The Eligibility of Work: Some Notes on Immigrants, Reputation and Crime. In Paul Ponsaers and Joanna Shapland (eds.), “The Informal Economy and Organised Crime: The Effects of National and Social Policies”. The Hague: Boom, 2009, pp. 65-78.

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This paper discusses the findings of an ethnographic study on the relationships between Italians and immigrants in their work environments and outside. The study was carried out in Sicily and Le Marche in the period 2002-2004. In particular, the

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  In: Paul Ponsaers and Joanna Shapland (Eds.), The informal economy and connections with organised crime: the impact of national, social and economic policies  , The Hague: Boom, 2009, pp. 65-78. PIETRO SAITTA  (University of Messina)   THE ELIGIBILITY OF WORK: SOME NOTES ON IMMIGRANTS,REPUTATION AND CRIME1. Introduction to the field: Sicily and Le Marche – 2. Work, crime – 3.Suspicion and trust – 4. The ineligibility of work – 5. Conclusions1.   Introduction to the field: Sicily and Le Marche  This paper discusses some of the findings of an ethnographic study I carried out inSicily and Le Marche in the period 2002-2004. 1 In particular, I analyse the cases of Mazara del Vallo and Urbino, two areas characterised not only by differenteconomies but by significantly different political and social fabrics. The former issituated in a relatively depressed area, and its economy is based on traditionalactivities and farming, a somewhat backward tertiary industry, and anunderdeveloped tourist industry aimed above all at a local public; lastly, it ischaracterised by high levels of illegal work. Urbino, meanwhile, is distinguished by small and medium-sized enterprises, a medium-sized university which fuels therented property market and by “whistle-stop” tourism with a limited economicimpact.On the face of it, the two areas seem difficult to compare, and the reason I infact did so is due to the fact that I was interested in observing the settlement modelsof two national groups: Moroccans and Tunisians, foreign born, who are widely present in the areas and play a “structural” 2 role for local economies. In particular, Icompared the trajectories of these groups, and tried to understand if it is true, assuggested by certain commonly held beliefs and generalisations, that “typical” 1 The full results of the study are presented in P. Saitta (2007). 2 “Structure” is a key-concept in economics and it has stimulated many nuanced analyses. With regardto the European labor market and the (structural) role played in it by the immigrants, a simple buteloquent definition is provided by J.F. Hollifield (1992: 91), who defines foreign workers as “[A]necessary pool of surplus labor that could be more easily hired and fired in times of crisis”.  T HE INFORMAL ECONOMY AND CONNECTIONS WITH ORGANISED CRIME   66cultural features influence settlement models 3 and if work really helps immigrantsintegrate in Italian society. 4  In order to deal with the second point, I referred to classic theories such asthose of K. Lewin (1951) on “punishing socialisation”, according to whichindividuals who share risks and inferior social positions tend to develop bonds witheach other which may help them deal with the difficulties encountered in a hostileenvironment. Even though Lewin’s theory dates back to an almost extinct age – thatof the Fordian factory, class solidarity, and mobilisation of the masses – it seemed worth dusting it off for various reasons. It in fact referred not so much to thepolitical and class aspects in the strict sense as to forms of “natural” solidarity: thoseforms of closeness we can find inside a wide range of “totalising” environments,such as boarding schools, clinics and, without doubt, factories. Not even the age of “opulence” had affected these types of relations, as J. Goldthorpe, D. Lockwood, F.Bechhofer et al. (1968) had observed. I thus thought it plausible that our own age,characterised by reduced guarantees, the increasingly precarious nature of work andgrowing insecurity  5 , could also be studied using Lewin’s theory, since it referred topsychological and almost innate dynamics rather than to the “spirit of the times”. The functionality of certain relations had more to do with nature than culture, so tospeak. It seemed to me, then, that if I found forms of solidarity between nationalgroups (Italians and foreigners), this would demonstrate that the supporters of the“integrationist theory of work” were right. Consequently, equipped with this tool, I went into the field to study the relations between North African and Italian workers.I first examined the situation in farming, fishing and other sectors of “legal butillegally run” work in Sicily, and subsequently went to Urbino to observe the socialdynamics in an industrialised region where the foreign workers are mainly resident 3 When I was planning this research, in the early part of the decade, it was not rare to hear publicspeeches emphasising the “cultural” (or “natural”, no less) propensity of certain groups for certainactivities. Typically, on the basis of these generalisations, the Chinese were shopkeepers; Filipinos,domestic staff; Albanians and Romanians, criminals. The habit of attributing “cultural traits” or“natural traits” to national individuals and groups (or to “races”) is deep-rooted, and a tendency foundin every historical period characterised by the movement of people. The fact that it was necessary todismantle certain associations was something that already appeared evident to F. Boas (1911) at thebeginning of the last century. The historical material on these issues is vast. By way of example, I would merely like to mention here W.F. Whyte’s introduction to Street Corner Society  (1983) and hisdescription of the anti-Italian climate in Boston in the 1930s and 40s. 4 The rhetoric of common sense, and social action by the third sector or local bodies, as well as thepolicies of immigration control implemented in Italy, emphasise the role of work in establishing theintegration of foreigners and in limiting the phenomena of crime (see, for example, the recent “anti-Romanian” decree issued in the wake of the murder of Giovanna Reggiani in Rome; but this is acommon feature of legislation in the field from the 1980s onwards). In brief, work would allow survival, generate processes of socialisation and encourage reciprocal acknowledgement (especially by Italians towards foreigners, who would finally be acknowledged as honest and “equal” subjects). 