Major roads were blocked and traffic stopped across Madrid as approximately half a million people marched to Christopher Columbus Square in the centre of the city, where union leaders made speeches to the assembled crowds.
The main organiser, Social Summit, an association of more than 150 organisations, and the Workers’ Commissions and General Workers trade unions, said the demonstration was called to protest against government cuts during the country’s financial crisis.
Some marchers unfurled banners with slogans such as “Let’s go! They are ruining the country and we have to stop them.”
“This government’s policies are causing too much hurt,” said Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, the secretary general of the Workers’ Commissions. “It’s a lie that there isn’t another way to restore the economy.”
Large anti-austerity protests also took place in neighbouring Portugal.
The Madrid protest comes four days after another anti-government gathering in the north-eastern city of Barcelona, which police said included some 1.5 million demonstrators.
“We’ve had our pay cut. We don’t get the firefighting training and equipment we need. There are more students and fewer teachers in our children’s classrooms, and healthcare is also being cut,” said fireman Carlos Melgaves, who was marching in a group of about 50 firefighters. “We can’t take it anymore.”
Speaking in Nicosia, Cyprus, where Europe’s finance ministers were meeting yesterday, Spain’s economy minister Luis de Guindos said his government is aware that it is asking sacrifices of Spanish society. “These sacrifices are absolutely unavoidable if we are to correct the difficult economic climate we are experiencing,” he said. “We are laying the foundations for a recovery.”
Spain is stuck in a double-dip recession and unemployment is close to 25 per cent. Spanish premirt Mariano Rajoy has accepted a loan of up to ¤100 billion (£81bn) to rescue banks reeling from a collapse of real estate and construction industries.