Europe's workers stage austerity protests

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Workers across the European Union sought to present a united front against rampant unemployment and government spending cuts today with a string of strikes and demonstrations across the region.

However, while austerity-hit countries such as Spain and Portugal saw a high turnout of striking workers, wealthier countries like Germany and Denmark experienced only piecemeal action.

To combat a three-year financial crisis over too much debt, governments across Europe have had to cut spending, pensions and benefits and raise taxes. As well as hitting income and living standards, these measures have also led to a decline in economic output and rapidly rising unemployment.

The 17 countries that use the euro are expected to fall into recession when official figures are released Thursday. Meanwhile, unemployment across the eurozone has reached a record 11.6 percent with countries like Spain and Greece hitting the 25 percent mark.

With no end in sight to the economic hardship, workers were trying to take a stand today.

“There is a social emergency in the south,” said Bernadette Segol, Secretary General of the European Trade Union Confederation. “All recognize that the policies carried out now are unfair and not working.”

Spain’s General Workers’ Union said the nationwide stoppage the second this year, was being observed by nearly all workers in the automobile, energy, shipbuilding and constructions industries. The country, left reeling by a series of austerity measures designed to prevent it from asking for a full-blown international bailout, mired in recession with 50 percent unemployment among the under-25s.

“Of course it’s a political strike, against the policies of a suicidal and anti-social government,” said Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, a CCOO Spanish union leader.

Europe has a long history of union action and workers’ rights and benefits have been one of the cornerstones of its welfare state, with its guaranteed medical care, unemployment benefits and often generous pensions.

The union action was not felt across the entire region, however, with countries where austerity has not hit as hard experiencing little disruption.

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