Tens of thousands of factory workers, public employees and unemployed people marched through the streets of the Italian capital on Friday to protest the government’s handling of the economic crisis.
Cars and buses came to a standstill across much of Rome as three demonstrations made their way through the historic center with protesters holding up red union flags and banners demanding “more wages, more rights” and “no more false promises.”
The marches wreaked havoc on traffic already snarled by heavy security measures in place for the G7 industrial nations finance meeting through yesterday.
The protests were part of a nationwide strike staged by Italy’s largest union, the CGIL, which wants the conservative government to take stronger measures as the country faces its worst economic slowdown in three decades.
“We don’t want to pay for this crisis,” said Stefano Arzilli, an Olivetti worker who came down from the Turin area to join the protest. “The financiers who started it should pay for it.”
With the global slump being felt across Europe, Italy on Friday reported its worst slump since 1980, with GDP in the fourth quarter of last year contracting by 1.8 percent from the previous quarter and 2.6 percent from a year earlier. It was the third straight quarter of contraction.
“This crisis has dimensions that have yet to be defined and we must watch and we are watching with concern,” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told a press conference.
The government has passed some measures, including aid for the ailing car industry in the form of consumer incentives and, on Thursday, an 8 billion euro (US$10 billion) welfare package for laid-off workers.
But unions and opposition politicians say those measures pale in front of the multibillion stimulus packages and bailouts passed in the US, France and other European countries.