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Popular uprising against high-speed train (TAV) in Italy

With the Turin Winter Olympics and the Italian elections over, repression of the "NO TAV" movement has begun and pressure will be on to begin work on the Turin-Lyon (France)link of the Italian high-speed train network (TAV). Massive protests late last year finally forced the issue into national attention, and now eight subpoenas have been handed down from those protests. But the opposition is ready to continue their 15-year struggle.
This article was written before the subpoenas came down three weeks ago. The first appearances before the magistrate will be happening soon. One of those requested to appear is Beppe Joannas, mayor of Bussoleno, one of the more outspoken of the 38 or so Susa Valley mayors, who all oppose the project. It is unclear at this point what eventual charges may be filed. Also only slightly covered in the article is what effect the narrow election of Romano Prodi's "center-left" coalition will have on the TAV issue. Prodi was involved in the early stages of the TAV network's development, supported it while President of the European Commission, and still supports it. But some key members of his coalition, like Fausto Bertinotti of Rifondazione Comunista, who was elected as President of the House of Deputies (3rd highest position in the government) has opposed it. To learn more about the issue, read on....

Popular struggle against a High-Speed Train project in Italy

An Alpine valley in northwestern Italy is in open revolt against a proposed Italian-French link of a high-speed train project, and in the past few months a series of huge protests--including the mass reoccupation of an evicted protest camp--have sparked rapidly growing support across the country. The 15-year-long battle against the "TAV" (Treno ad Alta Velocita') in the Susa Valley west of Torino (Turin) has unified the valley and burst onto the national scene with a unique mix
of smalltown mayors and other administrators, local NO TAV committees and environmental groups, teachers and health professionals, grassroots unions, university professors of economics and public policy, and anarchist and communist activists from the thriving occupied social
centers of Torino and other northern cities. The opposition also largely cuts across political and class lines.

The anti-TAV protests came to a head shortly before the 2006 Winter Olympics were to be held
in Torino and the mountains nearby (including Val Susa), threatening to hijack the huge media spectacle and global jet-set party. The spectre of an international black-eye and possible loss of tourist revenue forced the right-wing Berlusconi government to meet for the first time
in mid-December with valley mayors opposed to the project, which led to the institution of a largely symbolic "Ecological Observatory" to come up with a report on the train-line construction's environmental impacts (environmental review and local input had been banished for major projects like the TAV deemed of urgent "national interest" by the 2001 "Legge Obiettivo" decree) and of a high-level committee to be a liason with project opponents. None of the mayors in the delegation to the Rome meeting signed the document, and they say they're still waiting to hear back after over four months.

Although the much-trumpeted "Olympic cease-fire" announced by the government was to some extent followed by the NO TAV movement, in that no major disruptions of Olympic events or road or train blockades occurred during that time, this was due to strategic considerations (not wanting to alienate the public at a critical stage of the struggle or cause a break with
important parts of its valley constituency, some of which depends heavily on winter sports tourism) and to a massive police and military presence during the "games" rather than to any agreement with Berlusconi's agenda. Nevertheless, the Olympic torch was interrupted
over 30 times as it made its way around the Italian peninsula by protests against corporate Olympic sponsors like Coca Cola, and frequently with the presence of NO TAV flags and banners, and one of a group of anti-TAV protestors succeeded in snatching the torch in
Trento and running about 70 yards with it before being tackled by the police. A large NO TAV presence in the lower Susa Valley near the end of the torch's journey in early February caused jittery organizers to cancel that part of the relay and reroute it, probably for the first
time in Olympic history. And the train issue began to receive some of its first international media attention.

The movement against the high-speed train line is motivated by the project's certain environmental devastation of an already highly-impacted valley; destructive effect on the valley's
social fabric (already hard-hit by a century of industrialization and consequent de-population and undermining of the traditional subsistence economy); exorbitant costs; basic uselessness given the quicker, cheaper and less damaging alternative of modernizing the already existing rail line; and by a growing awareness of the corrupt bidding process, kickbacks and political patronage behind the entire TAV network, which is spreading its tentacles of massive new infrastructure
around the peninsula.

