As Tony Blair met right wing Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to discuss 'flexible labour markets' and 'economic liberalisation', a wave of workers' revolt was sweeping the country. Berlusconi, said there had been an 'absolute convergence of views' between him and Blair.
Berlusconi, whose government includes fascists from the National Alliance, wants to scrap Article 18 of the Workers Charter. Article 18 does not allow bosses to sack workers without a good reason. The CGIL, the main left wing trade union federation, organised a number of regional general strikes at the end of January in response.
These were highly successful, with millions joining the four-hour strike. Around 70,000 demonstrated in Bologna, 50,000 in Milan and Naples, 30,000 in Florence, 20,000 in Modena and 10,000 in Salerno. The government offered to improve public sector workers' contracts. All the main unions accepted and called off last Friday's planned general strike.
But the independent rank and file unions Cub and Cobas, which are strong in some of the public services, went ahead with the strike. Over 100,000 people marched through the Italian capital, Rome, on the day. They included striking nurses from Milan, car workers from Fiat factories, traffic wardens, firefighters, postal workers, teachers, students and transport workers.
The CGIL has called a march against education cuts for Rome on 9 March. There were also plans for protests in every Italian city on Tuesday of this week. Last week also saw a militant four-day strike involving thousands of cleaning workers on the railways.
Berlusconi wanted to rip up these temporary workers' contracts and sack them all as part of his plans for privatisation of the railways. Their four days of action forced the government to back down and renew their contracts.