Tens of thousands of Italians marched in Rome on Saturday in a rally organised by Italy's largest union to protest bleak job prospects and demand more rights for workers.
Students who have been staging demonstrations in various Italian cities against a university reform currently before parliament joined the peaceful march in central Rome, bringing traffic to a halt.
Waving red flags and banners, the protesters accused Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government of cutting welfare and education spending while doing little to spur economic growth and employment.
"In two years, this government has done nothing for jobs," Susanna Camusso, leader of Italy's biggest union CGIL, told the rally. "Now they must provide answers and carry out policies to fight the crisis."
Spending cuts and a tight fiscal stance have helped Italy weather the financial crisis better than many of its European peers, and the eurozone's third largest economy has avoided the market turmoil that has hit countries like Greece and Ireland.
Divisions among the country's unions have also prevented the kind of labour unrest seen in some other European nations.
However, Saturday's protest comes at a difficult time for Berlusconi, who faces a confidence vote on 14 December that could lead to early elections.
His government has been weakened by a series of corruption and sex scandals, coalition infighting and sluggish economic growth at a time when Italy is only slowly emerging from its worst post-war recession.
The unemployment rate stood at 8.3 per cent in September, below a 10.1 per cent average for the eurozone, but the Bank of Italy says the Italian rate would be above 11 per cent if it included workers sent home on reduced pay and discouraged job-seekers who have given up the search for work.