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Port at La Spezia. Photo: Riottoso

Workers pull together in stand against virus, reports Giuseppe Franci

Faced with the worst health emergency in more than 70 years the Italian government has put the entire country in quarantine and called for national unity. Against an epidemic that has already claimed more than 1,000 lives and is close to overwhelming the health service in northern Italy people have pulled together in a great show of solidarity.

And that sense of solidarity is also behind the wave of strikes that followed the latest emergency decree on 11 March.

There have been walk-outs and protests in engineering factories right across the north, in Turin and the Piedmont region, in Brescia and Mantua, and in Marghera near Venice. The major container terminal in the port of Genoa has been shut down for two days running, with more than 300 lorries stranded outside. Further south along the coast, the ship repair yards at La Spezia have been shut down, while workers at the major Amazon distribution centres in Turin and Bologna have also been involved in protests.

The common factor in all these strikes is the safety of the workforce, and the failure of both the government and some employers to provide adequate protection against the epidemic.

The government has imposed emergency measures across the entire country, rather than just the regions severely affected by the Covid19 epidemic. It was an act aimed at mobilising the entire population and also at preventing a catastrophic spread of contagion to the south, where hospitals and the health service in general are far weaker than regions such as Lombardy and Emilia Romagna.

But workers in manufacturing and other industries, as well as distribution, are expected to carry on regardless, with the only legal provisions being that they should remain at least one metre apart and/or wear masks. In many cases this is not a practical proposition, especially on production lines, and workers are also demanding that premises and machinery should be properly disinfected – for example the cranes and other equipment in the Genoa container terminal.

Regional and national unions are now demanding closure of plants and other facilities until 22 March.

“There has to be more respect for the workers who are keeping the country on its feet,” said Francesca Re David, head of the FIOM-CGIL engineering union on Thursday.

“Where  are these masks that have been promised? It is intolerable that workers should see their everyday lives protected by all sorts of regulations –and then find themselves in no mans land after they pass through the factory gates.”

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