Spanish workers staged a second general strike this year as unions across Europe prepared the biggest coordinated protests yet against budget cuts that policy makers say are needed to end the region’s debt crisis.
In Spain, unions said most auto and metal workers joined the strike, even as demand for electricity was just 12 percent below usual. One of Portugal’s two biggest labor groups also called a strike. Partial walkouts are planned in Greece and Italy, and French unions are urging workers to join protest marches.
Opposition to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s cuts in health, education and welfare benefits is growing while those measures are failing to rein in the budget deficit or bring down borrowing costs. Demands for less austerity are gaining traction as the International Monetary Fund recommends nations including Spain slow the pace of budget cuts.
“This is a strike against the suicidal economic policies of the government,” Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, head of Spain’s CCOO union, told supporters late yesterday.
Rajoy, who won a landslide election victory a year ago, is wrestling with the second-largest budget deficit in the euro region while trying to revive the economy from a five-year slump that pushed the jobless rate to 26 percent. He is trying to avoid following Portugal, Greece and Ireland into seeking a sovereign bailout as Spaniards resist the measures being implemented as a condition for the 100 billion-euro ($127 billion) European bank rescue he agreed to in June.
Economy Minister Luis de Guindos was the first minister to comment publicly on the strike, saying the government would press ahead with the policies that prompted the protest.
“The government is convinced that the road it has embarked on is the only one possible, the only alternative available to us to exit the crisis,” he told reporters in Parliament, where police stepped up security ahead of protests planned later today.
Unions, which staged two general strikes in the decade through 2010, have called as many walkouts since Rajoy took office as they tap into taxpayer anger at shouldering cuts and the cost of rescuing banks at the same time. As outrage also grows over Spaniards losing their homes for failing to keep up with mortgage payments, Rajoy pledged last week to rush through measures to prevent families being evicted.
Even as he enjoys a parliamentary majority, Rajoy is seeking the support of the main opposition Socialist party for the changes, and negotiations are set to resume for a third day today. Banks, which are seeing an increase in protest graffiti at branches, have already agreed to a two-year freeze on evictions for “extreme” cases.
Between 50 percent and 100 percent of auto workers joined the strike during the night shift and 83 percent of metal workers walked out, Spain’s Comisiones Obreras union said in a statement. Police arrested 62 people and 34 were injured, including 18 police officers, Interior Ministry Director General Cristina Diaz told a televised news conference. Protesters will gather again at 6:30 p.m. in Madrid.
Power demand was 12 percent below usual at 12 p.m., data from grid operator Red Electrica Corp SA showed.
In Portugal, where the CGTP labor group called the strike to protest measures including wage and pension cuts, state-owned airline TAP SGPS SA canceled flights. Lisbon’s metro service was shut and state-owned train operator CP-Comboios de Portugal said most trains won’t run. Italian transportation and shipping will be disrupted throughout the day due to staggered, four-hour walkouts.