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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

General Strike Brings Italy to a Standstill

ROME -- Trade unions brought much of Italy to a halt Tuesday, packing cities with flag-waving demonstrators as they staged their first full-day general strike in 20 years to protest government labor reforms.

Air and rail transport ground to a standstill, schools, banks and post offices shut down, while production lines at many top Italian companies sat idle.

"There has been a massive response to the strike call from workers across the board, closing a huge number of firms around the country," Italy's three largest unions, the CGIL, CISL and UIL, said in a joint statement.

Workers converged on Italian cities to hear rallying cries from union leaders who called on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to drop an overhaul of the labor market that the government says is needed to boost efficiency.

Unions said rallies in Rome, Florence, Milan and Bologna each drew crowds of more than 200,000 people, while more than 100,000 strikers took to the streets of Turin, the northern Italian base of automaker Fiat.

"This is an extraordinary day," Sergio Cofferati, the leader of Italy's largest union, told the Florence protest.

"Government and business will realize that we won't stop until we have reached our objectives," he said.

The strike was aimed against a small part of Berlusconi's planned labor reform -- an adjustment to a section of Italy's labor code that forces companies to reinstate anyone sacked without "just cause."

Most economists say the proposed changes are mild, and argue that Italy needs to go much further to make the labor market more flexible. Unions say the code is the cornerstone of Italian workers' rights and should not be touched.

While nearly half the 11.2 million members of the main unions are pensioners, the strike was expected to bring a quarter of the country's active workforce to a halt.

Berlusconi, who was swept to power last year on a pledge to modernize Italy, has said he will push on with his labor reform despite the strike.