On Monday 1 March many thousands of migrants together with other Italian workers, activists and trade unionists demonstrated in various Italian cities.
They were denouncing institutional racism under the Berlusconi government, claiming to be “the new citizens” and demanding rights to work contributions and other labour and social rights not currently available under Italian migration law.
According to the website of the committee organising the strike, a number of “firm-based trade unions” (the “Rappresentanze sindacali unitarie”) called for the strike of migrant workers.
Workers at more than 70 firms across the north and the centre of Italy participated in the “day without us”. In Brescia, in Mantua province, in Bologna, Reggio Emilia, Parma and Trento, many factories and businesses, especially in engineering but also in the food, hospitality and cleaning sectors, stopped work. In Turin the open air market of “Porta Palazzo” was closed. Also individual migrants in the retail sector in cities like Bologna decided to close their shops for a day in sign of protest.
The “day without immigrants — 24 hours without us” was originally launched by an anti-racist committee of immigrants set up more than a year ago, against the background of increasing racism, in France. In Italy a new restrictive security law criminalises migrants and denies social and economic rights to even the so called “regular” migrants. The Italian decision to join an international day of protest was made following violent attacks against migrant workers in Rosarno in January, as migrants rebelled against the mafia system in the informal economy of the agricultural sector in the region.
The migrants’ strike idea became widely-discussed thanks to the courage of a group of women who launched a Facebook campaign (which eventually gained 47,000 members).
Against the initial accusation of the risk that the strike could be turned into an “ethnic strike” by self-enclosing migrants in their communities, groups such as the “committee for the strike of migrant labour in Italy” highlighted how 1 March could be, on the contrary, a day of unity between migrants and Italians.
Many “isolated” migrant workers struck individually in their workplaces, and some factories where the strike was observed involved mainly Italian workers.
The strike was a mass demonstration of solidarity with and between migrants, and it showed the possibility that even those who are in the most precarious situation (because their right to stay in Italy is tied to a labour contract) can raise their voice against racism, exploitation and the precarisation of working conditions for all. And even in the tough conditions of recession.