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Tension high as students lead nationwide protests

Unions also march, strike against 2014 budget

15 November, 18:34
Tension high as students lead nationwide protests (By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Rome, November 15 - Social tensions broke out into sporadic violence across Italy Thursday as students took to the streets against the government's economic policies, bolstering an eight-hour strike by unions protesting an allegedly anaemic budget they claim has welched on pledges to spark the flatlining economy into life to ease record poverty and joblessness.

Students marched en masse in most of Italy's big cities, under banners proclaiming We Won't Take the Blame For Your Crisis, demanding more social housing, the introduction of job-seeking benefits and more cash for schools and universities.

Although it has repeatedly vowed to allot much more spending towards stoking growth and helping underfunded sectors like education, Italy has been hampered by Brussels-dictated austerity criteria and is determined to avoid triggering another excessive-deficit procedure, like one that was recently closed, from the European Union.

Italy's three main labour unions - CGIL, CISL and UIL - and students staged nationwide protests against the draft 2014 budget, now ending its way through parliament amid myriad amendments, saying it failed to address record unemployment, including one in four young people out of work, or boost funds to the struggling education system.

Demonstrators across the country staged protests organized by the three unions and Italy's financial capital Milan hosted one of the main events with an estimated 2,000 people marching from Corso Venezia to Piazza della Scala under heavy rain.

"The government should not tell us it expects the economy to recover in 2014, the recovery will take place when workers will not be afraid of losing their jobs the following day", said the leader of CGIL Susanna Camusso in Milan.

The jobless rate in Italy is over 12% and over four in 10 young people aged 15-24 are out of work.

The number of Italians suffering from some form of labor difficulty, from underemployment to unemployment, is reportedly nearly nine million.

Addressing demonstrators in Milan, Camusso said CGIL, CISL and UIL were asking the government one thing - "to raise the incomes of employees and pensioners" to boost consumer spending and production.

The CGIL leader said unions will continue to protest until the government "will give responses" after drafting a budget law which she said only focuses on curbing the country's massive public debt, which climbed to 2.068565 trillion euros in September.

The budget bill now going through parliament has been widely accused of not including enough growth-stoking measures in a country which has been in recession since the third quarter of 2011.

Unions say that promised cuts on take-home pay and labour costs have turned out to be "risibly small".

The government has said it will try to beef them up as much as possible and has reminded protesters, including members of its coalition, that Italy has extremely small wiggle room because of EU-mandated fiscal restraints.

The leader of UIL Luigi Angeletti, closing a demonstration in the central Italian city of Perugia, also criticized the budget bill as having only the effect of "stabilizing unemployment". CISL chief Bonanni also denounced Italy's huge tax burden which he said will be "the tomb of Italy's economy and democracy".

Presenting the draft bill last month, Italian Premier Enrico Letta said Italy's overall tax burden would fall from 44% to 43.3% in three years under the draft budget law.

Thousands of students across Italy, from Sicily to Turin, also protested on Friday to demand more funding for public schools and universities in the budget bill.

In Rome, where clashes between demonstrators and police were reported as in Bologna in the North and Cagliari in Sardinia, groups of students protested in front of the education ministry and across the city centre.

Milan saw hundreds of students take to the streets and a small group of left-wing militants broke into Google's headquarters, dirtying the walls with graffiti.

On Friday the European Commission said Italy could not benefit from a possible stimulus-spending exemption, sometimes granted beyond the mandatory 3% deficit-to-GDP limit, because its public debt, the second-biggest in the eurozone behind Greece's, was still rising.

Premier Enrico Letta said the budget was keeping fiscal consolidation on the right track and the debt would start falling.