20 June 2002 - Today’s 24-hour general strike in protest at the Aznar government’s decision to cut unemployment benefits has ground much of Spain to a halt. BBC World Service comments, "The strike got under way at midnight (2200 GMT) and the two main unions, each with a million members, are expecting a high level of observance.
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Strikers at Madrid’s main food market

"National airline Iberia says 80% of its flights on Thursday have been cancelled. All long-distance trains have been cancelled by national rail company RENFE. Commuter services are also being sliced.

"Workers in the northern Basque and Navarre regions held an advance strike on Wednesday, with unionists placing barricades across roads and railway lines, some of which were set ablaze.

"Twenty people were arrested and seven injured in clashes with police at a large union demonstration overnight in Madrid’s central square".

The right wing government’s ’reforms’ stipulate that: "No benefits if unemployed don’t take one of first three "acceptable" job offers; Reduced benefits for casual farm labourers; No salary during appeals against dismissal".

This in a country that already has the highest rate of unemployment in the European Union, at 11.3%.

The London based Financial Times online service reports: "In the latest muscle flexing by European workers, shops closed and aeroplanes, trains and buses across the country were cancelled. In the capital, Madrid, there were minimal bus and train services, although commuter traffic was heavy.  Massive union demonstrations were expected later in the day and there was a heavy police presence on the streets.

"There were no port services at the major terminal at Algecires and only one ferry left for Tangiers in Morocco. The first general strike in Spain in eight years will see tens of thousands of tourists having to delay their flights to avoid the expected cancellations. Large car manufacturers such as Opel in Zaragoza and Madrid are giving workers a day off, as public transport shuts down".

The paper goes on to comment, "The strike also coincides with a meeting of EU finance ministers in Madrid. The action is likely to embarrass José Maria Aznar, the Spanish prime minister, a day before he is set to host a European Union summit in Seville".

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Police attack strikers

CWI members in Seville comment: "There is anything between 100,000 to 200,000 workers on the Seville demonstration today. The stoppage seems complete. Nearly all coffee bars and corner shops are closed with notices in their windows saying they are shut because they are supporting the strike.

"A sea of red flags carried by members of the main trade union federations, the CCOO and UGT, dominates the streets. However, there was no sign at all of any political banners from the IU (United Left), PCE (communist party) or PSOE (Socialist Party). Workers told us that they think the main Left parties are too "moderate". We have received a positive response when we point out that the CWI is a campaigning, socialist organisation.

"CWI comrades made up the largest group of political paper sellers. One comrade, Meurig, reprinted 250 copies of our four-page special El Manifesto on the strike and it seems we have sold nearly every one. We produced a total of 7,000 CWI leaflets in Spanish, and 1,000 CWI leaflets in English. International Socialist Resistance (ISR), the anti-capitalist youth organisation, also distributed around 2,000 leaflets in Spanish. Tomorrow we are holding a public meeting.

"It is still uncertain how big the anti-EU summit protests will be later this week. However the CWI is preparing for them with contingents of comrades travelling to Seville from other parts of Spain and also from other European countries, such as Belgium, Britain and Germany."

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