The popular resistance has increasingly solidified a no compromise position in the face of government intransigence and repression and the virtual militarization of the valley beginning last summer, when the first sites for test drillings along the proposed route for a 53-kilometer (35-mile) tunnel through the Alps into France were identified. And it has injected a healthy
dose of participatory citizen activism into a political culture long smothered by a corrupt "partyocracy," which is now dominated by two power blocks: Silvio Berlusconi's "center-right" coalition (in power since 2001 and including the National Alliance-the fascist MSI party
renamed-and the racist and anti-immigrant Northern League) and the "center-left" led by Romano Prodi, which appears poised to win national elections on April 9. Leaders of both coalitions are committed to pushing the Val Susa TAV through against overwhelming valley and
growing nation-wide opposition, although it has become a hot election issue and some center-left parties, notably the Greens and Rifondazione Comunista, have come out against it, potentially creating problems for a Prodi-led government, which would certainly need them to maintain a
Parliamentary majority.

"La Svolta" (The Turning Point) at Seghino

On October 31, what came to be known as the "Battle of Seghino" marked the first major "svolta" or turning point in the anti-TAV struggle. Hundreds of people built barricades and
outmaneuvered a thousand heavily-laden riot police on narrow mountain roads and trails, many used by partisans in WWII's anti-fascist Resistance, to prevent CMC company technicians from entering and formally taking possession of three drilling sites. The test drillings were to determine the potential presence of toxic minerals in the rock sub-strata (the mountains are known to contain fine-fiber asbestos-the most dangerous for human health and most likely to go airborne--as well as uranium). Opposition to the project was united against the drillings, seeing them as merely a pretext for moving the project forward, and also pointless, since the high-speed train line simply should not be built. CMC, of Ravenna, known as a "red cooperative" for its historic ties with the (now ex-) Communist Party and for once upon a time being an actual workers' cooperative, has become a giant in the construction industry and a major political influence-peddler. It is also currently in court for environmental damages in its massive tunneling for the Florence-Bologna TAV tract (the super-size tunnels required for TAV lines tend to puncture underground water channels and cause the drying up of springs and fountains that are fed by them, and long used by rural mountain residents--already a dying breed). CMC won the tunnel construction bid for the proposed line from Torino to Lyon, France after some other shady contractors (these connected to the political right) lost their chance at the pork-barrel payoff when they were investigated for bid-rigging.

Though their mobile blockading tactics and knowledge of the mountain terrain won the day, with a face- off on a narrow bridge leading to the village of Seghino proving decisive, the police and CMC pulled what the valley saw as an underhanded (and illegal) trick by coming back at night, after the 7 p.m. legal deadline had passed and the blockades disbanded, to declare possession of the sites. This maneuver was a further rupture in relations between valley residents and the political institutions that many had still hoped would act with a minimum of good faith and open
some form of negotiations on the issue. It also sent tensions with the police sky-high, and they were now widely seen as an occupying army. The slogan "Get the troops out" began to appear up and down the valley, on banners hanging from balconies and overpasses and spray-painted on
walls and street signs. Things were definitely heating up.

The turn to collective direct action and mingled sense of solidarity and betrayal
that came out of Seghino radicalized and gave new energy to the movement and redoubled its determination. This momentum carried over into a planned demonstration on November 16, when over 60,000 people marched to the old Roman town of Susa, a few miles from Venaus, the new epicenter of the struggle, where a 10-kilometer, so-called "test tunnel" was to begin, at exactly the site of the entrance to the planned tunnel into France. It was the biggest gathering of NO TAV opposition up to that time, and took place in conjunction with a valley-
wide general strike. It was an inspiring show of solidarity, as the whole valley shut down: cafes, schools, factories, pharmacies, stores, offices--nearly everything closed, and many with signs out front saying "Closed for strike. At the March." An increasing number of people also began to show up from nearby valleys and towns and cities around the region and beyond. Some had already participated at Seghino, including anarchists and other radicals from Torino, with experience in urban occupations and other more direct forms of social struggle, and they
had helped build barricades with local residents, young and old, overcoming cultural differences and the traditional distrust or diffidence towards outsiders. Something quite new and interesting was emerging.

