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European workers stage austerity protests

Published: November 14, 2012 | 7:53 am
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Workers across the European Union are staging a series of protests and strikes against rising unemployment and austerity measures.

Organisers of the strike are urging national leaders to abandon austerity and address growing social anxiety.

Strikes are expected in Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy, with other protests planned in Belgium, Germany, France the UK and some eastern EU states.

Airlines across Europe have been cancelling and rescheduling flights.

Spain and Portugal have been particularly hit, and airlines are recommending passengers to check the schedules before travelling to airports.

The European Trade Union Confederation urged workers to walk out on Wednesday.

“Austerity is a total dead end and must be abandoned,” the group said in a statement.

Some 40 groups from 23 countries are involved in Wednesday’s demonstrations.

Continental protests
Unions in Spain and Portugal started strikes at midnight to protest against austerity measures that have combined tax rises with cuts in salaries, pensions, benefits and social services.

Marchers came out late on Tuesday in Spain, where 25% are unemployed, the highest rate in Europe.

“I have two sons in my house, one is getting subsidies, the other has been at home for the last three years,” said protesting housewife, Paqui Olmo.

“It is not that he doesn’t want to work, there is just no work.”

The BBC’s Chris Morris in Lisbon says union pickets have been out on the streets of the Portuguese capital since the early hours.

Public transport has come to a virtual standstill, and many schools and public offices are expected to be closed, our correspondent says.

In Italy, transport workers are expected to join a four-hour national strike, though airlines said they did not expect flights to be disrupted.

In Greece, the strike action is the third major walkout in two months.

Successive governments have been pushing through deeply unpopular spending cuts and tax rises in order to receive bailout payments from the International Monetary Fund and European Union.

Earlier this week, MPs backed a fifth austerity package of salary and pension cuts and labour-market reforms, as well as a stringent budget for next year.

The IMF and EU have demanded the measures in return for the next 31.5bn-euro instalment of the bailout.

The government, which is being forced into short-term financing in the bond markets, says it needs the bailout to avoid bankruptcy.

Athens police said they expected about 10,000 people to protest, which is a relatively small demonstration by the standards of Greece.

In France, the CGT union has called for public sector strikes, but there are questions about how many workers will stay away.

The strikes are not anti-government, analysts say, but rather a way of showing that workers in France are in solidarity with their fellow-workers elsewhere in Europe.

While some Belgian unions have told the BBC they will not be striking, all have expressed solidarity with the day’s protests.

Protesters are expected in Brussels outside the embassies of Germany, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and the Republic of Ireland.


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