Spanish unions test appetite for unrest with one-day strike

SPANISH public sector workers staged a one-day protest at planned wage cuts yesterday, in a move to test whether unions will be able to muster a full-blown general strike.

Civil servants banged drums and chanted anti-government slogans in a stand against a five per cent salary reduction this year, to be followed by a pay freeze in 2011. Madrid is trying to save €15bn (£12.4bn) in order to bring down the country’s budget from 11.2 per cent of GDP to 9.3 per cent this year, and then to six per cent next year.

Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s socialist government sees the measures as essential for kick-starting Spain’s beleaguered economy. It plans to push them through unilaterally if unions cannot reach agreement with management. The country has 2.6m public sector employees, although only 16 per cent of workers from both the public and private spheres are unionised.

Carlos Berrera from the University of Navarra said the action was “without a doubt a marketing exercise to gauge support for a possible general strike”. But union leader Candido Mendez said: “We don’t trigger strikes. We just convene them.”