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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
Italian teachers kick off strike week
Workers block a motorway near the Alfa Romeo factory in Arese, near Milan
Fiat lay-offs threaten the survival of many car plants
Italian teachers are staging a one-day strike on Monday to protest against education cuts by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right government, ahead of more protests later in the week.

Hundreds are expected to demonstrate outside parliament in Rome.

Silvio Berlusconi
Prime Minister Berlusconi faces a week of protests

It is the first of a series of protests throughout the week leading to a general strike on Friday and comes amid strikes at car manufacturer Fiat over lay-off plans.

Fiat, which is the country's largest private sector employer, has announced plans to lay off about 8,000 people - 20% of its workforce - as sales have slumped.

On Sunday, Mr Berlusconi held talks on the future of the company with its chief executive.

In a statement after the meeting, the government said the company's restructuring plans could be improved to avoid the closure of Fiat plants.

Union members said over 80% of staff had participated in the nationwide strikes on Friday.

General strike

Four unions representing teachers have predicted a massive turnout, but said schools would maintain skeleton staff.

Workers who may be affected by the Fiat closures staged a small protest by blocking a motorway near the Alfa Romeo factory in Arese, close to Milan.

Fiat workers plan a 12-hour strike on Wednesday, the second in a week at the stricken carmaker.

Fiat workers are calling on the Italian government for help, including making the former workers eligible for long-term unemployment benefits.

Mr Berlusconi has said the government hopes to find an alternative solution, although it could be hampered by European competition laws.

More than 1,000 workers from Termini Imerese, the Sicilian plant threatened with closure under the restructuring plan, will be driven to Rome for a demonstration to coincide with crisis talks between Mr Berlusconi, his key ministers and Fiat management.

The crisis at Italy's biggest private sector employer has fanned the flames of industrial unrest ahead of the country's second general strike in six months, called for Friday by the country's biggest union, the CGIL.

The last strike in April was Italy's first in two decades and brought more than 13 million workers onto the streets in protest at Mr Berlusconi's planned labour reform.

See also:

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