Reoccupation of Venaus

Then came the Battle of Venaus. As an early December deadline loomed for the government and CMC to seize land from 80 local property owners to establish a staging area for tunnel construction, hundreds flocked to the Venaus "presidio" (vigil/protest camp with kitchen and meeting space built by locals and supporters). For a week in the bitter cold, a constant presence was maintained, until the night of December 6 when, with camp numbers at a low ebb (100-150), at 3:30 a.m. a large police cordon surprised the few people at the barricades on the road leading into Venaus. In a vicious assault, the police clubbed people indiscriminately, even those lying sleeping in their tents, and sent a number to the hospital. Though people tried to regroup and
resist, the camp was overrun and evicted and the presidio structure, used for months as a convergence and organizing center, was torn down. But the alarm was raised and by mid-morning the valley was shut down, with all roads and rail routes cut off by human blockades and
barricades. There were also solidarity actions and protests all over Italy. And that evening the NO TAV committees, meeting in one of their many over-flowing popular assemblies, called for a march in just two days to retake Venaus.

By hastily organized chartered buses, car and train, from near and far people again converged on the town of Susa, and marched toward Venaus. No one knows the exact numbers (estimates
range from 50 to 80,000), but the atmosphere was intense and furious. The marchers streamed towards the turn-off to Venaus, where they came up against amassed riot police, with a tense face-off and brief skirmishing, and then simply flowed past, up a hill along a more round-
about, unobstructed route. From several points along this road above the contested area, the human tidal wave poured down secondary roads and trails and re-grouped on the valley floor, converging on the evicted site, now enclosed by orange plastic mesh and guarded by a
small police detachment that had remained to guard the area. The fencing was soon torn down, and thousands pressed in on the beleaguered and worried-looking police from three sides.

Overwhelmingly out- numbered and with no reinforcements near enough to be of any help, and
with their only other options being to try to beat back the first ranks of the onrushing assembly, or fire over their heads, and hope fear and panic would cause the crowd to disperse (which might easily backfire given the people's numbers and intensity), the police were ordered to retreat. An indescribable charge of jubilance courses through the huge throng, suddenly victorious. Some in the crowd go further, entering the compound (owned by a nearby hydroelectric facility) now used as the police command post and by CMC technicians, trashing a number of vehicles, trailers and other equipment. A large stash of sandwiches and hot tea for the police troops were also liberated and distributed freely among the people, some remembering how they had not long before generously brought food and coffee to the young Carabinieri and Polizia di Stato, who had to suffer long shifts standing in the bitter cold. National police in Italy are routinely sent far from their home regions, to make it harder for them to sympathize with the citizenry in
situations like this one, and most of these were from central or southern Italy. Ironically, the local "Vigili urbani" (town police) in Val Susa, who serve under local administrators, are on the NO TAV side, and some have actually participated directly in the protests and even on the barricades, along with their mayors.

By mid-afternoon, as many began to leave the area, the institutional part of the movement's leadership, with grudging acceptance from the grassroots committees and the "assembly of the whole," called off a continued occupation. With numbers dwindling and night approaching, there was fear of a police reprisal, given their humiliating defeat, which could risk discouraging further mass participation and dividing the movement between the more and less physically combative. Also, the physical damage done was certain to be played up heavily by the government and in the media, so voluntarily withdrawing was a tactical gesture of "good faith" to the national and regional authorities, who had in any case been given a clear signal of the movement's power to mobilize unprecedented numbers on short notice and of its capacity to engage in bold and concerted mass action. It was a powerful, magical moment and important to end on a good note, since full-scale insurrection was not then in the cards.

