At the scene: Correspondents on EU austerity protests
- 14 November 2012
- From the section Europe
A day of industrial action in protest at austerity is under way in the EU, led by demonstrators in Spain and Portugal.
BBC correspondents sent these first-hand reports from some of the countries involved.
Tom Burridge, Madrid, Spain
My impression is that this general strike is not being followed by as many people as the last general strike in May of this year. That might be because businesses, which are struggling in the recession, are doing everything to stay open. Unemployment is also so high in Spain that jobs are prized possessions which people do not want to risk losing and therefore they fear repercussions if they go on strike.
The usual propaganda war on the day of a general strike is under way. The unions say a large majority of the Spanish workforce are not working. The government says there is a considerable amount of economic activity, given that a strike has been called.
The numbers at, and mood of, large-scale demonstrations planned in Spanish cities later today will be more telling.
Are people increasingly fed up and angry with the government's austerity policies? Or are more people now accepting the economic reforms, as a necessary evil, to get Spain's economy back on track?
A lot of anger is directed at Spain's banks, which have been bailed out by the eurozone, for their role in the property boom in Spain. And under public pressure, they were forced to change their policy over housing repossessions this week.
However, do not expect the Spanish government to change its wider economic policies. It has promised its eurozone partners it will reduce spending and increase revenue, to control the country's rising debt.
Alison Roberts, Lisbon, Portugal
There has already been a major impact from the general strike. Public transport has been at a near standstill. The national airline, TAP, cancelled almost half its flights, in part because some emergency workers are striking. Some public hospitals are on minimum services only, and many schools are closed.
The CGTP union federation, which called the strike, is demanding an end to austerity and steps to relaunch growth. It points out that Portugal is shelling out billions of euros in interest payments on its bailout loans, when its lenders can borrow at much cheaper rates.
The other main union federation, the UGT, is not backing the strike. It agrees with the right-of-centre government - and the opposition Socialists - that Portugal needed a bailout to get its house in order. But like many people here, it wants a change of course: despite the government cutting spending and raising taxes it is still struggling to meet its own deficit targets, as the recession drags on. Unemployment is still rising, at 16% and well over twice that for youngsters.
That means more human suffering, but also less tax revenue and more benefits spending. The government is trimming benefits, but that just angers its opponents further.
Alan Johnston, Rome, Italy
Dozens of marches and demonstrations have been held across Italy as union members and students rallied to the call for a Europe-wide day of action.
Several police were injured when they were hit by flying objects as they confronted protesters in Milan and Turin, and there were also some clashes in Rome.
At the speeches made at rallies in many places union leaders will have argued that the government's austerity measures are not working, that in fact they are only serving to worsen the recession.
The unions maintain that it is the poorest Italians, like workers and pensioners, who are being forced to make too many of the sacrifices being demanded.
However, calls for a rolling series of four-hour strikes did not seem to cause much disruption. One was expected to affect air transport, but this failed to materialise. And a stoppage scheduled in the rail sector for later in the day looked unlikely to have any major impact.
Maddy Savage, Brussels, Belgium
Here in the political heart of the European Union, demonstrations have been more peaceful and symbolic than elsewhere. Protesters have held rallies outside the embassies of Germany, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and the Republic of Ireland. They delivered a letter to Laszlo Andor, the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, congratulating him on winning what they are calling the "Nobel Prize for Austerity".
But walkouts by socialist unions have severely affected many of the high-speed rail links regularly frequented by politicians, advisors and diplomats from across the EU. Thalys and Eurostar trains that connect Brussels to Paris and London are among those disrupted. This morning, railway workers lit a red flare on the train tracks of Brussels Gare du Midi station as hundreds marched and chanted outside.
In the French-speaking south of the country, scattered strikes have also disrupted local rail and bus services.
Brussels provides the headquarters for the group that is co-ordinating today's action - the European Trade Union Federation. It insists the disruption is necessary to draw attention to austerity cuts and tax rises.
Guy De Launey, Athens, Greece
Armoured police buses have parked at Syntagma Square in front of parliament, ready for the expected arrival of thousands of demonstrators.
This has been the location for most of the major clashes since Athens became the unofficial protest capital of Europe.
Last week a 48-hour strike ended with tear gas and petrol bombs. There was a smaller, more peaceful demonstration on Sunday as MPs voted to pass the government's latest austerity budget.
But today's events are likely to be low-key. Instead of a general strike, there will be a three-hour stoppage which is meant as a gesture of solidarity with people in Spain, Italy and Portugal.
Transport workers are not joining the strike, in order to allow people to travel to the protests. But firefighters, civil servants and teachers will take part.
Two thousand public sector workers are due to receive notices of redundancy within the next five days. According to government plans, 150,000 more may follow by 2015.