Workers across Southern Europe are staging a coordinated general strike today that has shut car production plants, halted transport links and grounded flights across the region. The action is also hitting ports and customs offices.

The European Day of Action and Solidarity against government austerity measures is being coordinated by labour unions including Spain’s Comisiones Obrearas, Portugal’s CGTP union, CGIL in Italy and the Greek unions including GSEE. In addition, the European Trade Union Confederation has urged workers to walk out on Wednesday. In total some 23 countries are thought to be involved in the demonstrations, with possible action spreading to Belgium, Germany, France, the UK and some eastern EU states.

In Spain, where 5m workers are unionised but one in four is now unemployed, the majority of auto workers are reported to have joined the strike during the night shift and activity has halted at nearly all metal works, according to Comisiones Obreras. Carmakers are responding to the action with part or full closures.

GM confirmed that it had shut its Figueruelas plant near Zaragoza in the north of the country for 24 hours. Ford also shut its Valencia plant for 24 hours. "There are no plans to reroute anything to or from Valencia since it is a nationwide general and cross-industrial strike action, not a Ford-specific one," said the company in a statement.

PSA Peugeot-Citroën said that the action would not affect production at its plant in Madrid because the company had already planned days off into the work agenda prior to the strike being called. However, the situation was less clear in Vigo where PSA was uncertain of how many workers would be on strike.

A spokesperson for PSA said the plant would try to maintain production with “respect [to] the right to be on strike and the right to work”.

The company could not confirm how transport operations would be affected and its transport provider Gefco declined to comment on the strike.

Spanish carmaker Seat said that all activity has stopped at its Martorell plant near Barcelona and but that it would be strengthening deliveries in the coming days with extra services to make up the shortfall. A spokesman for the company pointed out that with both manufacturing and transport affected by the shortfall, it will be less problematic to remedy as manufacturing is not as radically out of step with deliveries as it would be in the case of an isolated transport strike.

Aggravating the burden
The European Automobile Manufacturer’s Association said it had no specific information on the situation but, from the transport side, the Association of European Vehicle Logistics (ECG), said that the action would only worsen the problems being felt in the region.

“The turmoil around Europe is the result of the high pressure put on European citizens and workers,” said ECG president Costantino Baldissara. “Unfortunately, these protests have a further detrimental impact on our society as they only aggravate the burden on the economic operators that are called on to face further obstacles in this tricky economic period.”

Baldissara said this was the case for European finished vehicles logistics operators, which were already living through a substantial profitability crunch, with rising costs and poor confidence in a viable future already threatening their ability to remain afloat.

“This turmoil comes as a further penalization at an already bad moment, where outbound logistics operators suffer very much the effects of these general strikes, have few options to ease the situation and totally absorb the negative effects,” he said. “All the contingency measures, including alternative routes and additional time, are simply translated into extra costs for the whole industry. This only aggravates the weak economic period our industry is living, by contributing to undermine its profitability and its solidity, with a further consequent negative effect on the stability of the European society.”

Individual transport and logistics providers have confirmed the impact on services. DB Schenker said the strike was affecting services in the countries taking action. “We are in the same situation as our customers, in the end, facing similar problems,” said a spokesman for the company but said that country specific divisions were in working in close contact with customers.

Port disruption
At the ports some services are being maintained while others are on standstill. Maritime services provider Inchcape Shipping Services has reported that all operations at the Greek ports will be stopped for three hours, while in Spain pilots at Algeciras are operating at 50% capacity and there is no transport provision here or at any other ports. Inchcape said sporadic trouble has been reported in different locations including Valencia and Vigo.

At the Portuguese ports strikes by the CGTP union are reported but not by the UGT. Stevedores are on strike at Lisbon and container terminals and depots are not operational. Stevedores are also on strike in Aviero, Setubal and Figueira da Foz and the container terminals and depots have also stopped.

The ports of Leixos and Sines remain operational but DB Schenker has warned that further strikes at ports in Portugal on 19 November will include the port of Leixoes, which has not previously been closed through strike action.