food / travel

Milan's Empty Markets: Italians Start To Feel Nationwide Truck Driver's Strike

In Milan's principal wholesale fruit and vegetable market, shelves are empty due to an ongoing truckers strike in southern Italy. Truck drivers are livid over austerity measures being pushed through by Italy's new reformist Prime Ministe

Days of plenty seem far away for Milan's markets (naypinya)
Days of plenty seem far away for Milan's markets (naypinya)
Fabio Poletti

MILAN – The effects of a massive nationwide truck drivers' strike were visible on a recent morning in Italy's biggest wholesale produce market, on via Lombroso in Milan. "It may just be a strike, but in here it looks like famine," quipped one custodian.

Truck drivers involved in the week-old work stoppage say it's more like a war. The enemy, in this case, is Prime Minister Mario Monti, whose austerity and economic liberalization plans are pushing up fuel prices and threaten to open certain professions to competition.

Among the first casualties of this war are 120 wholesale dealers at Milan's market, who don't have anything to sell. Nothing is arriving from southern Italy. No zucchini. No eggplants. No oranges. "We don't have trucks to pick them up. Here in northern Italy, the trucks are all busy. In southern Italy they just aren't moving," said Michele Piazzolla, owner of Ortopiazzolla, a company specialized in import and export of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Piazzolla spent much of Wednesday on the phone updating his father, who has been receiving pleas from storekeepers begging for oranges. There are no oranges at all. Usually, every morning at 4 a.m., an average of 180 trucks arrives at this huge market. On Wednesday, only 80 arrived – all from northern Italy.

The dealers are at their wits end. Domenico Zuino, of Al.Ma, is specialized in import and export of tropical fruit. "We are saved thanks to Holland, which imports fruit from its former colonies. But if you are looking for a simple head of lettuce, you won't find it," he said.

Though the wholesale market is growing hungry, the city's supermarkets and stores are still fairly well stocked with fruits and vegetables. It's not clear, however, how long they will last. "Stores can go on for other 48 or 72 hours. But even if the truck drivers' strike ended today, we would need at least one week to get back to normal life," said Zuino.

Prices up, profits down

A truck's trip from Sicily takes two days. The suppliers have a lot of goods in their fridges, but not everything will last. "Thank goodness this is not the season of strawberries," one vendor noted. The most delicate fruit would not last long even in the best air-conditioned warehouses.

On a normal day, the market closes at 10 a.m. Some people work until noon, but others stop at 8 a.m. The average turnover for an average January day is around 6 million euros. This past Monday it was 3 million. Three days later it was even less. Alberto Albuzza, president of the local association of fruit and vegetable wholesale dealers, is completely discouraged. "No one wants to send goods without being sure that they will arrive at their destination," he said.

Truck drivers are angry, producers cannot send their goods, and wholesale dealers cannot work. In addition, there is a risk that retail prices will continue to rise.

But at the market, no one seemed upset with the truck drivers. Most in fact sympathized with them. Domenico Zuino, at desk number 68, was working out the expenses. "Every day there are 30 or 40 pallets of goods, for a total of 15 quintals. Today I didn't even get six." Nearby, it was even worse. "If gasoline is more expensive, everything is more expensive. Profit margins are down," one dealer said.

It looks like the usual war between the poor and poorer. But in every war, there is a loser. This time, costumers are the losers. If they are lucky, in the next days they will have to accept second-choice food. If they are less lucky, they will face rising prices, and zero choices.

Read the original article in Italian

photo - naypinya

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How Low Trust In Government Fuels Violence Against Politicians

The deadly stabbing of UK MP David Amess confirms this researcher's ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad.

Tribute to slain UK MP David Amess in Leigh-on-Sea on Oct. 15

James Weinberg

The killing of British Conservative MP David Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on October 15, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councillor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

This is to say nothing of the 2018 attack on the Palace of Westminster that left police officer Keith Palmer dead and MPs in a state of shock.

Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

Between the divisive politics of Brexit and the growing polarization of British party politics, MPs currently work in a low-trust, high-blame environment. Even before the existential angst and subsequent politicking of the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent Hansard Society audit of political engagement concluded that “opinions of the systems of governing are at their lowest point in the 15-year Audit series – worse now than in the aftermath of the MPs' expenses scandal."

The ramifications of governing in such an age of distrust are significant for the mental health and wellbeing of politicians. With colleagues, I've argued that such visceral and endemic distrust is a key stressor in political life. People are not simply wary or skeptical of politicians, they now routinely criticize their personalities and dismiss their good intentions. At its most severe, this “distrust stressor" manifests in the growing threat of physical violence faced by politicians.

