Austerity protests: The view from the street

Thousands of people across Europe have protested against austerity measures being imposed by some EU governments. Trade union members have demonstrated against cuts in wages, jobs and pensions, triggered by the financial crisis.

BBC correspondents have witnessed the marches and gatherings. Here is a round-up of their reports.

Sarah Rainsford, Madrid, Spain

Spain's trade unions are already claiming this general strike as a success.

Image caption Spanish protesters are fighting against labour and pension reforms

In Madrid, demonstrators were out picketing factories, warehouses and transport depots throughout the night.

They have plastered walls and windows with their stickers and slogans - now they are wandering the streets, calling on other workers to join them.

Flights, trains and bus services have been disrupted, though a minimum service is still running.

The strikers say the government's austerity measures are hitting the workers hardest. They want a controversial labour reform withdrawn - and pension reform prevented.

But Spain is under pressure from the EU, and the financial markets, to press on with measures to reduce its budget deficit.

So far, this strike looks nowhere near powerful enough to derail that.

Adam Easton, Warsaw, Poland

The demonstration in Warsaw failed to really grab people's attention.

Image caption Protesters in Warsaw were critical of low wages for public sector workers

As several thousand workers noisily blew horns and whistles in the rain outside the prime minister's office, one 24-hour news channel was leading its coverage on a prominent travel agency filing for bankruptcy.

Many people in the capital were not aware the protest was taking place.

The main reason why people here are not getting worked up by austerity measures is that the government has not really had to introduce them.

The Polish economy was the only one in the European Union to avoid recession last year.

The government does have a gaping budget deficit to deal with, and is planning public sector wage freezes and a hike in VAT. But Poland has not experienced the social unrest seen in countries like Greece and Spain.

Workers from across the country and sectors ranging from education to the defence industry did travel to take part in the peaceful 90-minute protest.

Some had specific complaints but a widespread concern was low wages.

As one educator put it, how can professors in the UK earn six times as much as their Polish equivalents?

Nick Childs, Brussels, Belgium

Image caption The march in Brussels was lively - but the city's institutions remain set on cuts

So, tens of thousands of workers from across Europe filed slowly through the streets of Brussels in noisy protest.

There were groups from France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland among others. They had arrived in line-after-line of coaches.

They tried hard to make themselves heard with their voices, whistles, horns, heavy loudspeaker music, almost anything they could find.

The air was laced with the sound and smoke from hundreds of firecrackers.

The marchers carried a forest of banners. They marched under the slogan: "No to austerity - priority for jobs and growth".

The mood was good-natured. But for the marchers, the message was that they should not be the ones to pay for an economic crisis that was not of their making.

The organisers warned of both economic and social consequences of government spending cuts across Europe - the potential fallout from lost jobs, wage and pension cuts, and reduced social spending.

There needs to be a rebalancing, they said, and a renewed focus on stimulus measures.

But for all the sounds and frustration on the streets of Brussels, the message and mood in the corridors of power here are that deficit reductions remain the key to recovery.

Duncan Kennedy, Rome, Italy

Not one, not two, but three days of action, is the way some in Italy are registering their protest over the austerity measures.

Actually, it's two and a half days of protests, today's being the smallest.

Image caption Silvio Berlusconi is fighting to hang on to his power

The demonstration took place in Piazza Farnese, in the centre of Rome, and it attracted a noisy, colourful selection of protesters, numbering a few thousand - mostly union members.

There were calls for an easing of the austerity measures now in place, as well as demands for greater fairness for lower-paid workers.

Some people from the poorer south of Italy joined the protest. They fear they will be harder-hit than the more affluent north because of cuts in regional aid.

Today's demo will be followed by two more.

The first, on Saturday, is called "no" Berlusconi day. A week later, there will be another big union-organised march.

It all comes as Mr Berlusconi has been having his own day of action, thanks to a make-or-break speech to the Italian parliament.

He has urged his coalition partners, and a key breakaway group in his own party, to back his policies for the next three years.

Italy's prime minister is hoping to emerge with his power consolidated, so that any political opposition to his fiscal changes will be weakened, at least for now.

He will regard that as a satisfactory present to mark his 74th birthday, though others may not feel like celebrating.

Alison Roberts, Lisbon, Portugal

Thousands of trade unionists descended on Portugal's two largest cities, Lisbon and Oporto, to protest against spending cuts implemented or planned by the Socialist government, under pressure from financial markets and the EU.

Image caption Jose Socrates and his Socialist government are under fire from pensioners and workers

Though no general strike had been called, there were individual stoppages, enabling protesters to travel from across the country.

In the capital Lisbon, they gathered downtown, brandishing banners and megaphones, before marching on parliament.

"There should be a more social policy, not like these stability plans, which reduce people's purchasing power," said Giselia Xavier, a pensioner from Setubal.

"They shouldn't freeze benefits, because pensions are already low - people can barely live on them," she added.

"The government says it has to cut because of the crisis, Europe, and the markets. But with no work there is no wealth, and the economy can't move forward."

Josue Marques, a fishermen's representative from the Algarve, said he and his colleagues had come to oppose "disastrous" policies that push people into unemployment and poverty.

"I know a lot of people who are going hungry and have to turn to charities for help," he said.

"The new rules for unemployment benefit mean that the period you can receive it has been reduced, which just creates more poverty."

Damien McGuinness, Riga, Latvia

About 1,000 people, from Latvia's 21 main trade unions, gathered on the steps of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis' office, in the capital Riga.

Image caption Teachers' unions protested on the doorstep of PM Valdis Dombrovskis

"They say that the crisis has ended but we really don't feel it. People in Latvia are not happy," said Iveta Flesener, a teacher and member of one of Latvia's teachers' trade unions.

Ms Flesener said that most teachers lost 50-60% of their salaries, and now other cuts are being considered.

Many public sector workers saw their salaries reduced, typically by around 30%. Other demonstrators say they are struggling to survive on monthly net wages of 200 euros (£172; $270).

Because of the crisis, Latvia saw the biggest economic downturn in the European Union. Last year its economy shrank 18%.

Latvia was rescued from bankruptcy in 2008 by a bail-out led by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), so was forced down a path of austerity to comply with IMF budgetary rules.

But the austerity measures are particularly tough because the government wants to meet EU criteria to adopt the euro in 2014.

With elections due on Saturday, some voters are now questioning whether aiming for the euro is really worth all the pain.

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