Italy: Transport Workers Wildcat Strike

Italy Seized by Public Transport Strike

Fri Jan 9, 6:06 AM ET

ROME (Reuters) - Transport workers went on strike in several cities across Italy Friday, a day after air traffic controllers walked off the job, forcing thousands of passengers to change planes.

Bus, train and metro workers were holding industrial action from Naples to Milan in staggered strikes, with some starting in the pre-dawn hours and ending as late as 8 p.m. (1900 GMT).

The transport chaos has increased pressure on Italy's center-right government which is pursuing controversial labor and pension reforms.

"It's definitely going to be a 'Black Friday'," lamented one Rome taxi driver. "Sure we get more work, but trying to actually get anywhere in this chaos is impossible."

Public transport job contracts expired in 2001 and workers had demanded a pay rise of 106 euros ($133) a month while employers proposed an increase of 41 euros.

A compromise was reached at the end of last year, but many workers said the pay increase would not cover their loss of purchasing power and threatened to keep up strike action.

Thursday's eight-hour stoppage by air traffic controllers, protesting over pay conditions, is the second in as many months.

As well as the public transport strikes, staff of Italian carrier Alitalia are staging a walk-out on January 19 to protest against a pay freeze and 2,700 job cuts.

Analysts say the spate of strike action has turned up the heat on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whom critics accuse of following no set agenda bar his own.

"The government has little clear economic strategy at this stage," said Bank of America economist Lorenzo Codogno.

"The risk now is that strikes and pressure from public opinion that could undermine political support for (Berlusconi's center-right) coalition might actually be effective," he said.

A controversial pensions reform which would take some weight off public spending but would make it harder to retire early, has yet to be debated in parliament.

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Statement of self-organized local transport workers of Milan*

Once again the workers of ATM [Milan's local transport company - tr.] have decided autonomously to cease work with the aim of saying "no" to the national agreement signed on the 20th December 2003 by the confederal unions, the government and the company. The aim of the local transport workers is to re-open discussions at a national level to enable us to receive the long-agreed $106 wage increase against inflation and around $3,000 back pay. The local transport workers of Milan are refusing and localized discussions which cannot resolve the situation regarding a national labour contract which provides less money and we have no intention in trading off our work breaks in exchange for "advances" of our own money. The local transport workers believe that the much-spoken-of consultation referendum is useless as it is offensive towards the sacrifices which the striking workers have made. We believe that the extremely high participation in these strikes is the only true referendum.

The local transport workers of Milan 12.01.2004

* [Ed. Note: This statement was issed today by the local transport workers of Milan, autonomously self-organized, and accompanies a wildcat strike which has blocked all public transport in Milan today. This strike follows a national transport strike last Friday, 9/1/04, which, though officially called by grassroots unions, saw mass participation by members of the 3 confederal unions who made an agreement with the government to accept half the wage increase and back pay which had originally been agreed in the national labour contract they themselves signed with the government.]