IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Italian unions plan strike to protest new budget

Factories, trains, banks and planes will come to a standstill for four hours in Italy on Friday as the country's three largest trade unions stage a general strike against the government's 2006 budget.
/ Source: Reuters

Factories, trains, banks and planes will come to a standstill for four hours in Italy on Friday as the country's three largest trade unions stage a general strike against the government's 2006 budget.

It will be the sixth general strike since Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi took office in 2001, underlying the often dire labor relations that have blighted the Italian economy in the past four years.

The latest protest takes aim at the government's bid to slash next year's budget deficit by $19.5 billion through a mix of spending cuts, asset sales and a crackdown on tax evasion.

Unions say the cuts will hit public services and damage Italy's fragile economy, which is struggling to grow.

"This budget not only does not resolve our problems, but jeopardizes the very timid signs of recovery," said Guglielmo Epifani, head of Italy's largest union, CGIL.

One of the hardest hit sectors will be air travel, with state-controlled airliner Alitalia forced to cancel 230 flights — 105 national flights and 125 international.

Other carriers are also likely to cancel flights into Rome, with air traffic controllers halting work between 12.00 p.m. and 4.00 p.m.

Postal workers, hospital staff, teachers, artists and road sweepers are also planning to go on strike, with the starting hour for the stoppages decided regionally by local union chiefs.

Some regions and sectors are planning full-day strikes.

The last general strike was staged one year ago to protest against tax cuts that unions said would only benefit the rich.

Other nationwide protests have targeted labor market and pension reforms.

The government says it needs a belt-tightening budget to plug a bigger-than-expected gap in state finances and to honor a commitment made to the European Union to reduce its budget deficit next year to 3.8 percent of gross domestic product.

The closely watched deficit is expected to hit 4.3 percent of GDP in 2005.