Interview: Genoa dockers – ‘Our mobilisation forced NATO meeting to move’

By Gianni Del Panta

Thanks to their protests and strikes, Genoa dockers prevented the Saudi ship Bahri Yanbu from loading military equipment in late May, also creating the conditions to impose a permanent blockage on weapons and machinery that might have been used in the war in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition. Moreover, the victory in the struggle galvanized workers, who have recently achieved another stunning victory, with a successful mobilisation against a planned meeting by NATO in Genoa last month. We reached out to one of the members of the Collettivo Autonomo Lavoratori Portuali – that is, the autonomous dockers’ organization in Genoa, to find out more.    

What happened after that the loading of military equipment on the Bahri Yanbu was successfully blocked by your mobilisation?

“In the aftermath of that great achievement, we constantly monitored so that the complete blockage on the loading of weapons on Saudi ships imposed by our initiatives was firmly respected by port authorities in Genoa. In addition to that, there were also attempts to develop a stronger and more organic cooperation with workers operating in other important harbours in Italy – for instance, Trieste, Livorno and Naples – as well as to establish more direct contacts with dockers in France and Spain, breaking therefore the ‘holy’ national boundaries.” 

And then news about the holding of the NATO meeting in Genoa suddenly came up..
“Rumors started circulating that the Atlantic Forum – one of the most important NATO-led events – would have be held in Genoa between 6 and 8 November. After a while, official statements by authorities confirmed previous rumors. Immediately, various leftist forces and civil society organizations called for mobilization during the days of the meeting. More specifically, their idea was to organize a series of counter-events that might have challenged the views proposed by the Atlantic Forum. This was in line with the counter-meeting spirit that animated the so-called anti-globalization movement in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which experienced one of its most contentious and dramatic events exactly in Genoa, where a young protester – Carlo Giuliani – was shot dead by the police in the summer of 2001.”  

Did you agree with the idea of having this kind of counter-meeting?
“No, this was not enough for us. As dockers, we repeatedly pointed out how the real issue was not whether the war is fought by Saudi Arabia or Western countries. Wars run always against the interests of the working class. Workers, therefore, have to oppose wars in all their forms. And frankly, an actual opposition to war does not rest on cultural events and public debates, which are certainly relevant and important, but less effective that street politics. This is why we started calling local assemblies to prepare a broad demonstration in one of the days of the meeting.”      

Apparently, your attempts did not go unnoticed..
“Initially, local and regional governments planned to hold the meeting in Palazzo San Giorgio. Considering that the palace is the headquarters of the port authorities and that protests were organized by dockers, this was an obvious provocation. Due to security reasons, however, such a location was not considered adequate, being replaced by the Palazzo della Borsa. The latter is located in what is arguably the most famous and central square of the city, representing the “bourgeois heart” of Genova. Such a representation of De Ferrari square would have been in open contrast with an anti-NATO mobilization.

Moreover, the square was one of the epicentres of the great street battles between workers and leftists, on the one hand, and the police, on the other, in June 1960. The spark that literally ignited the prairie was the attempt by the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI) – that is, the Italian fascist party after the end of the second World War – to hold its national convention in Genoa (a city which had received the gold medal for resistance against the Fascist regime). Protests were organized by the socialist and communist party as well as by trade unions, which called a local general strike.

Yet, the crucial actor in those days was neither the ‘traditional’ parties nor the ‘institutionalized’ unions, but rather young workers who left the workplaces to physically protect the city against the fascists. Most of them were young men who, due to work reason, wore striped t-shirts. And, in fact, the June 1960 protests are often called the days of the young man with striped t-shirts (le giornate dei ragazzi con le maglie a strisce). This event inaugurated a decade in which revolutionary energies were slowly accumulated, breaking out in 1968-69 and leading to a decade of ferocious class struggle throughout the 1970s. For all these reasons, the Atlantic Forum in De Ferrari square was unacceptable for us as well as in Palazzo San Giorgio.”

What happened next?
“It might sound absurd, but fearing that our protests might have disrupted the work of more than 100 delegates, NATO decided to cancel its planned Atlantic Forum in Genoa and to move the event in Brussels. This was an incredible victory for dockers, workers and the Collettivo. It seems that NATO will try to hold a new meeting here in Genoa in April 2020. Apparently, they believe that we are going to disappear with the arrival of the new year. Unfortunately for them, we are going to stay and fight.”  

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