Protesters in Florence marching against Italy’s anti-migrant ‘security decrees’ were initially barred from entering the city center and reaching the Piazza del Duomo. But by the end of the “March of Freedom,” they had, in fact, accomplished this goal.
“We made it to the Piazza Duomo. But if we were to tell such a story to our French comrades, who have been striking for weeks, they would think it was fake news,” a protester told us with a smile at the end of the march.
The protesters were also calling for the revocation of the fines against the workers from Prato, who, after exercising their fundamental right to strike in front of the gates of their employer, were handed fines of tens of thousands of euros for obstructing traffic. Among those fined were also two high school students who had protested in solidarity with them. It was yet another addition to the endless list of collateral damage from the so-called “Salvini decrees.”
They had initially been restricted by the authorities to a short course of only 600 meters. After a meeting of the regional Committee for Order and Safety, where around 1,500 people had gathered in the afternoon, they were told to march no further than Piazza San Marco.
“Invoking confused and transparent pretexts, attempts were made to justify the restriction of the freedom to demonstrate,” accused Regional Councilor Tommaso Fattori, who was present at the march. “They said we must stay outside the center because on Saturdays there are many people taking a walk there. In short, the idea is that protesting is fine, as long as it’s done at night and on back streets where no one can see you. And all the more so if some of the marchers happen to be dark-skinned workers.“
Many of the marchers were indeed immigrants, since the strike at the Superlativa dry cleaners, run by Chinese entrepreneurs who had absolutely no intention of hiring people on regular contracts, began with the protest of Pakistani and African workers, who were being forced to work seven days a week, in shifts of up to 12 hours, for less than €1,000 per month.
These workers, organized around the SI COBAS base union, have been trying to improve their working conditions for months. The result is that those who have protested are facing months-long delays in wage payments, as the company prefers to pay fines, even large ones, rather than accept the collectively bargained contracts for the sector. “It’s because whatever happens, they earn more money that way,” Luca Toscano of SI COBAS points out. “By exploiting the workers, they easily make back the money they have to pay in fines.”
In the end, the march, rallying behind banners with the slogans “Free from the Salvini decrees, No to fines” and “Prato stands with the workers,” managed to arrive in Piazza Duomo, thanks to the courage of most of the demonstrators, who crossed Via San Jacopo and Piazza San Francesco and marched toward their initial goal.
Toscano himself laid the SI COBAS banner on the front of the Palazzo Pretorio and shouted with great joy before the crowd: “The workers have won the right to demonstrate peacefully for their rights.” Edoardo Todaro agreed: “We have put them on notice, because if they get into the habit of fining striking workers who are setting up picket lines in front of their workplaces, the freedom to protest would be under serious threat.”
Everything took place peacefully; only later, when there were few people left in the square, there were some tensions followed by the intervention of the police.
Among the protesters were many activists from Rifondazione Communista, including their Florentine secretary, Dmitrji Palagi, city councilor Antonella Bundu, and, as always, Massimo Torelli of Firenze Città Aperta and the young men and women from Potere al Popolo.
The flags of ANPI and ARCI, who supported the event, were also clearly visible, as well as those of the “sardines” from Prato, who were keen to make their voices heard: “We are in the streets to say that we want more rights, more dignity in the workplace and more solidarity, and to call, loud and clear, for the repeal of the security decrees.”
One could also note the presence of a number of M5S activists, as well as that of the two PD city councilors, Monia Faltoni and Matilde Rosati, despite the fact that their party had distanced itself from the initiative.
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