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Immigrants Rally for a Nationwide Strike in Italy

by : ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
Wednesday March 3, 2010 - 23:54

By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO

MILAN — In an effort to heighten awareness about the contributions made by foreign workers to the Italian economy, the promoters of the first strike by immigrants in the country invited workers to stay home and to boycott shopping for one day.

Similar protests took place in other European countries on Monday (the initiative started in France and found supporters in Spain and Greece, as well). A comparable boycott, “A Day Without Immigrants,” championing full rights for immigrants living in the United States, took place in 2006.

But demonstrations Monday had a particular resonance in Italy, where anti-immigrant rhetoric has increased recently in anticipation of regional elections at the end of the month, and where foreign labor makes up nearly 10 percent of the work force.

While introducing one electoral initiative last week, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi accused the left of “wanting an invasion of immigrants,” only to strengthen the opposition’s electoral basis.

Around Milan, electoral posters for the anti-immigrant Northern League party depicted a Native American Indian chieftain with the slogan: “They put up with immigration, now they live on reserves.”

But various studies suggest that immigrant labor has become a fundamental component of the Italian economy.

“Many Italians are convinced that immigrants are a burden, but in fact they have a very positive effect on our welfare system,” said Maurizio Ambrosini, a professor of the sociology of migration at the University of Milan, pointing out that Italian families have become increasingly dependant on foreign caregivers to look after their children and elderly parents. The construction industry, too, is heavily dependant on foreigners, particularly from East European countries, he added. “If anything, Italy constantly needs new waves of immigrants,” he said.

Statistics published last autumn by the Catholic Caritas Migrants foundation suggested that the 4.5 million legal immigrants in Italy (about 7.2 percent of the population) contribute about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, often in jobs snubbed by Italians.

In its most recent annual report, issued last May, the Bank of Italy estimated that in 2006 foreigners “contributed about 4 percent to revenue from personal income tax, V.A.T. and excise duties, social security contributions, and the regional tax on productive activities.” More specifically, foreign residents contributed “around €4.5 billion in personal income tax and just under €10 billion in social security contributions, equivalent to 3 and 5 percent respectively of revenue from these two items,” according to the bank’s report, which also found that “the increase in the supply of labor resulting from immigration does not seem, on average, to have had negative effects on the wages or job prospects of the native population.”

“Immigrants come here to work, they’re funding our pensions, it makes sense to integrate them,” said Ciro Piscelli, a left-leaning municipal councilman for the town of Rozzano, in the Milanese hinterland. He was one of several hundred people who met in front of Milan City Hall on Monday morning in support of the strike. Like many other southern Italians, Mr. Piscelli emigrated to Lombardy from his native Naples in the 1970s, so he said he “spoke from experience.” Immigrants, he said, “are a resource.”

But such considerations seem to take a back seat whenever trouble involving immigrants arises. Calls to toughen up immigration policies multiplied last month, after rioting between immigrant groups disrupted a Milanese neighborhood last month.

And studies suggest that racist sentiments are rising in Italy, especially among the young. Research commissioned by the national and regional governments and presented to the lower house last month found that nearly half of Italians between the ages 18 and 29 express varying degrees of xenophobic or racist sentiments. “Young people themselves say that they perceive racism as increasing,” said Enzo Risso, the director of the SWG research institute that carried out the survey.

Jorge Carazas, one of the speakers at the rally Monday, came to Italy from Argentina 10 years ago. “We are the country’s new citizens and we want to send politicians a clear message,” he said. “No matter what racist tones the government chooses to adopt, we’re not going anywhere. This is our home.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/02/w...



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