Workers express rage at austerity across Europe
MADRID - Agence France-Presse
Police block protesters in front of a department store during a 24-hour nationwide general strike in Bilbao. Similar rallies are staged across Europe. REUTERS photoWorkers struck across southern Europe to fight austerity cuts on yesterday, halting swathes of industry as overwhelmingly peaceful protests boiled over into clashes in central Madrid.
Spain and Portugal held the first coordinated general strike in the Iberian Peninsula, slashing train, bus and metro services, halting factories and grounding more than 700 flights.
Disappointing financial data accompanied protests in Portugal.
Iberian protests were backed by walkouts in Italy, the number-three eurozone economy, and Greece, which is fighting to avert default despite agreeing last week to 13.5 billion euros ($17 billion) in cuts and tax increases.
Spain, suffering a deep recession and a 25-percent unemployment rate, was at the heart of the industrial action.
Though most protests were non-violent, riot police swung batons at protesters and pushed others aside to prevent hundreds of them blocking the main Gran Via avenue.
Later, police moved along the demonstrators, thousands of whom then poured into the central Puerto del Sol square.
Earlier, in Barcelona, strikers burnt tires as they picketed outside the Mercabarna wholesale market.
Portugual’s unions have called protest marches and rallies in some 40 towns and cities.
Both Spain and Portugal have legislation guaranteeing minimum services in essential industries.
But in Spain, Iberia, Iberia Express, Air Nostrum, Vueling, Air Europa and easyJet cut more than 600 flights including some 250 international routes. Ryanair said no flights had been scrapped yet.
Portugal’s TAP said it was grounding more than 170 flights, most of them international.
Greece’s unions are focused on the national crisis, rather than the European-wide action, and their protest was limited to a three-hour work stoppage and a rally in Athens.
Italian unions called a four-hour walkout.
Union-led rallies to support the day of action were being held in France, Belgium and in Poland, where workers decried a “social and wage-dumping” in their country.
The Portuguese economy shrank by 3.4 percent in the 12 months to the end of the third quarter after 0.8 percent contraction in the quarter, a first official estimate showed yesterday. On a sliding 12-month basis, a plunge of internal demand slowed down because a cut in investment had eased up, the statistics institute Ine said.
The unemployment rate in Portugal hit a record of 15.8 percent in the third quarter this year, official data also showed.