Italian workers walked out in a protest against austerity cuts, disrupting transport services across the country. Italy's largest union organised the day of strike action, with marches in nearly every major city.
Berlusconi insists the cuts are vital for Italy's future
Italy's largest union staged a national general strike on Friday in a protest against austerity measures by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right government. Transport services across the country were disrupted, though support for the strike was not universal.
The left-leaning CGIL union, which has six million members, staged rallies in nearly every major Italian city in a bid to force the government to rethink a 25-billion-euro package of cuts. Berlusconi has defended the package as “absolutely necessary” and hopes it will help save the euro currency.
The austerity measures include a 10 percent budget reduction for ministries, 4.5 billion euros in reduced transfers to regional governments, a partial amnesty on illegal building and a 3-year wage freeze for civil servants.
"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," said Susanna Camusso, deputy leader of the CGIL, at a rally in Bologna.
The strike was a key test of strength for Berlusconi, whose poll ratings have reached new lows as unemployment has risen and the euro zone's third largest economy has struggled to emerge from recession.
The strike split Italy's trade union movement, which is roughly divided along political lines. The other two main unions asked their members to stay on the job.
While most private sector CGIL workers went on strike for four hours, public sector members demonstrated their anger by staying off work all day. Bus, subway and rail services were disrupted throughout the country, although support for the strike was patchy and some services continued to run. Airport staff also planned to strike, but flights at Rome's Fiumicino airport appeared to suffer little disruption.
The strikes followed union protests in France and Greece this week against plans for pension reform and budget cuts. Members of the 16-nation euro zone have rushed to approve austerity measures in a bid to restore confidence in the single currency and stop Greece's debt crisis spilling over into other countries.
Thousands marched in Rome on June 12 to protest against the government's austerity measures. Polls say a majority of Italians believe the cuts are unfairly distributed, even though part of the package includes pay cuts for parliamentarians.
Author: Joanna Impey (AP/Reuters)
Editor: Andreas Illmer