MILAN — In an effort to heighten awareness about the contributions made by foreign workers to the Italian economy, the promoters of the first strike by immigrants in the country invited workers to stay home and to boycott shopping for one day.
Similar protests took place in other European countries on Monday (the initiative started in France and found supporters in Spain and Greece, as well). A comparable boycott, “A Day Without Immigrants,” championing full rights for immigrants living in the United States, took place in 2006.
But demonstrations Monday had a particular resonance in Italy, where anti-immigrant rhetoric has increased recently in anticipation of regional elections at the end of the month, and where foreign labor makes up nearly 10 percent of the work force.
While introducing one electoral initiative last week, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi accused the left of “wanting an invasion of immigrants,” only to strengthen the opposition’s electoral basis.
Around Milan, electoral posters for the anti-immigrant Northern League party depicted a Native American Indian chieftain with the slogan: “They put up with immigration, now they live on reserves.”
But various studies suggest that immigrant labor has become a fundamental component of the Italian economy.
“Many Italians are convinced that immigrants are a burden, but in fact they have a very positive effect on our welfare system,” said Maurizio Ambrosini, a professor of the sociology of migration at the University of Milan, pointing out that Italian families have become increasingly dependant on foreign caregivers to look after their children and elderly parents. The construction industry, too, is heavily dependant on foreigners, particularly from East European countries, he added. “If anything, Italy constantly needs new waves of immigrants,” he said.
Statistics published last autumn by the Catholic Caritas Migrants foundation suggested that the 4.5 million legal immigrants in Italy (about 7.2 percent of the population) contribute about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, often in jobs snubbed by Italians. To read full New York Times story — Go Here Now.
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