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Bonn Conference for Global Transformation 2015

Ecco la traccia dell'intervento tenuto nel workshop e in allegato la presentazione utilizzata

 

Bonn Conference for Global Transformation 2015

World Conference Center Bonn, Germany, 12-13 May 2015

https://www.bonn-conference.net/

THE SOLVAY CASE

Workshop 1 – Industrial Relation for a Green Economy

by Luigi Lama, Centro Studi Nazionale CISL

We talk about Rosignano in Tuscany. If we look at its seaside we could think it is a Caribbean shore. But what is back? The towers of a huge chemical plant stand just some hundreds meters behind. It is the Solvay plant. We have so close two different system of economic development, two way of using the environmental resources. Their coexistence has been and still is a challenge for trade union, yet it will be in the future. The ways and form of the balance will be ever discussed.

Some dates and data

In 1872 a Belgian chemist and industrialist, Ernest Solvay, patented a method to produce sodium carbonate from salt (sodium chloride) and limestone. It is the Solvayprocess, still effective in producing bicarbonate of soda in several plants all over the world.

Rosignano, in Tuscany, is quite close to rock salt mines and limestone. At the beginning of Twentieth century the project was presented and in 1912 at Rosignano we have the first chemical Solvay plant in Italy. It became more and more important getting in 1978 its occupation peak: 3,200 workers.

The main plant has much less workers, but it is still important, it produces almost the whole sodium carbonate used by all the Italian industry. In this century the Solvay group has been successful. In Italy there are ten production plants, with some 2,200 workers and the 2014 revenue reached 1.258 billion of Euros. In the world the Solvay group has plants in 52 countries, occupying totally about 26,000 workers and its 2014 net revenue has been 10.2 billions of Euros.

Conflicts and agreements

Things are changed not only for Solvay multinational group. A century ago tourism was for elites and it was almost completely absent in Rosignano. Now it is an important resource of the area. So the huge chemical plant became both less important for occupation and by far cumbersome for its heavy impact on local environment.

In the second half of the Eighties Solvay presented a project for a new big plant. It was approved by the most part of political parties, but to face the growing opposition the municipalities of Rosignano and of the surrounding towns decided to consult the population. A referendum was held in 1988 about the Solvay project of a new big plant. The population rejected the project.

It was a strong message to all: the institutions, the company and the trade unions. It could bring to a decline and end of the chemical industry in that territory. But it stimulates a different approach and the development of a new strategy of all the involved players. Fifteen years later, in 2003, the “Sustainability program agreement” was signed by the public institutions (national, regional, local), the company and trade unions.

The company wanted rules close to their interest, but above all certainty about rules. Trade unions wanted occupation as much stable and large as possible. The institution wanted people consent. So the agreement was possible and necessary, because what these three main actors want can’t be carried on by itself, each one needs the others to achieve their goal.

The sustainability program brought to investments for two new gas power plants. They were necessary to supply the electric power to change the sodium carbonate production process, passing from using two dangerous heavy metals as lead and mercury to membrane cells electrolysis. So the environmental impact of the chemical plant has been reduced and the industrial jobs remained. The company investments have been supported by public incentives for using methane gas that will last up to 2017.

What did the trade unions did?

The trade unions have been keeping a constant dialogue with company and institutions highlighting relation among workers health, environmental compatibility of the plant and territorial quality. They played an important role explaining to people, first of all workers of the plant and other sectors, the necessity and the opportunities of an agreement building a economic development path based both on manufacturing and tourism services.

What are facilitating and what are inhibiting factors for a “Just Transition”?

Observing this case we can glean some general considerations. First of all that being aware that salaried work – workers conditions, power, rights - is no more the central issue in western society. For a long time trade unions as seen themselves as protagonist of the struggle for the justice. They were right, and in many cases they are still right. But not always who is not with them is against social justice. Different priorities can exist and be very important.

In those cases the question is not to block adversaries, but to cooperate with players with different awareness and sensitivity. So the way can be how combine different goals, which opportunities we can build together instead of fighting until our priority is definitively affirmed over all.

This approach changes the characters of economic, political and cultural struggle of trade unions

We must look for a larger consent. We criticize the traditional company owner self reference and we foster a wider governance model, passing from concerning only shareholders to referring to the combination of all stakeholders.

This process involves trade unions as well.

Mindshift is one of the key words of the conference. It concerns everybody. Also trade unions. So it calls for a mindshift about ways of struggle. It is no more the time in which the strikes are the definitive way of struggle. They are still important, surely sometimes very necessary, but not always the best way to solve conflicts. Not always in this case, for instance. We as trade unions need to make visible to workers and population what we want, what we are doing for and with which supporters and partners, what results achieved.

A shift from posing threats to offering benefits.

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