The Hidden Exploitation of Italy's Migrant Workers
A searing exposé of the netherworld of exploited migrant labour that holds Europe aloft.
Shortlisted for the 2022 Bread & Roses Prize
In 2013 Ousmane Diallo, a 26-year-old Senegalese olive harvester, lost his life when a gas canister exploded in a Sicilian field. As an African migrant, he was little mourned. But though they’ve been deliberately forgotten, neither the events of Ousmane’s life nor his tragic death are uncommon.
Across Italy today, African workers toil in the fields that make it one of Europe’s largest exporters of fruit and vegetables. Having fled home countries devastated by colonialism and global capitalism, those who survive the journey across the Mediterranean arrive on European shores only to find themselves systematically segregated and exploited. They have been subject to anti-migrant policies over decades, from administrations across the political spectrum. Trapped in a chokehold of subhuman living and working conditions, they are the dehumanised Other, invisible by design—the people hidden behind foods and goods branded ‘Made in Italy’.
Ciao Ousmane is the story of this subordinated class. Through the lives and stories of Italy’s migrant workers, Hsiao-Hung Pai exposes the open secret of how state and society create ‘necessary outcasts’. This is a bitter, frank and moving tale of racial capitalism, against which workers constantly find new ways to organise and fight back.
‘Hsiao-Hung Pai is fearless. Not only does she expose how desperate migrant workers are used and abused on European soil; she also reminds us that there is hope when people stand up for their rights together. This book moved me to tears, yet it is also full of courage.’ — Benjamin Zephaniah, poet and writer
‘[Hsiao-Hung Pai’s] reportage spells out with brutal clarity how migrant workers are exploited on a daily basis while the authorities turn a blind eye. Local activists, NGOs and charities have been calling for better conditions for decades. This is an important and informative account of why, so far, their efforts have proved unsuccessful.’ — The Guardian, ‘Top 10 Books About Sicily’
‘Reveal[s] the nature and extent of modern slavery… [and] illuminates the extent of modern slavery and what might be done to fight it.’ — The Times Literary Supplement
‘[Ciao Ousmane] offers a gripping account of everyday life at the margins, combining provocative reflections about the macro-determinants of marginalisation with vivid storytelling of individual lives and plights… In an eminently readable style, [Hsiao-Hung Pai] conveys a thought-provoking discussion of how common sense concepts such as integration and ‘legality’ become ideological levers, functional to vilify immigrants and divert voters’ attention.’ — Political Quarterly
‘Hsiao-Hung Pai exposes the open secret of how state and society create “necessary outcasts.” This is a bitter, frank and moving tale of racial capitalism, against which workers constantly find new ways to organise and fight back.’ — Campaign for the American Reader blog
‘A searing insight into the exploitation and racism embedded in our food chains. Told through the eyes of migrant workers, this book highlights the complicity of the Italian state in the dangerous and inhumane treatment of people who move. Its lessons can be applied to every EU nation. A must-read for those who wish to stand up for migrants’ rights.’ — Minnie Rahman, Public Affairs and Campaigns Manager, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
‘Essential reporting from one of the finest journalists working in the world today. Hsiao-Hung Pai exposes the hidden reality of Europe’s “migrant crisis”, where African workers in Sicily and Calabria are subjected to ruthless exploitation and systemic racism.’ — Matthew Carr, author of Fortress Europe: Inside the War Against Immigration
‘Ciao Ousmane exposes the racial violence and human cost of cheap labour. It plunges us into the struggles, endurance and everyday victories of the African people who pick our olives, tomatoes and oranges. Inspirational—learn, resist, act!’ — Bridget Anderson, Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship, University of Bristol, and author of Us and Them?: The Dangerous Politics of Immigration Control
Hsiao-Hung Pai is a UK-based journalist and the author of Chinese Whispers: The True Story Behind Britain’s Hidden Army of Labour, which was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize; Scattered Sand, winner of the 2013 Bread and Roses Award; Invisible; Angry White People; and Bordered Lives.