In this article, written by Stefania Fusero for NCW, she focuses on three initiatives that have recently taken place in Pisa, Florence and Genoa, all of them firmly rooted in organised workers’ struggles. They have helped, each with their own individual characteristics, to clear the fog of war and to remind us that, in addition to that in Ukraine, many other fierce wars are underway, the victims of which have been condemned to invisibility and that every war, as alien and distant as it may seem, nonetheless impacts the lives of all of us.
By Stefania Fusero
Published on NCW, April 4, 2022
A hysterical censorship frenzy has since hit artists, courteous professors, honest foreign correspondents of state television alike, without even sparing nineteenth-century Russian writers.
In short, soon after the start of hostilities, the political and media system rushed to raise an iron curtain between us and Russia, causing a thick fog of war to descend around the conflict. If any timid voice tried to raise any doubts or to assess the conflict in a rational, non-emotional way, contextualising the conflict through historical or chronological data, they were immediately accused of being Russian assets and silenced.
Yet, despite everything, while solidarity and closeness to the Ukrainian people have remained unabated, and rightly so, more articulated protests and demonstrations have begun to be seen, which question the nature and causes of the war and our responsibilities.
This article is going to focus on three such initiatives that have recently taken place in Pisa, Florence and Genoa, all of them firmly rooted in organised workers’ struggles.
They have helped, each with their own individual characteristics, to clear the fog of war and to remind us that, in addition to that in Ukraine, many other fierce wars are underway, the victims of which have, however, been condemned to invisibility and that every war, as alien and distant as it may seem, nonetheless impacts the lives of all of us.
19 March 2022: Pisa
On March 14th, some workers of the Galileo Galilei civil airport in Pisa were instructed to load a plane on a “humanitarian flight” supposedly carrying provisions, food, medicines destined to the Ukrainian population, for weeks in the grip of ferocious shelling and fighting. When they showed up under the plane, the cargo workers were faced instead with crates full of weapons of various types, ammunition and explosives.
Because of that, the workers refused to load the cargo and the USB (Base Trade Union – Federation of Pisa) issued a statement demanding the air traffic control structures of the civil airport block these flights of death disguised as “humanitarian” aid and the workers continue to refuse to load weapons and explosives.
In response to that, the president of the Tuscan airport authority declared to the press that the transport of weapons would no longer happen: “I can guarantee it”.
General Figliuolo, from COVI (Comando Operativo di Vertice Interforze – Summit Operational Command of Joint Forces), who supervises the handling of arms, stated: “The materials were part of the military support for Ukraine approved by parliament, waiting to be loaded on a civilian flight authorised to carry that type of goods…The activity was undertaken at a civil parking area of “Galilei” instead of, as usually happens, in military airport parking lots, due to the exceptional and simultaneous transport activity required by the current situation”.
Faced with these admissions, the USB voiced several concerns and criticisms. First, the position of the Italian government should be aimed at facilitating a de-escalation, not an escalation, of the Ukrainian conflict, moreover it is not acceptable that flights intended to carry humanitarian aid depart loaded with weapons.
Moreover, how can uninformed workers without specific skills be asked to handle weapons and explosives? What risks could such operations also entail for passengers and staff departing and arriving at the civil airport of Pisa?
A few days later, on Saturday 19 March, a protest was held in front of the Galilei airport with the slogan “From Tuscany bridges of peace, not flights of war!”.
The demonstration, some hundreds strong, was joined by various groups of the left, trade unions, as well as cultural and environmental organisations, all united in pushing back the “cynical decision to cover the flights of death under the aegis of humanitarian aid” for Ukraine. The protesters chanted slogans against sending weapons to Ukraine and against NATO.
A second demonstration, promoted by the “No Camp Darby Committee”* near the military area of the airport, was later joined by the participants of the first.
*Camp Darby, situated between the cities of Leghorn and Pisa, is a US military base. There are 120 officially declared NATO and US bases on Italian soil. In fact, there is reason to believe that at least another secret 20 US military or residential bases add to the count. The US military in Italy is about 13,000 and some bases also house dozens of atomic and nuclear devices.
NATO and US bases enjoy extraterritoriality, i.e. they are not subject to Italian jurisdiction.
26 March 2022: Florence
On Saturday 26 March, in Florence over 40,000 people marched through the streets of the city, chanting “End of the month and end of the world, same culprits, a single fight”. And each and every one against all sorts of war, because every war is waged and used by the powerful against the people.
