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Italian Unions Stage One-Day Strike - 2002-04-16

Italy's three major trade unions staged a one-day general strike Tuesday to protest against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's intention to reform the labor market. Millions of workers took part in the national walkout to voice their opposition to the government's plans.

Millions of members of Italy's three major trade unions, the CGIL, CISL and UIL took part in rallies held in various cities across Italy to voice their opposition to the government's plans to make it easier to fire workers. They waved flags and chanted anti-government slogans.

Tuesday's eight-hour general strike was the first full-day work stoppage in nearly 20 years. All forms of transport including planes, trains and buses came to a halt. All public services, including banks and post offices shut down.

Schools and factories were also closed as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest the government's plans to change Article 18 of Italy's Workers' Statute. As it stands now, the specific article forces companies with more than 15 employees to reinstate anyone who is fired without just cause and pay the worker the full salary from the time he was fired.

In a joint-statement, the three trade unions said there was massive response today to the strike call from workers across the board. They estimated as many as 13 million people had not gone to work and chose to strike.

Sergio Cofferati, the leader of Italy's largest union, the CGIL, called it an extraordinary day adding that the government and business world will realize that there will be no stopping to industrial action until the unions reach their objectives. Negotiations between the unions and the government broke down last month.

Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has said he will push ahead with changes to Article 18 despite the strike. The center-right government in power in Italy has a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament and has said it will go ahead and implement the changes without union agreement.

Government members insist the reforms are necessary to make the Italian labor market more flexible, the economy more competitive and to attract foreign investment.

The unions, for their part, have made clear they are prepared to carry our further industrial action if Prime Minister Berlusconi and his government do not back down from the proposed changes.