Picketers hurled eggs at buses and blocked trucks from delivering produce to wholesale markets as Spanish workers went on a general strike today.
The protest is against austerity measures imposed by a government struggling to slash its budget deficit and overcome recession.
Striking workers braving a pre-dawn chill staged a sit-in outside a garage housing buses in the capital Madrid, screaming “scabs” at drivers trying to get out on to the road in the country’s first general strike since 2002.
Some strikers scuffled with police, and Spanish National Radio reported 11 people injured nationwide.
“We are here to explain to our colleagues the reason for the strike and urge them to take part and not work,” said one striker, Mercedes Ramirez, amid a din of whistles and bullhorns.
As day broke, Madrid’s Barajas Airport was free of protesters, although unions have said they want to severely limit domestic and international flights. The national aviation authority AENA said 70% of the country’s air traffic controllers are expected to show up for work.
Strikers wearing red shirts and waving flags roamed the streets of Madrid from midnight, urging bars to shut down and night-owl customers to leave.
Binmen honoured the strike, with bags of rubbish lying uncollected in the streets.
Protesters prevented trucks from delivering fruit, vegetables, meat and fish to the main wholesale markets in Madrid, Barcelona and other major cities.
The stoppage marks a bitter split in the close relationship between unions and Spain’s socialist government, which is struggling with a 20% jobless rate and a bloated deficit that has prompted market worries it might end up in the kind of dire straits that forced a massive bailout for Greece.
The austerity measures include wage cuts for civil servants, a freeze on most retirement pensions and labour market reforms that make it easier and cheaper for companies to lay people off.
A government website set up to provide information on the strike said there no were no major incidents to report. It said that in the first hour of the strike, electricity consumption in Spanish industry was down 15%.
Several regional television stations interrupted broadcasts shortly after midnight as staffers honoured the strike.
Newspapers were also affected, with Wednesday’s editions running fewer pages.
Meanwhile in Belgium, around 100,000 workers are preparing to march on European Union institutions in Brussels.
The march could be one of the biggest in the capital for years. It will coincide with the European Commission making proposals to punish member states that have run up deficits, often by funding social and employment programmes.
The unions fear workers will become the biggest victims of a crisis set off by bankers and traders, many of whom had to be rescued by massive government intervention.