- This will be the first general strike against the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy
- Spain's jobless rate is nearly 23 percent; nearly 5.3 million Spaniards are out of work
- The government says the latest labor reforms are needed to bring flexibility to the workplace
Spain's two main unions on Friday called a general strike for March 29 to protest the new conservative government's labor reforms and austerity cuts.
It will be the first general strike against the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which won elections last November and took office late last December, in the midst of Spain's deep economic crisis.
The last general strike, in September 2010, was against the then-Socialist government, which also had initiated austerity measures. That strike slowed industry and transport, but much of the country went to work and many analysts saw it as a kind of a draw between the government and unions.
Since then, the economic crisis has deepened. Spain's jobless rate is nearly 23 percent overall, and nearly 50 percent for youth. Nearly 5.3 million Spaniards are out of work.
Union protests across the nation last month drew large crowds, which analysts say emboldened the unions to move ahead with a general strike.
The government says the latest labor reforms are needed to bring flexibility to the workplace and to simplify the rules for employers. But unions say the effect will be to make it easier and cheaper to fire workers.
The two main unions -- the Socialist-leaning General Workers Union and the Communist-leaning Workers Commissions -- held separate meetings Friday and then announced the general strike for March 29, a date Spanish news media have been reporting for days as the likely date for the strike.
Rajoy, at a recent European Union summit, was reported by Spanish media to be overheard, via an open microphone, telling another EU leader that the labor reforms would cost him a general strike.
The reforms were approved first as a decree law, with immediate effect, and the unions called on the government to make amendments as the bill moved through parliament. But the conservatives have a commanding majority in parliament and on Thursday approved the reforms unchanged.
The government says the labor reforms make up only a portion of the elements needed to spur an economic recovery. It predicts a 1.7 percent decline in the economy this year.
The government also has demanded reforms in the banking sector with the aim of getting credit flowing again and to clean up the books of lenders stuck with huge uncollectable debts left over from Spain's real estate and construction boom that went bust, precipitating the economic crisis.
The unions earlier called a round of protests for this Sunday, which coincides with the eighth anniversary of the Madrid train bombings terrorist attacks that killed 191 people.