This article analyzes migrant agricultural labor in southern Italy, focusing on migrants from Burkina Faso and Romania laboring in the regions of Puglia and Basilicata. The argument underlines the connections between mobility, willingness to work for low wages, and conflict in the workplace. The essay investigates, firstly, why migrants are willing to work for lower wages than established in collective agreements. Migrants’ deportability explains the situation to some extent, but it does not answer the question completely; EU citizens (such as Romanians) who are not deportable also settle for lower salaries. Other factors include competition within the job market between day laborers from different countries and with different legal statuses, the segregation of seasonal workers from the local population, and the impact of the caporalato (gang-master) system, an illegal form of mediation and labor organization. The essay analyzes, secondly, the conflicts instigated by the day laborers, from clashes in the workplace to larger-scale mobilizations, including the biggest strike ever organized by foreign day laborers in Italy, which took place in Nardò in 2011; in this instance, breaking the migrants’ segregation was a key factor. Paradoxically, Romanians, who enjoy greater freedom of movement, seem less willing to engage in clashes in the workplace than Burkinabés (natives of Burkina Faso), despite the latter’s more precarious legal position. The research for this article was conducted between 2010 and 2013, both through interviews with day laborers, labor contractors, agricultural business owners, and expert witnesses and through an ethnographic study of migrant accommodations.

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