We are publishing this report from a factory worker in the Bergamo area, an industrial centre which is the worst affected in Italy in terms of contagion and deaths. The situation changes daily, and this report, from early April, may already be considered outdated. Several workers we are in contact with – particularly those who were relatively better off before the crisis – are already expressing a desire that the factories reopen. Nonetheless, we publish it as a useful snapshot of workers’ experience of being used as cannon fodder at the highpoint of the pandemic.
I want to share my personal experience as a worker in the Bergamo area, an experience that isn’t actually that personal, since a lot of us, too many of us, are in the same situation. In an incredibly difficult time, it is once again us workers who have to pay for the atrocious decisions of the bosses. We are the ones who produce, we are the engine in the machine of businesses and money. We know about the Federation of Italian industry (Confindustria)’s choice to keep a lot of factories open, and we know why: stopping production would be tantamount to a considerable, albeit temporary, economic loss, and it is unlikely bosses would voluntarily give up that money. They’d prefer to lose workers than money. That’s why they decided to keep so many businesses open despite the health emergency. We will remember this for a long time, a very long time. The top management of these same companies put on a façade of concern and humanity, making public announcements stressing how much they cared about the life and health of their employees, and committing themselves to providing them with all the necessary protection. Promises that, unfortunately, have not always been kept. Fortunately, in many cities in Italy, workers have made their voices heard and have gone on strike, refusing to continue to work in conditions that were already unacceptable in terms of health and safety in normal circumstances, let alone in the midst of the Covid-19 emergency. By going on strike, or threatening to do so, the bosses have had to lower their heads, and willingly or unwillingly acknowledge that workers’ rights to health are far more important than their mere profit.
I work in a textile company in the province of Bergamo, which for the past two weeks has momentarily closed its doors and put its employees on unemployment benefits. This closure has probably happened due to pressure from the top, as they kept the factories open as long as they could. For weeks we didn’t have the necessary PPE: masks, unsuitable and therefore useless, were provided only if explicitly requested by individual workers, instead of being distributed to everyone; and instead of being changed at every shift as they should have been, they were given to us with the warning that we had to keep hold of them and reuse them, making them completely useless. But even with the masks, working in a company like this under current health conditions wasn’t practicable: the noisy environment made it impossible to communicate orders with your colleagues without approaching each other, meaning that social distancing which, theoretically, we were supposed to be following, was impossible to maintain. We didn’t simply sit and suffer, we asked for meetings with managers and explicitly demanded the closure of the plant: their answer was obviously negative because, according to them, closing it would have meant losing existing or potential customers. Ergo, it would have meant losing money. The company therefore remained open. While we continued to go to work, unprotected, aware of the enormous risks to our health and that of our loved ones, the management was comfortable and safe behind their masks, at a safe distance, protected as far as possible from all the risks that we were running. It didn’t matter that there were warehouse workers, couriers and truck drivers constantly entering and leaving the buildings, it didn’t matter that we were all in such close contact: profit came first, our health afterwards.
I received news, a few days ago, of the death of a colleague of mine. He was just short of 60 years old. In addition to the pain felt at the umpteenth loss of a fellow worker, of a man who was a father, a husband, a friend, of a man I knew, there is also the chilling, terrifying awareness that this fate could befall any of us. Amongst colleagues who share the same work space, the same department, how likely is it we’ll get infected? It could have been me, or the sister or brother by my side. Could we have escaped this fate? Perhaps, by avoiding going daily to a place without the necessary protection, with hundreds of other people… so maybe, yes, we could have. We won’t forget this total disregard for our lives and our health. There are people who are responsible for this, those who have made choices in their own interests and against ours. This will never be forgotten, and will have to be answered for.