Thousands of Italian trade unionists rallied in central Rome on Saturday to protest against growing job cuts and factory closures, urging Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti’s government to do more to help workers hit by a year-long recession.
“We’re here to support all the workers who are in dispute with their companies during this economic crisis,” said protester Michele Giuliva as he joined the rally organized by the left-leaning CGIL union, Italy’s biggest.
“The government is thinking only of bond spreads,” he added.
Italians are grappling with a prolonged economic slump, unemployment has risen to its highest since monthly records began in 2004 and Italian unions are locked in growing disputes with companies over plant closures and lay-offs.
Austerity measures passed by the prime minister to cut debt and reassure bond markets after he replaced former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi last year have further fueled discontent, as tax hikes and spending cuts eat into incomes.
Workers from all sectors of industry gathered in the square outside Saint John’s Basilica, a traditional rallying point for left-wing protests, holding red balloons and banners with slogans such as “Go away Monti.”
CGIL said on its Web site it was urging the government to focus on measures that encourage investment and boost employment, particularly among young people and women.
Saturday’s rally was the latest in a string of protests against the Italian government, and comes as demonstrations and strikes are mounting again across debt-laden southern Europe from Greece to Spain.
Threatened closures at factories such as Alcoa’s aluminum plant in Sardinia and the Ilva steel plant in southern Italy have led to angry protests and strikes by workers fearing for their jobs.
On Friday, a court ordered car maker Fiat to rehire 145 workers it had dismissed earlier this year over a union dispute.
The workers are members of CGIL’s metal industry arm which refused to sign up to new working conditions imposed by Fiat.
Anti-austerity protesters were also marching in London on Saturday against British public spending cuts.
Monti said on Saturday he expected it would be only a few more months before signs of recovery start to emerge in the recession-hit Italian economy.
‘A FEW MONTHS’
Addressing an agriculture conference in northern Italy, Monti spoke of “a few months, just a few months I hope that we have left before we start seeing clear signs of recovery.”
Monti defended the austerity measures, and said he believed his government would be remembered for having helped Italy pull itself out of a deep economic crisis without needing to resort to external aid.
“I hope that one day we can say that thanks to us Italy was not colonized by Europe and it maintained its own dignified sovereignty in an increasingly integrated Europe,” he said.
He spoke at the same time as thousands of trade unionists were holding a rally in Rome against the government’s spending cuts and rising unemployment, at which union leader Susanna Camusso said Monti’s austerity policies had failed.
Monti replaced Berlusconi in November last year when Italy’s bond yields were soaring and the country came close to a Greek-style debt disaster.
Last week the Treasury raised a record-breaking 18 billion euros (US$23.4 billion) through a retail bond sale, which Italian Economy Minister Vittorio Grilli hailed as a sign of a turnaround in perceptions of the country’s debt.