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.
Belgian unions have criticised a fresh round of austerity measures announced over the weekend by the federal government as a missed opportunity for ‘tax justice’.
The government already plans as part of a €11.3 billion cuts package agreed when the current administration took office at the end of 2011 to increase the retirement age from 59, balance its public sector budget by 2015 and raise an array of taxes.
Now it is planning to raise more taxes and postpone €1.82 billion of spending commitments, including on welfare, the promotion of generic medicines and foreign aid.
The coalition government plans to reduce its public sector deficit to 2.8% of GDP in 2012, from its 2011 level of 3.8% in order to meet EU demands for deficit reduction. If it fails to cut its deficit to a level of a maximum of 3%, it could face EU fines.
To justify more austerity, the government has opted to use the central bank’s forecast of a 0.1% contraction in the economy this year, instead of the more optimistic 0.1% growth predicted by the Federal Plan Bureau, which generally provides the estimates used in drafting budgets.
In 2011, Belgium’s economy, the sixth largest in the eurozone, grew 1.9%. A contraction would require greater savings than those already planned.
The FGTB trade union central, which led the first general strike in almost two decades on January 30, said that the measures had omitted any funding to turn the economy around, and contained no ‘significant’ initiatives to make the tax system fairer, something that could be achieved through a crackdown on tax avoidance, a wealth tax and a register of the rich. Promised funds for parental leave are now going to be withheld, it added.
The FGTB did, however, welcome a retreat from plans to axe automatic indexation of wages: ‘The government has listened to the demand of the unions, and the FTGB, not to touch purchasing power.’ The FTGB also welcomed a temporary freeze on energy prices and a tax on the stock exchange, which it described, however, as ‘insufficient’
‘We fear the debate has been limited to competitiveness..and wage costs. We need a genuine growth plan that maintains and creates quality jobs and contributes, together with [Belgium's] regional governments, towards building an economy that is more innovative and sustainable.’
The FTGB also called for action at a European level against austerity policies imposed on EU member states.
In its statement the FGTB ended with a question: ‘While nation states and workers burn, the banks get a trillion euros at 1% from the European Central Bank. Why?’
European Left on the European Commission’s regressive pensions proposals and how they will hit women hard. Video
A video selection of protest in 2011 across the Continent, involving workers from the public sector and private sector, trade unionists, students, pensioners, anti-fascists, immigrants, men and women, mothers, fathers, feminists, indignados, from Belgium, Greece, Italy, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland and Spain. Strikes, marches, stunts and other forms of protests against austerity, wage freezes, pension cuts, racism, sexism, the banks, the richest and goverrnments Watch
Italian unions took strike action today against Mario Monti’s draconian austerity budget.
Here’s an alternative that the CGIL, the country’s largest trade union confederation, asked the prime minister to consider in talks on Sunday, but was rebuffed.
The austerity budget of the new unelected government of Mario Monti includes Euros 20 billion in spending cuts.
The CGIL says the budget, or manovra
is not fair, hits low incomes the hardest, will undermine consumer spending, deepen the recession and lengthen the jobless queues
those who have more should pay more, starting with those who have never paid*
* tax evaders.
The CGIL wants the Government to:
In addition, parliament “can and should” enact
“Monti’s polices will bring Italy to default. This budget is worse that one that Berlusconi would have presented,” said Paolo Ferrero, leader of Communist Refoundation at the conclusion of the party’s congress in Naples yesterday.
The budget package presented by Italy’s pm Mario Monti is a “hammer blow” for Italians, it is “recessive and doesn’t contain any measures that are necessary” to face the crisis, he said.
The three union confederations, all now planning strikes on December 12, were united in opposition to the austerity measures, Ferrero noted.
“We must overturn the polices of the European Central Bank and the Directorate aroud Merkel,” he added, describing the financial and economic crisis facing the Eurozone as “structural”.
“We have to use the “too big to fail” to force Germany to change its policies and say with clarity that the Italian government will not pay the debts of German banks,” added Ferrero.
Monti’s budget has been widely criticised for being so austere as to send Italy’s zombie economy into deep recession.
It is also seen as unfair by three out of four Italians who believe it “could have been done in a different way,” according to a poll by IPR Marketing.
The budget includes swinging cuts to health budgets and a pension “reform” that will raise the retirement age for many workers, end cost-of-living adjustments on most pensions and make payouts based on contributions rather than final salary.
There will be rises in valued added tax and the reintroduction of a tax on properties that will disproportionately hit the middle and working classes in a country where 75%-plus own their own homes.
And while there will be a new tax on luxury goods like boats and expensive cars, calls for a more encompassing “wealth tax” that would have tapped into Italy’s Euros 10 trillion in private wealth (five times the country’s public debt) have not been acted on. This is because they are opposed by the party of recently deposed premier Silvio Berlusconi, the richest man in Italy.
Also, plans to raise the income tax rate on top earners have also been dropped.
The budget package is divided into 20 billion euros of budget tightening and an additional 10 billion euros that the government says will used to boost growth and employment.
There will be corporate tax breaks aimed at spurring hiring and encouraging private financing of infrastructure projects, although billions of euros in state support has been given to private companies over the past decade and yet Italy’s economy has barely grown at all.
Monti’s Cabinet passed the budget package by decree on December 4, meaning the plan takes effect immediately and Parliament has 60 days to approve the package for it to remain in effect. Both houses of Parliament will vote before the Christmas recess.
Over the weekend a package of austerity measures were announced by Italian premier Mario Monti to reassure financial markets that have been betting on Italy defaulting.
Cuts to pensions featured large – raising the retirement age, eventually up to 70, extending the minimum 40 year contribution period and ending cost of living indexation, for those on a pension over Euros 467 (£400) monthly.
The Government hopes that it will raise Euros 10 billion for the country’s cash-strapped treasury.
Monti has argued that the pensions system is unfair. It has “wide disparities in treatment” including between “categories of workers”, and with “unjustified privileges”, he has said.
But the measures his Government plans to implement will hit ordinary folk. And they do not address what is most unfair about the system, namely:
Behind the myth of a “generous” and “unsustainable” pensions system is provision in old age that favours some classes over others.
A fairer alternative
A fairer (and much simpler) system could be:
Such changes to the pension system would represent a genuine reform rather than the Euros 10 billion raid on security in old age to plug the hole in the national accounts, a hole not caused by il popolo.
Not revolutionary, but sensible and fair.
This kind of pension reform is not likely to ever register on the radar of plutocrat premier Monti and his friends in the business and the global banking world.
But that won’t stop the Communists – who came up with these proposals - to campaign for them anyway.
More in Italian
“Generous” is a standard description in media reports of the Italian pension system. Yet, on the eve of new cuts to pensions announced by the Government of Mario Monti, a million elderly eat little or badly for economic reasons, according to new research. These over 65s lack 400 calories daily on average, especially proteins deriving from costly meat and fish. Even a month of poor diet increases the probability of hospitalisation and fatalities, according to National Congress of the Italian Society of Gerontology and Geriatrics (Sigg). Link to Ansa report.