The police assault and popular uprising in response have had a wide "ripple effect." New
NO TAV solidarity groups began to spring up in the region and around Italy, joining the around 20 local valley committees, which meet regularly in coordinating assemblies that are a lesson in
participatory, consensus democracy, with no formal, institutionalized leadership. Seasoned Val Susa activists travel all over to countless informational events, debates and demonstrations, just as they had been doing for years to patiently and painstakingly build the NO TAV movement in Val Susa. Increasingly, they are getting together with groups fighting other links in the TAV network, and against planned super-highway projects, incinerators, toxic waste dumps and other pork-barrel projects and key parts of the infrastructure of endless industrial expansion. The debate is deepening into a more general critique of the devastation inherent in industrial capitalism and development based on financial speculation.

During the Olympics, a major four-day conference in Torino and Val Susa focused on sustainable alternatives. It brought together a wide panorama of people and groups
involved in alternative energy, small-scale organic farming, ethical finance, people-based transportation, anti-corporate globalization, global warming, etc. A theoretical framework of "decrescita" (basically, the reversal of industrial growth) is steadily spreading in Italy, largely from the writings of the French author Serge Latouche.

Why such intense opposition?

Because what's happening in the Susa Valley and Italy is something so new and full of possibilities, it's important to understand why the high-speed train project has sparked such intense and growing opposition. First of all, Val Susa is already crowded with infrastructure, with two busy state roads, an elevated super-highway into France, two existing rail lines, several toxic factories and new industrial parks in the lower valley, and ski resorts in the upper valley, in addition to 38 old towns and numerous villages, and finally the Dora River, which sometimes floods in ever-more-frequent "extreme weather events," as it did in 2000, causing some serious damage.

This situation parallels that of Italy in general, with its over 2000-year history of civilization having already intensively humanized the landscape. Having relatively recently entered the "industrial age," over the past century Italy's ancient agrarian culture has experienced
rapid, unsettling change, forcing people into factories and expanding cities. The existing rail network helped fuel that process, but over time also became an integral part of the country's social life, used daily by hundreds of thousands of students, workers, people visiting
friends and relatives or going on vacation, and fairly often to get to large political demonstrations, sometimes on special reserved trains. And the strong railworkers' and machinists' unions were an important part of working-class power in Italy, whose Communist Party (PCI), with all its faults and contradictions, was Western Europe's most powerful
and was a crucial counter-balance to the post-war dominance of the Christian Democrats, installed in power in 1948 with overt U.S. and covert CIA support.

With the explosion of automobile culture thanks to the FIAT monopoly based in Torino, Italy, like all other industrialized countries, also became crammed with new paved roads and in recent
decades a massive highway system. The traditional mountain culture of the Alps, like that in Val Susa, unraveled with the new industrial market economy, and its subsistence farms and villages were abandoned or depopulated as generations went to work at FIAT and associated
industries. FIAT also began to produce buses to compete with local and regional train routes, and many of these secondary lines have gradually been eliminated. And in the past 10-15 years, "neoliberal" economic policies have led to the privatization of many state monopolies, including the former "Ferrovie dello Stato" (State Railways), with "profitability" rather than good, inexpensive service becoming the standard for the train system.

Origins of the project

The TAV was conceived in the mid-1980's in the same corrupt political and business circles that within a decade became embroiled in the massive "Tangentopoli" graft and kickback scandal, which rocked Italian politics and led to the demise of the two dominant political parties--the Christian Democrats and the Socialists. It had not been included in the railroads section of the General Transport Plan, which was a blueprint for modernizing and upgrading the existing rail network, much of which is not yet double-tracked and up to a third isn't electrified. Over the past few years, just as the NO TAV struggle was building, the Italian railroads have been beset by an
endless series of late trains, accidents (several of them major, with fatalities), broken down locomotives, dirty cars (including highly-publicized incidents of flea and tick infestations), reductions in route service and other problems.

