I’d only been in Palermo for a few daylight hours when, as I turned into a side-street off Via Roma, I noticed the local Police had blocked off the Via Vittorio Emanuele.
I was en-route to my b & b after an early breakfast with friends here to celebrate the birthday of expatriate comrade Chips Mackinolty, who has parked himself in downtown Palermo on sabbatical for more than a few months.
The sight of Police blocking the Via Vittorio Emanuele wasn’t alarming – you soon get used to seeing the seemingly endless variety of local cops doing their stuff here.
What did catch my attention was the sound of Manu Chao’s “Clandestino” bouncing off the narrow walls of the street.
That great tune was being blasted out of a PA on the back of a small truck leading a large and raucous – think of hundreds if not thousands of whistles at full and joyous volume – crowd up the street from the port at La Cala through Vucciria.
As best I could work out – my Italian is pretty bad – the demonstration by many thousands through the streets of Palermo was in support of better pay and conditions for rural, forestry and agricultural workers.
While I don’t here have time to explore the role of the Mafia in Sicilian politics – and life more generally – I note the following passage from John Dickie’s Cosa Nostra, the authoritative work on the Sicilian mafia.
Dickie notes the establishment in the 1890s of the Fasci – “nothing in common with the militaristic, anti-democratic Fascist movement founded by Benito Mussolini a generation later” but instead “brotherhoods that united the peasants against the landowners and the gabelloti,” short-term leaseholders of farming land, whom Dickie describes as ruthless and often in league with bandits and cattle rustlers.
Dickie says of the Fasci and the mafia that:
Over the sixty years and more that followed the flowering of the Fasci movement, mafiosi would intimidate and murder countless socialists, Communists, and trade union leaders – so many, in fact, that it came to seem as if the mafia’s very purpose was to batter the organised working class in the countryside into submission.
For mine the demands of work in the Sicilian countryside was etched in the faces at today’s march. Here are some photos that I hope prove that point.
I’m off now to join my pals for another drink or few, a few laughs and some more of this wonderful Sicilian spring.