For Migrant Labourers An Amnesty with Capitalism Is a Mockery

Which is worse? The hypocrisy of an Italian Minister of Agriculture shedding tears in public over the supposed end to the maltreatment of cheap migrant field workers in Italy or the hypocrisy of Johnson’s Brexit government sanctioning the airlifting of workers from the poorer parts of Europe to work in British fields during the lockdown? This is an outline of what’s been going on recently in Italy.

On May 13, during a press conference attended by Teresa Bellanova, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry in the Conte government, Prime Minister Conte himself announced the Relaunch Decree of article 110b on the ‘emergence’ [i.e. bringing out into the open] of employment relationships. The Minister, in tears, declared: "From today, the invisibles will be less invisible as a result of the decision of this government". She was referring to the tens of thousands of undocumented workers employed in the agri-food sector which is dominated by super-exploitation at the hands of gangmasters, but which is essential to large retailers in order to keep prices down and make the huge profits which the market defines as "adequate”.

The decree came after a long sequence of complaints, protests, and denunciations by the employers’ trade associations, over the fact that about 350,000 workers are missing from cultivating and harvesting crops. This is due in large part to the fear of the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic which has greatly reduced migrant flows to Italy and the rest of Europe and caused many illegal workers to flee.

The inhuman conditions in which, for years, foreign workers have been forced to live, and continue to live — workers repeatedly slated by the press following their spontaneous and self-organised protests — are the result of market logic, which at ridiculously low prices can count on continuous "supplies" of a blackmailed workforce, at the mercy of the gangmasters (who are really agents of the monopolies in the sector). Over the years this perverse cycle of exploitation, which some economists choose to define as "virtuous", has enjoyed the political acquiescence of the whole parliamentary spectrum, without distinction of flag or political colour. The mixed messages, sometimes very "harsh", on issues from invitations to stay on the one hand and "go home" messages on the other, led to what was and remains the real economic and political objective: the creation of "free" areas unconstrained by wage regulations, of which shanty towns are only the outward aspect of the phenomenon.

The dispute between defenders of "human rights" ("progressives") and those who argue the "impossibility of welcoming everyone" (Italy-firsters), that is going on within the bourgeoisie, is based on the strict logic of profit. It leaves no room for the "political primacy" longed for by Bellanova, who herself is a faithful representative of the bourgeoisie.(1) And in order that the decree is not really mistaken for a humanitarian act, the "provisional" label has been added to it. Yet the fact remains that the above politicians are all lined up, in words, on the side of the "people".

The measures that have been taken are thus not really about addressing the precarious and degraded conditions suffered by that part of the proletariat deemed foreign and "irregular", but about the need to make up for the shortage of low-cost labour power that foreign labour guaranteed. A solution that also takes into account the possible increase of social instability due to the deepening of the economic crisis and conditions linked to the epidemic.

The only possible answer, once and for all and not only for this abuse of migrants, is the resumption of the struggle of the working class, whose goal cannot only be to get rid of the parasites that condemn it to poverty or the slavery of wage labour. The demands, however legitimate they may be, must go beyond requests for better treatment and raise the political question of a change in the social system. And from an increase in wages which, at this stage, would be a significant achievement, we must move more and more towards the prospect of rejecting — in order to overcome it — an economic system based on more and more exploitation of the workforce.


Monday, 18 May

(1) It may seem strange for the article to emphasise that the Minister of Agriculture in a capitalist government is bourgeois but Teresa Bellanova had an unusual rise to power. She entered the government as Minister of Agriculture in the Democratic Party/Five Star Coalition headed by Giuseppe Conte. She is regarded as a true child of the proletariat as she grew up working as a child labourer in the fields of Puglia. She eventually joined the union and became an organiser of farm labourers and via the union apparatus reached the Ministry of Agriculture. She recently left the Democratic Party to join the party of Renzi (the Tony Blair of Italy) — Italia Viva.

Sunday, July 12, 2020