Italy: Sassuolo - The struggle of the “Green Block” continues!

In June 58 working class families, most of them North African immigrants, were forcibly evicted from their homes in Sassuolo (northern Italy) to make room for speculative development. They either owned or were legally renting their homes. With the help of the Italian Marxists they are fighting back on a grand scale.

See the original article in Italian
See the Arabic translation 

Translator’s introduction

In June, in Sassuolo a small town in the north of Italy, the local city council controlled by a centre-left coalition literally robbed 58 working class families of their homes, which they either owned or rented legally. The verb “to rob” is not an exaggeration: 150 police from different corps, armed with all kinds of weapons and a helicopter, “helped” (to use the Mayor’s favourite word) the families to leave their homes. How could all this happen?

Sassuolo is the heart of the ceramic tile industry, and it is part of the province of Modena, in the Po valley. This is one of the wealthiest provinces of Italy. The leadership of the DS (Left- Democrats)  ‑ former PCI (Italian Communist Party) ‑ have developed a large power base, built on a network of its former bureaucrats who have opened up or managed small businesses, cooperative businesses (especially shops and building companies). These short but important notes, should help you to understand what has been happening in Sassuolo…

This is the translation of an article written by Simona Bolelli, an Italian comrade, for the Italian Marxist newspaper “Falcemartello” (Translator: Felicita Ratti)

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Since June a bitter struggle has been going on against the evictions of the so-called “green block” in Sassuolo (province of Modena). Almost sixty working class families used to live there, most of them immigrants. All of them were forcibly evicted in June. In spite of the one-thousand-strong protest demonstration held on July 2, the City Council, controlled by the centre-left, reaffirmed its position and its arrogant stance. They offered €15,000 as compensation for flats that the workers had paid up to €53,000 for. And they were offered the possibility of renting homes elsewhere (with the offer of lower rent for the first few years). The workers saw this as unacceptable “charity”. The aim of the City Council is to force all the owners to sell to the Council, so that they can demolish the whole block of flats…

The City Council has gone on to say that that there is still an outstanding debt of €170,000 (but in June weren’t they talking of a figure of €250,000?) for admin costs and electricity, water and heating. It should be noted that some years ago the former administrator of the block of flats disappeared with 150 millions lira (about €75,000) which had been paid by the residents. Furthermore, many of the residents had also “inherited” the debts of the previous owners without being told about it.

Now the City Council is demanding that these debts be deducted from the compensation money, without explaining why the old debts are still outstanding. The Council simply says that the debts have to be paid by someone, to be respect the law, a law which doesn’t care about any financial difficulties of the families concerned, and that leaves thousands of workers without enough money to live. And as if this were not enough, there is a further provocation: the €200,000 “cost” of evicting the families [the massive police operation] is to be billed to the residents! We can see how much of the €15,000 compensation will be left!

The Mayor says that the Council will change the official usage of the land where the block of flats is situated, in the Braida area of Sassuolo. At the same time, the “Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio” (Savings Bank Foundation) has allocated €540,000 for a high-sounding project: “Overcome the Braida Emergency”. As we are not talking about a charity foundation, what is the profit that this foundation and all related banks will make from all this?

After the successful demonstration on July 2, the “Comitato casa San Pietro” was set up to continue the struggle on several fronts. [The St. Peter housing committee ‑ San Pietro being the name of the street where the block of flats is situated]. The first aim of the Committee was to inform workers and workers’ organisation and get them to join the struggle. Activists distributed leaflets outside factories, cafeterias and supermarkets inviting people to a public meeting where Pivanti, the provincial secretary of the Modena CGIL (the biggest and left-oriented Italian trade union) was speaking. They also intervened in a public meeting of the local branch of the DS in Sassuolo, making an appeal to the rank and file of the party, denouncing their leaders’ policy against the workers living in the Green Block.

Meeting in front of the Green Block

On July 15 the first public meeting of the Committee was held in Sassuolo with the help of the local branch of the PRC (Communist Party). There were more than a hundred people present, and among them there were workers, shop stewards, CGIL officials and local PRC leaders. Comrades from the Committee explained that they are struggling to get back into the block of flats and do restoration work on it. As we write this article, we have just presented an appeal through our solicitors to the TAR [regional magistrate’s court], requesting that the eviction order be overturned. This appeal is backed up by a counter-survey carried out by a civil engineer of the Unione Inquilini [Tenants’union], which shows that the building is not at all in danger of collapsing and that it can be renovated.

