Millions of workers in several crisis-hit European countries on Wednesday joined a day of protests against austerity policies, with Spanish and Portuguese workers leading the protests with a 24-hour general strike.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) had called “a day of action and solidarity” against austerity measures, recession and “dismantling the European social model.” The general strike in Spain and Portugal was the first joint one on the Iberian Peninsula.

In Italy, the CGIL trade union - the biggest in the country — also called for a general strike lasting from 4 to 8 hours, depending on the region.

The protests turned violent in Spain, where 57 people were detained according to police sources. Sixteen people were reported injured, including several police officers.

Workers were also expected to hold work stoppages of several hours in Greece.

The Spanish strike had a major impact on rail and bus traffic and the Madrid underground, according to media reports. Unions put the strike participation at 80 per cent, pointing to the impact in ports, factories, construction sites, cleaning services and wholesale food markets.

The government said transport companies were offering minimum services and described the situation as “normal.” Spanish unions already staged a general strike in March, making Mariano Rajoy the first Spanish premier to face two general strikes in one year.

In Lisbon and other Portuguese cities, rubbish was not collected; many shops and cafeterias remained closed. The strike also affected postal services, hospitals and schools, according to unions and media reports.

Several incidents were reported, including the arrest of a Lisbon picket on charges of attacking a police officer.

The Portuguese trade union confederation CGTP was hoping to prevent the approval by parliament of a budget that would raise taxes. Unions also wanted to force Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s conservative government to resign.

Debt-ridden Spain and Portugal have drastically cut spending in attempts to cut their budget deficits. Unemployment has risen to 25 per cent in Spain and to 16 per cent in Portugal.

The strike was expected to affect tourism after Spanish airlines and Portugal’s TAP cancelled hundreds of flights. London’s Heathrow Airport said 12 flights had been cancelled. “British Airways flights travelling both to and from the continent are affected,” a spokesman said. Train services in both Belgium and the Netherlands were affected.

People travelling from France to Belgium had to get out of trains in Lille and to take buses to Brussels. The rail strike was expected to affect mainly the southern part of Belgium.

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