, which could result from a truly green conversion of energy production and the development opportunities that would open up for the entire local context.

This alliance at the territorial level between trade union organizations and associations promoting active citizenship, and the willingness shown by the Chamber of Labor to take up a level of decision-making—when issues of labor policy and economic policy affect the lives of all citizens— that has a larger scope than that of workers currently unionized, is an important example of that “Chamber of Labor in the street” that Maurizio Landini has often invoked. If we restrict the scope of the determination of positions to take to particular trade unions, to the reasonable perspective of what is possible to do within the current model of development, perhaps managing to redistribute profits in a more fair manner, this is certainly an alternative vision to that felicitous degrowth that Filctem seems to consider the greatest danger to ward off—but it risks keeping us prisoners of that infelicitous degrowth that now characterizes the last years of our history.

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