Illegal farm workers in South Italy

Award winning journalist Fabrizio Gatti has described a system of organized exploitation, intimidation, suppression and terror among illegal farm workers in South Italy.

Last week’s riots in the Calabrese town Rosarno highlight south Italian problems with illegal immigrants working as farm hands under slave like conditions. Already in early January 2007, the undercover journalist Fabrizio Gatti received the prestigious Premio Guiseppe Fava prize for his articles in L’espresso called ‘Io schiavo in Puglia’, where he described a labour system of organized exploitation, intimidation, suppression and terror. Since then nothing much has happened. At least it is obvious to anyone travelling in Mezzogiorno on a regular basis that the problem still exists.

It is increasingly rare to see Italians working the fields. The gangs harvesting tomatoes, watermelons, olives, oranges and other labour intensive crops are alternately from Africa, Asia or Eastern Europe, depending on the connections of the people who hire them. Their status as illegal immigrants leave them unprotected from the law and labour agreements. And they live under abominable conditions in camps or in closed down factories, as can be seen from their characteristic packed-up vehicles parked outside.

Seen from an Italian farmer’s point of view agriculture is unprofitable without access to cheap labour and subsidies (for a detailed outline of the economy behind the problems see eg. La Stampa: Le arance di carta di Rosarno (The online article referred to here has unfortunately been taken off the web).  While small farms used to be family enterprises, farmers who are getting on in years complain that their sons and the young people in general find it too hard to work the land for a living. Younger generations are neither willing nor able to lend a hand during harvest, which means that the farmers come to depend on hired help. And as long as there is an illegal work force willing to do the job at cut-down rates, the basic structures will not change. It is sad, really.

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2 replies
  1. AdriBarr
    AdriBarr says:

    We have similar problems here in the U.S. The workers, most of whom are either migrant or illegal, are abused at every turn. And they have very little recourse. The most current scandal has centered around the tomato workers in Immokalee, Florida. Barry Estabrook, the writer of “Politics of the Plate” fame has detailed their peril in depth. He has also written about it in his new book “Tomatoland.” Just recently some of our states have passed anti-immigration and strict anti-illegal immigration laws. The state of Georgia has found that their law has backfired, and the law of unintended consequences took over. Because there were no workers (almost everyone of the agricultural workers are illegal), there was no one to pick the crops. The farmers tried themselves, but failed miserably. The crops literally rotted on the vine. The state legislature is considering what to do. One of the Carolinas, witnessing this debacle, passed an anti-illegal immigration bill, but excluded agricultural workers. How is that for ironic and out of control? Click here to read his article about the Florida tomato workers plight.

  2. admin
    admin says:

    How interesting. I haven’t heard about the problems with illegal labour on American farms or about Barry Estabrook before, but I guess it’s more or less universal. As consumers, we are apparently not willing to pay the real costs of growing and harvesting crops, farmers meet demands by hiring illegal workers, and consumers and politicians close their eyes to the conditions in agriculture. Depressing really. Perhaps, they should have a ‘made with legal labour’ certificate like the organic ones?


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