May 24, 2011 8:31 pm

Violence flares in Italy’s ports

Italian shipyard workers protesting against planned job cuts have clashed with police following the latest announcement of austerity measures by Silvio Berlusconi’s government.

Riot police with teargas on Tuesday fought back protesters outside government offices in Sestri, a suburb of the north-west port of Genoa. Two workers were reported injured as the crowd demanded talks with the prime minister.

Near Naples in the south, workers trapped local officials in their offices overnight at Castellammare di Stabia, site of the world’s oldest shipyard. Local media said they vandalised the building and chopped off the head of a statue of Garibaldi, who ended the reign of the Bourbon kings, founders of the yard.

The protests were triggered by the announcement on Monday from Fincantieri, the state-owned shipbuilder, that 2,551 jobs – about a third of its workforce – would be affected under its new plan.

The company said the scheme involved early retirement, reduced work hours and job moves. Unions said the plans would lead to the closure of historic shipyards at Sestri and Castellammare.

Union leaders have warned that discontent at the government’s austerity measures is simmering dangerously. Serious outbreaks of violence in Italy have been rare and Giulio Tremonti, finance minister, likes to say his deficit-cutting measures have not resulted in social unrest because of government interventions.

The economy has lost more than half a million jobs in the recession. Data show more than 22 per cent of young people are not in a job, education or training.

Fincantieri’s job cuts could have wider political ramifications by exacerbating divisions within Mr Berlusconi’s already shaky coalition. Umberto Bossi, leader of the allied Northern League, had promised Sestri’s shipyard workers last year that their jobs were safe. Party leaders on Tuesday demanded the company withdraw its plan.

Fincantieri said its plan was not a “take it or leave it” and it would join talks with union leaders and the government on June 3.

The shipbuilder posted an operating profit in 2010 of €53m but a net loss of €124m. It needs investments of nearly €500m to modernise its Sestri and Castellammare shipyards, but says the government does not have the money.

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