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Europe

Italians Protest Pension Reform

Thousands of Italians took to the streets of Rome on Saturday in a massive demonstration of force against government plans to drastically shake-up the state’s pension system.

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Italians turned out in masses to protest pension reforms.

Traffic jams in Rome’s downtown are notorious, but this Saturday the streets were packed with people not cars. An estimated one million protesters took to the streets in anger over Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government plans to reform the pension system. If passed by parliament, the reforms will require Italians to pay contributions for a minimum of 40 years to receive a full pension. That’s a significant change from the current 35 years now required.

"This is a big rip-off. I think this is just the first step for the government to try to take our pensions away when we are older and in favor of private pensions," an unnamed protester told reporters.

The march, which was organized by Italy’s three main trade unions and endorsed by leaders of the main center-left opposition parties, brings to a head months of protests against the proposed reforms. Back in October the unions staged a four-hour strike to protest the pension reforms and have warned they will organize more strikes if the government does not change its plans.

Aging population in need of reforms

Like Germany and France, Italy is struggling to overhaul its state pension system, which accounts for about 15 percent of the gross domestic product -- one of the highest levels in Europe. And that proportion is likely to go up as a declining birth rate and increased life expectancy (one-fifth of the population is over age 65) alter the demographics are place a greater burden on government coffers.

In addition to requiring Italians to work longer, the Berlusconi’s plans also offer incentives for those people who work after reaching retirement age. Currently, Italians can retire at 57 if they have paid into the system for 35 years.

Unionists say the proposed reforms only benefit Italy’s industrialists. Speaking to reporters, Guglielmo Epifani, head of the left-wing CGIL union, said, "There is a vast majority in the working world, the nation in general, that asks for change but not policies... that only help the few and put young people, workers, the middle-class and the elderly at a disadvantage."

"Berlusconi had better listen to the street," said Epifani, whose union is the country’s largest with about 5.5 million members.

The last time Italians turned out in such large numbers to protest pension reform was in 1994 when Berlusconi launched his last attempt to push through drastic changes and eventually brought down his seven-month-old government.

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