Some days ago I heard a radio interview to workers and Union representatives of the FIAT car manufacturing plant in Termini Imerese, Sicily. FIAT management announced this year that they plan to stop car production in that plant by the end of 2011, because it is not convenient anymore. The thing that impressed me the most in the interviews were people declaring that “in Italy we produce too few cars!”
and that car production in Termini Imerese can and must continue with the same, no, with higher volumes than today, period. There was no doubt about this.
Such declaration deeply impressed me because I was listening radio while completely stuck in traffic: I had hundred of cars in front of me, behind and on the sides.
Cars must be produced, and that’s it. Or so they say
Those declarations are not an exception. On December 3, 2009, the italian Minister for Development “asked Fiat to sensibly increase car production in Sicily”. The Regional Government of Sicily declared that FIAT won’t receive funding from them anymore unless it commits to continue car production in Termini Imerese: converting assembly lines to produce ecological cars is admissible, but cars they must be.
FIAT employees have been protesting for months against any proposal of conversion. The Unions have planned strikes and rallies for some weeks for the same reason: “if don’t go back to producing at least a million cars each year in Italy, thousands of jobs will be at risk”.
What do cars do?
Hearing those interviews while stuck in traffic I also thought that:
car exhaust fumes can induce increased aggressivity and anxious states
parked cars slow down public buses enough to make their service cost many million euros more than necessary (15-16 each year just in Milan, Italy)
productivity and other losses caused by traffic amount to 40 billions Euros per year in Italy alone
traffic congestion also wastes huge amounts of time worldwide: in Italy, that would be 100 thousands hours/year in Tuscany, 240 per person in Milan, 210 in Naples and 260 in Rome (that is, according to another study,half the average time a Roman citizen spends each year driving his or her car inside the city)
Above all, I thought that we’d have most of these problems, without any improvement, even if all cars ran on water, solar power or any other 100% green technology. As a matter of fact, these problems already, regularly happen on 6 lanes highways in cities, like Los Angeles, built from scratch around cars. In any case, in Italy and in many other places there isn’t even enough space anymore to use decently the cars already existing, regardless of what engine is under their hood. It’s as simple as that. No “clean, zero-impact engine” can change this.
It’s time to move on
The facts quoted above don’t mean, of course, that FIAT managers and stockholders are always right (if anything, they damage them, by proving that cars are unsustainable no matter where they were manufactured). People working in Termini Imerese, be they in the FIAT plant or any of its satellite companies, are having a very difficult time. They deserve everybody’s respect and all the help they can find to get out of this situation. But such help should not leave everybody else in the current situation, that is perpetuate the bigger and more general problems created by dependency on private cars. Michael Moore expressed this concept very well when he spoke against government support for the “Big Three” car makers of Detroit: “the Big 3 are, from this point forward, to build only cars that are not primarily dependent on oil and, more importantly to build trains, buses, subways and light rail”.
Nobody would claim that a cigarette or asbestos factory should continue to operate just because its workers don’t want to change jobs. Unfortunately cars, green or not, are creating more and more similar problems each year, with less and less advantages, to more and more people. This isn’t the fault of auto industry workers, of course, but ignoring reality can be very counterproductive. As long as the workers in Termini Imerese will repeat (and let others repeat on their behalf) that the only acceptable solution is continue to produce cars “because that’s the way it has always been”, they’ll get much less public support than what they would deserve.