FOR Santina Bianchini, her week-long visit last month to Cambodia will add more fuel
to the "Valsella affair", which has made front-page and prime-time news
Bianchini is the deputy mayor of Castenedolo, a tiny town of 8,000 people in northern
Italy, and home to the Valsella factory that employs 50 women workers and more technicians.
The women used to produce a plastic moulding for Valsella. They knew it was for land
mines, but Bianchini said they had no idea of the dangers and terror mines held for
countries such as Cambodia.
"In our country it is difficult to make people understand because no one risks
stepping on a mine," she said.
That changed in July 1994, when a doctor back from Kurdistan spoke to Valsella workers
and bosses about the effects he saw of Valsella-made land mines during his mission.
He explained to the women how and for what reason the plastic shapes were used.
His stories and pictures struck a chord with the women: they boycotted the production
lines of Valsella.
As luck would have it, barely a month later the Italian government issued a national
moratorium against land mine production following a nationwide campaign.
Bianchini said her municipality began its own awareness campaign, and because of
the moratorium Valsella was obliged to change its production from mines to civilian
Forty of the 50 women workers began an activist group. They helped Valsella by looking
for money from regional authorities to help the factory convert its production.
Valsella management decided to produce spares parts for fridges and dashboards.
A worker named Franca Faita headed the Valsella's workers group. Faita had lost her
right arm in an industrial accident at work, Bianchini said.
Even though ten of the women workers did not join the "anti-mines" group
- for fear of losing their jobs once the moratorium ended - these were the salad
days for the rest of the factory staff.
The factory had capitulated, and they were about to begin production of non-lethal
products. A regional peace march finished in Castenedolo where the walkers were welcomed
with banners and slogans; and in October 1995, the Supreme Patriach of Cambodian
Buddhists, Maha Ghosananda, visited Castenedolo.
"He told us that we had to listen and learn from others. That was the best way
to explain the disasters of mines. He said we had to clear the mines we had in our
heart before clearing the mine from the ground," Bianchini said.
But the euphoria has ended.
Bianchini said in practise, Valsella management made no effort to change the production
In January, Valsella locked out its workers.
Bianchini said to make matters worse, Valsella technicians are still involved in
working out new designs for "intelligent" mines.
"In the catalogue of an armaments fair in Malaysia, Valsella mines still appeared.
It means that some people are making them. Anyway, we know that the technicians of
the company are still working on new process for intelligent land mines," she
Recently, the staff have discovered that Fiat, the biggest Italian conglomerate involved
in areas from car and tank production to media, hold 50 percent of Valsella's shares.
"It may be political. Fiat's chairman's sister is the Minister of Foreign Affairs,"
"Valsella and Fiat never admitted their relationship during the anti-mines campaign
we had in the media. They were afraid the minister would have to answer for the reluctance
Valsella shows toward civilian production.
"The factory bosses do not make any effort to help the company to find new markets,"
Bianchini is returning home with lots of materials and ideas to share. "I think
after what I saw I can convince the last workers who need to be convinced."