5 I could mention many particular studies on the sense of insecurity and the consequences of theseperceptions in Italy (see, for example, the periodical  Mappe  (‘maps’) by the sociologist I. Diamanti inthe newspaper “La Repubblica”). Here, I would merely like to mention a couple of general, and intheir own way classic studies: those by R. Sennett (1998) and U. Beck (2000).   T HE ELIGIBILITY OF WORK  : SOME NOTES ON IMMIGRANTS , REPUTATION AND CRIME   67and in work, and where the presence of immigrants is unanimously acknowledged as“structural” (M. Ambrosini, 1999). 6   To summarise briefly, the conclusions I reached observing widely different working environments is that work has ceased to be a catalyst for integration. As weknow, the contemporary ethic is no longer merely work-oriented, and does notattribute work with a central role in identity-creation processes. As said by J.Habermas (1972; 1986), contemporary identity is generally fragmented, and thismeans that a vast number of Italians who share working spaces and time withforeigners do not feel any affinity with these new members of the working class(“ethnic” workers). In general, Italians are by now unable to experience a sense of community based on the traditional values of the class, and do not see foreigners as‘comrades’. In other words, on the whole, the locals seem unable to go beyond thesrcinal images of otherness, i.e. those attributed to foreigners when the immigrationphenomenon first began. The identities attributed to people, in other words theimages of the other  , are usually dynamic, but as far as immigrants are involved, we witness a sort of jamming of those cognitive mechanisms which lead individuals andpeoples to gradually transform their point of view with regard to the information attheir disposal. We thus find that work does not help determine a sense of belonging to thecommunity for foreigners either. To be more precise, work fosters in them theconviction that they are “subjects with rights”, that they are earning credit within theoverall system in which they live and work, and to which they actively contribute; buton the other hand, they do not often develop feelings of affection towards Italians.Basically, they do not feel part of the group. When we add to this perceptionobjective conditions of exploitation and the impossibility of seeing work as a vehicleof promotion, then we have the basic conditions for involvement in criminalactivities or in “mixed” careers, which alternate or combine legal and illegal activities. 2.   Work, crime  Originally my study dealt mainly with themes related to the labour markets, tocultural and ethnic dynamics and to various methodological issues involved inethnographic practice; but I believe it is also correlated to a new direction in Italianresearch into immigration and criminality. I developed this idea after reading recentpapers by D. Melossi (2007), K. Calavita (2007) and A. Sbraccia (2007) on the“processes of criminalisation”. Basically, the question that these scholars deal with isthe “eligibility” of work. In particular, what they ask is whether working is “moreeligible” than committing crimes. To put it differently, is it true that throughemployment in legal activities, immigrants boost their status and self-esteem? By  6 To avoid any risk of misunderstanding, it should be pointed out that the presence of employees is asstructural in the North as it is in the South. However, it seems to me that the majority of studies in thefield of economic and labour sociology dealing with immigration have focused on the north. For thisreason, I feel that there are unanimous views as far as regards central and northern Italy, but someuncertainty as far as regards the south.  T HE INFORMAL ECONOMY AND CONNECTIONS WITH ORGANISED CRIME   68extending my srcinal field of research, I will try and tackle this issue, starting by looking at people employed in greenhouses, on fishing boats or in dangerousindustries. In particular, I will analyse various structural and environmental elements which, such as those examined by Sbraccia 7 , may lead many immigrants to abandonlegal activities or commit crimes episodically. As I start to discuss the elements mentioned above, I should firstly mentionthat the elements I found in the field are not particularly srcinal. In other words, Idon’t think I can add much to the long list of problems affecting the Italian labourmarket and the “legal milieu” that serves as a backdrop to immigration (withlegislation and government offices which are in general inefficient, slow andunhelpful). Luckily, the majority of the existing deformities have been extensively explored by scholars from a variety of disciplines, the media and many institutionsfrom the public or third sector. 8 Similarly, the extension of the illegal labour market is well known, 9 as is the degree of exploitation to which immigrants are subjected (andnot only them, as the recent deaths of Italian workers in a large factory such as Thyssenkrupp remind us) in small and large industries, building sites andgreenhouses, where pesticides and poisons are extensively used with little or noconsideration given to the health and safety of the workers. 