Viterbo Carabinieri police during an operation against illegal gangmastering, known in Italian as 'caporalato' | Photo: ANSA/Carbinieri
Viterbo Carabinieri police during an operation against illegal gangmastering, known in Italian as 'caporalato' | Photo: ANSA/Carbinieri

Two Italian union activists and a journalist were reportedly assaulted and threatened in Viterbo, central Italy. They were carrying out an awareness campaign for migrant workers against illegal gangmastering, known in Italian as 'caporalato'.

Marco Nati and Massimiliano Venanzi say that they and a journalist were assaulted in the fields of Viterbo on January 24. Nati is the secretary general of the local chapter of the FLAI-CGIL union for agricultural workers, Venanzi is the FLAI-CGIL Viterbo organising secretary. 

"It was a true attack, a full-blown intimidation, with threatening tones and actions, towards us and the journalist Daniele Camilli," they said. "This happens in Viterbo when one tries to defend the rights of workers, the rights of farmworkers, freedom of the press." 

Informing migrants about their rights

Nati and Venanzi said that on the evening of January 24, "we had organized a flyer-distribution campaign directly in the fields of Castel d'Asso, close to the large estates, to inform the farmworkers of their rights, specifically the right to farmworker unemployment benefits. In the fields of Viterbo, there are many migrant workers, who return home in the evening, in the dark, on their bikes, often without headlights and without any reflective gear, whon are at constant risk of being hit by a car." 

The two activists said that their union had had the idea "of handing out flyers along with neckwarmers, reflective vests, hats, and gloves." 

They described the incident as follows: "There were two DIGOS investigative police officers with us, who had been told a few days in advance about the operation. At a certain point, three cars showed up and various people got out who immediately began to insult us, catching even the police by surprise. They were telling us in threatening tones, without even saying who they were, that we had to leave, because we were on private property." 

Journalist reported on plight of migrant farmworkers

The two unionists said journalist Camilli was heavily insulted for his reporting on the conditions of migrant workers in the Tuscia area. 

Daniele Ognibene, party whip for the Free and Equal party in the Lazio regional council, was among the first politicians to comment on the incident. "The unionists were there to carry out their work and they were threatened; it's unbelievable that this happened. Maybe this will finally lead to seriously and concretely action against the plague of caporalato," Ognibene said. "The Lazio regional government has been working for some time to fight this, but we can't ever let our guard down, especially after what happened in Viterbo." 

He added: "I stand in solidarity with the members of CGIL who were threatened, and, furthermore, I thank them for their efforts. It would be appropriate for the Lazio government's Agricultural Committee to convene a roundtable with institutions at the Viterbo prefecture. Caporalato is a plague of our times and it must be fought with force." 

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