Rome, Oct. 24 (Reuters): Trains, planes, schools, even opera houses were hit today as millions of Italians went on strike to protest against government plans to reform the heavily-indebted pensions system.
Travellers had headaches as morning trains were cancelled and national airline Alitalia axed more than 150 afternoon flights as a consequence of the staggered four-hour strike.
Hospitals said they could only guarantee staff for emergency services, while schoolchildren got a bonus day at home as teachers walked off the job. Milan’s famous La Scala opera house cancelled its evening performance.
Italy’s top three unions have urged their 11 million members to join some 100 demonstrations across the country, creating the third industrial storm that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has had to weather since his return to power in 2001.
Berlusconi’s first government in 1994 was toppled over the pensions issue, but his four-party coalition looked set to stand firm this time, with labour minister Roberto Maroni dismissing the strike as “a part-time protest”.
Like France and Germany, Italy is trying to reform its pensions system which swallows about 15 per cent of gross domestic product.
That proportion is set to grow as low birth rates and longer life expectancy age the country’s population.
The government wants to prevent Italians retiring before they have made 40 years of contributions or reached a minimum age of 65 for men and 60 for women, whereas at the moment you can retire at 57 if you have paid into the system for 35 years.
Opposition to the reform has revived the recently divided unions, which argue that laws passed in 1995 are enough to avert a crisis and that the government is churning out scare-mongering propaganda to hide other “misguided economic policy”.
A poll published by left-leaning daily La Repubblica today said six out of 10 Italians were against raising the retirement age.
Berlusconi, already grappling with an economy in recession, appeared resigned to today’s show of force three weeks after he took to the airwaves to reassure Italians he was acting in their best interests.