At midnight last night, the general strike in Spain began. Summoned by the CCOO and the UGT, this is only the seventh strike of this type since the country became a democracy and the first one for eight years.
The strike has been called to protest against austerity measures introduced by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's socialist government. Workers are demonstrating against wage cuts, an increase in the retirement age and new labour reforms that make it easier to hire and fire workers – all measures introduced in an attempt to reduce Spain's budget deficit from 11 per cent last year to within the three per cent of GDP limit set by the European Union by 2013.
So, for today, factories are closed, rubbish collections will not take place and the wholesale markets in the large cities have been paralysed. Other services like the buses and the Metro in Madrid will run almost as normal.
As a side effect, the strike will cause travel misery for thousands of tourists and other travellers flying to and from Spain. Budget airline easyJet has cancelled around half its Spanish flights and rival low-fare carrier Ryanair has told passengers they can only bring hand-luggage to limit disruption from striking baggage handlers. Several airlines, including British Airways, warned passengers of disruption and advised them to check their respective websites for further information.
The union leaders are convinced that the strike will have the required impact on the government and make them change their plans for labour reforms. We shall see.