Over 100,000 agricultural workers went on strike for 8 hours across Italy on Friday over the loss of welfare and pension rights resulting from the reforms of the unelected government of Mario Monti.
Already 90% of agricultural workers are on fixed term contracts with low wages and the government’s measures will lead to further casualisation of the workforce, say unions.
Up to a million workers are affected by the planned changes to employment laws and modifications to the pension system passed late last year.
Agricultural workers will lose pension contributions, unemployment benefits, maternity rights and sick pay, reducing them ‘to the most complete precarity and denying them, at the end of their working lives, even the meanest pension,’ say unions.
Migrant workers, who make up the majority of farm labourers, will be hit the hardest.
The action – called by the three main confederations CGIL, CISL and UIL in what will be the first ever co-ordinated strikes in the agricultural sector – included demonstrations in Naples, Catania, Catanzaro and Bari, in the south, and Perugia, in the north.
The strikes come as fresh data shows widespread pensioner poverty among small farmers. 1.2 milion receive just €600 a month on average, when they retire, with some getting pensions as low as €300 a month, according to analysis of official statistics by Federpensionati Coldiretti, a small farmers association.
Federpensionati Coldiretti president Antonio Mansueto says: ‘We are facing economic situations of pure subsistence that demonstrate difficult conditions in the countryside for pensioners who also face daily increases in the cost of living.’
Monti’s unelected technocrat government replaced Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing administration in November with a mandate from the EU, IMF and European Central Bank to implement pushing austerity measures and neo-liberal reforms to ‘reassure’ speculators in the financial markets.
Thanks also to an austerity budget in August last year and spending cuts and tax rises across the Continent, the economy has sunk into recession. This week further bad news came as Italian business confidence fell unexpectedly to its lowest level in two and a half years.
The austerity is not affecting the wealthiest 1% of households who have €5.3 million euros in assets on average, official figures show. The government again this week rejected calls to introduce a wealth tax.
A poll published Thursday show the Monti government’s rating dropped 5 percentage points from March to 45% and the prime minister’s personal approval rating fell by 4 percentage points to 51 from 55%, the IPR institute poll for La Repubblica paper showed. 47% said they had little or no trust in the government.
The IPR poll also showed that the individual approval ratings for his ministers had also fallen, notably for Labour Minister Elsa Fornero.
Monti’s austerity madness and deregulatory zeal has provoked massive protests. Strikes, from finance to manufacturing and retail, have been occurring almost daily in recent weeks.
CGIL general secretary Susanna Camusso Friday reiterated plans for a general strike against the labour reforms, which are currently going through the parliamentary process. ‘The amendments that have been announced do not improve the bill,’ Camusso said.
The CGIL and the other confederations argue that labour reforms, which makes it easier and cheaper for employers to fire workers, will not create jobs; what is needed is an end to austerity and a boost to government spending.
Images:(Top) Agricultural workers march in Naples Friday 27 April; and Bari.