Letter from Florence #1: Saggio da San Frediano

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September 7, 2017

My wife Christina and I have settled in to our life here in the San Frediano neighborhood of Florence, Italy. San Frediano is Oltrarno or on the other side of the river from the famous Duomo and the major tourist center of the city. However San Frediano, once a working class neighborhood of artisans and craftsman, was just voted the “coolest” section of Florence by Lonely Planet. The proletarian quarter that gave rise to the post World War II novel of Vasco Pratolini, “The Girls of San Frediano” is now an ascendant super hip zone. This transformation is not unlike the change that has overwhelmed the Mission District in our home city of San Francisco.

Other parallels here in Italia are more disconcerting. Forza Nuova, in shades of Charlottesville, has announced a Marcia dei Patrioti” (March of Patriots) to be held on the 28th of October. That is 95 years from the day in 1922 that 25,000 black shirts from the Partito Nazionale Fascista marched on Rome, forcibly taking power for Mussolini, beginning the twenty-year reign of Il Duce.

Forza Nuova has already been designated twice by the Supreme Court as “nazi-fascist” but continues to gather strength even winning a seat in the European Parliament. The march is being promoted on the internet and financed using PayPal. Fascism is formally outlawed in Italy by the Scelba Law of 1952 so the staging of this march/rally may be in doubt. For example Prato, a working class city in Tuscany, and not far from Florence, just passed a new regulation forbidding demonstrations “that violate national laws against propaganda that instigates racial hatred and the reconstruction of the fascist party”. Fascist demonstrations per se then are violations of the postwar constitution. But groups like Forza Nuova skate close to the edge by disavowing explicit references to a fascist party but nevertheless promoting the values of racial hatred and anti immigrant venom.

Every day the newspapers, particularly those owned by ex Premier Silvio Berlusconi dramatize alleged attacks by immigrants, usually Africans, on Italians, and particularly assaults on Italian women. One recent incident involved the death of a 4 year old Italian girl of malaria because off supposed contamination of a hospital treating refugees from Burkina Faso. Tragedies become opportunities for the far right to denounce the waves of immigrants “assaulting us on the streets and even now in the hospitals.” Here in Tuscany this summer, Samuel L. Jackson and Magic Johnson were vacationing at the beach at Forte dei Marmi. They were captured on film lounging on a bench with bags of Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Social media exploded with angry denunciations of “two African migrants taking advantage of the daily 35 Euro stipend we give them” A new twist on the old Ronald Reagan “welfare queen” slander.

Very sad News arrived in Italy on Tuesday of the Trump decision to eliminate the “dreamers” or DACA program. DACA gives children born in foreign lands but brought to the United States at a young age the right to remain and eventually apply for US citizenship. The Italian Chamber of Deputies passed an immigration reform law in 2015 that would grant “ius soli temperato” to thousands of immigrant children. “Ius soli”, Latin for a right linked to territory or soil, is the existing constitutional right of a child born in the United States to become a citizen. This right does not exist in any country in the European Union. In Italy the latest immigration law of 1992 gave automatic citizenship by “ius sanguinis” or by blood meaning that if one of two parents is Italia then the child is a citizen. The new law of 2015 that must be passed by the Senate would give citizenship to a child born in Italy of at least one parent who has been living in Italy legally for at least five years. However if the legal parent is not from the European Union then there are further qualifications of income, lodging and language.

The new law if passed would impact about 634,592 young people according to estimates from the Leone Moressa Foundation. This is a not insignificant number in a country of 61 million. Passage is not assured however. The law is supported by the Partito Democratico, the largest party in Italy, but the aforementioned neofascist Forza Nuova, and the right wing Lega Nord, both oppose the law in very visible fashion – on June 8th the Lega Nord staged a very raucous demonstration inside the Senate chambers against the “Ius soli temperato”.

More to come as October 28th approaches. Will the march be outlawed? Will the left mount a counter protest? Saggio da San Frediano will continue on The Stansbury Forum

Ciao

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About the author

Peter Olney

Peter Olney is retired Organizing Director of the ILWU. He has been a labor organizer for 40 years in Massachusetts and California. He has worked for multiple unions before landing at the ILWU in 1997. For three years he was the Associate Director of the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California. View all posts by Peter Olney →

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