The opportunity to convince others came when the caporal decided to require all workers to start picking tomatoes one by one instead of scooping them in bunches, a slower technique which meant working longer for the same amount of money. For Sagnet and his colleagues, that was unacceptable considering the little they were already getting paid. When the gang master refused to listen, they decided to stop working, launching a minirevolt.
“I discovered the dark side of Italy. A side made of ghettos, with migrants living in inhumane conditions, often sleeping either on the ground, in tents, or in makeshift shacks.”
In addition, charges were eventually brought against the gang masters and farmers who had exploited the workers, leading to a 2017 trial in which 12 people were convicted of enslavement and human trafficking.After the uprising, Sagnet started working for CGIL. “I asked [CGIL] to change their approach: to go into the fields and see the exploitation for themselves.” By taking that approach, Sagnet adds, “We discovered that the same system that was in place in Nardò was widespread.”Sagnet has since made it a priority to raise awareness among migrant agricultural workers—who, according to his estimates, make up 60 percent of this seasonal workforce. “Workers in the ghettos don’t know what unions are,” he tells me. “They do not speak Italian or have access to information. They think it’s normal to live and work like that. Without help, there can be no investigations or arrests.”On the contrary, he adds, if workers aren’t involved, “those who exploit us and put us in those conditions will always win. Authorities are either slow, or complicit, or corrupt. What I’m seeing is a class struggle going on—but at the moment there’s just one side, the one represented by power.” Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
“Our cause showed immigrants in a different, positive light,” he says. “After all, it was everybody’s struggle.”