* Centre-left upset over Monti tactics
* Risk of split or weaker reform
* Parliamentary majority could fracture
By Barry Moody
ROME, March 22 Prime Minister Mario Monti's
attempt to force through labour reform in Italy ran into
political trouble on Thursday, raising the risk that the
coalition supporting him in parliament could split or the
measures be weakened.
The leadership of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD),
which supports Monti, had initially seemed ready to accept the
reform despite trenchant opposition from its close ally the
leftwing CGIL union, which has called a day-long protest strike.
But overnight, apparently under pressure from the left of
the party, leader Pier Luigi Bersani expressed anger over the
technocrat premier's tactics in brushing aside opposition to the
"Pay attention. Monti cannot tell the PD to take it or leave
it. You cannot do this," Bersani told a state television talk
show on Wednesday night.
"Have I explained myself? No take it or leave it. We won't
accept that. We will vote (for the reforms) when we are
convinced," he added. The PD is the second biggest group in a
grand coalition supporting Monti and essential if he is to get
laws through parliament.
The reforms to employment protection laws dating back to the
1970s are central to Monti's drive to transform the euro zone's
third-biggest economy and end a decade of stagnant growth.
They are also at the heart of a broader effort to restore
confidence in the euro zone and are being closely watched on
Even Enrico Letta, the PD's deputy leader and from the
party's right wing, backtracked on support for Monti on the
reforms on Thursday, saying there must be changes.
Angelino Alfano, leader of the biggest group, former
premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party, shot
back on Thursday that they would not allow the PD to weaken the
He told a radio programme that his centre-right party would
insist on their own changes in parliament if the PD tried to
modify the reforms drawn up by Monti's technocrat government.
The CGIL, Italy's largest union, said it would call a
general strike after Monti on Tuesday impatiently swept aside
opposition to a key provision following weeks of negotiation,
and said the time for talking was over.
CGIL head Susanna Camusso said Monti was putting all the
burden for reforming Italy on workers and pensioners.
Monti may have underestimated the amount of resistance from
the left to changes that would make it easier for companies to
lay off employees for disciplinary or business reasons and he is
now facing the biggest opposition since he took power four
The Democratic Party looks at risk of a serious split
between its left wing, allied strongly with the CGIL, and a
right wing largely formed from remnants of the defunct Christian
If it falls apart, as some analysts have long predicted,
this would clearly undermine Monti's support in passing laws.
Labour Minister Elsa Fornero will meet employers and unions
later on Thursday to fine-tune the labour reforms, which could
be sealed by the government in a cabinet meeting on Friday
before they are sent to parliament for approval.
Monti was appointed in November, replacing Berlusconi, as
Italy's borrowing costs hit levels that forced Greece, Ireland
and Portugal to take international bailouts.
With politicians and unions subdued by the financial
emergency, Monti was able to rapidly push through tough
austerity measures including a major pension reform, against
only half-hearted opposition.
However, since then Monti's success in restoring faith in
Italy, combined with two huge bank funding operations by the
European Central Bank, have sharply reduced the country's
borrowing costs, lessened the emergency atmosphere and reduced
pressure on the politicians to swallow their misgivings.
The sticking point for the CGIL and the left is Article 18
of the labour code, a 42-year-old talisman for the unions of
concessions they won from bosses in the heyday of their power
that is a strong disincentive to firing workers.
Monti, who clashed with U.S. corporate giants Microsoft and
General Electric during his years as a European Commissioner in
Brussels, won plaudits initially for taking off the gloves and
dumping an Italian tradition of reaching compromise agreements
through interminable negotiations.
But it is this tactic which has riled the left the most.
Monti said that since he had support from employers and two
smaller, more moderate trade union confederations, he would
forge ahead with a reform that was demanded last year by Italy's
The employers have welcomed the changes to laws they say
make Italy uncompetitive by discouraging companies from hiring
staff, hinder investment and condemn large numbers of young
people to insecure, low-paid work, while older workers remain
insulated in jobs for life.
More than 30 percent of 18 to 24-year olds in Italy are
unemployed, and only about 57 percent of the population has a