Italian shoppers stay at home in protest at rising prices

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The Independent Online

Tens of millions of Italian consumers went on strike yesterday to register their anger at the rapid rise in prices since the euro was introduced 20 months ago.

Tens of millions of Italian consumers went on strike yesterday to register their anger at the rapid rise in prices since the euro was introduced 20 months ago.

Four consumer organisations and some of the big trade unions joined hands in a day of protest directed at retail inflation. The price of a haircut in Rome has jumped by more than 12 per cent, a pizza in Bari in the far south is up 12.8 per cent, and a cup of cappuccino in Naples has risen 20 per cent since this time last year.

Last night the four organisations behind the action claimed that 47 per cent of consumers, about 26.5 million people, had obeyed the strike call. They had been hoping to draw 30 million people, inflicting a €300m (£210m) loss of revenue on the retailers they insist are scalping the public.

In Rome, many supermarkets were almost deserted as shoppers put off buying all but the most essential items. But traditional markets and local shops said business was normal. A fruit and vegetable vendor at a retail market in the capital said: "The volume of business has dropped off a lot in recent months, because families have got less money to spend. But I don't see that today is different from other days."

Italy has seen prices rise on average by 2.8 per cent in the past year, higher than France (1.9 per cent) or Germany (1.1 per cent) though lower than Spain (3 per cent). The EU average is 2.1 per cent. But the average figure disguises some extraordinary jumps: railway sleeping cars and camping site charges, for example, have risen 32.5 per cent in the past year, postal banking charges have gone up more than 26 per cent and cigarettes more than 14 per cent. The economy is now officially in recession.

The general consensus, in this normally europhiliac country, is that the "euro effect" is to blame: under the cover of confusion when the currency was introduced, businesses rounded up their prices and have continued doing so - even though in supermarkets prices are marked in euros and lira.

Antonio Marzano, the Minister for Productive Activity, said: "There is no price emergency. Consumers should go on strike every day against shopkeepers who raise their prices unfairly ... A strike against all shops hits the nation's gross domestic product, whereas if they struck only against the crafty operators they would spend more with those who behave correctly."

Gugliemo Epifani, a union leader, said the government had "done nothing" to restrain prices. "It's a relative alarm," he said. "We are certainly not talking about the sort of inflation we had 20 years ago, but when businesses say they are losing out in international competition, and when families say they can't make their money stretch to the end of the month because of the continual rises, it's clear that there is growing social hardship."

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