SOAS University of London

Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

Bordering the surplus population across the Mediterranean: Imperialism and forced labour in Libya and the Italian countryside

Lucia Pradella, King’s

Date: 20 November 2019Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 20 November 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: KLT

Type of Event: Seminar

In August 2018 hundreds of workers took on the streets of southern Italy against the killing of sixteen African workers in two accidents in overcrowded vans on the way home from the fields. On the same days, in Libya, Eritrean immigrants and refugees escaped detention camps and marched to Tripoli to oppose being sold like "slaves". These two moments of protest are closely linked to each other: not only, in many cases, the same immigrants who marched in Italy came through the desert, Libya and the Mediterranean Sea; both protests were directed against conditions that result from a unitary process of accumulation. In this paper we analyse the development of unfree labour in Italian agriculture against the backdrop of EU and Italian imperialism in Libya, focusing on the period following the 2007/8 global economic crisis and the 2011 uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Marx's analysis of the global reserve army of labour, we argue, provides us with tools for understanding contemporary "border imperialism": the process by which imperialism securitizes the border against the immigrants it displaces, criminalizing them and racially discriminating against them in order to increase their exploitation. Tracing the workings of EU and Italian border imperialism across the Mediterranean Sea highlights the link between the pillaging of Libyan resources and the exploitation of immigrant workers in Libya and in Italian agriculture, as well as the role of the Italian state in facilitating and enforcing this process, regulating and containing the conflicts it entails. As immigrant workers' strikes and uprisings have shown, for many immigrants and asylum seekers Italian agriculture is only a stage of a migratory project aimed at their social, economic and political emancipation. The development of the global reserve army and immigration thus generate both challenges and possibilities for the labour movement. 

The events are free and open to the public. Registration is not required.

Organiser: Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies