The correspondent of L’espresso
picking tomatoes in the field
by Fabrizio Gatti
Exploited. Underpaid. Lodged in filthy shacks. Beaten to death if they complain. Diary of a week in hell amidst the foreign laborers in the province of Foggia
The boss wears a white shirt, black trousers and dusty shoes. He’s from Puglia, but he hardly speaks Italian. To make himself understood he seeks the assistance of his bodyguard, a Maghrebin who is in charge of keeping everything under control in the fields. “Find out what this guy wants. If he’s looking for work, tell him we don’t need anyone, today.” The boss speaks in dialect and drives away in his SUV.
The Maghrebin speaks perfect Italian. He doesn’t wear any stripes on his sweaty shirt but it’s quite obvious that he’s the caporale, the “gang master.” “Are you from Romania?” A grimace is all it takes to convince him. “I can hire you. Tomorrow,” he promises. “Do you have a girl friend?” “A girlfriend?” “You have to bring me a woman. For the boss. If you bring him one, he’ll put you to work right away. Any girl will do.” He points to a twenty year-old woman and her companion, working on the conveyor belt of a huge tractor that is being used to gather tomatoes. “Those two are Romanians, just like you. She slept with the boss.” “But I’m alone.” “No work for you then.”