The problem, though, was that an awful lot of the illegal immigrants already in Italy weren't hanging around street corners selling hard drugs to children. They weren't, hard though this may be to believe, involved in prostitution or organ trafficking. I know, I know, I read the papers too, but you'll have to take my word on this. Many of them were picking tomatoes in inhuman temperatures, or making designer handbags in sweatshops, or building second houses on stretches of protected coastline. They were actually quite useful. But no, despite Italy's need for tomatoes and homes, and, er, handbags, the government stood firm. Do not pass Go, it said. Do not collect £200. Go to jail.
Unfortunately, and it didn't take people long to realise this, an even larger number of illegal immigrants weren't working in factories, or cellars, or acres of improvised greenhouses. They were living in Italy's cities, in residential areas, in some cases surrounded by Italian families. They were known as colf (short for collaboratori familiari) and badanti (carers). They were cleaning floors and toilets, and looking after babies, and wiping the chins and arses of grandparents whose children didn't have the time or energy to do it themselves; who could afford to employ someone else to do it for them. They were doing - in other words - all the dirty stuff that Italian people - including their representatives in government, on both sides of the spectrum - didn't want to do. Suddenly, the need to rid Italy of these parasitical delinquents didn't feel quite so urgent.
Hey presto! Amnesty for colf and badanti. Out of all the illegal workers in Italy, these two categories have been saved from the law. Out of all the illegal workplaces, the 'family' home has been singled out as having the only legitimate need for foreign labour. What's extrordinary about this is that the decision to operate such an amnesty has created an ulterior racism within an already profoundly racist piece of legislation. It's extracted one category from the mass of people affected by the law and decided that their work has, not more value than the others, but less; that their work is just so degrading no Italian could be expected to do it. With one stroke of the pen, it's institutionalised a domestic servant class in the country. What it says is that if you're an African and want to work in a factory or a field, you can fuck off because, officially at least, we don't need you. But if you want to mop shit from a floor, step right up, because no way am I, a white European (naturally, from Florence up), going to stoop to do it. That's quite a message. I wonder if Berlusconi made it clear to Gheddafi during his recent visit to Libya to discuss 'immigration issues' that the only welcome Libyans, apart from those bearing oil, are the ones who are prepared to nurse the old and infirm to death. Or were they too busy exchanging camels for skirt?