Safeguards and autonomy

Emigration, it was said, was a quantitatively limited but known phenomenon before the Unification of Italy. Upon reaching Unification, it was necessary to pay the bill. The financial policy of the historical Right was geared toward balancing the budget and making "economy to the bone": even on the milling of grain was affixed

a tax that naturally burdened especially the working class. Unification led, in short, to a tightening of living conditions for the popular masses, especially in the countryside. Progressively then, Italy began to industrialize with a mechanism that favored military spending. This gave rise to large industrial complexes such as Terni, which were remarkable in terms of the capital invested but scarcely capable of producing employment. It would be necessary to wait until the early years of the twentieth century for the North, in what would later be called the "industrial triangle," for trade to begin to intensify significantly and employment to become a widespread condition. Later, the World War produced an acceleration of investment, a modernization of production techniques and a phenomenon of elephantiasis, huge growth that is, for war industries. In the first two decades of the 20th century, Italy was on its way to becoming an industrial country. The event of industrialization concerned, however, only a few particular areas of the country. It was not until 1931 that industrial production would exceed agricultural production in absolute value.Roughly speaking, the first fifty years of Italian emigration concerned a pre-modern country, in the process of slow and partial development. Ownership relations in the countryside, the lion's covenants by which peasants were often tied to the land, frequent famines, little innovation in production techniques and the slow spread of chemical fertilizers, as well as the protectionist policy put in place by various governments to support industrial development, were factors that drove many to emigrate even knowing nothing about tariffs and having no experience of other worlds.

Those who left could be driven by desperation and ended up being employed as unskilled laborers in the great structural works that, from the last decades of the nineteenth century, were undertaken all over the world (canals, roads, railways, construction work in large urban agglomerations); or they could count on a more or less specialized trade that they wished to make more productive (both economically and socially) in the industrial centers where technical knowledge was most in demand. Curiously, in the years immediately following unification, foreign technicians came to work in Italy and, after a few decades, Italian technicians sought and found work abroad.

Of course, these are not migratory paths of equal intensity: the holder of a trade and the landless peasant are the extreme figures of a very wide range of work and life experiences, interested in going "elsewhere."

A characteristic phenomenon of emigration is the "chain migration." Someone would emigrate, more or less fortunately find a job and a home, and engage in the "act of calling" to family members, friends and villagers, who in turn would do the same. These networks of relationships are typical of subaltern cultures, arising from below and giving the migratory choice an unmistakable mark of autonomy. It is worth saying in this regard that the ruling classes were frightened by the effects of migration. Southern agrarians, accustomed to living in the manner of the nobles, that is, doing nothing, soon discovered that their lands risked lower productivity and higher management costs: hence their ire against emigration and their laments against its nefarious effects. In 1868, to the Honorable Lualdi, who had outlined to the Chamber of Deputies the possible, dramatic social and economic consequences of emigration, even going so far as to touch humanitarian and patriotic chords, the Prime Minister, Menabrea, replied that it was the duty of entrepreneurs in every sector to provide maximum employment. Menabrea's response followed a circular of his own.

remained famous because it required prefects, mayors and public safety officials to prevent the departures to Algeria and America of those who could not prove that they had secured employment or adequate means of livelihood. From there

a few years, Sidney Sonnino, author of a famous survey of peasants, observed that, according to Menabrea, the emigrant had to have capital or a resource whose lack was the main cause of his desire to leave. In fact, in the face of anodyne statements, Menabrea, with the famous circular, had put in place the first administrative control over emigration. Later, in 1888, Crispi issued what was called the "police law": it provided for a whole series of controls on the emigrant before departure and was silent on everything else. Francesco Saverio Nitti commented on it, a few years later, saying that, with that law, the emigrant was lovingly taken by the hand and accompanied all the way to embarkation only to be thrown overboard and left to his own devices. In 1901, to protect emigration, the General Commissariat was created, which amalgamated competencies dispersed in various ministries and was endowed with scant means and endless tasks. Its action was opposed by those who opposed emigration, and its activities were variously criticized. The 'work of the Commissariat was particularly useful on a cognitive level but was not always followed by effective operational measures. Alongside expulsion factors, attraction factors also acted on emigration. A country like Argentina had an interest in populating uninhabited regions and one like Brazil needed, having abolished slavery, to import labor for the coffee fazendas. So that pamphlets and carriers preached the beauties of those places for years and many were attracted by the dream of becoming masters of a piece of land. In turn, the U.S. was a desired destination: health checks at Ellis Island upon landing were burdensome but there was no shortage of work and it paid better than in Italy. Then, the U.S. began to hinder the indiscriminate influx of emigrants by gradually placing limits. In January 1917, Congress passed the Literacy Test under which illiterate emigrants would then be turned away and, among the Italians, it especially affected southern peasants,

