Berlusconi stands firm after strike
ROME, Italy -- The Italian government is standing firm on its proposed employment policies in the face of militant union opposition.
"We can not leave things as they are now. Reform is needed," Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told reporters on Wednesday.
He was speaking after millions of Italians staged a general strike on Tuesday against Berlusconi's labour reforms that include ending a "jobs for life" culture in much of Italy.
Air and rail transport ground to a virtual halt, schools, banks and post offices closed, and production lines at top firms stood idle. (Full story)
Union leaders had said Berlusconi would have to back down in the face of people power.
Berlusconi's deputy, Gianfranco Fini told Corriere della Sera newspaper: "A government that emerges unharmed from a demonstration the likes of which haven't been seen for 20 years is certainly a stronger government...it will not give in."
Italy's three biggest unions estimated that as many as 13 million people had heeded the strike call out of a total workforce of 21 million.
Independent observers told Reuters they thought the number of strikers was closer to six million.
The centre-right government, elected last year on a promise to modernise Italy, said it was ready to resume negotiations.
But it indicated that it was not prepared to abandon reforms, which became even more emotive last month when one of the project's authors, government advisor Marco Biagi, was assassinated by left-wing extremists.
"This is an extraordinary day," Sergio Cofferati, the leader of Italy's largest union, the CGIL, told a demonstration in the Renaissance city of Florence.
"Government and business will realise that we won't stop until we have reached our objectives."
The industrial disruption was centred on one particular element of Berlusconi's labour plans -- revising Article 18 which states a company with more than 15 employees must reinstate a worker if a court finds that he or she was sacked without "just cause."
It is only a small part of the planned legislation but the government insists it is necessary to change the arcane legislation to modernise Italian labour laws and bring them more in line with the European Union.
But the unions say it will make it easier for firms to sack staff and lead to massive job losses.
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