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Italy strikes against Renzi labour reforms and cuts

ROME (Reuters) - Striking workers took to the streets in cities across Italy on Friday to protest against cuts to public services and labour reforms proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi speaks during a meeting on the sidelines at a Europe-Asia summit (ASEM) in Milan October 17, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

The stoppages mainly affected the transport sector, with train and public bus travel disrupted and the budget airline EasyJet warning of possible cancellations after the USB union called a 24-hour strike.

The protests were a prelude to a larger series of rallies called by Italy’s biggest union, the CGIL, for Saturday.

Renzi won backing in late September for proposals to change job protection rules that critics say deter companies from hiring new staff, contributing to chronic economic malaise.

Posters plastered around Rome and other Italian cities showed Renzi along with Fiat Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne and Public Administration Minister Marianna Madia with the slogan: “Let’s send them home for just cause!”

European policymakers have applauded Renzi’s proposals, which also aim to mend a labour market divide between “precarious” young workers with few employment rights and older employees whose jobs are rigidly protected.

Unions and left-wing members of Renzi’s own Democratic Party say the proposals undermine workers’ rights and do nothing to address the underlying causes of decades of economic stagnation.

The protests also feed into wider discontent about the austerity policies, including heavy public spending cuts, adopted by governments to meet European Union budget rules.

Renzi said in a televised interview later on Friday that he respected the CGIL, but the planned demonstration did not discourage him.

“The days when a street protest could block the government are gone. We won’t budge a centimetre,” Renzi told the La7 channel from a political meeting in the central Italian town of Florence, where he used to be mayor.

The CGIL has likened Renzi to Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister who fought to weaken trade unions during the 1980s.

Rome’s public transport agency ATAC said that as of 1030 GMT / 0630 ET on Friday, 14 percent of its employees had participated in the strike. Interruptions to local transport services were also reported in other cities.

Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Tom Heneghan/Ruth Pitchford