On 1 March, throughout the Italian peninsula tens of thousands of immigrant workers, small family-based businesses and markets struck against the rising tide of racism. This initiative was born spontaneously through Facebook: Primo Marzo, 24 ore senza di noi (First of March, 24 hours without us).
Its aim is counter racist lies from the government and other politicians, from the media, that immigrants are at best a parasitic drain on the country's wealth, at worst thieves, rapists and drug pushers.
The strike was more successful in the major cities of the north. Most of all in the city of Brescia, where fifty factories struck, involving thousands of immigrants and native Italian workers.
Irony of ironies, Brescia is in the heartland of the Northern League, arch-orchestrator of the most vile racist sentiments and practices.
It was also a success in Modena, Bologna, Parma, Genoa, Milan, where, though far fewer in number, factories came out in solidarity, to join the mass meetings and teach-in-like assemblies in the towns and city squares. Similarly in the south, in Napoli, Bari, Catanzare and Palermo. And everywhere they were joined by thousands of students and young people from schools and universities.
For the first time on a mass scale migrants recounted to thousands of their brothers and sisters the often harrowing stories of their lives: of what it is like to be denied citizenship while you work and live; to pay your legal and fiscal obligations, but not be able to participate in full in ordinary political and social life; to know, too, that your children, native to the country, are denied the same rights until 18 years of age. And, not least, to endure the unending humiliation and fear in confronting the police state era mentality of those sections of public administration regulating the issuing of resident permits.
This vicious instrument of control and surveyance is available to all the state repressive institutions and, of course, a gift to every unscrupulous employer, landlord or entrepreneur with an eye to the main chance — Berlusconi's government has made it "criminal" to be without it! The racist pogroms in Rosarno brought to the eyes of the world the subhuman conditions that tens of thousand of migrant workers are reduced to by the operation of such a system.
On 1 March, native Italian workers, and migrants and their sons and daughters, reiterated the need to combat the racism in the working-class movement, as the absolute condition necessary to defend jobs for all, decent wages and better conditions of work, proper housing, schooling and welfare.
Many angrily demanded to know why the official trade union movement refused to recognise the strike. Good question!
The three major confederation unions, while piously proclaiming to support the anti-racist principle of the action, refused to support it or actively condemned it. The action, they said, risked being — no kidding! — divisive.
The gutless and complicit bureaucrats, along with some shameless left apologists, mouthed platitudes about how a "real" general strike against racism of even one hour of all the workers would have been better than the call for an "ethnic" one. Formally true. But this is the formalism of the politically dead.
That only a minority of migrant workers actually struck only serves to underline the precariousness and insecurity of their situation. For few of them had any faith that in the event of their taking action, the unions would have defended them against employers only too keenly aware of the advantages of working class division.
But against all expectations, among migrant workers, their families and communities, there appeared a will and the stomach to fight against racism and all that breeds it. They showed, too, that they want to fight it as workers, inside and outside the factories, inside and outside the trade union movement, and that it has to be fought side by side with fellow Italian workers and all those in Italy like them who are victims.
That these ideals were in the heads and in the hearts and on the lips of thousands on 1 March 2010 can only augur well for the struggle to rid Italy of all its pernicious evils. The announcement by the organisers that a national conference is scheduled for April is proof that this movement can go from strength to strength.