Crop labourers strike: In Italy, the victims of racism and exploitation begin to defend themselves. Unions support farm workers

By Gerhard Feldbauer,, junge Welt, 11/8/2018

Translation: John Catalinotto

Immigrant farm workers demonstrate in Foggia on Wednesday for better working conditions. Photo: Franco Cautillo/ANSA via AP/dpa

After the death of twelve farm workers in a traffic accident in southern Italy on Aug. 6, hundreds of crop labourers walked off the job there. The USB trade union federation called for this strike. 

In a “march of red caps” – with which the workers usually protect themselves from the blazing sun – the protesters went to the prefecture in the city of Foggia and demanded decent working conditions. At a demonstration by the CGIL, CISL and UIL trade unions in Foggia, Member of Parliament Roberto Speranza, who is also chairperson of the left-wing movement “Free and Equals” (LeU), expressed his solidarity with the migrants. 

Michele Emiliano, president of the Regional Government of Puglia and a member of the Democratic Party (PD), supported the strike as a “step against exploitation”.

The workers who were killed were all from countries outside the European Union. They had been crammed into a small truck when it hit a tomato transporter head-on. The apparently overtired drivers of both trucks also died. 
Two days earlier, four Africans were killed and four others seriously injured in a similar collision. These accidents once again showed how migrants in southern Italy have to work under inhumane conditions and how they are held as slaves, the left-leaning daily Il Manifesto commented.
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In Puglia, harvesters, mainly from Africa, but also from Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, have to work up to 12 hours a day under the scorching summer heat of over 40 degrees Celsius. They live in slums without running water and toilets, have no health care. Women workers are exposed to sexual harassment and violence. 
As the daily La Repubblica, published in Rome, reported, most of them are subject to what is known as a “caporalato” system of organized undeclared work. They often earn little more than one euro per hour, while the standard wage is six times higher. In addition, a part of the workers’ income is deducted as rent for the miserable shelters. 
The number of farm workers exploited in this way is estimated at around 100,000 in Puglia alone. According to the CGIL, if the regions of Campania and Sicily are included, at least half a million people are illegally employed in grape, olive and orange harvesting, tomato, onion and strawberry fields, peach and apricot plantations.
Meanwhile racism continues to spread, fueled by the Italian government. The daily newspaper La Repubblica reported a new incident: on Aug. 7, on the Trenord regional train between Milan and Cremona, the train engineer called on the loudspeaker for “Gypsies, beggars and other troublemakers” to leave the train. 
It also became known that two 13-year-olds shot a man from Gambia in Pistoia (Northern Italy). They say it was a blank pistol. The young people admitted having fired two shots at the man in the Tuscan city on August 2, the Italian news agency ANSA reported on Aug. 9, citing police information. They just wanted to scare the Gambians. According to reports, the boys also racially insulted the 24-year-old.