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Commemoration on the 65th anniversary of the Marcinelle disaster – Message from Minister Di Maio

Dear Fellow-Citizens,

This year we mark the 65th anniversary of the Marcinelle mining tragedy when, on 8 August 1956 the lives of 262 miners were lost, 136 of whom were Italian. For twenty years, that is, since 2001, Italy has chosen 8 August to symbolically remember all Italian workers who have lost their lives while engaging in their profession, on the occasion of the “Day of Sacrifice of Italian Workers around the World”.  In 2021 we also mark the 75th anniversary of the “men against coal” agreement, signed in 1946 between the then newly formed Italian Republic and Belgium. As its very name recalls, with great impact, this agreement went down in history, and is an agreement on the basis of which Belgium undertook to transfer coal to Italy in exchange for Italian labour to work in the Belgian mines, thereby ensuring the required workforce. This same workforce was the victim of the tragedy we commemorate today.

The Marcinelle sacrifice is still strongly impressed in the collective memories of the Italian and Belgian peoples, as well as throughout Europe, in light of the range of nationalities of the victims of this mining disaster.

I wish to express my sympathies with the Belgian people, for the natural catastrophe in the form of flooding in recent days, which claimed 36 victims. A different tragedy, but still an unexpected disaster, to which Italy along with other European Countries responded by providing help to the Civil Defence. This brings us to reflect on the consequences of what we have done to the environment, the great challenge for the future, and how the search for work was the challenge facing the Italian population coming out of the Second World War.

The memory of Marcinelle is so felt and current, because it is emblematic of the social conquests of Italian workers, like those from Europe and around the World. Today, promoting fair, protected, and sustainable jobs must be at the core of our response to the serious economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. This response is contained in the various national relaunch plans adopted based on European funds, thanks to the joint effort of the 7 member countries who decided to tackle this global emergency.

Italy, as a founding member of the EU and the International Labour Organisation, intends to continue to promote European and international consensus, part of which is occupational health and safety. As part of these objectives it wishes to overcome the dual challenge of the ecological and digital labour revolution, at the heart of the “NextGenerationEU” projects, and of our National Restart and Resilience Plan.

The sacrifices of these who, in Italy and abroad, have lost their life while working or involved in voluntary or support activities, at Marcinelle or elsewhere, in the past, and therefore even more evident and extensive today as we come to grips with the effects of the devastating pandemic, will not have been in vain. It is at this very juncture of starting again that we will be able to transform our economies and create job opportunities and jobs for an Italy and Europe, of which we wish to feel really part and proud citizens.

The value of work has always been prized by all the Italians who emigrated and continue to go out searching for new and better opportunities: for this reason, this very high constitutional value deserves to be celebrated every day by Italian and European institutions, by ensuring the correct safeguards and correct recognition for all, at an economic, social, and personal level.

This is what real development really is: being capable of having a vision of the future that takes on board past events and interprets them by promoting fairness, justice, and solidarity.

On this special day dedicated to whose who have sacrificed themselves at work, to giving their very lives, I wish to extend my most sincere greetings to the relatives of the Marcinelle victims, the relatives of all Italian victims of death in the workplace, to those dear to us who brought honour to Italy’s image around the world, with their commitment and sacrifice, and continue to to do every day – to all of them I extend my deepest respect, gratitude, and genuine feeling of suffering and nearness.

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