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General strike

Unions say massive turnout of the general strike in the Basque Country

News Agencies

03/29/2012

In the Basque Country, the Basque government said there was a 71 percent turnout for the general strike in the public sector and 60 percent in the private sector.

  • There were massive demonstrations in Bilbao, Donostia-San Sebastian, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Pamplona/Iruña. Photo: EFE

    There were massive demonstrations in Bilbao, Donostia-San Sebastian, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Pamplona/Iruña. Photo: EFE

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Workers in the Basque Country staged a general strike on Thursday in a protest over Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's sweeping reforms a day before a new round of budget cuts.

There were massive demonstrations in Bilbao, Donostia-San Sebastian, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Pamplona/Iruña.

The strike, the first since September 2010, shows that workers reject Rajoy's reform of the labour market.

Spanish unions said there was 85 percent turnout for the general strike while the centre-right government said the work day was proceeding normally.

In the Basque Country, the Basque government said there was a 71 percent turnout for the general strike in the public sector and 60 percent in the private sector.

Data from national grid operator REE showed demand for power was about 20 percent below expected at 0740 GMT. In the Basque Country, demand for power was about 36% percent below expected.

Police barricaded parliament and other public buildings, and arrested 8 people, many of whom were trying to stop workers crossing picket lines to get to their jobs.

Transport employees provided a previously agreed basic level of service, meaning one in four buses and about a third of underground and local trains were expected to run but only 10 percent of domestic flights and 20 percent of European flights.

Spain is now tipping into its second recession since the end of 2009 and some observers expect at least another million people to join already swollen unemployment lines.

The jobless rate is the highest in the European Union at 23 percent and almost half of under 25-year-olds are out of work.

Firing fears

Basque and Spanish unions called Thursday's strike to protest a job reform that makes it cheaper for companies to fire people and dismantles the nationwide system of collective bargaining

Economy Minister Luis de Guindos dismissed unions' calls to change it. "Regardless of whether (the strike) is considered a success or failure, the government is not going to alter the reform one jot," he said on Wednesday.

The fear of job losses may be a major deterrent for many workers to take part in the strike.

Former PP Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar backed down on his labour reform plans in 2002 after a general strike shut down a large part of the country.

And following Sunday's regional election result, which denied Rajoy the absolute majority he had hoped would reinforce his mandate for spending cuts, the prime minister will have to measure his next steps to avoid sparking more protests.

He said on Tuesday his administration would pass a "very, very, austere budget" on Friday and this year's deficit reduction goal of 5.3 percent of gross domestic product implies nominal cuts of at least 35 billion euros ($46.63 billion).

The strict budget is meant to keep borrowing costs down as well as working towards meeting the EU's 3 percent deficit limit next year, but some economists say spending cuts will deepen the looming recession.

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