As promised unions across Spain have gone on strike today in protest against labour reforms which Mariano Rajoy’s government hopes will help cut unemployment and revitalise the country’s struggling economy.
The unions have claimed strong support from the transport sector, manufacturing, and even local television stations which are off-air today.
Despite support from the sector, and in accordance with agreements made with the government, transport workers ensured bus and rail services were kept running but at a minimum, while domestic and European flights were cut to a fraction.
According to reports there were scuffles between protesters and police in Madrid as workers from Spain’s largest unions picketed outside the capital’s bus depot early this morning. A total of 58 people were arrested while nine were injured, the interior ministry said.
The UGT union said that participation in the strike was “massive” and that virtually all workers at Renault, Seat, Volkswagen and Ford car factories around Spain had walked out in support.
Spain has the highest rate of unemployment in Europe, currently at 23%, and has been struggling to bring it’s finances under control, despite billions of euros of austerity measures already implemented.
“The question here is not whether the strike is honoured by many or few, but rather whether we get out of the crisis,” Finance Minister Cristobal Montoro said.
“That is what is at stake, and the government is not going to yield.”
Other struggling eurozone countries are watching events in Spain closely and some see today’s general strike as the start of a Pan European revolt against the self-defeating policies of austerity implemented by the non-elected.
This is the first real test for the conservative Partido Popular (PP) which took office in November, and with a further 40 billion euros of spending cuts expected to be announced in tomorrows budget this could prove to be the week that seals the future for Rajoy’s government.