A strike by underground rail workers caused a third day of traffic chaos in Madrid on Wednesday and unions threatened further stoppages next week over austerity measures designed to bring down Spain's deficit.
The first major Madrid metro strike in almost 20 years -- to fight a 5 percent pay cut -- comes as unions stage protests in countries such as France, Germany and Greece where governments saddled with high debt have moved to cut costs.
Metro workers voted to extend their action but provide a minimum service on Thursday and Friday, easing the total halt that has affected 2 million commuters and had a greater effect than a nationwide civil servants' strike earlier this month.
Service will be normal at the weekend but workers called for another meeting on Monday to vote on whether to resume a full strike if no agreement is reached with local authorities.
"We haven't changed anything. We still have the same sole aim. No Metro worker is to lose so much as a euro," strike committee spokesman Vicente Rodriguez told the mass meeting.
Local media said 13 demonstrations were planned throughout Spain on Wednesday. Unions plan to stage a general strike on Sept. 29, the same day that trade unions across Europe plan actions to protest austerity and other reforms.
Madrid local government President Esperanza Aguirre said two workers were taken to hospital after fighting with pickets.
"I wish to absolutely condemn this picket violence, which I find intolerable," she said.
Investors have punished Spanish sovereign debt in recent months on concerns that a soaring deficit and weak economic recovery will push the country toward a Greek-style bailout.
But on Wednesday Spain's investment risk, as measured by the spread between benchmark 10-year bonds and the German benchmark, narrowed to 204 basis points after jumping a day earlier, as concerns eased about Spanish banks needing emergency loans from the European Central Bank.
Unions are angry about public sector pay cuts designed to help cut Spain's budget deficit, which rose to 11.2 percent of gross domestic product last year from a pre-crisis surplus.
Spain's Socialist government aims to save 15 billion euros ($18.3 billion) by, among other things, cutting civil servants' pay by an average of 5 percent.
Metro workers say wage cuts ordered by the central government should not apply to public workers, such as transport employees, and accuse Madrid's conservative local government of reneging on a pact signed with 7,000 of them last year.
Buses were crammed early on Wednesday, taxis were in great demand and cars packed the streets as employees in the city of over 3 million struggled to get to work.
Unpopular Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pushed through a labour reform in June aimed at easing the country's 20 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the euro zone. Unions also rejected that legislation, which eases hire-and-fire rules.
"I can sympathise with the strikers because it's not fair to cut their wages. But they ought to have put on a minimum service. It took me three hours to get to work today," said a 40-year-old accountant who gave her name as Rosa.
"Don't even ask me about the government. Change the government. This lot are retarded," she added.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 01 Temmuz 2010, 00:43