Spain and Portugal are at a virtual standstill as trade unions stage co-ordinated general strikes against austerity measures.

Supporting action is also planned in Greece, Italy, France, Germany, Poland and Belgium.

It is Spain’s second general strike this year. In a country where the financial crisis has put a quarter of the workforce on the dole, prime minister Mariano Rajoy is trying to put off asking for European Union aid in case it comes with conditions attached for even stricter budget cuts.

150-billion euros of savings are already planned.

In Madrid, protester Alvaro Alonso said: “The Spanish government is imposing unfair austerity measures that are affecting people who are not guilty of causing the economic crisis. Big companies and banks have made a lot of money during the crisis, and they’ve benefitted a lot while the rest of us have been working hard and living modestly.”

Fellow protester Carmen Perez added: “They (the government) have to step back and implement policies centred on ordinary people, not just rich people. They have to do something about the banks, we cannot keep pouring public money into the banks.”

In Spain there seems to be no end to the flow of gloomy news. The prestigious newspaper El Pais has just laid off nearly a quarter of its workforce, and last week the country’s flagship airline Iberia said it is to cut 4,500 jobs.