Unfortunately, the distrust stressor is commonplace in the febrile climate of post-millennial UK politics. Serious cases of stalking and harassment have become a “common experience" for MPs. In the UK general election of 2017, for example, 56% of surveyed parliamentary candidates expressed concern about the levels of abuse and intimidation they had received and 31% said they had felt “fearful" during the campaign. Misuse of anonymous social media accounts has intensified these problems and created a toxic environment for elected politicians that regularly exposes them to online rape and murder threats.

Governing under threat

As part of an ongoing study of trust and governance in five democracies around the world, I recently carried out more than 50 in-depth interviews with junior and senior politicians in national legislatures, including questions on the stresses and strains of political life.

Reflecting on the ramifications of simply doing their job, one Conservative MP commented:

There have been votes that have been controversial, and you can then get a lot of abuse as a result of picking a side. My office has been vandalized, I've had stuff sent to me in the post, I've received death threats. And you do build up a very thick skin doing this job, there's no shadow of a doubt. Because one week in it, if you're not able to roll with the punches, you won't see through a whole term.

Almost 40% of interviewees were able to cite more than one instance of serious abuse or threats of physical violence. Not only are these experiences felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK, but they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile. As one MP in New Zealand told me:

I've had some pretty horrible death threats and I've had a lot of abuse, particularly through social media. But also, funnily enough, in writing and phone calls. Unfortunately it's becoming more part of our political life.

Another, this time in South Africa, said:

What [this group of constituents] were saying is that if the water supply was not fixed by a certain time, they were going to kill me. And what they did is they took a tyre and said that this tyre was going to go around my neck and they're going to light it and that was going to be my demise. Listen, when you see your life flash before your eyes… you start to question whether it's worth it.

In the UK, analysis of data from the Representative Audit of Britain (a survey of all parliamentary candidates who stood in general elections between 2015 and 2019) suggests that the harassment, abuse and intimidation of elected and aspiring politicians is also highly gendered. Women politicians, and black and minority ethnic women in particular, experience a disproportionate share of sexualized abuse online. They also receive more aggressive and sexualized threats offline.

Contact between politicians and the public is at the very heart of effective democratic representation.

It is relatively easy to understand why all this would be detrimental to politicians' professional competence and their sense of personal worth and wellbeing, but it is harder to find solutions to this crisis.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has called for increased security measures in the wake of Amess's death. This is welcome but it's an instrumental response which might not be easy to implement. Political contact between politicians and the public is at the very heart of effective democratic representation – and it is unlikely that most MPs will agree to suspend constituency surgeries or fill their offices with armed guards at a time when governor-governed relations are already so strained.

Photo of \u200bNew Zealand's parliament in Wellington

New Zealand's parliament in Wellington

Guo Lei/Xinhua/ZUMA

Compassion and education

While specific issues around MPs' security and training are grappled with, we also need a call for conscious restraint and compassion in political discourse. When some politicians themselves resort to dog-whistle populism, verbal abuse and infighting, it broadcasts an image of politics as an arena for incivility. At the same time, it perpetuates a binary worldview that crowds out the possibility of empathy and compromise.

Alongside this, we need to overhaul the media coverage of politics. Increasingly intent on personalizing the political and politicizing the personal, a 24-hour news media too often drip feeds blunt stereotypes about politicians' personalities and motives. In contrast to much news coverage of politicians, my own research with hundreds of elected MPs and councillors has shown that the majority enter politics with an extraordinary dedication to improving the lives of others that is rarely perceived or appreciated by those they govern.

A deficit in democratic education leads to inflated public expectations about what is possible.

Equally important, nations around the world must commit to fully funded and well-resourced programmes of democratic education. Politics is messy and full of contingencies, and a deficit in democratic education leads to inflated public expectations about what is possible or desirable. In turn, this breeds disappointment and lowered self-efficacy, which together disrupt the positive potential of deliberative participation.

Ultimately, there is no place for political violence, harassment or intimidation in a functioning democracy. At the very least, politicians are ordinary humans attempting to undertake an extraordinary job on behalf of everybody else. Whatever their political views, nobody who has the courage to "step into the arena", to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, deserves to fear for their life in the pursuit of public service. To say that we need to rediscover civility and respect in our politics is once again an understatement of a devastating truth.The Conversation


James Weinberg is a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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