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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/347

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343
ITALIAN AND OTHER LATIN IMMIGRANTS.

supplying the workmen with food and shelter while working was often in the hands of the same man. Sometimes the padrone was also banker, and, if so, he charged exorbitant rates for sending the laborer's meager savings to Italy. He also counted on the chance, which came to him in a majority of cases, of making a profit on their return tickets to Italy.

Later these agents, or padroni, became independent of the American contractors. Instead of procuring men for the contractor and depending on him for their remuneration, they became wholesale importers on their own account and induced large numbers to emigrate from Italy, by promises which seemed to open fairyland to the Italian 'cafone.' They always insisted on a contract for one to seven years. The men were farmed out to whoever would pay the padrone for their labor, usually as laborers with pick and shovel. The padrone boarded his people, charged them for all necessary things at exorbitant rates, and at the end of the year the laborer had very little coming to him. Nor was the system of slavery confined to men. Women were included and frequently placed in houses of prostitution. Little children were brought here in the same way and forced to black boots or sell newspapers, flowers or fruits, for the benefit of the padrone.

The traffic in helpless humanity, as carried on by padroni twenty-five years ago, has been gradually checked. The importation of women and minor children was first stopped by governmental action, aided by philanthropic societies. The wholesale importation of labor was not stopped, however, until after the passage of the first contract labor law in 1885. The enforcement of this law, aided by the hearty cooperation of the Italian government, finally ended the degrading practise. The padrone system, as it once existed, is now a matter of history. The skeleton of the padrone exists, but he is now nothing more than an employment agent, a high-priced and unlicensed employment agent, it is true, but with less of the absolute power over the peasant, which in the past made their relations those of master and slave.[1]

Probably the so-called Italian banks are as potent a means of extortion as the padrone system itself. The padrone is sometimes a banker, and, if not, is always in league with one. Between them they take advantage of the child-like credulity and ignorance of the Italian laborer, and fleece him of his last dollar.

The southern Italian concerns us most in considering the desirability of the Italian immigrant. His northern brother need give us no more concern than the representatives of the United Kingdom, Germany or Sweden. The most striking feature presented by Italian


  1. The padrone system as it exists to-day is graphically described by John Koren, Esq., in a bulletin published by the Department of Labor.