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The main goal of our workers union is to give back dignity and respect to agricultural workers

26 March 2018

On 16th January 2018, Stefano Giandrea de Angelis, a member of the Unione Sindicati di Base, gave this speech at the General Assembly of the European Coordination Via Campesina in Brussels.

The main goal of our workers union is to give back dignity and respect to agricultural workers       The original text was in Italian   Brussels, 16th January 2018   On 16th January 2018, Stefano Giandrea de Angelis, a member of the Unione Sindicati di Base, gave this speech at the General Assembly of the European Coordination Via Campesina in Brussels.     Dear friends of the European Coordination Via Campesina,   We are delighted to have received your invitation to your General Assembly. The USB (Unione Sindacale di Base) is a trade union organisation that works confederally throughout Italy.     Through its national network, which includes over 80 regional and provincial offices and hundreds of corporate headquarters, USB represents and manages workers and non-workers. It meets social demands for housing, the environment, public utilities and ensures equal rights for migrants. USB strongly rejects liberal policies that destroy livelihoods, harm regions and lead to war, racism and misery.   Currently, USB is the only trade union in Italy able to resist the authoritarian and liberal downfall our country is heading towards.   It has a horizontal structure, which makes it a more democratic organisation and allows for the workers' active participation.     USB works on a confederal basis and is active nationally, regionally and provincially. It has a practical and simple structure, divided into two broad categories: the public sector (USB Pubblico Impiego) and the private sector (USB Lavoro Privato). It also has a Federazione del Sociale which offers support to people who are employed in precarious or casual work, who have been evicted from their homes or who are unemployed, homeless, migrants or refugees etc.     Internationalism and international issues are very important to us and we are a member of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), alongside UIS-Agro.     Over the last few years, we have become involved in the agricultural sector. Across Italy, we have brought together agricultural workers who live in inhumane conditions and suffer exploitation and exclusion. It is unacceptable that there are people who suffer so much hardship in a country that is proud to be a member of the G7 and one of the founders of the European Union.     We have started to bring together agricultural workers. With the help of the Italian NGO International Centre Crossroad (Crocevia) and the farmers organisation Associazione Rurale Italiana, we witnessed different ways of life across the agricultural world. We have been working with these organisations to create alliances between small agricultural producers, consumers and workers. We have played an integral and active part in forming the Italian delegation for the second Nyeleni Europe forum, in which we participated in the discussions on agricultural workers and social conditions.     We share the same opinions as La Via Campesina. We agree with its analysis that the dominance of financial capital and large international companies influences EU decision-making in a way that is harmful to sustainable agricultural production and encourages a lack of respect for the cultural and social identity of rural communities.     In order to protect these rural communities, we believe that every member of the diverse and multi-faceted agricultural world should oppose neoliberal European capitalism. The creation of an alternative, sustainable food production model and the improvement of the relationship between producers and workers will require understanding from both sides. To ensure this, we need to develop ways to work together. We also need to build platforms to make our voices heard and to allow us to make political demands. They should target specific problems in order to achieve tangible results.         Agricultural workers have also made an important contribution to the movement. We would like to draw attention to the huge demonstration that took place in Rome on 16th December, in which more than 25,000 people participated. Most of these people were migrant agricultural workers. As we have already stated, these workers live in inhumane working, health and social conditions which violate their rights. It is in our interest to work with the member organisations of La Via Campesina in order to improve the agricultural sector and to better understand how to draw attention across all our associations to the principle of food sovereignty and the rights of these workers .   In order to achieve this, we believe that it is important to unite agricultural producers, workers and consumers behind a plan. We are trying to develop a platform from which to make demands specifically for the agricultural sector. This platform must bear in mind the impact of European policies such as the CAP.   In Italy, as in other European countries, the CAP mainly funds the agro-industry. This leads local institutions, agricultural manufacture representatives and large retail sector representatives towards an agricultural model that we reject.   By criticising this model, we should be able to start a debate across Europe that will unite the agricultural and farming worlds.     We would like to highlight certain issues that affect agricultural workers:     All companies receiving public funding for agricultural production activities must respect the rights of their workers or lose their funding.     We must consider the issue of the high number of extra European workers as a structural problem and not as an emergency. Therefore, it is unacceptable to treat the presence of migrant workers from war zones or economically underdeveloped areas as a public order problem.   Competent institutions must manage the reception and integration of migrant workers where they live and work seasonally.   In Italy, the Ministry of Labour should intervene where there is the highest proportion of workers. Currently, the Ministry of the Interior handles this matter through prefectures and the police force. Italian law guarantees transport, accommodation and health care to seasonal workers. For over 20 years, both foreign and Italian seasonal workers have been exploited  and left without any rights, accommodation or salary. They were often in the hands of the famous “Caporals”, who were involved in local crime. We must work together to improve this situation and raise awareness across Europe of these abhorrent conditions.     It could be useful to get local communities involved by holding local debates on the use of public funding for agriculture. This would lead to common approaches to local agricultural production methods, respect for seasonal workers’ conditions and the possibility for local communities to ask for European funds to welcome migrants and help them settle in the area. The allocation of part of the CAP funds to manage agricultural workers in local communities will without a doubt limit xenophobia and racism and help improve integration and respect.     Over the past few years, the Coordinamento Lavoratori Agricoli USB has worked hard to unionise farm workers by fighting for their rights. Voicing our opinions to regional authorities, prefectures and municipalities is the first step towards improving the treatment of agricultural workers.   Our priority is to identify who benefits from European and Italian public funds and to expose activities that – as the magistracy has already proven – benefit organisations that do not respect workers' rights. The main goal of our workers union is to give back dignity and respect to agricultural workers.

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