Thousands of Italians protest bleak job market, demand more rights for workers

Police block Demonstrators of the FIOM metalworkers' union during a protest in defence of labour contracts and against the government on October 16, 2010 in central Rome. Thousands of people marched in Rome at a trade union protest in defence of labour contracts and against the government, with many leftist opposition supporters also joining in. - Police block Demonstrators of the FIOM metalworkers' union during a protest in defence of labour contracts and against the government on October 16, 2010 in central Rome. Thousands of people marched in Rome at a trade union protest in defence of labour contracts and against the government, with many leftist opposition supporters also joining in. | Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

Police block Demonstrators of the FIOM metalworkers' union during a protest

Globe and Mail Update, Oct. 16, 2010

Thousands of Italians marched in Rome on Saturday in a rally backed by Italy’s largest union to protest the bleak outlook for jobs and demand more rights for workers.  Despite a warning from the interior minister this week that anarchist and extremist groups could infiltrate the rally to create disturbances, the rally proceeded without violence.

“The crisis has reached a certain point but is definitely not over yet,” said Eugenio Borrello of the FIOM metalworkers union that organized the protest. “Unfortunately, in Italy only the workers and pensioners are paying for the crisis, the government is doing absolutely nothing.”

FIOM, a hardline faction of Italy’s biggest union CGIL, has been locked in a bitter battle with Fiat over the carmaker’s efforts to reform labour practices at its plants and boost efficiency.  Three workers at a Fiat plant in Italy’s south who sparked a fierce controversy when they were fired in July on accusations of blocking machinery during a strike were among those who marched in the protest.

Waving red flags and banners, protesters marched through central Rome as police looked on. Prominent centrist and leftist opposition leaders were among those who took part.  Italians have taken to the streets several times in recent months to protest the dwindling number of jobs and spending cuts on areas like education as the country recovers only slowly from its worst recession since World War Two.

But a sharply divided union front and Italy’s relatively smooth passage through the crisis compared to peers in Europe has helped it escape the more severe labour unrest seen in countries like Greece.

Italy’s unemployment rate stood at 8.2 percent in August, below the 10.1 percent euro zone average. But analysts say the reason unemployment in Italy has risen only gradually since July last year is mainly due to a scheme that keeps people on company payrolls despite being sent home and due to the fact that thousands of Italians have given up looking for work.

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