Poor people in America are lazy

Are the poor lazy?

The columnist on poverty and work, Sebastian Kurz and Karl Marx.

Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian Chancellor, made fun of the poor once again last week. According to Kurz, the poor are poor because they are lazy. While everyone else "gets up in the morning" to go to work, they just lie there. In the evenings they celebrate at state expense, like the cricket in fairy tales.

Prejudices are true as long as they are not invalidated by experience. In Sebastian Kurz's world there are no precarious auxiliary jobs, no people who work twelve or more hours for a joke wage. They consistently overlook the structural causes of poverty: the consequences of an economic policy that generates less and less - and above all, less and less paid - work for more and more people.

So what does poverty, extreme poverty really look like? Last week I was out in southern Italy for my Gospel remake. The traveler who approaches the heel of the boot ends up in what Karl Marx once called "original accumulation". An army of African slave laborers estimated at half a million people is vegetating in the camps and ghettos spread across the countryside, only to be exploited on tomato or orange plantations for a handful of euros a day.

These people are slaves because they have no papers, because they are in debt, because they can neither go back nor forward. A kind of upside-down globalization has turned southern Italy into the laboratory of ultra-liberal capitalism. While in the late 20th century the production companies were brought to cheap work, in the beginning 21st century the workforce was smuggled to Europe. The migration policy of the Italian government ensures that the refugees are immediately illegalized and thus freely available for the market.

Regular contracts are out of the question. Whoever has to survive accepts all conditions. "I hate Italy," a young Guinean told me a few days ago in Borgo Mezzanone, perhaps the most famous wild refugee camp in Italy. The people live in the mud, in the cold, oppressed by the "Caporali" middlemen. The system is hopeless: If the smallholders do not pay the harvest workers miserably, they cannot produce at the prices that Lidl or Penny pays them per kilo - and they go bankrupt themselves. People go along with it for four or five years, then they perish.

So much for the topic of laziness: The really abandoned people of this world are not lazy, their working day only begins after twelve hours. To survive even a week in the Borgo Mezzanone, on the plantations: That is harder than anything a Sebastian Kurz could ever do can imagine. What these people need is not insults. It's solidarity and, well, a revolution.

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