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Thousands of Italians hold one-day general strike protesting Draghi's government

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 labor 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 here because we believe that we need a real democratic approach to the country's problems," protester Simonetta Ascarelli told Reuters, adding, "We want to be involved and we want the voice of the workers, who have kept the country going for the last two years despite a global disaster, to be truly heard."  

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 listed a host of complaints, including government policy on pensions, schools, and industry.

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

"We want more money in our pensions, we pay too much tax, too many deductions," pensioner Franco Faraia said. 

"The interests of finance must be combined with those of employment. The participation of workers in this great challenge of changing the development model cannot be regulated by the markets," protester Antonio Pepe added. 

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.

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.

(Source: Reuters) 

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