Nov.14 - From Madrid and Lisbon to Athens and Paris, millions of workers joined strikes across southern Europe to protest against spending cuts and tax hikes. Some scuffles broke out as demonstrators clashed with police. Unions say austerity has created misery and deepened the recession. Joanna Partridge reports
Spain's not used to this kind of protest. What's become normal on the streets of Athens isn't in Madrid. But these are unusual times - Spain has never seen two general strikes in a year before. The country's unions called the walkout to protest against spending cuts and tax hikes. In another first, the strike action was co-ordinated with union members in neighbouring Portugal. SOUNDBITE: Armenio Carlos, Leader of the CGTP Union, saying (Portuguese): "We began this fight not only for workers' rights but also to defend the rights of generations to come, the rights of our children. We are also fighting for the future of our country." It brought Spain to a standstill. Only 20 percent of long-distance trains were running. And 600 flights were cancelled Around 45% of flights with Portuguese flag carrier TAP were cancelled. And only 10 percent of trains were running, the minimum service ordered by court. Millions of workers in Greece, Italy, France and Belgium also stopped work to join in what's being called a "European Day of Action and Solidarity". France's Prime Minister said the government is trying to reform the economy. SOUNDBITE: Jean-Marc Ayrault, French Prime Minister, saying (French): "We're governing in extremely difficult period, in France, Europe and the world. Not since the 1950s has a government had to face up to such difficulties. We are confronting them with determination." Union leaders say austerity measures across the region have brought misery - and have only deepened the economic crisis. But the unions have also been accused of whipping up public frenzy. In Barcelona, strikers formed a picket line to block the entrance of El Corte Ingles, part of Spain's largest retail chain. And some worry the protests will only hurt already fragile economies. William de Vijlder from BNP Paribas says the real challenge for politicians is restoring confidence and growth. SOUNDBITE: William de Vijlder, CIO Strategy & Partners at BNP Paribas Investment Partners, saying (English): "Let's not exaggerate this, if you look at it from a national accounts perspective it's a kind of random element, which is indeed having a economic cost, but ////// I think more fundamentally is that one indeed there is a European-wide movement, although the extent to which is followed is very much country-dependent, and even sector-dependent, that's one. Secondly it's more a manifestation of an unease in Europe about a policy which is being followed in terms of austerity." In Belgium the EU's recent Nobel Peace Prize was mocked by anti-austerity protestors. And they had support from an unlikely source. Charles Dallara is head of the global bank lobby, the Institute of International Finance. He told an audience in Athens more growth is needed.