They contemptuously called her the “Cassandra of Vajont.” But Tina Merlin, the courageous journalist from L’Unità whose warnings were sadly unheeded as she was the first to denounce the risks of the mega-dam, was right after all. And her appeal, written the day after that most terrible tragedy—which occurred on October 9, 1963 between Veneto and Friuli and left 2,000 dead—is still valid nowadays: “Today, however, we can’t just cry. It is time to learn something.”
But we haven’t learned in 58 years. Deaths because of profit have continued unabated. Moby Prince, Viareggio, ThyssenKrupp, Rigopiano, Eternit, Ponte Morandi, Mottarone, Terra dei Fuochi—these are just some of the large disasters, not counting the 772 deaths at the workplace in the first eight months of 2021 alone, according to INAIL data.
On Saturday, in Rome, more than 60 associations of family members of the victims of more than 50 years of environmental and labor disasters came down to Piazza Santi Apostoli, to call for a stop to the deaths for economic profit, but also to ask, without any rhetoric, that justice should not be forgetful and that politics should work so that these tragedies do not happen again.
Relatives, friends, comrades and companions in work and misfortune have gathered around the “We, October 9” Committee, established a year ago in Longarone (Belluno), the tragedy-struck town in the Vajont valley, which organized this event on the occasion of the National Day in memory of the victims of industrial disasters, established in 2011.
They want a fair judicial process and, above all, active interventions by the state when it comes to safety, the lives of people and communities. And they are asking for a real recognition of the rights of the victims of massacres caused by economic activities aimed at profit (such as, for example, the right to be heard in court as part of the proceedings). They are putting forward intelligent proposals to improve justice in Italy, as pointed out by Lucia Vastano of the Association of Citizens for the Memory of Vajont.
The demonstrators also took to the streets “to avoid the unacceptable outcome of the statute of limitations expiring” for crimes of this type. This fear testifies to the great distance between the obstacles, vicissitudes and exclusions inherent in how things currently stand, on the one hand, and the delivery of justice and the search for truth on the other.
Those from the “We, October 9” Committee are arguing that the Cartabia Law “does not do justice for anyone, and puts many trials at risk of exceeding the statute of limitations”—such as, for example, the Rigopiano trial, or the one for the train accident in Andria and Corato, or the many trials brought for asbestos exposure or accidents at work.
“The driving force behind all these tragedies is profit,” says Daniela Rombi, the vice-president of the Il Mondo Che Vorrei association that brings together relatives of the victims of the tragedy of Viareggio, “because the bosses want to earn money and cut costs on safety.”
One of the banners displayed during the large march read: “Stop the massacres for profit. This economy kills.” Another: “Remember all the workers killed in the name of profit.” And another: “Death at work is not an act of fate but a crime against humanity.”
This concept was stressed by Moni Ovadia, present at the sit-in: “Deaths at work are not accidents but killings. The dignity of the worker cannot be negotiated away.” The demonstration was also attended by Medicina Democratica and the families of the victims of the earthquake that struck Amatrice and other towns in central Italy.
In the afternoon, also in the center of Rome, but this time near Piazza Campo de’ Fiori, an assembly was organized which drafted a public motion to be submitted to the attention of politicians, but especially to the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella. In the document prepared by the “We, October 9” Committee, in addition to the reform of the rules governing the statute of limitations for environmental and occupational disasters, they are calling for an amendment of the rules of the Criminal Code on the crime of causing disasters. And they demand the creation of a single national prosecutor’s office, a sort of super-prosecutor’s office like in the case of the Mafia, which would be highly specialized for disasters involving crimes against safety at work, environmental crimes, crimes likely to cause large catastrophes and also food-related crimes.
This is a cause long supported by the magistrate Raffaele Guariniello, who led the prosecution in the trials against Eternit and ThyssenKrupp. The protesters which gathered as part of the committee are calling, finally, to amend Law No. 101/2011 establishing the “National Day in memory of the victims of environmental and industrial disasters” by removing the word “carelessness” from its text, which “minimizes responsibility.” It would be a first step towards the truth.