Spain was gripped by a 24-hour general strike by millions of workers yesterday.
It was called in protest against a new law making it easier to sack workers and cut wages at a time of soaring unemployment, slump and austerity cuts.
It was the first strike against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s policies, coming 100 days after he took office.
Pickets at the entrances of businesses, the Madrid wholesale market, banks and public transport hubs carried red flags and placards reading ‘General Strike’ and ‘Labour Reform, No’.
Cars clogged the roads in the morning rush-hour in central Madrid, where the pavements were littered with union pamphlets decrying a weakening of workers’ rights.
Leaders of the two main unions UCT and CCOO hailed the strike as a ‘huge success’ as the action began.
The unions claimed massive support at car factories, mines and other industrial sites.
The UGT union said that participation in the strike was ‘huge’ and that virtually all workers at Renault, Seat, Volkswagen and Ford car factories around Spain had honoured it.
Regional TV stations in Andalusia in the south, Catalonia in the north-east and Madrid were also off the air.
Airlines Iberia, Air Nostrum and Vueling cancelled about 60 per cent of their flights, and health services provided Sunday-type services.
A minimum service agreement saw a skeleton service only on buses, underground and railways.
The strike should be a ‘democratic tide,’ said CCOO secretary general Ignacio Fernandex Toxo.
By early morning, 58 people had been arrested while six police and three strikers had been injured in minor incidents, the interior ministry said.
Protests were held in over one hundred towns and cities across Spain.
The CCOO and UGT unions denounced the government’s February 11 labour reform, which makes it cheaper to dismiss staff and easier to cut salaries.
The right-wing Popular Party government claims the new law is needed to attack Spain’s 22.85 per cent jobless rate, which it predicts will rise to 24.3 per cent this year as another 630,000 people lose their jobs.
But unions say the capitalist economy, not the law, is to blame for Spain’s economic ills.