The revolt of the immigrant workers in Rosarno
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 6; October 2010)
On January 7, two African agricultural workers who came to Calabria to harvest oranges were wounded by gunfire from a car. This umpteenth racist exaction triggered the anger of hundreds of working class immigrants, they gathered spontaneously to protest in Rosarno, a town of 15,000 inhabitants in the center of this region which produces oranges and tangerines thanks to their work. Demonstrators clashed with police, burning garbage cans, cars, smashing shop windows.
The next day, veritable witch hunts were organized by locals against immigrant workers, some were hit by cars, others beaten with sticks. A hundred people armed with sticks and iron bars surrounded the abandoned factory which housed many immigrants, some carting cans of gasoline and clubs. Meanwhile 2,000 immigrant workers protested again in the town, this time without clashes. Finally large numbers of police evacuated more than a thousand immigrant proletarians, although many had not even been paid by their employers, most had agreed to leave as to remain would have meant risking their lives...
The events of Rosarno had a great impact in Italy. The government parties have complained of «illegal» immigration and they used the rebellion to justify new xenophobic laws, their goal is obviously to stir up divisions between Italian and foreign workers, accusing them of posing a threat to order, civil peace and collaboration between classes. Some media have described the events as «a confrontation between two armies of poor devils» (1), many attributed these events to the mafia organizations very active in the region.
But in fact this represents an authentic proletarian revolt against the bestial exploitation which is and has always been the norm in the agricultural sector, regardless of varying degrees of involvement by legal or illegal organizations to impose bourgeois capitalist exploitation .
The reactions of the so-called “Left Communist” groups
While most far-left parties have affirmed their solidarity with the African proletariat in Rosarno, they have usually done so on a classless democratic or humanitarian basis which should not be astonishing coming from groups that have in fact dropped every classist principle to slither smoothly into bourgeois democratic life. But what were the reactions of organizations that claim to be “Left Communist”?
For the ICC (International Communist Current), the Rosarno events are “a product of despair” (2), according to it these events included...”violent clashes between immigrants and local workers”! After taking up again, as it ingenuously admits, this completely misleading analysis by the international bourgeois press, the ICC remains puzzled: “Poverty is very far from explaining” why a portion of the population has engaged in a racist vendetta “nor indeed why these immigrants attacked the property of nearby residents”(!). As good social pacifists, the ICC can not understand why, over-exploited, attacked, treated like dogs, continually subject to racist abuse, immigrant workers have not protested wisely, scrupulously respecting the private property of citizens and petit bourgeois racists...
There is only one explanation for this incomprehensible behavior: “despair, the total lack of perspective” and the ICC cites as evidence the testimony published by an Italian newspaper of an African who said he “felt ashamed” by the violence that erupted during the demonstration.
But you can find other stories in the press. For example, where one the “Leaders” of the spontaneous movement leaves town with 70 cents in his pocket: “You know how many times I was treated like shit just because I’m Moroccan ? We are men and not animals, no one has the right to shoot us. Enough is enough, we demand rights ”(3).
Revolt against injustice and inhumane conditions is not a sign of desperation and lack of prospects, this revolt is instead a necessary first step to combat despair and lack of prospects. Thus a proposed national strike of immigrant workers for the first of March was born from the momentum created by of the Rosarno revolt. Whatever the limitations of this initiative and the manoeuvres of collaborationist organizations, it is a fact that immigrant workers, through their revolt, find themselves facing the perspective of the revival of the old tradition of the great struggles of farm workers in Italy .
The ICC perhaps does not openly condemn the revolt of the Rosarno immigrants, but it disparages it as much as it can, which amounts to the same thing. Once again this organization which claims to be revolutionary is taking an openly anti-proletarian attitude (4) against an episode of violent revolt. Indeed how can we otherwise characterize, the fact of putting on the same level workers revolting against their superexploitation and the gangs which set out to hunt blacks (5)? We do not know if there were genuine proletarians among the hundreds of pogromists, but if there were, they acted only as thugs for the owners and local bourgeoisie. To refuse to see this, to hide this fact, is possible only for people who have gone over to the other side of the barricade, with the enemies of the proletariat.
Now let’s see attitude of organizations who claim to be in the continuity of our party.
Without falling into an attitude as repugnant as the ICC, but instead claiming a rhetorical solidarity with the Rosarno revolt both “Il Programma Comunista” and “Il Partito” have yet seen fit to add an immediate condemnation of the principle of a strike by immigrant workers.
“Il P.” writes: “But to those today who (...), claim that they wish to fight against racism outside the field of trade union struggle by organising demonstrations of inter-class opinion, or who propose that immigrant workers should strike on their own (something impossible to achieve and doomed from the start) we say to them that the only contribution they are making is to create new, and worse, disorientation and confusion.
The one way forward is to reconstruct the class’s trade union organisation, and organise it on a territorial basis like the traditional Camere del Lavoro. It would be a movement, for example, which wouldn’t distance itself from revolts such as those of the Rosarno labourers and their quite understandable reaction to being shot at, but which would consider them as its own; a movement which would seriously aspire to an ever broader movement culminating in the general strike as a means of obtaining the real immediate objectives of the working class: - Reduced working hours with no reduction of pay! - A guaranteed wage for unemployed workers! - Wage increases, especially in the worst paid sectors! - Rights of citizenship for immigrant workers!” (6).
