• Short Summary

    The massive steelworks in Taranto, southern Italy, is today one of the biggest plants in Europe.

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    The massive steelworks in Taranto, southern Italy, is today one of the biggest plants in Europe. By 1976, its annual output is expected to reach 10.5 million tons (tonnes) ... about two fifths of the country's total steel production.

    Yet, since the plan to build the steelworks at Taranto was announced by Italsider--part of the huge state-controlled holding company, the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction--in 1960, the plant has been the centre of a great controversy.

    By the beginning of 1975, the plant had four immense blast furnaces in operation producing metal tubing, and plans well underway for a fifth. Other facilities include a large modern port, used primarily for the import of ore and export of finished products. The steelworks employs over 19,000 local workers, more than 50 per cent of whom still live in their home villages up to 28 miles (45 kilometres) away in the Puglian countryside. The majority of the others live on a special housing estate on the mainland away from the old city on Taranto island. The Italsider management has been anxious to avoid the creation of an urban proletariat in the rural society of the south and has encouraged workers to maintain their ties with the soil, their vineyards and olive groves.

    But the Taranto steelworks has been called the "cathedral in the desert". Critics of the scheme to industrialise the south by the construction of large-scale industries in strategic areas have described the Taranto plant as a failure. They say that in terms of stimulating further industrial growth, the plant has produced only a crop of minor subsidiary industries like engineering and mechanical workshops...not the huge car production plants or plastics factories originally foreseen. Instead of moving south, car manufacturers, for instance, have been content to pay the extra cost of transporting steel to the industrialised north. Even the huge Alfa Romeo factory near Naples is 185 miles (300 kilometres) north of Taranto.

    The critics say that the Taranto works is typical of Government policy towards stimulating the economy of the south. They claim that creating small cases of industry--as in Taranto, Brindisi and Lecce-brings little benefit, for they create only a limited number of jobs, sell to distant markets and often bring pollution.

    The Italsider management dispute these allegations, saying that the small subsidiary industries now sprouting around the edges of the Taranto plant each employ between 100 to 1,000 workers...a significant contribution where unemployment--both open and disguised--is critical. In addition, they point to the contribution the Taranto steelworks has made the Italian economy as a whole, and the south in particular. Fifteen years, they say, is too short a time to transform a traditional agricultural society that has remained virtually unchanged for centuries.

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