And just when anti-TAV demonstrations were heating up late last year, there were more and more exasperated commuter protests, some blocking tracks for hours. People began to ask themselves why tens of billions of Euros were being spent for a separate high-speed system, one which will bypass most of the local stations that riders utilize daily and will cost much more to
take, when the existing network is falling apart. Engineers and transport specialists had for years questioned the need for the TAV. They pointed out that where high-speed trains are operational, as in France and Germany, they pass through generally flat or gently rolling, and lightly populated terrain, and between large cities that are around 200-400 miles apart. Italy, on the other hand, is a very mountainous country, densely populated in the flatter areas where the TAV would run, and with cities relatively close to each other. This means a tremendous amount of tunneling, which exponentially raises the costs, leads to dislocation and heavy impact on people living in the TAV corridors, and relatively minor gains in travel time between cities. It
also means that there is little guarantee TAV trains would be profitable, given much higher investment, maintenance and electrification costs, and the dissuading factor of higher ticket

So why the TAV? As I said, it's a vast, completely new infrastructure, which means lots of new contracts and, with all the tunnels, bridges and elevated sections, decades of new construction, which in Italy means ever-mounting cost overruns. The way the "partyocracy" worked (and mostly still works) is each political party had its business "associates." They helped secure lucrative construction, consulting and other contracts for their friends, who then funneled kickbacks ("tangenti") into the politicians' pockets or party coffers, which financed campaigns, daily party business and, as the corruption deepened, lavish lifestyles for party leaders. This
system was partially exposed in the mid-1990's by Milan magistrates in what came to be known as "Mani Puliti" (Clean Hands), and many politicians and their business cronies were indicted, with some ending up in disgrace and/or prison.

Strangely, most of the key players involved in pushing the TAV remained largely untouched by the scandal, including Romano Prodi, the probable head of the next government, who is an ex-Christian Democrat from its "liberal" wing. Prodi, when he was President of the European
Commission, also included the TAV on a priority list of European Union infrastructure projects. When the Tangentopoli scandal reshuffled the Italian political landscape, it also shook up the patronage system. The TAV became the big new milk cow everyone was scrambling to shove
through so they could get a piece of the action.

The Communist Party had for decades been secretly supported by the Soviet Union, in
addition to a popular funding base from party dues and a network of social centers, yearly festivals and other sources. Partly because they had Soviet financing (which itself was illegal under Italian law), they seem to have been relatively free of the kind of graft and patronage
endemic to the other major parties. After the Soviet Union collapsed and the PCI was soon after dissolved, its main heir--the centrist Left Democrats, now the main party of Prodi's coalition, seems to have joined the bandwagon. And the CMC corporation became one of their major
patrons and business allies.

The TAV is a classic shell game. It's supposed to have 60 percent private financing, but that in reality comes from bank loans, which ultimately will be paid back from public moneys, with near-usurious interest rates. And the subcontracting process is rifled with rigged bidding and cost overruns, with some of the work being re-subcontracted several times to line peoples' pockets
whose companies don't do any actual construction. And, especially in the south, much of the work ends up in the hands of Mafia-controlled or connected firms.

Work on some sections of the TAV network, such as Rome-Naples and Florence-Bologna, began over 10 years ago and are still not fully completed. They have cost billions and already caused great environmental and cultural destruction. Other parts of the system are currently being built, already approved or in the planning stages. Though there has been opposition everywhere, especially in the Mugello valley near Florence, only in Val Susa has it reached the level of a
popular movement, which became an uprising. This is certainly due to its particular circumstances--the valley is geographically self-contained, with a tradition of popular resistance. It was a major center of anti-fascist Partisan activity, and the Alps, as other mountainous areas in the world, were always a place for fiercely independent people, rebels and heretics.

