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Sat, Mar 30, 2002 - Page 19 News List

Italy's labor is spoiling for a fight

The govenment's resolve to push through with its plan to create a more flexible labor market, has been taken by the unions as a declaration of war

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , ROME

On Wednesday, Berlusconi struck a conciliatory note, expressing willingness to resume talks with labor after the April 16 rallies. His spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti, repeated the offer tonight, saying in an interview that "if they want to come back to the talks, then they are welcome."

But he cautioned that developments between now and April 16 would "not be so easy to predict," and he admitted that dialogue was difficult after the remarks by the cabinet ministers.

Cofferati, for his part, said a condition for renewal of talks was an apology by Berlusconi. "He must cancel the words of his ministers, something he has not yet entirely done," he said in an interview. He accused the government of undermining union power indirectly by attacking the right to collective bargaining.

He accused Berlusconi of a "mystification of liberty." The government's argument, he said, is that "workers without the mediation of unions are more free."

"But you have two subjects, employers and workers, that are not of equal power," he added. "It is the workers who are weaker."

For his part, Cofferati, the union leader, accused Berlusconi of embracing Anglo-American attitudes foreign to European traditions.

"Rights of social protection are part of European culture," he said. "I think the intention is to limit the right of collective agreement that will inevitably produce conflict. It is not able to produce real change. They are against the culture of contractual agreement."

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