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Italy needs growth, not a general strike | Sabina Castelfranco

Italy’s strike on Tuesday in protest against proposed public spending cuts seems ill-timed and most likely ineffective

If things go as planned, little is going to happen on the streets of Italy on Tuesday. CGIL, Italy’s largest union, has called a general strike for 6 September, which has gained support from most other union leaders. The target of the strike is the government’s €45.5bn austerity plan, which is aimed at balancing Italy’s budget by 2013 and calming market fears the country could default on its mounting debt.

Austerity makeovers have been piling up in Italy as of late. In the last week, Silvio Berlusconi and his coalition partners agreed to their third fiscal-reform plan of the summer. A government plan containing tough austerity measures, to be discussed by parliament next month, has been met with widespread criticism. Some €4bn of the €20bn of savings slated for 2012, and €12bn of the €25.5bn set for 2013 are to come through tax and welfare measures that are still waiting to be drawn up.

The left-leaning CGIL union objects to the proposed public spending cuts and labour market and pension reforms: its main concern is that they will make it easier for employers to sack workers, and that they will raise the retirement age. The union would also like to see more attention paid to the creation of a “wealth” tax and putting into place rigorous measures to clamp down on rampant tax evasion in Italy, especially by the rich. Susanna Camusso, leader of the CGIL, says a general strike is the only way to get the government to change its plans. “The government is irresponsible, not the strike,” says Camusso.

But not everyone agrees with her. In July, the government unveiled €48bn-worth of spending cuts in an effort to mend Italy’s ailing finances. In this climate, and with growing public awareness that something must be done about the financial difficulties faced by the ordinary man in the street, many are questioning whether a general strike is really appropriate at this point in time.

Many Italians question how effective the strike is going to be. Rome psychologist Gabriella Vaccher says holding a general strike now is useless: “All it’s going to do is take away €100 from the salaries of all those employees who are forced to strike.” With the ongoing economic crisis, a more intelligent way of getting the message across could have been found. “Instead, a major demonstration could have been organised on a Sunday when people do not work,” she adds.

The eight-hour stoppage will affect air traffic and train services as well as local transport. The industrial action is likely to cause severe disruptions, and clashes between protesters and security services cannot be excluded. Daniela Borghetto is a partner of Rome travel agent Ippocampo Viaggi. She insists that “holding a general strike now is a farce” because the government’s budget plans are still unclear, and are likely to keep changing as the package is discussed in parliament. “It would have been much better to wait and see what actually happens,” she says.

To my mind, a strike at this time could have been avoided and the money wasted could have gone to better use. The most important issue is that serious reforms have been discussed in this country for years, but never been implemented. They are now essential to improve the country’s dismal growth. The big question many educated professionals continue to ask is just how the Italian economy will start growing again. So far, no politician or government minister has been forthcoming with that information. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds