12 December 2014
Last updated at 10:27
The two trade unions taking part are the Italian General Confederation of Labour and the Italian Labour Union
A general strike is disrupting transport across Italy as rallies get under way in more than 50 cities, including the capital Rome.
Trade unions are protesting against the government’s bid to reform labour laws.
They insist the current regulations are necessary to protect workers from being sacked by unscrupulous companies.
But Prime Minister Matteo Renzi says the planned reforms are essential for his government to lift Italy’s economy out of years of stagnation.
He believes employment laws must be loosened to boost the labour market and has made the new legislation the centrepiece of his government’s policies.
Thousands of union members took to the streets on Friday morning from Milan in the north to Palermo in the south.
The general strike shut down basic services like local transport and ports across Italy and left many schools closed.
A balloon depicting Mr Renzi as Pinocchio. The Prime Minister is currently in Turkey at a business forum
“Enough!” proclaims the hat of a demonstrator taking part in the trade union rally in central Rome
The industrial action is the first ever by two of Italy’s largest union confederations against a centre-left government.
Centre-left administrations have traditionally had close relationships with the unions.
Correspondents say it is a sign of internal discord within Mr Renzi’s own party, with some members of his Democratic Party joining the marches.
In recent years, a series of Italian governments have tried and failed to reform the country’s employment laws and Italy’s economy remains in recession.
GDP has fallen by 0.4% in the past year, and in the decade to 2010 only two countries had lower GDP growth than Italy – Haiti and Zimbabwe.
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