Nearly 8 million workers took part in Spain's first general strike in more than half a century Wednesday, bringing business and transportation to a standstill, union officials said.

The 24-hour strike, called by socialist and communist unions to demand higher pay, more jobs and better benefits, was the most serious challenge to Socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez since he took office six years ago.Work was brought to a halt at factories, banks, offices, shops, restaurants and schools, and downtown streets in the nation's major cities were deserted, trade union and radio reports said. Major league soccer games were canceled, civil marriages were postponed and museums and movie theaters were closed.