March 2, 2021

Italian Workers Strike Against Austerity Measures

The eight-hour strike shut down transport and businesses nationwide. It was called by the C.G.I.L. union, which represents 2 million public and private sector workers, in opposition to a 45.5 billion-euro austerity package of tax hikes and spending cuts proposed by the Italian government last month to reduce Italy’s budget deficit by 2013.

The measures were required by the European Central Bank in exchange for buying Italian debt to help keep the country’s borrowing costs from rising out of control. But the measures have come under near-daily revision, as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi struggles to satisfy objections from within his governing coalition and from the center-left opposition.

The latest incarnation, which comes up for a vote in the Senate later this week, would change Italian labor law to permit Italian to bypass national labor contracts, making it easier to hire and fire workers.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr. Berlusconi’s office said the bill would also raise VAT tax to 21 percent from 20 percent; adding an additional “solidarity tax” of 3 percent on Italians who earn more than 500,000 euros annually; and increasing the retirement age for women in the private sector starting in 2014.

The Northern League, the most powerful party in Mr. Berlusconi’s coalition, had been vehemently opposed to raising the retirement age for women, since in Italy public day care is scarce and grandmothers routinely serve as child care providers.

On Tuesday, the government said it planned to call a confidence vote on the measures in the Senate, where Mr. Berlusconi has a significant majority.

Addressing a crowd of an estimated 70,000 people in Rome on Tuesday, Susanna Camusso, the leader of C.G.I.L., called the change to the labor law “unjust” and threatened more strike actions if it weren’t removed.

“If Parliament doesn’t strike this from the bill, they have to know that we will use every path and initiative possible so that this shameful measure is removed,” she told an estimated 70,000 supporters outside the Colosseum on Tuesday.

Pierluigi Bersani, the leader of the center-left opposition, criticized the measures. “This package should be strengthened and made more equitable,” he said. “It’s useless to pass it quickly if it’s not done well. Otherwise we will end up having a new austerity package every week.”

After dropping a proposed 1.8 billion euros in cuts to regional governments, the new austerity bill proposes stepping up efforts to crack down on tax evasion, which Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti estimates will bring in billions in evaded taxes.

In recent days, Mr. Berlusconi has come under intense European pressure to pass the measures, which are seen as vital to the strength of the euro.

On Monday, Mario Draghi, the outgoing Bank of Italy president and incoming president of the European Central Bank, became the latest European leader to pressure Mr. Berlusconi to approve the measures swiftly.

He said that Italy should “not take it for granted” that the European Central Bank would continue buying Italian debt.

But the measures are not popular with many Italians, who are feeling increasingly squeezed. As he walked around Rome’s Piazza Navona, Pasquale Nappo, 47, a public employee in the Rome Province, wore a butcher’s apron covered in fake blood to protest what he called the “social butchery” of the austerity measures.

“The politicians don’t seem to understand and haven’t for years that they need to give people answers,” said Mr. Nappo, who said that three of his four children were unemployed. “They don’t understand that if I earn 1,300 euros a month, I can’t pay a rent of 1,200 euros, which is what it costs to live in Rome.”

Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting.

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