Italian workers rally against job losses and plant closures

Unemployment highest since 2004

ROME (Reuters) — Thousands of Italian trade unionists rallied in central Rome on Oct. 20 to protest against growing job cuts and factory closures, urging Mario Monti's government to do more to help workers hit by a year-long recession.

"We're here to support all the workers who are in dispute with their companies during this economic crisis," said protester Michele Giuliva as he joined the rally organized by the left-leaning CGIL union, Italy's biggest. "The government is thinking only of bond spreads."

Italians are grappling with a prolonged economic slump, unemployment has risen to its highest since monthly records began in 2004 and unions are locked in growing disputes with companies over plant closures and layoffs.

Austerity measures passed by Monti to cut debt and reassure bond markets after he replaced former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi last year have further fuelled discontent, as tax hikes and spending cuts eat into incomes.

Workers from all sectors of industry gathered in the square outside St. John's Basilica, a traditional rallying point for left-wing protests, holding red balloons and banners with slogans such as "Go away Monti".

CGIL said on its website it was urging the government to focus on measures that encourage investment and boost employment, particularly among young people and women.

The Oct. 20 rally was the latest in a string of protests against the Italian government, and comes as demonstrations and strikes are mounting again across debt-laden southern Europe from Greece to Spain.

Threatened closures at factories such as Alcoa's aluminium plant in Sardinia and the Ilva steel plant in southern Italy have led to angry protests and strikes by workers fearing for their jobs.

Recently, a court ordered car maker Fiat to rehire 145 workers it had dismissed earlier this year over a union dispute. The workers are members of CGIL's metal industry arm which refused to sign up to new working conditions imposed by Fiat.

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