10   What, then, is the aim of my research? Above all, it focuses on relationalaspects. In fact, one of questions I raised at the beginning revolved around how work affects the “social distance” separating native people and foreigners. To summarise,the issue is whether foreign and Italian workers start to “share a world” 11 by virtue of the long hours spent together in the fields, on ships or in factories. If we prefer,another way of putting the question is whether immigrants’ reputations as workersand people is positively influenced by their employment in local labour markets.I think that the answer to these questions is ‘no’. 7 It is not easy to faithfully present here Sbraccia’s complicated analysis. Here we can howeverremember that his investigation deals with “oscillating” biographies. The life stories of theprotagonists in his study in fact oscillate between “legal” and “deviant” careers. The people heinterviews in prison pay the price of a “flexible legality”, which sees them move between differentlegal statuses, “normal” and criminal occupations, between different forms of rationality, betweengood and bad fortune. The relationship with work seems to me to represent the backdrop to this typeof conduct, eternally suspended between will and passiveness. 8 Considering its vastness, it is impossible to give an overview of the critical literature on the issue.Here I would merely like to mention the reports by the Commission for the Integration of Immigrantsedited by G. Zincone (2000; 2001) and the annual reports published by the charity organisation,Caritas. 9    According to the Italian statistics institute ISTAT, in 2004 the added value produced by theunderground economy accounted for a minimum of 16.6% of the GDP (around 230bn euros) and amaximum of 17.7% (around 246bn euros). According to the State Revenue Office, in 2002, 63.6% of companies illegally employed one or more workers. In 2005, also according to ISTAT figures, around6 million illegal workers were recorded. 10 I could be wrong, but it seems to me that sociological research on employment issues has neglectedto investigate accidents at work in detail and from a micro-sociological perspective. For some generaland prevalently statistical details, the fundamental source of reference is the  Notiziario Statistico dell’Inail  ,together with the other series of publications issued by this body. 11 The reference to E. Husserl and his idea of “worlds of life”, and to P. Berger and T. Luckman(1966) should be clear.   T HE ELIGIBILITY OF WORK  : SOME NOTES ON IMMIGRANTS , REPUTATION AND CRIME   69 With reference to the first point, correlated to the construction of a commonuniverse of meanings, my impression is that the sharing of working hours andpremises (“working together”, in other words) does not generally lead to any closeness between the members of different national groups. Naturally, there areexceptions and, occasionally, Italians and foreigners can develop friendships or enjoy good relations with each other. Even so, the majority of the Italian and immigrant workers I interviewed agree on the fact that they tend to have stronger relations withtheir compatriots. Personally, I tend to interpret this tendency as being correlated, wecould say, to “everyday” motivations. For example, many immigrants maintain thatthey tend to spend breaks in the company of their compatriots. In fact, they want torelax and the ambient noise does nothing to simplify dialogue with the locals (due tothe language problems that slow down communication). 12 Consequently, the majority of these periods, during which people could potentially foster friendly relations, arenot used for “social” ends. The same holds true for the other side. Just like theimmigrants, the Italians also tend to frequent their compatriots during breaks. And what do they talk about in these moments? Ordinary things related to life, naturally (family, football, children, girls, cars); but also problems regarding work, people’sattitudes, tensions with colleagues. Foreign colleagues in particular, are often thesubject of their complaints. More specifically, Italian workers accuse immigrants(those belonging to certain national groups more than others) of being lazy,unproductive, arrogant, unprofessional, ignorant and of “getting paid for slacking”.If explicitly asked, Italian employees can provide many examples of their foreigncolleagues’ attitude. Obviously, the majority of these stories confirm the point of  view that Moroccan and Tunisian workers are unreliable and unprofessional (“Iasked him to bring me 62 blocks, and they come in packs of 30. So the forklift truck driver, who is Moroccan, brought me three packs of 30. I told him I only needed 62,not 90, and to bring me two from open packs. So then he brought me five. He doesthis kind of thing because he doesn’t count – maybe he doesn’t know how to count! -or because he doesn’t want to waste time. And I’ve never seen a Moroccan hurry!”). This type of comment is fairly common among Italian employees, and I have heardsimilar stories when talking to people ranging from factory workers to engineers onfishing boats. Whatever the case, these comments reflect the locals’ perspective. Theimmigrants’ point of view is somewhat different, however. They maintain that they  work like slaves, that they are underpaid, that they are not respected by theiremployers and that they are asked to perform dangerous jobs or tasks for which they do not have particular skills (“I slipped into the engine of the machine... as big as aroom ... and I had to pull the piece out. I didn’t know what to do and a part of the 12 Both factories and fish boats are very noisy environments. As a Tunisian fisherman told me once:“You don’t talk on the boat. You scream all the time…!”. In a way, this condition makes these twomilieus, boats and factories, very alike. On the other way round, the countryside is certainly moresilent, in spite of the traitors and the other machineries. But the workers are here mostly foreignersand natives of the same country (or linguistic area). Therefore, I argue that it may be interesting toobserve the interactions among ethnic and national workers in a calmer environment: Results may bein that case slightly different.
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