In a small town in the north of Italy, fog and humidity make parmesan cheese and ham tasty. But most of the time it smells of a tomato sauce factory and pigs. I hated life there. When I go back to my hometown, I argue with my brother who has joined a neo-fascist group, I argue with my farmer friends spraying glyphosate on their fields and with acquaintances who have transformed the historically communist region into a right-wing stronghold.
As a younger sibling, I always tended to look up to my older brother. But we had different life opportunities and ended up in very different places. One in Brussels supporting the idea of an open democratic Europe and the other rejecting the establishment and fearing the loss of identity over the arrival of immigrants to Europe.
When European votes electing the next European Parliament are counted on Sunday, the Italian far-right party League is expected to be the first party in Italy with more than 30%, it is likely to be the largest party in a number of seats – 25 and to compete to create the third largest group in the assembly.
At the rally with European far-right leaders in Milan last Saturday, Salvini wanted to boost his campaign. With the scandal of the Austrian far-right leader resigning and the small presence at the rally, he failed. But he pledged himself to opposing the Europe of finance and immigration and fighting against tax evasion for the good of the people.
In reality, Salvini’s party does not protect people’s interests. Far from rejecting the ‘establishment’ they criticize, the League has always represented the interests of corporate powers, as well as rich and powerful people. As a recent Corporate Europe study unveiled, League’s MEPs accumulated side jobs to enrich themselves, they have been investigated for fraud and bribery linked to organized crime, and they entertain long-lasting relations with the main employers’ association and none at all with trade unions.
Populists don’t respect people’s freedoms: censorship is the current modus operandi for Salvini. A teacher was suspended for letting her students compare the recent security and migration decree to the fascist racial laws on Holocaust Remembrance Day. A banner against the Interior Minister hanging on a balcony where the leader was expected to hold a meeting was removed, showing dissent is not tolerated in the country. The new security and migration decree drafted by the Interior Minister is aiming to restrict the freedom of assembly.
The League does not protect workers’ rights, it disdains them. Its voting records in the European Parliament show how they have opposed the interest of working people and low income communities. Research shows the League voted against a minimum 25 per cent corporate tax rate, opposed the creation of a pan-EU tax evasion authority and the directive to promote decent work for all workers.
Finally, the obsession with refugees and migrants coming to Italy does not reflect the contribution of immigrants in the country. Where I come from in the North of Italy, Indian Sikh and North African workers contribute substantially to our local economy. They work for and alongside farmers to grow, pick and process tomatoes: they are employed in the factory to pack cured meat, often in exploitative conditions.
On Sunday, rather than attacking migrants and refugees, fueling hatred towards already discriminated Roma communities, I will vote for the progressive parties to protect workers’ rights, fair labour conditions of work for all, and will fight for equal redistribution of wealth. I hope my brother will too.