ROME (Reuters) - Demonstrators clashed with police in Milan and Turin on Friday as two Italian unions held a nationwide strike, the latest in a series of protests against labor reforms that would make it easier for firms to lay off workers.
Police said they made several arrests and television pictures showed officers in riot gear charging protesters who threw firecrackers and other objects.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has pledged to push on with his reform program for an economy heading for a third straight year of contraction, but he is facing resistance from both unions and some in his own center-left Democratic Party.
Friday’s strike by the CGIL and UIL unions hit public transport, hospitals, schools and civil administrations across Italy, and more than 50 rallies were held.
The main target of the demonstrations was the 39 year-old premier’s “Jobs Act”, aimed at loosening restrictions on firing employees when companies face a business downturn and weakening a treasured right to protest unlawful dismissal.
With unemployment at record levels and youth jobless rates topping 40 percent, unions say the burden of the reforms and spending cuts is being placed unfairly on workers and will do nothing to revive growth.
“The government has to change its policies on employment,” Susanna Camusso, head of the CGIL, Italy’s largest union, said. “The Jobs Act and the budget do nothing to revive the economy and create jobs.”
With pressure growing on Italy to meet European Union deficit and debt targets, Renzi’s progress is being monitored by EU partners. Both the European Commission and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have pushed for faster action from Rome.
Italy’s other main union, CISL, has also criticized the government’s handling of labor reform, but did not take part in Friday’s walkout.
“I think it is right to strike, it is time, we need to start moving things. We need to start playing our part as citizens and workers,” said Rome commuter Loriana Blasi.
Speaking in Turkey late on Thursday, Renzi said he respected the unions’ right to strike, but he added that the unions would not throw his reform drive off course.
The Jobs Act is part of a package of promised measures to revive the euro zone’s most sluggish economy, whose citizens had less spending power on average in 2013 than they had at the start of the century.
Additional reporting Antonio Denti; Editing by Crispian Balmer and John Stonestreet