Union protests brew trouble for Berlusconi

Italy's leading trade union pulled tens of thousands onto the streets Saturday to protest against the social and economic policies of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government.

ROME: Italy's leading trade union pulled tens of thousands onto the streets Saturday to protest against the social and economic policies of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government.

According to union figures, 50,000 people demonstrated in the central region of Emilia-Romagna alone, another 30,000 in southern Naples, 20,000 in Sicily's Palermo, 10,000 in northern Genoa as well as 15,000 in the capital itself.

"We are here to demand that the government wakes up and takes action to confront the problems of those who are unemployed or who live only on meagre salaries on which they continually pay more taxes, of the pensioners and old people who no one thinks of any more," Guglielmo Epifani shouted as he spurred on the Roman contingent.

Epifani is the secretary general of the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL), the country's largest trade union with a membership of over 5.5 million.

The confederation mobilised sympathisers in 150 towns around Italy and organised demonstrations in 16 main cities and other smaller protest actions in dozens more.

It is calling on the government to abandon a series of austerity measures planned by the Berlusconi administration including cuts in social services, education and health.
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Epifani threatened a general strike in schools if government reform plans that would see teachers lose their jobs and children's attendance shortened are not modified.

CGIL on Thursday dropped its objections to a rescue plan for the national airline Alitalia, signing an agreement with the government after winning last-minute concessions.
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