ITALY – Over a million Italians today took to the streets to protest against the proposed pension reforms.

Members of three of Italy’s largest unions, Cgil, Cisl and Uil, went on strike for four hours across the country to protest longer contribution periods and rewarded delays to retirement as proposed by the Italian government.

This morning saw transport systems across Italy draw to a halt, and the closure of hundreds of offices, banks and schools. The largest demonstrations organised by the three unions were seen in Bologna, Rome and Naples according to local newswires, where tens of thousands of workers gathered in the main squares.

Savino Pezzotta, leader of the Cisl union said that today’s strikes were merely the beginning. He reportedly warned the government: “Don’t think that we are stopping here.” Pezzotta added that the government had refused to respond to the unions’ proposals for the pension system.

The government remains firm however, that the reform is essential as a result of an ageing population and increased costs to the state. Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has re-iterated several times that there is “no choice”. The level of public spending on pensions in Italy is among the highest in Europe, with the current pension system accounting for 15% of Italian GDP each year.

If the pensions proposals are approved, they will then be discussed and amended with the final text approved at the end of 2003.