Spanish strike tests tolerance for reform

(Reuters) – Spanish workers slowed public transport to a crawl and disrupted factories on Thursday in a protest over Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s sweeping reforms a day before a new round of budget cuts.

Police barricaded parliament and other public buildings, and arrested 58 people, many of whom were trying to stop workers crossing picket lines to get to their jobs.

A handful of scuffles broke out, flights were grounded and groups of union members waving red flags gathered in Madrid.

Spaniards have been tolerant of Rajoy’s efforts to reform the labor market and meet strict Europe-imposed deficit goals to make sure it does not face a Greek-style debt crisis and in many neighborhoods it was business as usual.

But the strike, the first since September 2010, shows that patience with the three-month-old government may be running out.

“This is the largest cut of (workers’) rights since anyone can remember. There has to be a better way to get out of this crisis,” UGT union member Marta Lois, 40, said on Madrid’s main street Gran Via.

Unions said there was 85 percent turnout for the general strike while the centre-right government said the work day was proceeding normally.

Workers at auto factories Volkswagen and Renault followed the strike during the nightshift, union Comisiones Obreras said. Data from national grid operator REE showed demand for power was about 20 percent below expected at 0740 GMT.

Transport employees provided a previously agreed basic level of service, meaning one in four buses and about a third of underground and local trains were expected to run but only 10 percent of domestic flights and 20 percent of European flights.

Police presence was particularly heavy around parliament where lawmakers were due to debate measures to help heavily indebted local and regional governments pay money owed to suppliers.


Reuters has the full article

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