Madrid - Tens of thousands of Spanish workers staged strikes in 40 cities Saturday to protest state plans to up the retirement age to slash public deficit, the highest in the eurozone after Greece and Ireland.
The strikers gathered in central Madrid carrying red flags and holding placards such as "No to retirement at 67", police said giving the estimates, adding they were essentially from the main UGT and CCOO unions.
"It's a direct attack on the rights of workers, who have already suffered in the crisis for two years," said Juan Carlos Caceres, a railway union leader.
Raising the retirement age "makes no sense because there is a very high level of youth unemployment," said Maria Eugenia Marcos, an unemployed telecommunications worker.
However, the 56-year-old said the protests against the reforms were "weak" as many people realised that something needed to be done safeguard future pension pots.
The government aims to trim the public deficit from 11.1% of annual output last year to 6% in 2011 and 3%, the European Union limit, in 2013.
Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, the leader of the CCOO syndicate, threated a repeat of a September 29 general strike in January when Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero unveils reforms which will see the retirement age increase by two years.
Zapatero reiterated his commitment to the reforms on the sidelines of a European Union summit on Friday, and his cabinet is expected to approve the measures on January 28.
Zapatero's Socialists struck a deal on Wednesday with the conservative opposition on changes to the way pensions are calculated, although there is as yet no agreement on raising the retirement age.
The reforms are part of plans to soothe market fears that Spain could be dragged under by the tide of debt that has already drowned Greece and Ireland.
Adding to the concern over the nation's finances and the potential implications for the eurozone, public debt rose to a 10-year high in the third quarter while bad bank loans struck a 14-year-high.