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Spanish Workers Protest Labor Reforms

Demonstrator covers face during general strike in Barcelona, Spain, March 29, 2012.
Demonstrator covers face during general strike in Barcelona, Spain, March 29, 2012.

Spanish workers took to the streets Thursday to protest sweeping labor reforms, public spending cuts and widespread unemployment.

The 24-hour general strike comes a day before government ministers are set to adopt a new austerity budget to meet strict guidelines set by eurozone leaders.

Strikers set up a picket line at Madrid Central Market in Spain’s capital, disrupting businesses, banks and public transport hubs. According to news reports, at least 58 demonstrators have been arrested and nine were injured in scuffles.

Union Member Regino Martin says he is trying to convince people to resist the new labor rules and government policies of the recently elected conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which make it easier for companies to fire workers and cut wages.

Spain, under pressure from the European Union and international investors to cut spending, is only one of numerous European countries facing tough austerity. Across the continent, tax hikes and cuts in public spending have been met with widespread public protest.  

On Friday, ministers are set to adopt a 2012 budget that will cut billions of dollars from government spending. News reports say Spain's economy is headed into its second recession since 2009 with a jobless rate at 23 percent -- the highest in the 27-nation European Union.

No panacea

Simon Tilford, chief economist at the Center for European Reform in London, said austerity measures in Spain, like elsewhere, will not solve its economic problems.

"What's worrying about what we are seeing is that very little seems to have been learned from what happened in Greece and Ireland and Portugal," he said. "They are applying the same strategy to Spain. Now the big risk for the eurozone is that Spain is twice as big as those three economies combined. So if Spain gets into similar difficulties, it won't just be a tragedy for the Spanish people, but it will also pose an existential threat to the euro."

According to Tilford, austerity only serves to shrink rather than grow euro economies. The European Union, he said, needs a closer degree of integration with a federal budget that would enable resources to flow easily among euro countries, what he calls the only feasible -- yet unlikely -- resolution.

"The political will to do what is necessary to stabilize the situation within the eurozone is really just not there," he said. Now that's not to say that we will not see big institutional changes going forward -- it's possible that we will. But it's just as likely that the ongoing crisis will undermine solidarity between countries and that that could actually militate against the changes that are needed to put the single currency on a more sustainable currency."

Eurozone ministers are set to meet in Copenhagen Friday to discuss the bloc's debt rescue fund, which is used to help prop up debt-ridden European governments.

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