At least 58 people have been arrested and nine injured in Spain, as thousands take part in a general strike and rally against recent labor reforms. Flag-waving protesters fear the decree will undo employers’ hands and thus rob them of their rights.
The 24-hour general strike began before dawn, as well as pickets and sporadic clashes with police. Most of those arrested were detained in the early hours after trying to stop night shift workers getting to their jobs on public transport, in factories and wholesale markets.
Demonstrators burnt mattresses, tyres and other debris in an attempt to keep workers from their jobs. A Molotov cocktail was even thrown at a police car in the eastern city of Murcia. The car was destroyed and two officers were injured by the flames.
Hundreds of flights were cancelled, several local TV stations went off air, and several factories shut down for the day, including the Nissan and Seat facilities in Catalonia. Hospitals provided only minimal care, while at least a third of public transport was halted.
Major demos are to take place later in the evening as more people finish work.
Unions claim over 250,000 people will join the strike and demonstrations in more than 100 towns and cities across the country.
“They want to end labor and social rights and finish off everything” is the theme of Thursday’s protest in Spain.
The anger was triggered by the recent labor decree, approved last month as a law with immediate effect. The Cabinet says the updated legislation will bring flexibility to the workplace and simplify rules for employers.
Protesters fear the actual effect will make the sacking of workers cheaper and quicker. They say with the new legislation bosses will be able to cut wages or change other working conditions just by citing concerns over profits.
“This is a just response to a brutal reform of our system of labor relations,” said Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, leader of the CCOO, which is one of the two main trade unions in Spain along with the UGT.
Nevertheless, many Spaniards are debating whether it is worth while to join Thursday’s strike. Walking out would cost them a loss of a day’s wage, while many salaries have already been cut or frozen due to the financial crisis, especially in the budget sphere. This, and the redundancy rate of 23 percent, a eurozone high, makes people stick to their jobs even closer than ever. In Spain, over 5.3 million people are on the doll, half of them youngsters.
This is the first general strike against the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who took office in December. The PM is said to have expected the labor reform to cost him a general strike, as Spanish media caught him saying on an open microphone almost two months ago.
The labor decree comes as one piece in a bunch of measures aimed to support Spain’s staggering economy. On Friday, Rajoy is set to announce the country’s budget, including a second package of austerity cuts. The previous reduction measures were some $20 billion (15 billion euro) worth, and new cuts are expected to be as huge. With the new round of belt tightening, the government hopes to meet the requirements of the EU and other international investors reducing Spain’s deficit to 5.3 percent GDP this year, and to 3 percent next year.