Police and protesters clashed in Spain and Italy yesterday as millions of workers went on strike across Europe to protest spending cuts they say have made the economic crisis worse.
Hundreds of flights were cancelled, car factories and ports were at a standstill and trains barely ran in Spain and Portugal where unions held their first ever co-ordinated general strike. They were backed by walkouts in Italy, the number-three eurozone economy, and Greece, which is fighting to avert default despite agreeing last week to €13.5 billion (HK$132.81 billion) in cuts and tax increases.
This comes as figures released yesterday showed Portugal's gross domestic product declined 0.8 per cent and its jobless rate rose to 15.8 per cent. In Greece, the economy meanwhile contracted for a 17th straight quarter, 7.2 per cent in the third quarter from the same period last year after dropping 6.3 per cent in the second, the Athens-based Hellenic Statistical Authority said.
"We're on strike to stop these suicidal policies," said Candido Mendez, head of Spain's second-biggest labour federation, the General Workers' Union, or UGT.
More than 60 people were arrested in Spain and 34 injured, 18 of them security officials after scuffles at picket lines and damage to storefronts.
International rail services were disrupted by strikes in Belgium and workers in Greece, Italy and France planned work stoppages or demonstrations as part of a "European Day of Action and Solidarity".
Spanish protesters jammed cash machines with glue and coins and plastered anti-government stickers on shop windows. Power consumption dropped 16 per cent with factories idled.
International lenders and some economists say the programmes of tax hikes and spending cuts are necessary for putting public finances back on a healthy track after years of overspending.
While several southern European countries have seen bursts of violence, a co-ordinated and effective regional protest to the austerity has yet to gain traction and governments have so far largely stuck to their policies.
Spain, where the crisis has pushed millions into poverty, has seen some of the biggest protests. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is trying to put off asking for European aid that could require even more budget cuts.
Passion was inflamed when a Spanish woman jumped to her death last week as bailiffs tried to evict her from her home. Spaniards are furious at banks being rescued with public cash while ordinary people suffer.
In Portugal, which accepted an EU bailout last year, the streets have been quieter but public and political opposition to austerity is mounting, threatening to derail new measures sought by Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho.
His centre-right government was forced by protests to abandon a planned increase in employee payroll charges, but replaced it by higher taxes.
More than 600 flights were cancelled in Spain, mainly by Iberia and budget carrier Vueling. Portugal's flag carrier TAP cancelled roughly 45 per cent of flights.
Italy's biggest union, CGIL, also called for a work stoppage of several hours across the country.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse