- Created on Thursday, 29 March 2012 21:37
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Spanish unions are holding a general strike to protest against labour reforms which the new government hopes will help cut unemployment.
Road, rail and air transport were all affected with domestic and European flights cut to a fraction.
Unions claimed strong support at car factories and other industrial sites but Mariano Rajoy's conservative government played down the action.
It plans to unveil measures on Friday to save tens of billions of euros.
The strike is the government's first big challenge since taking office.
Scuffles broke out between protesters and police as workers from Spain's largest unions picketed at the capital's bus depot early on Thursday.
A total of 58 people were detained and nine were injured, the interior ministry said.
'Rights wiped away'
By agreement between the government and the unions, bus and rail services were kept to a minimum service while only one in 10 domestic, and one in five European, flights were able to operate.
Outside Atocha - one of Madrid's main rail stations - pickets waved red union flags and blew shrill whistles as police looked on.
One protester in Madrid, 31-year-old Angel Andrino, said he had been sacked a day after the labour reforms were approved in a decree last month.
Accompanied on a march by his parents and brother, he told the Associated Press news agency: "We are going through a really hard time, suffering.
"The rights that our parents and grandparents fought for are being wiped away without the public being consulted."
The UGT union said that participation in the strike was "massive" and that virtually all workers at Renault, Seat, Volkswagen and Ford car factories around Spain had honoured it during the shift.
Regional TV stations in Andalusia in the south, Catalonia in the north-east and Madrid were also off the air because of the strike.
With the EU's highest rate of unemployment, Spain is under pressure to reduce its budget deficit and bring its public finances under control.
"The question here is not whether the strike is honoured by many or few, but rather whether we get out of the crisis," the country's Finance Minister Cristobal Montoro said.
"That is what is at stake, and the government is not going to yield."
The country's two biggest unions called the strike to demonstrate against new legislation which makes it easier and cheaper for companies to fire employees.
Protest marches are planned throughout the country during the evening.
The new legislation, approved in February, also reduces maximum severance pay to 33 days' salary for each year worked, compared with the current 45 days.
The government insists the reforms will create a more flexible system for businesses and workers, in a country with a stagnant economy that needs to start creating jobs.
Mr Rajoy, who took office in December, defended his measures on the grounds that they would eventually generate more jobs.
"No government has passed as many reforms in its first 100 days in office as this one," he said on Tuesday, speaking on a visit to South Korea.
"The biggest mistake would be to do nothing," the Spanish prime minister added.