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Italy, Labour market reform, unemployment

Italian workers down tools as political opposition grows to labour reforms

Prime Minister Mario Monti is struggling to get various parties to agree on labour reforms amid an upsurge in unrest.

Italian factory workers began walking out in protest on Thursday. In La Spezia and Genoa, workers from shipbuilder Fincantieri declared a strike and occupied one factory. In Turin, 800 employees from the aerospace company Alenia blocked traffic, while in Pisa, strikers at the Piaggio factory blocked traffic on the Florence-Pisa-Livorno motorway in both directions.

Also striking Thursday were workers at the petrochemical plants of Priolo, Melilli and Augusta in Siracusa, Sicily, and at the Indesit plant in Caserta, near Naples, a refinery near Cagliari in Sardinia and factories in Taranto in the heel of Italy. Finally,  a number of factories were hit by stoppages in the Milan area.

Meanwhile, a number of workers on ‘precarious’ work contracts demonstrated in front of the prime minister’s office, Palazzi Chigi, in Rome, arguing that despite Monti’s claims that his reforms tackle their problems, casualised workers will still be unable to receive welfare if unemployed and employment rights will be weak.

The protests follow a call earlier this week from CGIL, the country’s biggest trade union confederation, for a national stoppage after Monti agreed the regressive labour reforms with smaller unions but without its backing.

The reforms amend Article 18, a labour code that gives protections against firing workers. The measures follow punishing austerity measures and and cuts to pensions

The centre-left Democrats (PD) is split, with at least one prominent leader strongly warning Monti against trying to force through reforms without the support of the CGIL.

Leader Pier Luigi Bersani expressed anger over the technocrat premier’s tactics in brushing aside opposition to the reforms.

“Pay attention. Monti cannot tell the PD to take it or leave it. You cannot do this,” Bersani told a state television talk show on Wednesday night. “Have I explained myself? No take it or leave it. We won’t accept that. We will vote (for the reforms) when we are convinced,” he added.

The PD is the second biggest group in a grand coalition supporting Monti and essential if he is to get laws through parliament.

Even Enrico Letta, the PD’s deputy leader and from the party’s right wing, backtracked on support for Monti on the reforms on Thursday, saying there must be changes.

The reforms also include a number of safety-net protections, as well as incentives for hiring and retaining more women and young people, significantly underemployed in Italy’s workforce, measures that CGIL and other unions support. But making it easier to fire workers when demand for goods and services for Italian businesses is in freefall, will simply lead to workers being fired, the CGIL says.

And it’s not even just the CGIL saying this. Overnight Thursday, the second of Italy’s three main trade union federations, the Catholic-inspired CISL that had apparently agreed the measures earlier in the week shifted its position and said new rules making it easier to fire workers went too far. At the same time, the Catholic bishops’ conference has pointedly noted that employees are not “merchandise”

Monti had hoped a reform could be fine-tuned by the end of this week and sent to parliament, but it now appears there’s little hope for a package everyone can agree on.

More articles on labour rights and reform in Europe 

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope

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