Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Strikes against austerity cuts sweep southern Europe

 Portuguese police officers protest in front of parliament in Lisbon on November 6, 2012.
Portuguese police officers protest in front of parliament in Lisbon on November 6, 2012.
Hundreds of thousands of people in several crisis-hit European countries have started a first coordinated general strike across southern Europe to protest against their governments’ harsh austerity measures.

On Wednesday, Spanish and Portuguese workers walked off their jobs to protest against spending cuts and tax hikes. The industrial action shut transport, grounded flights, and closed schools.

The fire fighters in Portugal were the first to begin the pan-European strike against austerity cuts.

In Spain, hours before the mass walkout kicked-off, union workers gathered at Madrid’s landmark Puerta del Sol square.

Union leaders in Greece and Italy also planned strikes and protest marches on a "European Day of Action and Solidarity" against austerity measures, which labor leaders said are worsening the European economic crisis.

The international coordination shows that "we are looking at a historic moment in the European Union movement," said Fernando Toxo, head of Spain's biggest union, Comisiones Obreras.

Greece has been at the epicenter of the eurozone debt crisis and is experiencing its fifth year of recession, while harsh austerity measures have left about half a million people without jobs.

One in every five Greek workers is currently unemployed, banks are in a shaky position, and pensions and salaries have been slashed by up to 40 percent.

Greek youths have also been badly affected, and more than half of them are unemployed.

The long-drawn-out eurozone debt crisis, which began in Greece in late 2009 and reached Italy, Spain, France, and Portugal last year, is viewed as a threat not only to Europe but also to many of the world’s other more developed economies.