During the July 15 meeting the CGIL leadership and a part of the PRC stated that struggling to get back into the block of flats means doing nothing against the “ghetto-isation” of the immigrant community. Unfortunately, these are the same arguments used by the City Council to justify the evictions. “Integration” may be a beautiful sounding word, but we have to face reality. But when you work in factories in terrible conditions, forced to accept lower wages than average thanks to the blackmail of the Bossi-Fini law on immigration, when the police can enter your house and search it at any time without any specific reason, then the only real integration can be that of uniting with Italian working class to fight against this abuse. The trade unions and our party [the PRC] have the moral duty to unconditionally support the San Pietro Committee. We immediately sent out our appeals to organize meetings of workers and shop stewards where the veiled economic interests of the banks and building companies in the evictions could be explained.

The demonstration on July 2

On July 18, in Fiorano (Modena) a meeting on the housing question was held of all the Sassuolo CGIL shop stewards. Three shop stewards who are also members of the San Pietro Committee intervened, linking the economic crisis, sackings, cuts in welfare spending and the need that the bosses have to divide the workers along national and religious lines.

Today they target the immigrants, as these are often isolated and easy to blackmail. Tomorrow they will turn on the Italian workers. These meetings should be seen as the starting point of a generalised struggle for the right to a home, for the building of sufficient council housing and for fair rent. We know where the money for all this can be found: in the millions of profit made by the bosses out of our sweated labour. In the name of this profit, the same bosses demand of us extortionate rents and high mortgages. We think the organization of a provincial general called by CGIL on the right to a home would be a great step forward.

Quite often the workers, if no way out is offered, accept the scapegoats that the bosses come up with to justify all the unfair conditions that we have to live in. In Sassuolo the very same Centre-Left coalition has nurtured hatred and the most horrible prejudice against immigrants. The City Council has used small scale crime and drug pushing (themselves the result of poverty and the rottenness of capitalist society) to turn Italian workers against foreign workers. Using these arguments, the City Council has evicted whole families from their homes, saying that this action was the best way of eliminating small-scale crime in the Braida district… a pack of lies! The drug pushers operating around the Green Block, who had never before been disturbed by the police, have simply moved 50 meters down the street, to another old block of flats, it too under the threat of eviction.

The DS are losing control of the situation. During the last meeting of the City Council the Centre-Left coalition was booed and showered with insults by a crowd of local Sassuolo people who were angry, after the mayor had first announced and then withdrawn a proposal to build council houses in the working class neighbourhood of Rometta. A rumour was circulating about the possibility that the families from San Pietro would be moved into these houses, and this enraged the people even more. Of course the Lega Nord [Northern League] and Alleanza Nazionale, both right wing parties, have been trying to exploit the protest to their own advantage. There is a clear lesson here: if the left parties leave it to be understood that giving rights to immigrants means taking them away from Italians and vice versa, then they are handing over working class consent to them on a plate.

In the course of this struggle the PRC was forced to withdraw its support for the Centre-Left coalition on the city council, and this gave added strength to the protest. Appeals on the part of the mayor and the DS leaders to the PRC to rejoin the coalition reveal that they are in difficulty. They also reveal that they have their own plan. They want the PRC to be part of the coalition in order to provide a left cover to their attacks against the workers.

Assembly in Piazza Garibaldi

We do have the positive development that the PRC Senator, Malabarba has offered to raise this question in parliament and that the leader of the PRC group on the Regional [Emilia-Romagna] Council will do the same there and that he also supports the struggle and demands of the San Pietro Committee, as does also the Bologna PRC.

We decided to add legal action to our struggle, even though we are fully aware of the fact that the courts are not independent from those who detain economic and political power. The help of a solicitor, who could analyse the fraudulent claims of the mayor and expose the administrative manoeuvres of the Council, and help us in presenting our appeal to the courts, played a big role in helping keep everyone united.

Of course, we have had our difficult moments. The City Council combines police methods with attempts to dupe those involved. Individuals have been contacted with the offer of a home but with no written agreement. At the same time repressive measures are being applied. The police continue to threaten those immigrants who are involved in the struggle by raising the idea that it will be more difficult for them to get a renewal of their work permit, and the Council does the same with residence permits. During one of our meetings, two police officers stopped one of our comrades from speaking (he was about to speak in Arabic) demanding to see his visa. Police checks in the phone centres have also increased sharply. But the response of all these workers has been a determined one, as they know they are in the right.

We appeal to the trade unions, the PRC and all the left. Join us with a militant stance in our struggle and take part in the demonstration which we are preparing for October 8th in Sassuolo. [The demonstration will start from Via San Pietro 6, at 3pm. For more details in Italian see the web site of the Italian Marxists]

September 14, 2005