Trade unions say they will not back down
Protesters marched through major Italian cities on Friday to show their support for a national strike against plans to reform the country's pensions system.
Trade unions said about 1.5 million people had taken part in the demonstrations.
Trains, planes, factories and schools were affected, as workers expressed their anger at proposals to make them work longer before retirement.
Trade union leaders warned Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that the stoppages were only the beginning of their campaign.
'Just the start'
"If the government doesn't change its course and recognise the strength of our arguments, they can expect us to continue our protests," said Guglielmo Epifani, leader of the CGIL union, at a demonstration in Bologna.
The CGIL is the biggest of three unions organising the strike.
Mr Berlusconi went on state television to sell the pension reforms to a sceptical nation, telling them it was "necessary, fair and wise".
The reforms would mean Italians would not qualify for pensions before they have paid 40 years of contributions, or reached a minimum retirement age of 65 for men and 60 for women.
At the moment workers can retire at 57 if they have paid into the pension system for 35 years.
Italy's pension system swallows about 15% of gross
domestic product (GDP).
Marches took place on Friday in Rome, Milan, Bologna, Naples, Turin and other cities.
Italy's top three unions had urged their 11 million members
to join up to 100 demonstrations across the country.
Union leaders are angry at the way the plan was delivered to them without prior consultation, and have said their action is "not a political strike".
The timing could not be worse for Italian president Silvio Berlusconi, who is under pressure from Brussels to get the country's finances into shape amid high inflation and unemployment.
Mr Berlusconi's first government in 1994 was toppled over the
pensions issue, but his four-party coalition looked set to stand
firm this time.
La Scala cancelled
National airline Alitalia cancelled more than 150 afternoon
flights as a consequence of the staggered four-hour strike.
Hospitals said they could only guarantee staff for emergency
services, and schoolchildren got a bonus day at home as
teachers walked off the job.
Firms from carmaker Fiat to domestic appliance maker Merloni scaled back production as employees protest.
And Milan's famous La Scala opera house cancelled its evening performance.
The government will present its measures to parliament before the
end of the year, and, if passed, the changes will come into effect in 2008.
But Mr Epifani of union CGIL said: "The majority of Italian workers are against... the so-called pension reform."