FIERCE FIGHT ON NEW LAND
From a Special Correspondent
'PEACE has been declared between agricultural labour.ers and landowners in the province of Ferrara where for over a month a ferocious strike has been waged to force the landowners to grant an increase of Eid an hour.
Hay has not been cut, rice fields have been ruined, cattle have been starved.
Two thousand soldiers were drafted into the province during the concluding days of the strike to release the starving cows from their byres, to milk them and pasture them.
There have been local truces during the strike, so that fewer than 60 cattle died. But it is thought that another 1.500 have been so reduced by privation that they will have to be slaughtered.
Damage to the hay crop is about f115,000-double the total wage increases a month the labourers have been claiming.
The strike was organised by the Communist trade union the C.G.I.L. Sabotage, starvation and violence were the weapons.
There are 105.000 casually employed agricultural labourers"braccianti" in the Ferrara province. an exceptionally large number compared with other provinces of Emilia. and there is not nearly enough work to go round.
When strikers scattered nails in the hay fields their motive was not only to prevent the hay from being cut hut to prevent its being cut by machine, since if the strike ended in time for cutting to he worth while they would earn a lira or two more an hour if they cut it with the sickle instead of the mower.
They live in circumstances in which every lira-1 /85th of a shilling-has to be thought about.
Most of these braccianti are not employed on more than 180 working days in the year. They are rarely in work long enough to qualify for unemployment relief.
The eastern marshes of Ferrara constitute a dead flat isolated land of immense unhedged fields of corn and hemp and sugar beet, traversed by a few dusty roads that falter undeviatingly towards an enormous horizon. By swamp and lagoon the land merges imperceptibly into the sea.
Etruscan colonies are buried under the plain of watcr, and sometimes near the site of an excavation a local inhabitant will slip a sham antiquity into the mud to season for a year or two. There is nothing to be gained by thissince all finds are State property-except the pleasure of the game of trying to deceive the archeologist.
Until 10 years ago the whole area was poisoned with malaria.
Much of what is now bountiful land was reclaimed from the lagoons during the Fascist period, and it was then that the present surplus of casual labourers was created by the unchecked immigration of labour from other 'parts of Italy.
A large rural proletariat suited the labour needs of the land investment companies and nobles who acquired the reclaimed land. They had no more use then than have the Communist Party organisers in the area today for the secure and independent peasant proprietor.
Both Communists and landowners criticise present Government plans to turn the casual labourers into peasant owners.
Change in ideas
The Po Delta Development Scheme, part of the Christian Democrat Land Reform programme, has expropriated 108,000 acres and settled a little more than 2,000 families as peasant proprietors. Prince Colonna, Barone Ricasoli and Duca Camerini are among the individual landowners who have been affected by the expropriations.
For the new peasants the Government has so far provided in this corner of Ferrara province 700 new farmhouses, 70 kilometres of roads, farm machinery pools with L800,000 worth of machinery and tractors, and three community centres each comprising a church, school, clinic, nursery school, cinema and cooperative stores.
The Christian Democrat organiser of a sports club in this area, which hag more than 1,000 members, told me that though the whole area voted solidly Communist in the last elections and many of the new peasants demonstrated with the labourers on strike during the recent troubles, a change in ideas is beginning to be perceptible.
The elderly and the middle-aged stick to their Communism blindly, hut the young are beginning to criticise the party, do not confine their reading to Unita' and are open to "dangerous" thoughts.
In this and in the long-term plan to drain another 150.000 acres of seacontaminated land for the resettling of many more casual labourers seem to be the hope of a solution of a bitter problem which has not ended with the dismantling of the roadblocks that the police made during the strike to prevent the entry of Sympathisers from other provinces.