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General strike hits Italy as unions protest labor reforms, austerity

Trade unions in Italy are staging an eight-hour general strike in protest against labor market reforms and austerity measures. The country is experiencing high unemployment, particularly among the young.

A general strike called by two major Italian trade unions on Friday hit schools, hospitals, airports, highways, ports and public transport across the country, as public and private sector workers protested against unpopular reforms to the labor market and cuts to public spending.

The strike was initiated by Italy's first and third-largest unions,

CGIL and UIL, with the second-largest labor confederation, CISL, refusing to participate.

More than 50 rallies or protest marches at various locations were expected to accompany the walkout, held under the motto "Cosi non va!" (approximately: "This is not the right way").

Railways staff are among those taking part in the strike, despite having been initially banned from participation by the government.

The protests are directed mainly at the so-called Jobs Act, which in principle received parliamentary approval last week but has yet to be finalized and implemented.

Economy in crisis

The legislation will make it easier for companies to fire employees without giving them high severance payments. It would, however, also expand benefits and job-hunting services for the unemployed.

The unions are also outraged by planned cuts to public spending in the 2015 budget, proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in a bid to boost an economy enmired in a three-year-long recession.

Unions want "to improve the labor law and the budget law, giving priority to labor, industrial policies, crisis-stricken manufacturing sectors, the defense and relaunch of public sectors and the creation of new and good jobs," said Susanna Camusso, head of the CGIL union.

In a recent sign of how fragile the Italian economy is, unemployment rose to 13.2 percent in October, the highest rate since records began to be kept in 1977.

The number of jobless youth

is more than three times that, standing at a massive 43.3 percent.

tj/es (dpa, AP)

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