A small procession of protestors dressed in striped prisoners' garb, bound by hand-cuffs, balls and chains marched in front of the parliament building in Rome Wednesday. Driving the group was a man dressed as Premier Mario Monti, armed with a whip, to represent the State as a chain-gang guard keeping Italian consumers in bondage of taxes.
The protest was staged by Italy's main consumer organizations for "National Day Against the High Cost of Living" to denounce the interim government's economic reforms, aimed mainly so far at beating down bond interest rates and a huge public debt.
Added taxes inspired the name of the demonstration: "2012: Escape from Alcatax", a play on the film Escape From Alcatraz.
The consortium of a dozen consumer groups brought Wednesday a series of requests to the government, asking to reduce the general tax burden, to introduce a patrimony tax for the rich, to deregulate store sales to run any time of year, and to abolish of excise taxes predating 2002.
The consumer groups would also like to see regulators armed with higher sanctions, a freeze on energy prices, rent controls, and a revision of renewable energy incentives.
The list of policy points could not be presented, however, because a meeting between a consumer union leader and the premier was scuppered for a question of decorum. The prison uniform was deemed inappropriate dress for an official encounter.
"They told us the prime minister receives neither prisoners nor fake prisoners," explained Carlo Rienzi, president of the consumer group Codacons, "But for us it is an important symbol for citizens imprisoned by taxes." "The government called all the associations to discuss economic policy except those of consumers and citizens, but we continue to ask for an meeting and in the meantime we will go forward alone with boycotts," Rienzi added, making reference to the government's recent meetings with business associations and unions to try to hammer a path toward reforms for productivity and economic growth.
"We are convinced that the high road for relaunching consumption is to free the market from added costs that weigh on (the price of) goods," said Furio Truzzi, president of the consumer group Assoutenti.
The consumer groups represented were Associazione Consumatori Utenti, Assoutenti, Casa del Consumatore, Codacons, Codici, Confconsumatori, Lega Consumatori, Movimento Difesa del cittadino, Unione Nazioneale Consumatori, Coldiretti, Acli Terra and Comitas.