A ‘Street Heat’ Lesson from Italy

Italians Launch General Strike against Austerity

BBC New, Sept 6, 2011

Millions of Italian trade union members are thought to be taking part in a day-long strike against the government’s latest austerity measures.

Flights have been cancelled, trains and buses are stationary, and government offices have been shut across Italy.

The government has faced criticism over a 45bn-euro (£40bn) austerity package, and has been scrambling to revise it.

"This is a plan the country doesn’t deserve," said CGIL union leader Susanna Camusso, marching through Rome.

CGIL, which called the general strike, is Italy’s largest union federation.

It is demanding stronger action against tax dodgers and continuing job protection.

It has been infuriated by a new clause that will make it easier to dismiss workers.

However, smaller, more moderate union federations have rejected the strike.

They say there is no point in striking against employers when everybody’s jobs are at risk.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition has been forced into urgent government spending cuts and tax raises by Italy’s eurozone partners.

Parliament is due to pass into law this week a much amended austerity plan drawn up hastily during the August holidays at the insistence of the European Central Bank.

But many of the original measures in the plan – including a tax on the highest earners, pension reforms, and the scrapping of local councils – have been amended or ditched after raising howls of protest. Alarm

Almost daily revisions of government plans, endless public discussion of every twist and turn, and increasing alarm among Italy’s European neighbours, have put Italy right at the centre of the eurozone crisis, says the BBC’s Mark Duff in Milan.

Millions of ordinary Italians are returning from their August summer holidays to an ever more uncertain future, he adds.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has expressed alarm at the growing spread between German and Italian bond rates.

On Monday there were further stock market falls and a new rise in interest rates payable on Italian government debt.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has compared Italy’s economic plight to that of Greece.

Meanwhile, Mr Berlusconi’s popularity rating has sunk to an all-time low.

Italy has helped take some of the focus off Spain’s difficulties – though they were also set to come back to the fore on Tuesday, with unions planning rallies to protest against a new constitutional amendment which will oblige governments to ensure that budgets are balanced.

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