Madrid: A general strike against labour market reforms paralysed industrial sectors and sparked violent incidents on Wednesday in Spain, with more than 100 people arrested.
Trade unions put the turnout for the 24-hour strike at 74 percent of employees. Labour Minister Celestino Corbacho said the strike had an "unequal turnout and moderate effect".
The metal industrialists' organisation, Confemetal, reported that half of the workers at big companies in that sector joined the strike. Car industry sources said the main car factories were at a standstill.
Corbacho said about 20 percent of the transport sector heeded the strike call.
However, shops, banks and other commercial services functioned almost normally. Ninety percent of shops remained open, the shopkeepers' association CEC said.
The strike affected thousands of holidaymakers. Nearly 700 flights were cancelled or delayed by the afternoon, the airport managing company AENA said.
However, the strike did not lead to chaos at airports. Many travellers had rebooked their tickets, while some airlines were using bigger aircraft to fit in more passengers.
An agreement between unions and the government had guaranteed minimum services for flights, local and high-speed trains.
Pickets blocked entry into factories and markets in different localities. Around 30 people were injured in clashes with police, or in accidents.
Street battles occurred between police and demonstrators in Barcelona, where anti-globalisation protestors burned garbage containers, set a police car on fire, and shattered windows.
"Anti-fascist" youths devastated a far-right bookshop. Police evicted squatters from a former bank building. More than 40 people were detained in Barcelona alone.
In another of the more serious incidents, up to nine people were injured at the gates of an aircraft factory while police allegedly fired into the air in Getafe near Madrid. The government announced an investigation into the incident.
Trade union leaders headed a large-scale demonstration in Madrid in the evening.
The general strike was the seventh since Spain became a democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, and the first faced by Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero since he took power in 2004.
The strike is in reaction to a labour reform making firing workers cheaper and easier, along with other liberalising measures.
The global crisis and the collapse of Spain's construction sector plunged the country into a deep recession, raising concern over its economic stability, and forcing Zapatero to undertake reforms requested by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Measures most opposed by unions include social spending cuts and plans to raise retirement age.
The government is trying to trim Spain's budget deficit of 11.2 percent - far above the EU limit of three percent - and the 20 percent unemployment rate, which is the highest in Western Europe.
Zapatero pledged to seek "channels" of dialogue with unions after the strike.
But the government would maintain the core of its economic reforms, Economy Minister Elena Salgado said, pointing out that the reforms had been approved by parliament.
First Published: Thursday, September 30, 2010, 11:24