Millions of European workers hit the streets, heading not for their jobs but for demonstrations against austerity measures that have worsened the suffering of individuals in numerous countries.
Reuters reported Wednesday that coordinated strikes were called in Spain and Portugal, as unions joined forces to practically shut down railroads and flights were canceled. Ports and automobile factories ceased to function as workers reported to demonstrations instead of shifts. Bloomberg reported that the Portuguese economy shrank for an eighth straight quarter in September as the country’s leader continues to implement austerity policies.
In Madrid and Rome, protests saw violence; Spanish riot police went after demonstrators with batons, and arrests and injuries piled up; Italian students threw rocks over planned cuts to the educational system. Cash machines were disabled by protesters who used coins and glue to jam the works, and idle factories drove power consumption lower by 16%.
Strikes caused interruptions in international rail service in Belgium and in Greece, Italy and France a “European Day of Action and Solidarity” was planned, with demonstrations and work stoppages.
“We’re on strike to stop these suicidal policies,” said Candido Mendez in the report. Mendez is the head of the General Workers’ Union, Spain’s second largest labor organization.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been the focus of two strikes as he pushes austerity measures on an unwilling public in the midst of record unemployment, particularly after running on a different platform before his election. Now he is trying to hold off as long as possible in asking for European assistance to try to forestall demands for additional cuts and tax increases.
Anger at bank bailouts at the expense of the people has given force to the protests; last week as bailiffs attempted to evict a Spanish woman from her home, she instead jumped to her death. Rajoy has since said that he will expedite measures to prevent evictions and has won a concession from banks to declare a two-year moratorium on evictions for “extreme” cases.