by Raffaele Crocco

I know a guy with the same name as me, Raffaele. He is an ex-ILVA (the Italian steel company that was one of the biggest steel producers in Europe for most of the 20th century, ed).  He is one of the fools who set up in the home town of ILVA Taranto the ‘LIberi e Pensanti’ (free and reasoning people, ed.). Committee, which for many years has been organising the May Day – they call it May Day – as an alternative to the main CGIL, CISL and UIL unions in Rome. Raffaele always says it is time to “stop thinking about work. We have to think about the workers.”

And each time he says so I realise how right he is. Thinking about work means thinking abstractly about an economic dynamic made up of cold, mechanical rules, mathematical ratios and convenience. It means handing the ball over to a ‘theoretical government’ of the market, signing a blank mandate – to whom, then? – on wages and rights. On the other hand, putting the workers at the centre means reaffirming the inalienable rights inherent in man and work: dignity, fair wages, protection and health guarantees.

There it is, May Day. Workers’ Day, then, not Labour Day as many – the bosses’ class in the lead – would have us believe. This is the holiday of those who offer their labour, whatever it may be, in exchange for fair pay and common rules, on a complete equality of rights and roles. History tells us more and more clearly that this is not the case. The data tell us, here and around the world, that things work differently.

As we have often written: work is the first building block of democracy and therefore of peace. Only when work is an inviolable, personal, shared and reciprocal right does it become the element on which to build the emancipation of individuals and families. It is the instrument that reduces social differences, brings the poorest closer to the richest and improves the distribution of wealth. In practice, a world at peace is possible when everyone has a decent job and has it because it is their inalienable right.

A right, not a commodity that can be bargained for at any time. Nor a cost, as we have been hearing for decades from those who, thanks to work and its exploitation, tend to make excessive profits without logic. Exploitation and ‘caporalato’ (illegal recruitment, ed) are back in fashion everywhere. In Italy, more than half of all workers in all categories have been waiting for the renewal of their national contract for at least three lustra. Worldwide, 791 million workers in 52 countries have not maintained their purchasing power: they are poor despite working.

These data tell us that, thanks to permanent precariousness, work has all too often returned to being an instrument of blackmail. And it is, in turn, the yardstick for creating a sharp social pyramid. And to the lack of dignity must be added total insecurity. The little girls and boys who die every day in the coltan or lithium mines of African countries tell us this. Chinese, Thai, and Burmese workers tell us. Mexican, Colombian, and Chilean farmers exploited by multinationals tell us. The underpaid Italian workers who die in factories or on building sites, or the unemployed who accept anything to work, also tell us this.

For all these reasons, May Day must remain Workers’ Day, not Labour Day. It must be the people’s holiday, of the working men and women who have the right to a better life. Here in Taranto, the workers who have been exploited and killed by Ilva for decades know this very well. That is why they celebrate with music, meetings and confrontations. And by shouting out their determination, their desire to be free and think always and forever.

On the cover photo, ArcelorMittal (ex Ilva) long cover structure required for the environmental containment of the Mineral Park and the Tamburi district of Taranto, Puglia ©Massimo Todaromanuel/