Italy: Workers go on strike as Berlusconi government debates budget

Rome, 6 Sept. (AKI) – Italian workers throughout walked off the job on Tuesday to protest money-saving measures the government says will balance the budget and reduce debt, and many labour unions contend unfairly hurts workers.

The strike called by Italy’s largest union the CGIL is expected to bring public transportation to a halt, while the senate debates the proposed austerity measures designed to cut 45.5 billion euros in spending.

“Striking is never irresponsible, but is a defense of working conditions,” said Susanna Camusso, CGIL’s general secretary, at a rally in Rome. Her union expected around 50,000 people to protest in the Italian capital.

Critics of the strike, including in rival labour unions, said called the strike an irresponsible move in light of Italy’s sluggish economic growth and called on workers to make sacrifices for the good of the country.

The plan was quickly drawn up and passed by Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government on 5 August when much of the country was on vacation. It was the second plan in about a month.

The international financial markets reaction was decisively negative, pushing up the interest Italy much pay on the world’s fourth-largest debt, and causing the government to make numerous changes.

In-fighting on pensions, holidays and new taxes for the rich within the government caused measures to be scrapped and rewritten, sparking fresh vacillations in the Italian financial markets and prompting an unusual move by the mostly symbolic Italian president on Monday to call for urgent action to form a plan and restore confidence in Italy’s ability to pay its debts.

“It is a sign of the persistent difficulty in regaining trust as is urgently and indispensably required,” he said, adding that he urged all parties not to block measures needed to restore credibility, president Giorgio Napolitano said.

The austerity plan may be approved in the senate as soon as tomorrow and then would pass to the Lower House where Berlusconi has a much thinner majority.