Organizing there is easier because the affected towns and villages are relatively close together, and share a common history and culture. And, as mentioned earlier, local mayors, town councils, as well as the Comunita' Montana, a mountain-area administrative entity, were against the project from the beginning, and have been key to obtaining and spreading information, solidifying the resistance and acting as an institutional buffer while the grassroots organized itself. Unlike at Mugello, where a center-left regional government aided the TAV project by helping to co-opt local administrators with promises of new roads, school funding, public swimming pools, parking lots (more development!) and the like, Susa Valley officials have remained steadfast, even strengthened by the growing popular movement. And it could be that even if some begin to waver or defect, the grassroots movement will no longer need them if it comes to a protracted open battle. What that might look like is hard to say, as it will depend on factors at all levels that are unpredictable, and the NO TAV movement thus far has been full of surprises and in continual, spontaneous evolution.


Rispondi a tutti




Messaggio inoltrato in data 21/05/2006 22.10.
Da:  JOANNR8@aol.com [ JOANNR8@aol.com]
Inviato: sab 15/04/2006 18.38
A:  paul.roland@alice.it

Cc:  roland@virgilio.it

Oggetto: TAV pt 2
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A valley sees its future devastated

Since the valley is less than a mile across at its widest, once people finally got to see the first plans for the train line-after years of hounding stone-walling government planners-it was obvious how great its impact would be, eating up some of the best bottomland left for agriculture, creating tremendous noise (much more than ordinary trains), destroying peoples' homes and businesses and splitting up communities. The 53-kilometer tunnel into France and a shorter 23-km one included in later plans to lessen the footprint within the valley and hopefully soften opposition would mean at least 15 years of construction, with hundreds of trucks a day hauling the fill through valley roads--some of it likely to contain asbestos and uranium, and dumping it in several sites both inside and outside the valley. And, as already happened at Mugello, the tunneling would almost certainly cause damage to the hydrology of the mountains, dealing more blows to already hard-hit communities.

The TAV's proponents of course claim the project is essential for "economic development," but even on its face that is doubtful. Initially proposed as a passenger line, like the French TGV,
it turned out that ridership on the existing international line through the valley has been falling for years (due to competition from the recently built super-highway and low-cost air routes from Milan and Torino to Paris--though nobody's talking about getting rid of them). So the Torino-Lyon route was transformed into the "TAV-TAC" (high-speed/high-capacity train), a predominantly freight line that would boost commercial traffic across Europe and supposedly transfer container trucks to rail.

But freight traffic has been decreasing on that line as well, and many transport experts have indicated that no possible future increases can justify the kind of investments the TAV-
TAC would involve. The road-to-rail argument, which at first successfully co-opted opposition from the French, concerned about pollution from the heavy truck traffic through the Frejus tunnel, was discredited by a study showing that only around one percent of truck traffic would be diverted. And are they going to let an almost-new highway that depends on truck traffic for its revenue to just die off? TAV promoters have given no answer to opponents' alternative proposal
to upgrade the existing international rail line through the valley, by doubling sections of the track and widening the tunnels to accommodate the heavier and faster trains.

An expert on European transport, Marco Ponti, when asked why Italy would build a system requiring such massive tunnel construction and with serious doubts about its financial
viability, said, "The only explanation that I can give is: because it costs more." A key advocate of the TAV, Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Pietro Lunardi, has stood to reap big profits
through his family's firm Rocksoil, which he nominally handed over to his wife and children the day before he took office. The company, which specializes in planning tunnels for subway and train lines, has a fat contract for the Torino-Lyon TAV. But he so far has eluded conflict-of-
interest charges because it somehow only applies to the French half of the project! It is just this kind of flagrant corruption at the heart of Italian politics and business that is being challenged by the NO TAV movement, and is one reason it is catching on so rapidly beyond Val Susa. It seemed like people were just waiting for someone to stand up and do something.

Now that they have, deeper questions about the commercial system itself can find popular expression. Such as, why produce such vast quantities of products and ship them all over the
world, with the need or excuse for ever-expanding road, rail, air, ship and communications infrastructures, which then facilitate and demand increased production and consumption? We're so inundated by all this it becomes normal, overwhelming our ability to resist or even imagine
something different. In Italy, Roman roads helped consolidate and export the prototype of the expansionist, urban-centric, bureaucratic and militarized civilization (which Lewis Mumford called the "Megamachine") that is now engulfing the whole planet. Now this TAV, at
least in Val Susa, is one infrastructure too many, being crammed into an increasingly degraded Italian landscape, whose beauty once inspired generations of poets, musicians, artists and travelers.

