Mittwoch, 6. Februar 2013

My dream is the present - Interview with Yvan Sagnet

by Daniela Sammito, from Il Clandestino - Yvan Sagnet comes from Cameroon. In 2007 he came to Italy to study, enrolling at the Turin Politecnico. In the summer of 2011, in order to fund his studies he went to work in Nardò (Puglia), where seasonal workers are hired for the tomato harvest. He found work at the Masseria di Boncuri and soon began to understand the inhumane living standards and working conditions which the caporali (black market bosses who take charge of the illegal hiring of manual workers, often immigrants) subject their labourers to. Sagnet took part in the very first independent strike to be organised by foreign farm labourers in Italy. We met him in Vittoria during a debate on "Territory and Rights", which had been organised by the trade union groups, CGIL, FLAI and the Social Cooperative, Proxima. 

Yvan, you were one of the key figures in the Nardò riots. Another event which received heavy media coverage, and also concerned the problem of caporalato, was the riots of Rosarno. Could you tell us, in your opinion, what the similarities and differences are between these two incidents?
-In Rosarno, the rioting started after an incident between an employer and a worker, then the entire world discovered what was behind it all- the exploitation, slavery, infiltration of organised crime. Yet in Nardò, the battle began as a response to the dimension of the work and the unity of the workers. It was the case of a group of workers who came together to lay claim to their rights. It was not a case of individuals, as in Rosarno. That's why there's a notable difference also in the results of the two strikes.
The results were far greater at Nardò and this was due to the unity of the workers. We managed to get a law passed against the caporalato. Businessmen and caporali were arrested. While what has actually been achieved in Rosarno two or three years after the event? Very little, apart from the fact that we still talk about it.

The introduction of caporalato as a crime was a great victory in 2011. How have things changed as a result of this new legislation?
-It was an important result because after more than 100 years of caporalato in this country, the Nardò riots led to the recognition of this phenomenon as a crime which damages workers.
Nonetheless, it is possible to complete this law, which currently only punishes the caporali. It is necessary to expand it so that employers (those who use the services of the caporali) are also punished. After all they carry the main responsibility. We knew if would not be possible to obtain concrete results after just one year because the caporalto is a very complex phenomenon which is deeply rooted in the area. It's not that the introduction of criminal charges and a year of fighting, will simply mean that all rights can be achieved. No, it is an ongoing commitment of raising awareness of the situation. It is necessary to approach the worker, offer them support and invite them to report what is happening to them to the police, providing them with the necessary support to do so.
It is a tough job which demands commitment and in just a year it has been difficult to organise everything. There are still many things yet to be done until the implementation of the law is effective.

What impression did you get of the living and work conditions of the labourers in the Province of Ragusa?
-The conditions are exactly the same as anywhere else in Italy. There is very little difference between those working in Puglia- in Rosarno or in Syracuse or Ragusa. It's the same for everyone. They are all underpaid. They all sleep in abandoned houses. None of them have their rights respected. And so the battle must continue.

In this period of profound economic crisis, when we speak about immigration and integration issues, the easiest objection to make is, "there isn't enough work for the Italians, let alone foreigners". How would you, who have lived through the experience of having your own rights denied, respond to such claims?
I don't believe so much that there really is a crisis, especially in agriculture. Because there is always demand. We all consume, every day, so therefore there has to be a market for agricultural produce. It is more that within this economic sector, especially in Italy, there has been a lack of government regulation, which has led to an inevitable culture of profit. It is not possible that a kilo of oranges or Pachino tomatoes are brought from the producer at 7 cents and then end up in a supermarket in the north of Italy for €3.50. It's necessary to reflect on such facts. On the other hand, I do not share the opinion that, just because there is the crisis, people are no longer entitled to their rights. It is necessary to look to the future in this country, which will be built of both Italian and foreign citizens. We have to try to build a society which is based on respecting the rights of all its citizens, regardless of their origins. The future of the country depends on this.

You recently published a book entitled, "Love your dream" which talks about what happened in Nardò. Can you tell us what your dream is now?
-My dream was to arrive in Italy, in this country which I fell in love with when I was young thanks to its great football players who I followed and admired. I love the present. My dream is the present. And I work to change the present and to improve the future. A better present will undoubtedly lead to a better future, a future which corresponds to our dreams.

Borderline Sicilia