Italy: Austerity package brings strike threat

The leader of Italy's largest union is threatening a general strike against an austerity package that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government pushed through to balance the budget by 2013 and avoid financial collapse.

The strike threat came amid mounting criticism of the €45.5bn (£39.8bn) package passed on Friday in response to demands by the European Central Bank (ECB). Critics say the package – a mix of spending cuts, job cuts and tax increases – will strangle Italy's stagnant economy, which is now expected to grow by only about 1 per cent this year.

Other critics, including nine members of Mr Berlusconi's own coalition, say it unfairly targets the middle class and fails to tackle Italy's massive tax evasion problem. Susanna Camusso, the leader of the CGIL labour union, criticised measures aimed at the labour market and pension system, saying a strike was the only way to "change the inequity of this package".

She told La Repubblica newspaper that union officials would meet on 23 August to set a strike date and invited other unions to join.