PRATO, ITALY - 26 NOVEMBER 2019: Edoardo Nesi (55), who inherited a textile factory from his father but closed it a few years ago because of Chinese competition, poses for a portrait in his home in Prato, Italy, on November 26th 2019. “In Prato, we thought we were the best in the world,” says Edoardo Nesi, who spent his days running the textile factory his grandfather started, and his nights penning novels. “ Everybody was making money.” “We lived in a place where everything had been good for 40 years,” Mr. Nesi says. “Nobody was afraid of the future.”
In the 1990s, the Germans began purchasing cheaper fabrics woven in the former East Germany, Bulgaria and Romania. Then, they shifted their sights to China, where similar fabric could be had for less than half the price of Prato’s. Chinese factories were buying the same German-made machinery used by the mills in Prato. They were hiring Italian consultants who were instructing them on the modern arts of the trade. By 2000, Mr. Nesi’s business was no longer making money.
Italy has proved especially vulnerable to China’s emergence as a manufacturing juggernaut, given that many of its artisanal trades -- textiles, leather, shoe-making -- have long been dominated by small, family-run businesses that lacked the scale to compete on price with factories in a nation of 1.4 billion people.
In recent years, four Italian regions that were as late as the 1980s electing Communists and then reliably supported center-left candidates -- Tuscany, Umbria, Marche and Emilia-Romagna -- have swung dramatically to the extreme right. Many working class people say that delineation has it backwards: The left abandoned them, not the other way around.
Between 2001 and 2011, Prato’s 6,000 textile companies shrunk to 3,000, and those employed by the plants plunged from 40,000 to 19,000, according to Confindustria, the leading Italian industrial trade association. As Prato’s factories went dark, people began arriving