Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The "Italians" on the wildcat strikes

"If the Brits kick us out, we'll do the same to their workers here"

As I translated this article from the Italian daily la Repubblica, I discovered that about one hundred Brits are currently working on a regasifier on an oil rig in the Northern Adriatic. This is the stuff the Daily Mail & chums conveniently don't tell you about.

"PORTO VIRO (Rovigo) - 'It's a pity. È un peccato, I love working with the Italians, I love Italy. I just hope this Stuff about the Grimsby refinery is just a one-off'. Brian has just got back from the oil rig in the Adriatic where one hundred Brits, along with two hundred Italian and foreign colleagues, are working cheek by jowl on a regasifier that will provide 10% of our country with methane. He doesn't want to talk, as he walks out from the Porto Viro base, guarded like barracks, where another one hundred employees work, mostly from Exxon Mobil, British, American, Norwegian, Italian.

It looks like the idea of beggar-thy-neighbour rhetoric may suddenly jeopardise this beacon of harmony and international cooperation on high seas, where no tension has ever flared between the Brits and the locals. Here on Christmas day, the English cook turkey for their Italian colleagues. At sea they have a game of ping pong, they eat together, watch the football on Sky. Their cabins are identical, on a 50mt high oil rig, large like two football pitches, two thirds under water, 15 miles from the coast. They take a break on the lodging barge after a 12-hour shift.

But the news of those walkouts against the "Italians" arrive like a bad omen. The ghost of a sour story that may turn up here as well. Which is why many of them clock out with their heads down, without uttering a word, sidestepping the questions. "I haven't read the papers, I haven't a clue", says another British worker as he walks away, looking down. "I'm not qualified to speak", mumbles yet another as he vanishes into the thick cloak of fog around the base. They seem to have a hunch that the mood is changing amongst the locals.

"In Italy it's a mess- protests 200 meters away Melchiorre Vidali, bricklayer, working on the naval dockyards- I don't mind the English or the French, but if they reject us, then we'll have to do the same". Luigi Tessarin, owner of the Taglio di Po hotel that hosts half a dozen technicians from the UK is concerned. "The English want to grab hold of their cake- he utters- but if that's the way they want to play, then we'll send them home too".

A warning that sounds like self-defense. There aren't any demonstrations or protests in this sea-soaked land where the Romea motorway is all that mends together a landscape made of warehouses, ghosts of derelict factories and small villages. Yet the strikes against the Italians are kickstarting a sense of malaise. "Here it's all fine" - objects Orazio Milani - a customer at the bar Mauro, hosting twenty Poles who every morning at 6 set off for the platform and at night drink "a beer, a shot and hit the sack at 10, with never a problem". In England "they're bang wrong, they want to go backwards" slams Marziano Berto, the barman. "They're only ignorant", confirms the customer as he sips his coffee.

The workers at the base also sense the atmosphere; the company invited them to avoid controversy, especially after the Northern League threatened the foreigners that it's "payback time". Security measures at the base are as strict as they'd never been. Alcohol is banned and there are regular tests. "We're working on a great project", explains Adriano Gambetta, from Genoa, a long-term captain who's been managing operations from ashore for a year. At the end of the spring here they'll start producing methane from liquid gas coming from Qatar. Three ships a week will be emptied, and they'll heat a tenth of all homes in Italy. Eight billion cubic meters of gas produced by Adriatic Lng (45% Exxon Mobil, 45% Qatar Gas, 10% Edison).

It's a pilot scheme that involves technicians from worldwide. Once the construction work's done, there'll be only 66 Italians left to run the day-to-day operations. "All I'm interested in is to get the job done", an English technician explains: "I don't want trouble, don't ask me what my name is". The anti-Italian walkouts? "Ridiculous", retorts an Exxon employees from ashore. "I don't get them, this way we're going backwards", adds Bjorne, a Norwegian who finds Italy "a fantastic country". For Bill, from Houston, USA, who for $10,000 a month plus travelling expenses brought his wife along, the only complaint is for the "bad weather". "[The strikes] are sterile protests, I don't think we'll witness similar things in Italy", bets Gambetta the manager. Less optimistic is a Parisian engineer, who's just got back from the oil rig: "What if this was the first sign of a protectionist revival worldwide? That would be no good".

1 comment:

Anita said...

A few riots across the country which look even slightly to do with race would not only force the UK to draw ugly conclusions about itself but may also further devastate the country's ability to attract investment.
Is it what we want, especially now?