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Taking the Pizzo?

19 January 2009
The ‘pizzo’ is the extortion fee extracted by racketeers in southern Italy. One hears that it is widespread, and if it is then it is surely one of the things that holds the south of Italy back; that makes the south of Italy a different land, a land that in so many respects appears to be outside the mainstream of western Europe.
The letter-to-the-editor reproduced on the right was published in the Bari newspaper, La Gazetta del Mezzogiorno on 19 January 2009, it talks of a slightly different take on the ‘pizzo’, one which, if true, should really be stamped on, but who is to do the stamping?
The corresponent’s name is rather splendid: Margherita Magnifico. If that really is her name, then it’s surely a name to be coveted.
‘Margherita’ lives, or purports to live, in Trani, which is quite a sizeable town on the coast, north of Bari. One of the main products of Trani is stonework: marble and granite (and don’t take marble for granite, as the t-shirt slogan once said). Marble- and granite-works line the streets on the outskirts of town, and these will be small-ish, local enterprises, who will be accustomed to the local ways of doing things. One assumes that the big stores that are beginning to make inroads into the region: Ikea, Carrefour, Lidl; will be careful not to get involved in the sort of thing that Ms Magnifico reports, though of course it is very difficult to know the extent to which it goes on at all.
The article translates (my translation) as follows:
Even workers have to pay the ‘pizzo’
The pizzo does not get to be paid only by companies, but also by workers on the payroll, a hidden persecution by employers. They [the employers] illegally hold back up to half of the pay packet and, extraordinary though it sounds, blackmail the employees with threats of being sacked. This swindling mentality is widespread. Reporting them would mean unemployment for life, reaching the realms of a sewn-up case.
I am not an example, seeing that I've been waiting for recognition since I was 18-years-old to earn a living other than by handouts from the state, and actually I am out of work. The bosses go out on the towm while the worker cannot pay his mortgage. I appeal to minister Brunetta, who I admire for his anti-hooligan decree: have the same courage in the Senate in support of those who do an honest day’s work, vote against the taking of a slice of the pay packet, so that the pockets are enriched of those subject to extortion.
Letters to the editor, even in one’s own language, can be a bit hard to follow as the writers often ramble and contradict themselves, and I must say I did not find this too easy to translate – all corrections most welcome – but you get the general idea.
The letters editor, as he or she always does in this particular newspaper, makes a comment on the letter, as follows:
That there are employers of this type, unfortunately has been noted. I hope that the phenomenon is not as widespread as claimed by the writer of the letter. This is however not to say that one must reject the bonus planned for families, workers and pensioners without an income.
Whether the rather mad-sounding letter-writer is referring to taxes, as opposed to illegal deductions from the pay packet, is perhaps not entirely clear, but the suggestion from the editor’s reply is that some type of illegal and immoral practice is known to go on. Kind of symptomatic of the south of Italy, that this letter should appear in the paper at all.


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