The northwestern Italian city of Genoa was left in shock on the morning of 14th August as a section of the Morandi bridge collapsed. The bridge was part of a major motorway route to France that also linked the city to the nearby airport and surrounding industrial areas.
43 people tragically lost their lives. 15 more were injured. This including those who had the misfortune to be driving on the bridge at the time, as well as some workers in the recycling plant just below.
The Italian daily La Repubblica estimates that 300 families whose homes are in proximity to the bridge have had to move. Even more are set to lose their homes to planned demolition at the beginning of September.
The right-wing press has attempted to portray this as just a “tragic fatality”. But the truth is that a horrific accident of this scale has been waiting to happen for years in Genoa.
The local press has rightly referred to this scandal as “the Italian Grenfell”. This devastating incident is a clear example of the capitalist system’s ruthless and uncompromising pursuit of profit and disregard for the health and safety of ordinary people.
Profits trump lives
Two years ago, a construction engineer at the University of Genoa warned that there were aspects to the structural design of the bridge that were problematic at best and dangerous at worst. For this reason, the engineer stated that maintenance costs would have to increase over time.
But the capitalist class and their political representatives aren’t interested in investing in infrastructure unless they can make a profit, even if their neglect means putting lives at risk and causing major collapses like the one that occurred earlier this month.
In fact, Autostrade per l’Italia - the company responsible for the construction and maintenance of the Italian motorway network since the privatisations of the 1990s - cut investment by 20% between 2008 and 2015. During the same period, they made profits of €6.3 billion.
Atlantia, the multinational holding company that Autostrade is a subsidiary of (and whose single biggest shareholder is the Benetton family), made a profit of €1.1 billion in 2017 alone.
According to a survey conducted by Sky TG24, an all-news TV channel, 81% of Italians are in favour of ending the public service concession to Autostrade - which is meant to last until 2039 - and nationalising the motorway system.
Limits of the Five Stars
In response to this wave of anger and outrage, Luigi Di Maio - the deputy PM and leader of the Five Stars Movement - expressed his support for nationalisation and stated on social media that the rebuilding of the bridge could not be entrusted to the privately-owned Autostrade.
We should not be misled by this apparently progressive stance from the Five Stars leader, however. This is a toothless response from a government that knows that a large section of the working class is looking towards them with high hopes - hopes that they will finally do something to improve the lives and working conditions of ordinary people.
The leaders of the Five Stars Movement are surely aware that the budget they are going to propose this autumn is going to break most, if not all, their important electoral promises - for example: a minimum wage; a guaranteed income for unemployed workers, etc.
At the end of the day, these politicians defend the system, and cannot afford to increase Italy’s government debt level, which is already at 132% of GDP. Instead, therefore, they will be forced to make the working class pay for the crisis of capitalism.
So Di Maio et al. are looking for some minor (and inexpensive) reforms to implement, in order to cynically portray themselves as protectors of the working class against the evils of big business.
But what is missing from Di Maio’s proposal - and what the Marxists in Italy have called for - is to nationalise Autostrade without compensation and under democratic workers’ control.
Di Maio wants the state to impose quality control measures on the rebuilding of the bridge. According to him, these could be financed by the same private company that failed to maintain the bridge properly for years.
In other words, the Five Stars leader would like his government to administer the capitalists’ wealth and direct it towards rebuilding the collapsed infrastructure. But you cannot plan what you don’t control, and you don’t control what you don’t own.
No safety under capitalism
To add insult to injury, the displaced residents from the area around the bridge will have to continue making their mortgage payments, even if their houses have been destroyed or are inaccessible. Scandalously, the impact of the bridge collapse is not covered by their insurance policies.
A few banks have agreed to suspend the payments due for 12 months. But this is only a temporary solution; unless the government approves measures to erase these debts, hundreds of people could find themselves in the ridiculous position of having to repay a mortgage on a home they can no longer inhabit through no fault of their own.
But if the government erased these debts, it would deprive the banks of the opportunity to make a profit out of ordinary people’s suffering. This would constitute a radical measure that the Five Stars and the League (the far-right coalition partner in government) will simply not agree to.
The collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa was not an unforeseeable tragedy. Attempts to portray it as such conceal the true culprit: the capitalist system and its endless thirst for profit.
It is clear from this incident that the privatisation of infrastructure is not merely a question of economic efficiency. Faced with the callousness and greed of the capitalists, it becomes a life-and-death question for the working class.
The only way to protect public health and safety - not just in Genoa, but everywhere throughout the world where infrastructure is unsafe or lacks maintenance - is to expropriate the capitalists and put their wealth into the hands of the workers themselves. Only in this way can we finance the building and maintenance of safe and sustainable public works.