A huge strike wave involving thousands of workers kicked off in Italy this week. The country’s three main union federations—the CGIL, CISL and UIL—joined together for their first united strikes for six years.
This is the first major challenge to Mario Monti, Italy’s new prime minister, and his planned austerity programme.
The unions represent workers in both the public and the private sector. On Monday they were joined by car workers at Fiat plants in the north of the country, represented by the Fiom union.
Strikes held on Monday were solid. Some workers walked out for the planned three hours, while others stayed out all day. Print workers struck for an entire shift. As a consequence, very few newspapers were available in Italy on Tuesday.
Public transport workers, including bus, tram and train drivers, will walk out for two days on Thursday and Friday. Bank employees will halt work on Friday. Public administration will close down for a whole day on Monday of next week.
Workers are furious at Monti’s plans to make cutbacks of over 20 billion euros while the rich are left untouched.
“We’re not giving up on the idea that the austerity package must be changed,” said the CGIL’s Susanna Camusso to a strike rally in Milan. “It hurts workers, pensions and the country as a whole.”
The strike was already having some effect as Socialist Worker went to press. Monti delayed the announcement of his austerity package by 24 hours to accommodate some union demands.
But this is unlikely to be enough. Italians saw prices rise and wages fall even in the years before the 2008 global financial crisis. Now they’re being asked to pay again.
This week’s united strikes are a leap forward for the Italian workers’ movement. They will send a message to Monti that ordinary people are prepared to fight back.
Workers elsewhere are also taking action. Greek workers held the first general strike against their new government on 1 December.
Belgian workers are due to strike on 19 December. Events in all three countries demonstrate that new governments will face resistance to their austerity programmes.