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Vergogna! Shame on you! PDF Print E-mail
Jan 12, 2010 at 04:53 PM

There is only one Italian word that can be used after TV footage from Rosarno showed Italians what kind of conditions the majority of foreign, largely African, field workers eking out a miserable wage, in and around the town of Rosarno in the southern Italian region of Calabria: Vergogna! Shame on you!

Most of the workers lived in tents or makeshift cardboard "dwellings" inside or on the grounds of old, abandoned factories with no sanitary facilities and in one case only one working water faucet for over 600 people. A report that included an interview with a doctor from Doctors without Frontiers said the air was more or less unbreathable and most of the people living in that factory were suffering from respiratory or intestinal problems. Vergogna!



Made in Italy?
To make things worse, there is no way that people living in the area, including local government officials, could not have known what kind of conditions these people were living in. Furthermore, the situation has existed for years - no, decades - and until now no one, including the vociferous Italian newspapers that spend gallons of newsprint interviewing politicians about their specious views on this and that or warning about catastrophes that then rarely occur. Shame!

It is unclear what role the powerful Calabrian mafia - the N'dranghete - has played in all this. It should be remembered that the city government was so infiltrated by criminal elements, that in 2008 the Rosarno mayor and city council were suspended by the government and since then has been run by a government-appointed prefect (who doesn't seem to have been doing much of a job). But organized crime aside, it is no secret that the Italian economy - both that on the books and that which is not, the so-called "underground" or black economy - have long used immigrant labor; indeed, there are some sectors where legal businesses would have to close if they did not have legal foreign manpower to count on.

In Rosarno and other agricultural areas, however, illegal immigrants working in the fields for a pittance - sometimes no more than 30 euros ($20.00) a day now appear to have been joined by other legal immigrants who are out of work because of the economic crisis that despite Prime Minister Berlusconi's repeated assertions that Italy is better off than other European countries, is nevertheless suffering (some 500,000 to 700,000 jobs were lost last year alone, statistics tell us). But at a day rate of 20 euros we are talking pure exploitation of people who came here not just to survive but to send money back to their families. Vergogna!

This is how someone interviewed by the New York Times put it in a recent Times article:

"This event pulled the lid off something that we who work in the sector know well but no one talks about: That many Italian economic realities are based on the exploitation of low-cost foreign labor, living in subhuman conditions, without human rights," said Flavio Di Giacomo, the spokesman for the International Organization for Migration in Italy. The workers live in "semi-slavery," added Mr. Di Giacomo, who said, "It's shameful that this is happening in the heart of Italy." .


The race riots that occurred in Rosarno at the end of last week are certainly not an everyday occurrence here but this one, like that which took place 18 months ago in Castelvolturno, outside Naples, when immigrants rioted following the killing of six Africans by the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia, has clearly been brewing over time - and unless the Italians get their act together may not be the last.

Speaking of the New York Times (my favorite paper in the world!), its reporters should try and be more careful or more objective. In the same piece quoted above Rachel Donadio, whom I have never met, writes: In recent years, the center-right government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has issued strong anti-immigrant statements.

Sorry, but this is not true. The government has repeated issued strong statements against ILLEGAL or clandestine immigration, not against immigrants per se. As regular readers know, I am not a fan of the Berlusconi government although it does have some decent cabinet ministers. But despite the strong presence in the government of the Northern League, which does have some anti-immigrant elements, the government as a whole can hardly be called xenophobic.


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