Unions in Spain, Portugal and Greece went on strike Wednesday to protest government austerity plans amid a wide economic contraction across Europe’s periphery, but questions remained about the unions’ ability to influence economic policy.
Demonstrators set up a barricade of burning tires at the main entrance of Mercabarna, the biggest wholesale market in Barcelona, Spain, at the beginning of a 24-hour strike on Nov. 14 across the country.
The general strike led to minor violent incidents in Spain, even though morning business activity seemed to remain relatively normal.
Spain’s government said 32 people had been arrested since midnight, and national TV showed small clashes with police, as well as rallies held by union members in transportation hubs like train and subway stations.
The Spanish unions are protesting austerity cuts and an unemployment rate at 25% of the workforce.
Electricity demand, a key measure of economic activity, declined modestly compared with a normal business day. Spain’s power consumption was around 85% of normal on Wednesday morning, according to Red Eléctrica de España, Spain’s electricity-transmission company.
Wednesday’s early power consumption trends indicate that the strike has yet to have much effect on the country, even though large factories including auto-making plants shut down operations, as they have the most heavily unionized workforces in a country that on average has low levels of union affiliation.
The country’s two largest unions called the strike. The main union in Spain’s civil service—a source of unrest, and the target of spending cuts intended to lower Spain’s budget deficit—didn’t strike.
In Portugal, a strike against a new round of austerity measures froze public-transport services and shrank the number of hospital staff on Wednesday. Subway stations in the Portuguese capital closed and buses ran at limited service. Flights were canceled in the main airport in Lisbon and ferry services along the Tagus River were also affected.
“People are saying enough to austerity and poverty,” said Armenio Carlos, head of CGTP, the country’s largest union confederation with over 600,000 members.
Still, the strike wasn’t unanimous among unions. Portugal’s second-largest confederation representing over 500,000 workers declined to back it.