29 Sep 2010

Europe hit by anti-austerity protests

Coordinated strikes in major European cities cause travel disruption as workers protest against spending cuts while austerity measures begin to bite across the continent.

Europe hit by anti-austerity protests

Spain’s first general strike in eight years saw transport and factories disrupted as workers demonstrated in Madrid against spending cuts.

They coincided with union action in Brussels, the EU capital, Athens and other European cities as workers spilled onto the streets.

UK workers joined the protests as part of a day of action against spending cuts adopted by many European countries.

Delegates at the Labour party conference in Manchester were expected to stage a lunchtime protest, holding up hundreds of signs in different languages in support of public sector jobs and services. In Ireland the front gates of parliament were rammed with a cement mixer truck.

Travel disruption
ABTA, the British travel association, told Channel 4 News that the walkouts had caused disruption to European travel and a number of airlines had cancelled flights. Delays are expected to clear today but some operators may experience problems until early tomorrow.

A spokeswoman added that tour operators had been able manage the disruption properly due to prior warning of the coordinated action. Travellers are advised to check with their airline or tour operator for the latest updates.

Trade unions in Spain said 10 million people, more than half the workforce, were on strike against austerity, labour reform and an overhaul of the retirement age.

Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, due to unveil his 2011 budget plan in parliament on Thursday, has vowed to maintain deep austerity measures and labour reforms that make it easier for companies to hire and fire.

Financial markets shrugged off the strike, which analysts said was unlikely to make the government reverse its plans to meet European Union deficit reduction targets.

Hundreds of marchers waved flags, blocked streets and forced some shops to shut in the heart of Madrid. Union leaders said 30 protesters were detained but most were quickly released.

In Britain, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said immediate deficit reduction was threatening a fragile recovery.

“Unions aren’t asking governments to ignore the deficit, just to discard the timetable that demands deficit reduction now and instead to concentrate on boosting growth and jobs,” he said.

“If there was ever a case why severe cuts in spending are not the answer we need look no further than across the Irish Sea where the spectre of a double-dip recession is looming large, and where despite huge cuts in spending, Ireland faces another austerity budget, its fourth in two years.

“Despite government promises to the contrary, the cuts are already proving deeply unfair. But there is an alternative, one that won’t hurt the poorest hardest nor increase the north/south divide, and over the coming months we’ll be working hard to get this message out to the public and to make the Government think again.”