Much of Italy ground to a halt yesterday after a national strike was called to protest against austerity measures being forced through Parliament to placate the markets and escape the debt crisis which is threatening the eurozone's third biggest economy.
More than three million teachers, transport workers and public servants boycotted work. The walkouts led to demonstrations in Rome, Milan, Florence, Naples and about 100 other towns and cities across the country. "This is a plan the country doesn't deserve," said Susanna Camusso, head of the largest union, CGIL, hours before Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's cuts package was due to go before the Senate - the upper house of the Italian Parliament. "When you are on the edge of the abyss, you have to take a step backwards," she said.
The public-sector union had been angered by proposed cuts to pension benefits and public spending cuts totalling €45.5 billion ($77.3 billion) in an austerity package that first emerged before the summer recess. But additional measures slipped into the legislation, particularly one that would make it much easier to sack workers, fuelled support for yesterday's strike.
Public workers in Italy are also resentful that as they pay tax at source they will feel the brunt of tax hikes and cuts in allowances, while millions of self-employed people will continue to avoid tax on a huge scale.
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As a result of yesterday's strike, hundreds of people were stranded at airports as flights were delayed or cancelled.