Labour Research April 2002

European news

Berlusconi sparks general strike

Italy is facing a general strike this month for the first time since 1994. After a period when it seemed that only CGIL, the largest union confederation, would call its members out, the other two confederations, CISL and UIL, are also backing action.

The key reason for the strike is that the government of Silvio Berlusconi has decided to press ahead with changes to Article 18 of the Labour Statute, which up to now has required the re-instatement of workers dismissed "without just cause". This protection is to be removed in companies employing 15 or fewer and in certain other circumstances.

The government had seemed to be moving towards a compromise but, under pressure from the employers' association Confindustria, the ruling coalition decided to press ahead and the changes were approved on 14 March.

Berlusconi attacked the unions for being unwilling to "modernise the labour market" and said that the planned action would be "a strike of the fathers against the future of their sons".

His comments helped to unify union opposition to the proposals. Savino Pezzotta, general secretary of the second largest confederation, CISL, said the government bore the responsibility for the break.

The exact date of the action was still under discussion as Labour Research went to press, but with unions also very concerned about the government's plans for pensions, a major clash seems certain.