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Italians strike against austerity package

June 25, 2010

By Guy Dinmore in Rome, June 25, 2010

Italy’s first major strike action against the centre-right government’s 25bn euro deficit-cutting package caused disruption for both the public and industry on Friday but did more to reveal deep divisions within the country’s labour movement. CGIL, the main left-wing trades union federation, called the one-day strike and organised mass marches of tens of thousands, but the call to down tools was boycotted by Italy’s other more centrist unions.

Transport workers were on strike for four hours, while public sector workers and members of the Fiom metalworkers division stayed away all day. Carmaker Fiat, the largest private sector employer, said about 16 per cent of its workforce heeded the strike call.

The transport wing of CGIL claimed that 86 flights were cancelled at Rome’s Fiumicino airport and that half of Rome’s and Naples’ underground network were shut down. Sea ports were also closed.

Pierluigi Bersani, leader of the main centre-left Democratic opposition party which has strained relations with CGIL, surprised observers by taking part in the union’s demonstration in Milan.

CGIL estimated that across Italy some one million people joined protest marches, although police estimates were considerably lower.

“No one denies that we need to make cuts, but they must be cuts which are fair and look to the future, rather than just slashing spending,” Susanna Camusso, deputy leader of the CGIL, told a march in Bologna.

The CGIL says the proposed cuts – which include a three-year freeze in wages for the public sector – will hit the most vulnerable sectors of society, in part through reduced health and other services.

Although the strike action is the most visible expression of growing discontent with Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government, the prime minister’s austerity package is more likely to be watered down in parliament through pressure from his own allies as well as heads of regional and local governments who will have to bear the brunt of the cutbacks.

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