Resistance rooted in social solidarity

After the huge G-8 protests in Genoa five years ago, with the intense and brutal police repression, many began to question the effectiveness of putting so much energy into international summits. "Social Forums" sprang up in Italian towns and cities to refocus discussion and hopefully activism at a local level, but many were hobbled by the same old sectarianism
and political party influence that are so endemic in Italy. Now it seems the NO TAV struggle has shown a new way to bring people together in common struggle. In the Susa Valley, the changes are palpable. Despite the militarization and inconveniences of continual meetings and protests, people are saying they've rediscovered a sense of sociality and solidarity that had been disappearing. They stop and talk to each other more on the street, have intense conversations in cafes and bars,see people they've lost touch with for years. Paradoxically, it took the threat of a new industrial technology that would intensify social alienation and dislocation to begin to overcome them, re-instilling a sense of common purpose, similar to what happened in the fight against Appalachian strip-mining in the 1960's.

And the movement shows no signs of dissipating. Just a week after the retaking of Venaus, over
60,000 converged on Torino, the largest political demonstration for years in that city, the site of major student and worker uprising in the 1960's and 70's. In early January, the first major protest against the TAV in France brought 30,000 to Chambery, just across the Alps from Val Susa. Now, with the Olympics over and elections on April 9, with both coalitions' leadership unwilling to consider a "no action" alternative (or "zero option" as its called there) on the TAV, the battle lines are drawn. Back in 2000, a then-unknown local official, Antonio Ferrentino, President of the Lower Susa Valley Comunita' Montana and now the most visible NO TAV leader, told surprised business and political leaders at a TAV conference in Torino that "You'll have to open TAV construction sites with the Carabinieri!" They may have snickered then, but now it's reality.

On March 20, results from the first test drilling were made public, and they say no asbestos or
uranium was found. Locals, who know where the old asbestos and uranium mines are located, had already told them little or none would be found at that site. This is part of the next phase of the battle, an attempt to limit the debate to narrow technical questions and declare the
project environmentally safe or at least mitigatable. The government's environmental assessment is due out in April, and will almost certainly give the TAV the green light. The next government will redouble efforts to buy off and divide the opposition, especially if it's the "center-left" in power (remember Clinton and the Northwest forest struggle?).

There are some signs of criticism of the TAV at the European Parliament, especially after the violent Venaus eviction, which could slow or curtail European Union funding of the project. But the opposition will remain centered among the people of the valley and their supporters around Italy. International solidarity may well become critical as things heat up. Anyone planning a trip to Europe might consider paying a visit to Val Susa. Several videos of the NO TAV struggle have been made, and one or two will soon be available with English subtitles. People could consider protests at Italian consulates and other offices connected to Italy, or symbols such as statues of Columbus.

Can we learn anything useful from the NO TAV movement?

To what extent what happened at Venaus and the way the NO TAV movement has evolved and is collectively self-organized can inspire and inform campaigns and movements here in the U.S. is an open question. The historical and social contexts are certainly different, but at the very least it can help people think afresh about what's possible and perhaps what's necessary if we'd like to get to a similar point, say in the fight against mountaintop removal in Appalachia. For those who have given up on any idea of popular struggle, the "Val Susa model," as some are calling it in Italy, proves that even in an advanced industrial country new and unexpected spaces for effective, large-scale collective action can yet be opened up. And that the potential exists for powerful popular movements linked to a radical critique of industrial civilization.

There are a number of NO TAV websites, some of which have material in English. Among them: www.notav.it, www.notavtorino.org, www.legambientevalsusa.it. Italian comic Beppe Grillo's blog at www.beppegrillo.org is also informative and entertaining. You can contact the author at either  roland@virgilio.it or  paul.roland@alice.it.