Anti-austerity strike hits Italy

Transport and air traffic disrupted by work stoppage in Italy, as Spanish workers march against budget reforms.

    Italy's largest trade union has mounted a general strike in opposition to government plans to tackle an austerity crisis.

    The strike on Tuesday started as Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, worked to secure parliamentary backing for an austerity package worth $64bn over the next two years.

    The eight-hour action called by CGIL, which represents 6 million workers, disrupted public transport and air traffic, and most government offices closed for the day.

    Pressure has risen on Italy to cut its 1.9tn euros of public debt, underlining a sense of emergency in the euro zone's third largest economy.


    Al Jazeera's correspondent reports on the strike from Rome

    "These austerity measures are also irresponsible, they are measures that dump on the worker, on the public workers, all the costs of this crisis and this difficult financial situation," Susanna Camusso, the secretary-general of CGIL, told Al Jazeera.

    "It is an austerity measure that does not take into consideration the future of the country and what should be necessary for growth."

    Smaller, more moderate union federations are rejecting the strike, saying there is no point in taking action against employers when everybody's jobs are at risk.

    Al Jazeera's Nadim Baba, reporting from Rome, said: "Many Italians know that some cuts are inevitable, hence not hundreds of thousands have turned out."

    Berlusconi's centre-right cabinet adopted the draft $64bn plan on August 12 in a bid to calm market fears and bring Italy's budget into balance in 2013, instead of 2014 as was initially planned.

    The Italian parliament is widely expected to adopt the plan to help cut government spending and raise some taxes.

    On Monday, there were further stock market falls and a new rise in interest rates payable on Italian government debt, causing German Chancellor Angela Merkel to compare Italy's economic plight to that of Greece.

    Spanish protests

    Meanwhile in Spain, protests are taking place in the capital Madrid, calling for a halt to constitutional reforms which could cap any future budget deficits.

    Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is desperately trying to calm market nerves about the country's ability to service its annual deficits.

    Spain's upper house of parliament will almost certainly approve a constitutional change on Wednesday that will enshrine balanced budgets.

    Under the constitutional change, Spain must stick to a long-term deficit cap except in times of natural disaster, recession or extraordinary emergencies, and even then only with approval of the lower house.

    But two of the country's biggest unions, the Labour Union and General Workers Union, are demanding a referendum on the reform and have been joined in their campaign by the "indignant" protest movement.

    Spanish unions are expecting tens of thousands of people to take to the streets in marches at the end of the working day on Tuesday.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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