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Two Italian unions stage general strike in defiance of Draghi

·2-min read

ROME (Reuters) - Two of Italy's largest trade unions staged a one-day general strike on Thursday to protest against the government's economic and budget policies, urging more help for lower-paid workers.

The stoppage is a direct challenge to Prime Minister Mario Draghi's unity coalition, but it has split the labour movement, with the country's second largest union refusing to take part.

Several thousand people waving the red and blue flags of the CGIL and UIL unions held a rally in central Rome to hear their leaders accuse the government of ignoring the problems of the lower paid in the face of rising energy costs.

"We are giving voice to the social unease in the country. We need to speak out and it would be a good idea for those in parliament to listen to us," CGIL leader Maurizio Landini said.

The strike appeared to cause minimal disruption. Rome's local transport authority said there were only delays on one of the city's three metro lines, while the national railways said high-speed trains were operating normally.

Italy's largest carmaker Stellantis saw no interruption to its operations, a source said.

When the unions announced the protest earlier this month, they gave a list of complaints, including government policy on pensions, schools and industry.

They have particularly taken aim at planned tax cuts, which they have criticised for being especially beneficial to those earning around 50,000 euros ($56,500) a year. They say the money would have been better spent on reducing labour costs.

"Today is the start of a mobilisation because we think the country needs to be changed with a tax and a pension reform worthy of the name," Landini said.

The long-promised tax cuts are included in the 2022 budget, which is due to go before parliament next week and has to be voted into law by the end of the year.

Government officials met unions representatives several times ahead as they were drawing up the budget and are due to hold more talks next week on the heavily-indebted pensions system.

"As far as the unions are concerned, the government has no desire to punish them," Draghi told parliament on Wednesday. "There is a willingness to talk, to share, to listen."

The CGIL and UIL unions have a combined membership of more than seven million, but many of their members are pensioners and critics have accused them of losing touch with ordinary workers.

"We are faced by a farcical strike against Italy and its workers. The CGIL should help us to rebuild the country rather than block it," League leader Matteo Salvini, whose right-wing party is in Draghi's broad coalition, said on Thursday.

($1 = 0.8843 euros)

(Additional reporting by Giulio Piovaccari; Writing by Crispian Balmer and Angus MacSwan)

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