Tens of thousands of people are stranded. Factories are closed, airports and train stations deserted. An entire nation comes to a standstill as Italy’s largest trade union, the CGIL, calls on its 6 million members to strike.
The nationwide transport strike was called in protest at Prime Minister Berlusconi’s deep cuts to the country’s budget. An 8-hour protest – an emotional and appropriately Italian response to public spending cuts – has emphasized the sense of emergency in the Eurozone’s third-largest economy.
Italian workers – who have some of the lowest salaries in Western Europe – are faced with rising consumer prices, while their wages remain uncomfortably low. And the government’s austerity measures, they feel, will only cause more strain on the already struggling people.
The ongoing financial crisis has already seen some budget cuts, such as retirement delays and a 2-year freeze on salaries for state employees. But this latest €45.5 billion plan would withhold retirement funds of public sector workers for two years after leaving their jobs.
This added pressure could be enough to push people over the edge.
Claudio, a 47-year-old industrial worker, told Reuters the measures are nothing but a “social massacre”.
“The government is targeting people like me, introducing so many cuts,” he said.”My family, and so many people I know, we cannot survive like this. I only make €1000 a month!”
The despondence quickly turned to anger as in cities across Italy eggs and smoke bombs flew at banks and government buildings.
Many already fear that the new austerity plan will push Italy onto the same violent path as Greece and Spain.
“What the government is trying to do is to make the majority of people pay the bill of the crisis,” said Fabio De Masi, a German financial expert. He told RT that the scheme “is not working. You cannot run an economy against the majority of the population.”
The indignant protests in Europe, and the worsening financial situation, have caused many to doubt the future of the single European currency. Greece is already under immense pressure from Germany, and the CEO of Italy’s largest bank has on Tuesday called the situation a test for EU leaders and called on them to decide whether they want the euro or are prepared to give it up.
The people most affected by the euro’s failure, however, are not prepared to give up. Italians say they will fill each piazza across the country with people everyday until their opinions are incorporated into the austerity measures.
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