illiterate in most. Later, laws in 1921 and 1924 blocked entry with "annual quotas," that is, they set an annually predetermined number of entries into the country for each ethnic group. In the case of Italians, quotas allowed only the re-entry of those who had returned because of the war and family reunions. It was the restrictive immigration measures put in place by the aforementioned countries that greatly reduced Italians' chances of expatriation and led, then, to Mussolini's policy of demographic development. In it, emigration would become an integral part of national foreign policy and defined as "a factor of power": emigrants acquired the name "Italians abroad." An ad hoc measure sanctioned the new course: the Decree-Law No. 1710 of June 21, 1928, stipulated in Article 1 that the passport booklet was of a single model for all citizens who went abroad for any reason. Thus the form was saved while leaving the substance untouched: emigration continued at reduced ranks and with a preference for European destinations. A traditional and customary landing place for Italian emigration since ancient times has been France. Relations between the two countries have known alternating phases, moments of "cousinship" and moments of war. As far as emigration is concerned, the phases of xenophobia exemplarily represented by the massacre of Aigues mortes - Italians in 1893 were lynched because they accepted scab wages - were followed by periods of providential friendship: we refer to France, the "land of liberty," which in the years of Fascism hosted so many opponents of the regime and welcomed the anomalous wave of politicized labor emigration. France, by the way, was one of the first countries to practice the policy of integrating foreigners, and, to take just one example, the files of the "Casellario Politico" of the Ministry of the Interior, kept at the Central State Archives, in Rome, contain rich and varied traces of the working and political life of numerous Italian workers. In those papers remain tranches de vie of anonymous workers with their daily problems and political hopes, letters and documents that also attest to the bumpy paths of progressive integration. After World War II, some 4 million Italians emigrated to Argentina, Canada, Australia and European countries. At first they headed for Argentina, following in the footsteps of friends and

relatives who had previously settled there. Argentina, in some ways, was made by Italians and a large part of the population is descended from Italians. Then, because of political turmoil and economic crises, emigrants headed for European countries favored in this also by state choices. Not unlike what had been attempted after World War I, Italian governments signed agreements to exchange labor for raw materials. They had to face dramatic problems - the war had produced mourning, misery and hunger - and they encouraged emigration in every way: so that the preconditions for the economic miracle were also laid by emigrants, with remittances of valuable currency and the insurance of raw materials to industries. Today, contrary to popular belief, emigration from Italy is not over. It has become a more articulated and more complex phenomenon. Certainly it is

that from the underdeveloped areas of the country an average of one hundred thousand people move every year and sixty thousand return. Then there is highly skilled emigration that seeks along the routes of globalization a more advantageous location. There is, finally, the "brain drain" that is the result of distortions in the Italian academic system.

All this happens while other men, equipped with arms or knowledge, also driven by the winds of globalization, come to Italy to seek another destiny. It was once said that those who emigrated went to "seek their fortune": those who left went in search of living conditions more suited to their needs and dreams. In these brief notes, an attempt has been made to point out that, in thinking for themselves, emigrants contributed to the good of the country from which they left and, as will be seen in the other parts of this volume, contributed to the fortunes of the countries that welcomed them. One can conclude with an easy prophecy: tomorrow's Italy will also be the child of the new "fortune seekers," those who leave and those who arrive.