ROME — Tens of thousands of people marched in Rome on Saturday at a trade union rally in defence of labour contracts and against the government, as the main protest leader called for a general strike.
“We have to continue this battle and to continue it we need to start planning a general strike,” Maurizio Landini, head of the FIOM-CGIL metal workers union, told the flag-waving crowd in a square in central Rome.
Protesters at the FIOM-CGIL rally shouted: “Strike! Strike! Strike!”
FIOM-CGIL estimated the turnout at “around one million,” the head of the union’s central committee, Giorgio Cremaschi, told reporters.
No figures from the police were immediately available.
“We have a government that only cares about public finances,” Guglielmo Epifani, leader of the leftist CGIL union, said at the rally, listing the construction and auto sectors as some of the worst affected in Italy.
“They are taking advantage of the crisis in order to weaken labour rights,” he said, adding: “The social situation is very tough. The country is going downhill, it can’t recover like it should. Unemployment is rising.
“We have to fight together. We need a plan for a new country,” he added.
Epifani said that a general strike could be called after another protest on November 27 unless the government took action to address workers’ concerns.
There were two separate marches through the centre of the Italian capital that both ended in Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano square for the rally.
Many protesters carried red flags and wore red shirts and helmets, with some holding up placards against Berlusconi and Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne.
Organisers said earlier they were expecting 100,000 people top take part.
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni warned this week there could be clashes at the protest because of infiltration by an anarchist group but his comments were dismissed by trade unionists and opposition leaders as scaremongering.
“I can assure the inhabitants of Rome and the participants in the demonstration that the police will guarantee maximum security,” Rome police chief Francesco Tagliente said ahead of the protest.
Hundreds of police officers could be seen deployed around Rome.