Spa­niards strike over aus­ter­ity mea­sures

Cuts to help lower deficit to EU lim­its

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY DANIEL WOOLLS AND

MADRID | Flag-wav­ing Span­ish work­ers livid over la­bor re­forms they see as fla­grantly pro-busi­ness blocked traf­fic Thurs­day, form­ing bois­ter­ous picket lines out­side whole­sale mar­kets and bus garages, as part of a na­tion­wide strike.

Unions claimed mas­sive par­tic­i­pa­tion in the 24- hour stop­page protest­ing what they claim to be the lat­est dose of bit­ter medicine Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy’s con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment has pre­scribed to ap­pease Euro­pean Union over­seers and jit­tery in­vestors watch­ing Spain’s debt grow and its GDP shrink.

The unions de­manded a “gesture” from the gov­ern­ment to scale back the re­forms, warn­ing they could cause more un­rest.

The gov­ern­ment quickly said no, and down­played the im­pact of the strike, which failed to bring the coun­try to a stand­still. “There is no stop­ping on the path to re­form,” La­bor Min­is­ter Fa­tima Banez said.

In fact, the gov­ern­ment on Fri­day will serve up even more aus­ter­ity pain with a 2012 bud­get to fea­ture tens of bil­lions of dol­lars in deficit-re­duc­tion mea­sures.

The cuts are de­signed to help Spain lower its deficit to within EU lim­its and calm the in­ter­na­tional in­vestors who de­ter­mine the coun­try’s bor­row­ing costs in debt mar­kets — and there­fore have a lot of say in whether Spain will fol­low Greece, Ire­land and Por­tu­gal in need­ing a bailout.

There were no re­ports of sig­nif­i­cant vi­o­lence in Thurs­day’s demon­stra­tion. A to­tal of 58 peo­ple were de­tained and nine were in­jured in scuf­fles as the strike got un­der way a minute af­ter mid­night, In­te­rior Min­istry of­fi­cial Cristina Diaz said.

Unions are chal­leng­ing a con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment not yet 100 days old, protest­ing changes to la­bor mar­ket rules long re­garded as among Europe’s most rigid. Among other things, the changes make it cheaper and eas­ier for com­pa­nies to lay work­ers off and let them cut their wages uni­lat­er­ally.

On the Gran Via, one of the Span­ish cap­i­tal’s main com­mer­cial strips, a group of about 500 whis­tle-blow­ing pick­eters marched slowly, block­ing traf­fic for about an hour. Po­lice and hel­meted riot po­lice watched from the side­lines.

As the group made its way down the boule­vard, many mer­chants — such as jew­el­ers and cloth­ing re­tail­ers — pulled down their me­tal shut­ters or locked their front doors.

Gen­eral Work­ers Union Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Can­dido Men­dez put av­er­age par­tic­i­pa­tion at mid­day at 77 per­cent but said that it was 97 per­cent in in­dus­try and con­struc­tion. “This strike has been an un­ques­tion­able suc­cess,” said Mr. Men­dez.

Some sta­tis­tics, how­ever, sug­gested the strike had not brought the coun­try to a stand­still.

Electricity con­sump­tion — a mea­sure of in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity — was down by 17 per­cent at mid­morn­ing, ac­cord­ing to the In­te­rior Min­istry. That is slightly less than dur­ing the last gen­eral strike in 2010, which was deemed as only par­tially suc­cess­ful.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A riot po­lice of­fi­cer clashes with a demon­stra­tor dur­ing a gen­eral strike in Barcelona on Thurs­day. Span­ish unions an­gry over eco­nomic re­forms are wag­ing a gen­eral strike, chal­leng­ing a con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment not yet 100 days old and join­ing other trou­bled Euro­pean work­ers in vent­ing their frus­tra­tion on the street.

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