On 26 August, at the end of their shift, 120 Sardinian miners, furnishing themselves with 350 kg of explosives, barricaded themselves 400 metres underground in one of the shafts of the CarboSulcis mine near the little centre of Nuraxi Figus on the Italian island.
They did so in protest and defiance at the refusal by Italy’s Minister of Development to permit the miners’ proposals for an alternative environmentally “clean” plant even to get on the agenda after a European ruling that production at the highly-polluting mine must cease.
The mine has been producing heavily-contaminating sulphur-laden coal since 1850. The price paid in death, illness, and terrible suffering has been incalculable.
The miners alone have offered resistance. Seven were shot dead in a 1920 dispute.
When in 1995 the mine became the property of the Region, the miners put forward a plan for an environmentally-friendly production site. They were cynically ignored, with the connivance of trade union leaders whose ever-so-heart-felt rhetorical appeals to the bosses and their governments have never been matched by serious action.
The Sardinian workers have had enough of it! They know that if the mine closes there is no future for the 500 who will lose their jobs.
Hardly five kilometres away, the giant Alcoa aluminium plant prepares for the end later this month, with another 500 jobs to go. Here too the workers are in action, mounting protests last week outside Rome’s parliament with plans, as with their brothers and sisters of Sulcis, for a mass demonstration of their whole community to defy the logic of the profit motive.
Elsewhere on the island, unemployment reaches 20%, hundreds of businesses signal “a state of emergency”, and the standard of living of the average islander continues to plummet.
The miners’ occupation has, at least, forced the government onto the back foot.
Ministers have given assurances that no miner “will be left on the street”, and that they will reconsider the proposals for new technology to save the workplace — “as long as it is cost effective”.
The miners know too well what such weasel phrases signify, but have cautiously welcomed the offer by agreeing to consider the end of the occupation at a mass meeting on Monday 3 September.
The courage and determination of the miners of Nuraxi Figus are proof that Italian workers, despite the crippling limits of their trade union leadership, continue to fight.
Even at the most extreme moments of despair, on that alone rests the hope, belief and — yes! — certainty that united working-class-led challenge remains still the path to human and social emancipation.