(By Paul Virgo). Rome, February 15 - Free and Equal (LeU) is a new political group formed late in 2017 via the merger of parties featuring several prominent leftwing figures. Many of its members, such as leader, Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso, used to belong to the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), but left due to hostility towards its secretary, ex-premier Matteo Renzi. The new group also features Lower House Speaker Laura Boldrini, former PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani and former premier Massimo D'Alema. The LeU refused to form a pre-election pact with the PD. Renzi has said backing the leftwing group is, at best, a waste of a vote and, at worst, risks helping the centre-right win the March 4 general election. Grasso has countered that supporting LeU is the best way to make a "useful" vote and bring about real change "for the many, not the few". He argues that a vote for the PD risks leading to a grand-coalition government featuring Renzi's party and Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia. Much of the LeU's manifesto focuses on rolling back reforms passed by Renzi's 2014-2016 executive and continued under the current administration of Premier Paolo Gentiloni. Among the top targets is the Jobs Act labour reform, which waters down the regulations on unfair dismissal, with the aim being to encourage firms to take on young people on stable, open-ended labour contracts. Critics have said it has done nothing to stop the proliferation of precarious, underpaid temporary positions. The LeU has vowed to reinstate Article 18 of the 1970 Workers Charter, which ruled people fired without just cause should be re-hired and was scrapped for newly hired employees by the Jobs Act. The party has said it will scrap the Good School education reform too and pump more money into Italian schools. Other key pledges are to gradually do away with university fees and push through a national plan for nursery schools to help new mothers get back to work. Grasso's group also has its sights set on overhauling a reform passed before the Renzi government, the 2011 Fornero pension law, which introduces a mechanism to increase the retirement age in relation to life expectancy to make sure the system is sustainable. LeU says it wants to lower income tax for low and medium earners. Another priorities would be to pass legislation granting Italian citizenship to the children of migrants born in Italy. According to the polls, LeU will not have enough seats to aim to lead a government after the election. Grasso has said it is possible that the LeU could join the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) in government after the vote. "We are a progressive left party of government that is willing (to be part) of a government that advances our principles, values, ideas on jobs, schools and the economy," Grasso told Repubblica TV when asked about a possible alliance with the M5S. "If the conditions were there for proposals that match our values and principles, then why not?".
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