Thousands protest Spain's new labor reforms

By Harold Heckle

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Feb. 19 2012 8:35 a.m. MST

People hold placards with cartoons of the Spanish Primer Minister Mariano Rajoy and Maria Dolores de Cospedal reading: '' Wanted for Liar '' as they protest against the economic policy of the Conservative Spanish Government during a rally in Pamplona, northern Spain, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012. The new conservative Popular Party government pledges new labor reforms to try to halt further job destruction as Spain already has the highest unemployment rate in the 17-nation eurozone with more than five millions unemployed and more than eleven million people are poor and at risk of social exclusion, by the strong economic crisis.

Alvaro Barrientos, Associated Press

MADRID — Hundreds of thousands of protesters were marching throughout Spain on Sunday in the first large-scale show of anger over new labor reforms that make it easier for companies to fire workers and pull out of collective bargaining agreements.

The country's main trade unions organized marches in 57 cities, beginning midmorning in Cordoba in the south and expected to end with evening marches in Toledo and Valencia, with a very large demonstration planned in Madrid from midday.

Union organizers said around a million people had marched by mid-afternoon, but official figures were not released.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government passed the package of reforms nine days ago in an effort to shake up a labor market seen as one of Europe most rigid and to encourage hiring in a country battling the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone, at nearly 23 percent. Rajoy was overheard saying that the reform will "cost me a general strike."

"If we want Spain to grow and create employment, we had to do what we've done," Rajoy said at his Popular Party's annual congress in southwestern Seville on Sunday.

The government's sweeping changes allow Spanish companies facing dwindling revenues to pull out of collective bargaining agreements and have greater flexibility to adjust employees' schedules, workplace tasks and wages, as well as making it easier and less costly to fire workers.

"If the government doesn't rectify this, we will continue with an ever-growing mobilization," said General Workers Union spokesman Candido Mendez.

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