Foggia (Italy): migrant farm workers stop industrial tomato supply chain for 6 hours

farm workers stop tomato supply chain

On 25th August, farm workers enacted a total blockade of two of the largest tomato processing factories in Europe, located in the industrial hub in the outskirts of Foggia, Apulia.

It was a big day for farm workers' struggle, which goes on since last September: 400 farm workers went on strike and stopped the processing and delivery of industrial tomato for more than six hours. The action affected two huge companies, Futuragri S.C.A. and Princes Industrie Alimentari S.r.L., a subsidiary of the multinational Princes Ltd, owned for its largest share by the Mitsubishi Group. The blockade aimed to tie the companies to their responsibilities for the appalling living and working conditions to which farm workers are subjected, as a result of the low price that industries and supermarkets pay for raw produce.

Many truck drivers also expressed their solidarity with the struggle given the working conditions imposed on them by the companies, which unlawfully force drivers to long waits outside the factories before they can offload their cargo, without any form of compensation for the time they spend in forced inactivity.

This is the last episode in a mobilisation that continues since last September, and that demands both the regularisation of all workers without residency permits and the respect of collective labour agreements, blatantly violated in all their provisions. Workers should have the right to free transport and housing, whilst they work without any form of guarantee or insurance for salaries that amount to half the minimum wage, way above the established working hours. As a result, they live in shantytowns and abandoned farmhouses, often controlled by gangmasters, without electricity and water, in conditions which lead to the deterioration of their physical and psychological wellbeing. Yet, since 2008 the agro-industrial sector in Italy has increased its profits, and the tomato industry alone is worth more than 3 billion euros a year, with the district of Foggia farming just under half the total amount of processed tomatoes in the country, Italy being the lead producer of peeled tomatoes in the world. Princes alone processes around 40% of all tomato farmed in Foggia, which it exports all over the world (mainly to the UK). But tomato is not the sole crop farmed in the area. According to official data, which does not take into account the widespread employment of irregular labour, migrant farm workers in the district of Foggia amount to over 20,000.

Thanks to the blockade, workers obtained written assurance that the national association of canning industries (ANICAV) will participate in a multilateral meeting, together with distributors' and farmers' associations, in which workers will demand that those who control the agroindustrial sector take responsibility for the enforcement of labour agreements along the whole chain. Workers also obtained a meeting with the Chief of Police, in order to discuss the regularisation of those without permits, which started earlier this year thanks to the struggle but which needs to reach the totality of non-EU workers and proceed at a faster pace. For this reason, a commitment at the level of the Italian government is necessary, also given the flurry of officials' declarations, policy measures and bill proposals which have been issued on the subject of eradicating farm-labour exploitation. Workers' requests notwithstanding, the national government, for its part, preferred to hide behind a wall of silence.

We are aware that this is only the beginning, but we acknowledge that today is a historical day for farm workers struggles!

WE STILL NEED YES!!

Comitato Lavoratori delle Campagne
Rete Campagne in Lotta