Thursday

29th Feb 2024

Mass strikes, protests hit Italy, Spain over EU-imposed austerity

  • Social rights are no luxury, protesters said (Photo: Geomangio)

Popular anger over Europe’s strategy of austerity for exiting the eurozone crisis spread to Italy on Tuesday as the country was paralysed by a general strike.

Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Italians poured into the streets of over a hundred cities and towns to protest what Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin demand.

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Called by the CGIL union, the eight-hour strike against a fresh €45.5 billion austerity package hit both public and private sector operations, shutting down transport throughout much of the country and grounding planes.

Some 3 million workers stayed off the job, with Rome seeing an estimated 70,000-strong mobilisation. Around 35,000 Ryanair passengers were hit by the cancellation of 200 flights.

The leader of CGIL, Susanna Camusso, threatened additional industrial action if the measures are not withdrawn.

However, two other Italian unions, the CISL and the UIL, refused to join their colleagues in the streets, arguing that the current economic situation was too precarious for such action.

The unions are opposed both to the cuts and structural changes that hit job protections, allowing businesses to abandon centrally agreed national labour contracts, enabling them to fire workers more easily.

Conservative economists argue that such measures will help moderate wage demands, making Italian businesses more competitive.

Meanwhile, as markets continue to be spooked by divisions in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government, the Italian leader announced on Tuesday that the austerity measures, introduced by emergency decree but requiring parliamentary endorsement, are to be put to a vote of confidence in the Senate.

As a loss of such a vote would mean the fall of the government, the move is expected to ensure its passage.

Berlusconi’s coalition allies in the hard-right Northern League are opposed to efforts to raise the retirement age of women while the opposition centre-left has said the measures should be made more “equitable” but does not argue against the overall strategy.

The package is expected to be endorsed by the end of the week.

Italy’s strike came as it emerged that Germany’s European commissioner, Guenter Oettinger, lashed out at Rome for its “misrule”.

Speaking to a meeting of German business associations in Berlin, the commissioner had “acted irresponsibly” and had “duped” the European Central Bank into buying its bonds.

Separately in Spain on Tuesday, thousands of workers marched through Madrid against the country’s own austerity measures and a change to the constitution that would introduce a cap on government spending.

The unions and the country’s movement of ‘indignados’ - mostly young people hit hard by the country’s record 43 percent unemployment rate - are demanding a referendum on the measure, which they say is being rammed through parliament and endangers social programmes.

Spain’s upper house is due to vote on the constitutional change on Wednesday.

ECB returns to markets to help Italy and Spain

The European Central Bank has decided buy bonds from troubled eurozone countries after a five-month pause in a bid to stem the crisis from spilling to Italy and Spain.

Spanish borrowing costs soar

Eurozone woes deepened Thursday as Spain and France were forced to pay sharply higher interest rates than usual and anti-austerity protesters in Italy and Greece clashed with police.

EU commission willing to meet 'Indignados' in Brussels

The European Commission is willing to meet with representatives of the 'indignado' anti-austerity movement, a contingent of whom have marched from Madrid to Brussels protesting a European Union they say places the interests of big business ahead of ordinary people.

Berlusconi faces make-or-break confidence vote

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will on Friday confront the political trial of his career: a vote of confidence in parliament on the septuagenarian leader, forced on him as the economic crisis transforms into a political one.

Investigation

Far-right MEPs least disciplined in following party line

In a fractious parliamentary vote, the level of party discipline often decides the fate of legislation. Party discipline among nationalists and far-right MEPs is the weakest, something potentially significant after the June elections. Data by Novaya Gazeta Europe and EUobserver.

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