Report. Pressure is mounting on the Conte government as the world’s largest steelmaker, ArcelorMittal is demanding layoffs and immunity from environmental protections to buy the ILVA steel plant in Taranto. Conte has refused the requests as unions call for further strikes.

Strikes and protests, Italian metalworkers will not give in

At noon Wednesday, the metalworkers’ unions in Taranto, Italy, announced they were going their separate ways. While FIM CISL was unwilling to agree to further delay and called for an immediate 24-hour strike for the whole metalworking industry, FIOM and UILM took a step back, waiting for news from the meeting at Palazzo Chigi in Rome between the prime minister and the managers of ArcelorMittal regarding the ILVA crisis before deciding what action to take, as had been agreed on Tuesday at the ILVA factory council.

However, FIM CISL pushed ahead regardless, and its strike got a high rate of participation, enough to block the operations of Steel Plant 1, with only one caster out of five in working condition. To make sure that automated supply chains would not be disrupted, ArcelorMittal took forceful measures and decided that 80 workers would be enlisted to ensure mandatory minimum staffing for the equipment pertaining to the departments involved in the strike. The mandatory minimum staffing (which is a binding requirement for the workers concerned, according to the union agreements) was justified by the company “because of structural damage caused during the last strike on July 10, which led to the scrapping of seven ladle transfer cars.” 

In order to avoid what happened during that strike, occasioned by the death of the worker Cosimo Massaro, the company highlighted “the need for the completion of the casting ladle cycle required for ensuring the safety of the steelmaking plant, in order to avoid structural and irreversible damage.” 

The company stressed that “the characteristics of the plant site in Taranto, in the absence of essential staffing for safety purposes, whose provision is a mandatory obligation for those who have proclaimed the strike, as well as for those who will suffer its effects, would expose all persons involved in operations, as well as in the production facilities, to a risk of damages which would violate their right to health and to the performance of economic activity.” The strike was set to end at 3 p.m. today, with the blocking of gate C and of all trucks entering and exiting the plant.

As of Thursday evening, FIM CISL, FIOM and UILM have announced a joint strike for Friday involving all the workers at ArcelorMittal plants in Italy, starting from 7 a.m. 

On Wednesday evening, the factory council held by FIOM and UILM also decided to pursue the matter institutionally, starting with the President of the Puglia Region, whom they have petitioned “to manage a dispute from which no one can be excluded, especially as concerns the responsibility for what might happen.” In addition to the 8,200 employees which are currently employed at the ILVA plant, thousands have already been laid off under the compulsory administration measures. Furthermore, as of Thursday evening, Prime Minister Conte confirmed that ArcelorMittal was demanding further large-scale layoffs, a request which he turned down.

The events in Taranto are taking their toll on Genoa as well. The work stoppage at the steel plant is affecting Genoa through the supply chains. Here, 1,300 workers are tasked with cold working the steel produced in Taranto, while 280 workers have been laid off under compulsory administration measures and have been assigned to environmental clean-up work.

“It’s not just the steelworkers and those inside Mittal who are at risk, other companies use this steel as well,” said Bruno Manganaro, secretary of the Genoa branch of FIOM CGIL, on the sidelines of the meeting on Wednesday in Liguria between the unions, regional governor Giovanni Toti and the representatives of the municipality and of the Confindustria, trying to move forward on the delicate situation of the former ILVA plant in Cornigliano. 

“Fincantieri is telling us that it is likely to go into financial trouble because it ordered sheets from Mittal, and if these don’t arrive, the shipbuilding activities will be late and they run the risk of paying penalties, and they might still have to go find steel sheets from other parts of the world, which will cost more—it will take time and it will be difficult,” Manganaro said. 

“Accordingly, not only steelworking, but other industrial activities and workers are being put at risk as well. The Genoa plant is likely to stop production in a few days because they’re not getting the raw material to process. And we will go out into the streets. And when we do, we’re saying it clearly right now, we won’t stop until our demands are met. We will not limit ourselves to job numbers, we will defend the entirety of our income.” 

He added: “The government has made an enormous mess of things. At first, everyone voted in favor of legal protections [for ArcorMittal at the ILVA plant, granting them legal immunity as they work to remedy the plant’s violations of environmental laws], then, a month later, they all voted against: it was the worst possible outcome. We have no intention that we should pay the price for this nonsense. Genoa will not bend: we will fight, we will decide together with the delegates from FIM, FIOM and UILM regarding the day, and on Friday we will have a union meeting. We will notify the institutions, and we believe that they will support us in deciding to protect jobs and the metalworking industry. We support all of us going out into the streets together.”

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