Soumali Sacko was a member of USB (Unione Sindacale di Base), a grass roots trade union that fights to improve the outrageous working conditions of the farm labourers deployed in the lemon fields in Calabria, Italy.
On 2 June Sacko, a migrant agricultural worker from Mali, was shot in the back while trying to collect metal to rebuild accommodation in the shantytown located on the outskirts of San Ferdinando, where more than 4,000 seasonal workers live in miserable conditions during the harvest season.
Sacko was collecting scraps of metal in a closed down blast furnace to help a fellow Malian worker rebuild his shack, when he was killed in broad daylight with a hunting weapon.
San Ferdinando’s tent city was inaugurated by ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2010 after three labourers were shot with an air rifle in January of that year. It was an incident that created many clashes between locals and foreigners which led to the creation of this ghetto — created specifically to accommodate migrant seasonal workers.
Most of its inhabitants are young black men from West Africa. A great number of them are in possession of temporary permits to stay in Italy. Nonetheless they work in slave-like conditions for up to 12 hours to get a salary of between 25 to 30 Euros a day.
This tragic event is the latest in a series of racial attacks in Italy.
On 3 February in Macerata, Luca Traini, a former local elections candidate for the xenophobic Lega Nord drove around the city for two hours shooting and injuring several migrants.
This was unfortunately an indication of a far-right anti-foreigner revival that is spreading across Italy. During the last general election it saw the victory of the right and in particular the rise of Lega leader Matteo Salvini — now appointed minister of the interior.
His first words as minister were that “the party is over” and planned to expel half a million undocumented migrants. With his #primagliitaliani (Italians first), Salvini is indeed keeping his electoral promises. This included the closing of Italian ports for the Aquarius boat carrying 630 migrants rescued from the sea and talking about a register for the Roma population living in Italy in the name of tackling “illegal immigration”.
Five Star Movement (M5S) leader Luigi Di Maio has not been very vocal against Salvini’s “proclamations” and actions. Di Maio’s only comment on the proposal of registering the “gypsies” (as Salvini loves to call the Roma) was that the proposal was anti-constitutional and therefore was not going to be enforceable in law.
This is clearly not good enough and the Lega and M5S alliance is quickly showing its true, far-right leaning, colours.
This populist force is now established and is alienating the left wing voters that voted for Grillo’s M5S, hoping for a much needed change in the stagnant Italian political landscape. However it is important to point out that the result of the March general elections, albeit clearly a victory for the right wing parties, has not simply been a massive xenophobic and racist result.
The economic conditions in Italy after former prime minister Matteo Renzi’s austerity measures have produced not only discontent and anger among the population, but also a powerful need for change.
Such necessity has unfortunately been channelled on one hand by Salvini’s racist Lega and on the other by Grillo’s populist movement. While Salvini has campaigned (and continues to) against “foreigners”, M5S has promised to break with the old parties’ corrupted system as well as bringing economic changes.
These promises have given hopes to many Italians that are not only disgusted with the old system but also are struggling to make it to the end of each month.
The “basic income” proposal made by M5S during the electoral campaign has been one of the main catalysts of votes in the south of Italy. This is a territory still plagued with poverty, unemployment and corruption. It is far from being implemented — nothing has happened with it.
In Sicily the results for M5S was so resounding that they won more seats than they had candidates on their list.
Although many people are now talking of a return of fascism and Italy being a laboratory for bad politics, there is hope. Grass roots activists, trade unionists and anti-racist left wing groups are organising, demonstrating and fighting back. Change as always has to come, and will come, from below.