The general strike is the first faced by Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. The strike is protesting a labour reform making firing workers cheaper and easier

A general strike against labour market reforms began in Spain on Wednesday, paralysing the car industry and other sectors, trade union sources said. About 20 people were reported injured in violent incidents or accidents around the country.

The trade union confederations CCOO and UGT said the 24-hour strike, which began at midnight, had a massive following in metal-sector industries and in infrastructure works.

Picketers hurled eggs at buses and blocked trucks from delivering produce to wholesale markets as workers protested austerity measures imposed by a government struggling to slash its budget deficit and overcome recession.

The stoppage was the opening salvo of a day of protest expected to see tens of thousands of people converge on EU buildings in Brussels to protest belt—tightening measures that unions see as punishing workers for a crisis they consider to have been triggered by bankers and traders, many of whom had to be rescued by massive government intervention.

Electricity consumption fell by about 20 per cent in the country’s biggest industries, Labour Minister Celestino Corbacho said. Garbage collecting came to a halt in all of Spain’s provincial capitals, according to union sources.

The strike was also expected to affect thousands of holidaymakers. Only about 20 per cent of inter-European flights and 40 per cent of other international flights were due to operate, according to minimum service agreements between unions and the government.

Around a quarter of local train services are expected to run under the same service agreement. Corbacho said the minimum services were being offered as agreed.

The Madrid regional authorities said 75 per cent of underground trains were circulating in the capital, while union sources put the number of trains at 20 per cent. Madrid newspapers only published reduced editions, while some regional television stations closed down.

Buses were extremely scarce in Madrid and garbage went uncollected . Eighty percent of Spain’s high-speed train trips were canceled, all mid-distance trains were scrapped and only 25 percent of commuter trains were running.

Picketers roamed the streets of downtown Madrid, trying to go into offices with pamphlets explaining to workers why they should not work. At midday, a group of about 100 strikers blocked Madrid’s Gran Via, a major commercial thoroughfare, and merchants shuttered their shops when picketers approached. Tourists took photographs of the unfolding drama.

Pickets blocked entry into factories and markets in different localities. At least six pickets were reported injured in clashes or incidents with police. Several union activists were also hit accidentally by cars. At least five pickets were detained for resisting police or painting slogans in public places.

Spain’s first general strike since 2002 marks a bitter split in the usually close relationship between unions and Spain’s Socialist government, which is struggling with a 20 percent jobless rate and a bloated deficit that has prompted market worries it might end up in the kind of dire straits that forced a massive bailout for Greece

The general strike is the first faced by Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero since he took power in 2004. The strike is protesting a labour reform making firing workers cheaper and easier, as well as other liberal reforms aimed at stabilizing and reviving Spain’s sluggish economy.

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