The heart of the demonstration was the Factory Collective of the Gkn workers (the factory produces semi-axles for vehicles) from Campi Bisenzio (Florence), with the slogan “Insorgiamo (We Rise Up)”.
The collective’s journey did not start yesterday, but on July 9, 2021, when the Melrose hedge fund bluntly announced in an e-mail to the workers the closure of the plant and the dismissal of over 500 workers. In response to that, the workers walked into the factory and occupied it. Rather than to the Italian government, the workers turned to the city, the territory and society, asking “How are you?” and declaring that the strength of their struggle was based on sharing each other’s vulnerability.
Thus began the laborious grind of horizontal and articulated dialogue, which urged the interlocutors not so much to sympathise with their struggle, but to translate it in every territory and in every social sector, in the awareness that “you cannot save yourself alone” and that one can only win by changing the balance of power within society.
The issues that emerged specifically from the demonstration in Florence on March 26 were essentially three, all linked to each other: the struggle for work, the environmental protection of the planet and for peace and disarmament. Among others, a demand rang loud and clear among the protesters: no to NATO, no to an increase in military spending.
As the Collective’s document states: “We are not enlisted in war. Yes, we are distressed by the situation of civilians and refugees. And precisely for this reason we must put an end to the ongoing fighting. Yours is a war economy and we declare war on your economy. No dispatch of weapons. Let’s stop all conflicts, let’s welcome all refugees”.
The demonstration was attended by an impressive number of organisations, each with their own diverse sensibilities and examples – notably the student component of “Friday for Future,” base trade unions, as well as a galaxy of grassroots associations – saying, “no to war and to the neocapitalist model” and “yes to the antagonistic practice of taking care of and with others,” as learnt through the harsh experience of the pandemic.
Very significantly, the march was opened by the Gkn Collective under its banner “Insorgiamo”, immediately followed by the youths of Fridays for Future, then by the “Società della Cura”, comprising over 450 social realities and 2000 people, and finally by several peace organisations.
31 March 2022: Genoa
On Thursday 31 March 2022, the CALP – Collettivo Autonomo Lavoratori Portuali (Autonomous Collective Port Workers) called a strike to mark the arrival of the ship “Jeddah” belonging to the Bahri fleet, which have long been employed to carry armaments to Saudi Arabia destined for the war in Yemen.
The day started at 6 a.m. with the blocking of the docks, went on with a public assembly lasting about 3 hours, and ended in the afternoon with a protest in front of the prefecture.
The struggle of the Genoese “camalli” against arms trafficking in Italian ports has been going on for 4 years, and first rose to the headlines in May 2019, when they refused to load war material aboard a ship of the Saudi Bahri fleet, which had sailed from the US in April with armaments destined for the Saudi war against Yemen.
It was none other than Pope Francis that turned the spotlight on that episode. In November 2019, on a flight back from a trip to Asia, the pope said: “In a port, now I can’t remember well, a ship full of weapons arrived that was to pass weapons to a bigger ship bound for Yemen, and we know what is happening in Yemen. The port workers said no. They did well! And the ship returned home”.
Unfortunately, Italian authorities do not seem to share the pontiff’s appreciation, if on 24 February 2021 the homes and workplaces of five members of CALP were searched by Digos (a special section of the police aimed at counteracting subversive and terrorist activities), with the seizure of their phones and computers.
In May 2021, the creation of the coordination of USB port maritime workers (Trieste, Leghorn, Civitavecchia, Taranto, as well as Genoa) extended their range of action to all major Italian ports. Last June – the context then was the Israeli bombing of Gaza – in an assembly at Leghorn the dockers issued a strong straightforward demand: “ports closed to arms and open to migrants”, being backed, among others, by Sea Watch and Weapon Watch.
Since the beginning of their fight against arms trafficking, the CALP dockers, says José Nivoi, have opposed the sending of arms to areas of armed conflict on the basis of the principle, which is enshrined in Article 11 of the Italian Constitution, that war is to be repudiated as a means of conflict resolution. They also strongly demand compliance with law 185/1990, which strictly regulates the export, import and transit control of armament materials, but is too often disregarded.
In fact, they reject any type of blackmail from those who place the military industry at the centre of the country’s economy, and demand instead its conversion to civilian purposes.
The dockers of Genoa are not alone, on the contrary they have been able to build a broad front that can count, among others, on a large presence of the Catholic base together with its hierarchies, as seen in a demonstration in St Lawrence Square on Saturday, April 2, which followed the mobilisation of two days earlier.
Stefania Fusero is an independent researcher and Friends of Socialist China advisory group member
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