Naples. Italy. “We are torn between a health disaster and a socio-economic disaster”. The protests last night and this afternoon in Naples reveal a situation of very high tension, in which the problems related to the pandemic containment measures are linked to more structural political and social issues.
Originally published by Dinamo Press on October 24, 2020. Written by Sarah Gainsforth. Translated by Enough 14.
Yesterday evening in Naples there were protests in the city center, culminating in clashes with the police in front of the Palazzo della Regione (Palace of the Region). “You close us, you pay us”: the demands of the square seem to be the result of an economic and social crisis exacerbated by measures to combat the health emergency, but is a consequence of structural problems affecting the labor fabric of the capital of Campania. Many have also spoken of infiltration by organized crime and the willingness of the far-right to try to lead the mobilizations. Meanwhile, even during a demonstration promoted this afternoon by workers in the entertainment industry, precarious and unemployed, there have been charges by the police. We tried to analyze the situation with activist Alfonso De Vito.
Dinamo Press: Commenting on last night’s protests in Naples, you emphasized the economic context and how the containment measures of the pandemic will affect the latter…
Alfonso De Vito: The situation that was created in Naples was announced, we wrote it, we said it. In Naples there is a very bad climate for some time, of great concern. The social fabric of the city came out exhausted from last spring, when the pandemic only touched the city and the region. But from the point of view of containment measures, restrictions and socio-economic consequences, the impact has been equivalent, since it is a more fragile fabric than that in other parts of Italy. In this sense, there had already been a great deal of suffering, partly mitigated by a series of subsidies in all directions, but there was also a great deal of disappointment with respect to the subsidies promised and which never arrived. One of the segments most immediately affected by the first measures is the one related to the tourism economy, the service sector, has suffered a strong downturn. We are talking about an economic segment that we often criticize, which can be traced back to that particularly unstable and unequal development model, because it is linked to income, which distributes the crumbs like rain. But it is clear that this sector, the only one in which we have seen some of the very little “development” that there has been in recent years in Naples, is dependent on the survival of a part of the city.
In fact, all of the economy linked to recreational consumption, clubs, nightlife and precariousness, only partly skilled, which comes from weaker social classes, has been affected. It is clear that the measures to contain the pandemic have a very strong impact on these realities and produce a protest that, beyond ideological readings, is clearly a mixed, spurious, transversal protest. Inside there is the small entrepreneur, the manager of a local shop, of activities that are now on the verge of closure, there is a large segment of unsecured precariousness, of undeclared work, which in view of the closures is not covered by any social shock absorber.
Last spring the first effect of the closures was already the firing and the setting aside of the entire black, informal, precarious workforce, because many of the managers of premises had to downsize their business. On the other hand, there is also the dealer who made money in this period, speculating on nightlife and tourism, which at the first difficulty fires its employees. In short, “all together passionately” and confusedly protesting against a real suffering, a break that this situation creates, and especially against the nightmare of a lockdown announced without any social parachute.
Many have spoken of “denialism”. What are the demands of the square?
Last night’s demonstration did not have a denialist character. Maybe it had some component, some subjectivity, but where it manifested itself it was probably due to the need to grasp a narrative that justified the possibility for activities and practices to continue to remain open. The banners that were present both at the sit-in via Pignatelli, where there were about two to three thousand people, and among the thousand people who moved to the headquarters of the Campania Region, were as follows: “You close us, you pay us”. Even the interviews carried out under the Region after the clashes offer a very significant cross-section of the social structure: from the barman to the cleaning lady, to the merchant forced to close, in short, a diverse picture. This precariousness of the consumer and tourism industry is the tip of the iceberg of tens of thousands of people, of precarious people, of families, who live in this city of informal work, of undeclared work, of unguaranteed work.
Naples does not have an employment built on big enterprises. To implement very strong restrictions, reaching a regional lockdown established with very little notice, in this context, it is obvious that it provokes a very strong feeling of uneasiness. There had already been a demonstration the night before, at the regional administration building and similar ones in other parts of the province that have a strong commercial influence, so it is therefore difficult to hypothesize a big conspiracy theory behind these protests. All the more so because we are talking about Vincenzo De Luca, the man who carried out a huge Christian Democrat operation around the elections, bringing in a bit of everything, both in terms of political representation and in terms of social blocs. He has really incorporated everyone, also because of the many contracts, because Campania has raked with Covid-19 all the resources available and has made use of them in a way that can be criticized, but in short, the race on the bandwagon of the winner is explained by the expectation of the possible funds of the Recovery Fund.
In short, it is difficult to think that in this scenario Vincenzo De Luca is at the center of a political attack. His style is very aggressive, at the edge of contemptuous, and it twisted against him: in Via Pignatelli there was a composition of merchants but also of young people tired of being pointed out as Quacksalber. But in short, who could have orchestrated a protest in this context?
So who is responsible then?
Many people in the square yesterday accused both the Government and De Luca for this situation in front of the cameras. Instead of saying “the virus does not exist” many said “what the fuck did you do this summer”: they feel like those who have already paid a price, last spring, when everything was more understandable because they were faced with a new phenomenon, a disaster, but now they consider the possibility of paying a price that they are not able to cope with far less acceptable, also because a series of interventions promised in April and May have never materialized.
Many people have never seen the money. Naples then has an epidemiological memory: last spring even the kids disappeared from the streets. But today people are exhausted, the pandemic in Naples is affecting a fragile context, both in economic and health terms. Moreover, it was known that there would be a second wave, but they did not prepare the health system, they did not take social measures and today it seems to take us by surprise.
The situation is serious. The problem is that we are torn between a health disaster and a socio-economic disaster. The right to health is contrasted with the economic conditions of a part of the population. This is the precondition for a perfect disaster. De Luca himself admits that the contagion is out of control, that they are not able to do contact tracing, Campania has done less masks than Regions with similar numbers of cases. With a shattered health system, I believe that right now De Luca is scared of a definitive collapse of the health system and that Campania will be the first region to capitulate in phase two of the pandemic. In this case the consensus he has gathered would disappear very rapidly.
What role does the Camorra play in this scenario?
The Camorra is always used as the key to “explain” Naples, sometimes it is a sort of intellectual exorcism. Obviously the narratives about the role of the Camorra in the protests have an element of truth, but we are talking about a segment of the city’s economy in which undoubtedly a certain type of entrepreneurship has invested, in which a part of the urban subproletariat is employed, moreover in an unsecured way, that surely gravitates into the criminal world. I live in a popular part of the Spanish Quarters and there are zero social shock absorbers. A part of this reality explodes, without alternatives. This mechanism pushes a part of the population into the illegal economy.
But this is a part of the drama, more than a sign of “guilt”! This is the picture of a crisis and inside it lies the real composition of this city. Of course, some people expect the riots to be carried out by the Bolsheviks, probably, but that’s how I saw it, when I was in the square to understand how it was composed. What I saw did not surprise me, we have been saying for some time: to implement a lockdown without a social parachute means to work with a time bomb. And I don’t think this applies only for Naples.
Certainly, in Naples some contradictions may have more extreme expressions than elsewhere, but one cannot moralize about the way these contradictions are expressed. The Camorra then cannot be an argument to describe the emergency situation, a way to allow the government, the institutions, not to take responsibility for it. There is more and more talk of possible measures such as an emergency income. You can not crush the narrative of the protest, then the responsibilities, on conspiracy theories, of infiltrators, of ghettoisation, to break any possible empathy. Because we all pay the price of the collapse.
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