Workers across southern Europe yesterday launched an unprecedented string of strikes to battle austerity cuts, paralyzing factories and grounding more than 700 flights.
Unions called general strikes in Spain and Portugal, the first such action across the Iberian Peninsula, along with temporary walkouts in Greece, the epicenter of the debt crisis, and Italy.
It was the first time workers had agreed on simultaneous strikes in four European countries, said the European Trade Union Confederation, which organized the “Day of Action and Solidarity.”
“In some countries, people’s exasperation is reaching a peak,” confederation general secretary Bernadette Segol said.
“We need urgent solutions to get the economy back on track, not stifle it with austerity. Europe’s leaders are wrong not to listen to the anger of the people who are taking to the streets,” she said.
Spain, the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy where one in four workers is unemployed, was holding its second general strike in eight months to protest draconian budget cuts.
In the main squares of Madrid, the main unions strung up banners declaring: “They are taking away our future.” They deployed pickets overnight at airports, markets and bus and railway stations.
“We are launching a day that will be a milestone in the history of European unionism,” said Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, head of the country’s largest CCOO union.
“It is a strike against the government’s policy of unemployment, misery and to stop this path toward the precipice,” he said.
Police set up metal barriers at an access road to parliament in Madrid, where activists called an evening rally.
Strikers froze factories, including Volkswagen’s car plant in northern Navarra and a Ford plant in the eastern Valencia region, Spanish media said. Buses and trains ran with sharply reduced schedules.
In neigboring Portugal, Lisbon’s metro service was out of service, while ferries across the River Tagus and trains across the country ran skeleton services.
Hospital staff joined the action, with up to 90 percent of staff reportedly abiding by the strike call.
Portugual’s unions have called marches and rallies in about 40 towns and cities against the government’s austerity policies.
Legislation in both Spain and Portugal require workers to provide a minimum service in essential industries, but airlines canceled many domestic and international flights.
Greece is the epicenter of the eurozone’s debt crisis, but its unions are focused on the national crisis and its protest is limited to a three-hour work stoppage and a rally in Athens.
Italian unions have also called a four-hour walkout.
Union-led rallies were also being held in support of the day of action in France, Belgium and in Poland, where workers decry “social and wage-dumping” in their country.
In Germany, viewed by many in southern Europe as the paymaster behind the austerity drive, the union federation DGB has called protests across the country, including in Berlin and Frankfurt.
“For now it is mostly people in southern Europe suffering from a crisis they are not responsible for, but the consequences will surely be felt in the rest of Europe,” it said.