Translation and Editing by Giorgio Baldelli:
Netzanet in Tigrinya, a language spoken in Eritrea and Ethiopia, means freedom. It means freedom to move without the constant fear of being rejected and expelled. It means freedom to be in control of one’s body without being continuously blackmailed by exploitative bosses and multinationals. It means freedom to lay claim to a different world.
Many migrants who come to Italy in the hope of finding a better life face a harsh reality. They end up living in makeshift shacks, picking tomatoes for 10-15 Euros per day from 6AM to 10PM. Exploitation is a widespread phenomenon on the fields of Puglia. Those who try to rebel, by seeking the assistance of the Police, risk being expelled from the country. This happens thanks to the harsh Immigration Law, named after politician Umberto Bossi and Gianfranco Fini, which strips away individuals’ basic human rights.
In Italy migrants are not the only ones who can’t find netzanet. There are masses of students and exploited workers that are suffering under the austerity measures that have affected southern Europe. Currently, youth unemployment has reached 40%, with the South being more severely affected than the North. The result of cutting public spending has been a general institutionalization of exploitative practices. Of course, migrants find themselves in a much more vulnerable position.
Netzanet is a project launched by students, migrants, small scale farmers and volunteers that would like to change this reality. The first step that led to the birth of the project was the occupation of Bari’s abandoned school, Socrates. The space was transformed and today it serves as a location in which migrants and locals can work together to produce tomato sauce. We are experimenting with a different way of working and living that avoids the logic of cut-throat competition, economic efficiency and productivity. A mode of production that fosters socialization and the sharing of innovative practices! That’s what we’re striving for.
We came up with the idea of producing tomato sauce or as we say in Italy, passata di pomodoro. In our region, the exploitation of migrants who pick tomatoes at sub-human wages has become a widespread phenomenon. The hope of people, who escape from hostile territories, is to find a better life. Unfortunately, in many cases they they fall victims to exploitation. With our limited strengths, we trying to fight this phenomenon and raise awareness as best as we can.
We gathered the money to launch Netzanet with a crowdsourcing campaign. With the collected funds, we purchased tomatoes from small scale farmers that we know personally. By renovating the space of the abandoned school and by buying the necessary equipment, we started producing our first batch of products. The revenues of the sales, will be used to continue our battle against exploitation and to keep the project alive.
We have found two farmers from which we’ve bought 1 tonne of tomatoes . The choice of buying tomatoes from these people hasn’t been casual and it reflects our philosophy. One of them is a literature graduate that found himself in a black hole (like the majority of students in Italy). To avoid being swallowed by the hole, he reinvented himself and started growing tomatoes on the land of a relative. He hasn’t given up his dream though: he’s simultaneously studying and participating in public competitions. Abdul, the other one, is a young migrant that summed up the courage to rebel against an exploitative landowner. He’s now cultivating tomatoes his own patch of land.
So far, local institutions have not supported us at all, neither politically, nor economically. Against all odds, we’ve been able to sell our tomatoes at local markets and food fairs. There is a complete lack of support for initiatives that are attempting to fight a phenomenon that is so widespread in Italy. Regular monitoring of the conditions of workers in the agricultural sector, formalization of workers through contracts and the strengthening of union rights could be some measures that could fight the phenomenon. However, this would only be a first step forward. Landowners are not the real culprits. The real responsibility lies in the hands of local institutions who are making exploitation possible by (un)intentionally closing their eyes!
More info: Exploited Labor: Migrant Workers in Italy’s Agricultural Sector