The immediate demands of the immigrant workers of Rosarno and elsewhere (equal wages between Italian and immigrant workers, regularization of undocumented migrants, the end of police and employer harassment, decent housing, etc..) do not seem to be part of the real immediate objectives of the working class according to the Florentines of “Il P.”, who only entered the ambiguous “rights of citizenship” to replace the classical demand of “equal rights” for all proletarians!
Furthermore to oppose to the prospect of strikes by migrant workers alone – deemed impossible! – the prior necessity as an absolute precondition to rebuild the class union which tomorrow will be able to organize the general strike, is simply to oppose the struggles – no doubt local, partial, but real – which are carried out today. The example of France shows that immigrant workers, moreover even undocumented (and therefore illegal), are perfectly capable of conducting long and hard strikes by themselves, even in the absence of the class union or the effective solidarity of French workers.
Should we condemn these strikes and these struggles in general because they are “outside the union struggle” (?), Because they do not follow the obligatory path decreed by “Il P.”?
The proletarian organization for the immediate struggle – the class union – can only come into existence and build itself in the fire of the strikes and struggles that break out spontaneously against the aggravation of exploitation, not on the basis of an abstract schema that rejects anything that does not fit the mold. The schematism of “Il P.” condemns it to stand in the way of the real course of the class struggle ...
“Il Programma Comunista” took essentially the same position as “Il Partito”: opposition to a strike of immigrant workers, but in a much clearer and violent manner. “To launch the slogan of the ‘strike of immigrant workers’ means to be situated on the path of treason” (!) It wrote in a small article entitled: “Yes to a general strike by proletarians of all origins and categories everywhere! No to a strike of only the “immigrant workers”! (7). And it explains that “To win a victory, even if it is only an immediate one, the reply [to the deteriorization of the conditions of the proletariat] can only be to resume open and unrelenting class warfare, refusing to tolerate any separation, ghettoization, division within that enormous army that continues to swell whilst the crisis proceeds and that we call the world proletariat!”.
“Il PC” then affirms that any partial struggle, any struggle by groups of more combatative workers or those simply forced to fight because of particularly intolerable circumstances, not only is useless if it doesn’t result in the eruption of the mythic general strike, but constitutes a betrayal of the class struggle! No particular group or sector of the working class should enter into combat to defend their living or working conditions as long as the whole proletariat of the country (or the whole world?) is not ready to fight too, under penalty of increasing “fragmentation” of the proletariat!
What we have here is a completely idealistic vision of situation of the working class, which is already prepared to pass over to general class struggle. The self-appointed professors of class struggle of “Il PC” have forgotten all the criteria of the materialist analysis of social phenomena, they have forgotten that the maturation of classist consciousness within the proletariat cannot happen all at once and for everyone. They do not understand that it is a difficult and contradictory phenomenon, which cannot fail to divide the proletariat into “advanced” and “backward” sectors on the basis of experiences of struggle, victories and defeats, the influence physical forces associated with the bourgeoisie, and, conversely, the intervention of the class party, essential to combat this influence and to move towards class unity. Intoxicated for generations by the drug of democratic interclassism, still hampered by a thousand ties of class collaboration, still unconscious of its own potential strength, how could the proletariat as a whole have suddenly converted to the need for general class struggle?
What bursts out behind the empty words of exaltation of the Rosarno proletariat is an undisguised hostility of “Il PC” to a possible struggle of a particularly exploited, abused and despised sector of the proletariat in Italy. In opposing an episode of proletarian struggle, “Il PC”, like other groups we have mentioned, yields to the pressure of chauvinist and “aristocratic” prejudices ubiquitous in bourgeois society: the sad and inevitable consequence of the abandonment of genuinely Marxist principles and orientations.
(1) Il Corriere della Sera, 9/1/2010. The major newspaper of the Milanese bourgeoisie described a black-hunting scene in which police officers saved a young immigrant, then gives voice to a racist thug who complains: «in the beginning the police asked for our help to quell the revolt and now they truncheon us. What should we do?»
(2) Révolution Internationale No. 409 (February 2010).
(3) see Il Corriere ... Ibid.
(4) to its article on the Rosarno events allegedly caused by «desperation», the ICC opposes a strike by construction workers in theTotal Lindsey refinery (Great Britain) that was «like a ray of hope». It was in this case a real problem of competition between workers of different nationalities that had erupted in early 2009 after the owners had granted a contract for 300 jobs to a company employing Italian, Portuguese and Italian workers.
British workers started a wildcat strike, echoing the slogan of the Prime Minister: «Jobs in Britain for British workers». The strike halted after the strikers got a hundred jobs reserved for English workers. In June a new wildcat strike, accompanied by sympathy strikes (including by Polish workers) in other refineries, forced management to cancel its decision to dismiss some of the January strikers. The chauvinistic slogans were much less present than at the beginning of the year.
The ICC comparison between these two quite dissimilar events is based on the fact that it takes the petty bourgeois racists of Rosarno for the proletariat!
(5) The racists in Rosarno call anybody from North Africa “blacks”.
(6) see Il Partito Comunista No. 339. This group (whose center is located in the city of Florence) came from a split of our party in the early 70s on the union question and the call to rebuild the union class is its leitmotif.
(7) see Il Programma Comunista No. 1 / 2010.