Portuguese Workers Walk Out To Protest Austerity Measures

An estimated 3 million workers walked off the job Wednesday in Portugal's first general strike in 22 years, a protest against austerity measures imposed by a government under market pressure to cut spending.

Portugal says it will cut its budget deficit to 7.3 percent of its gross domestic product by the end of 2010 by trimming public salaries by 5 percent, raising value-added taxes from 21 to 23 percent, and reducing pension benefits and other government spending. But with unemployment at 10.9 percent, the country's two largest unions argue that the ruling Socialists' austerity measures will only make things worse.

""We have got 200,000 people in a population of around 10 million who are in soup kitchens,"" said Aquino Noronha, a flight steward who joined Wednesday's walkout. ""This cannot go on. What we feel, those of us who are on strike, is it's only the workers who have to pay for this.""

Similar austerity measures provoked new protests by students in Britain and have unions calling for massive weekend demonstrations in Ireland, where Prime Minister Brian Cowen announced another round of budget cuts Wednesday.

Though many stores and restaurants in Lisbon remained open, the strike shut down the country's airports, rail stations and buses and snarled traffic around the capital. At the Cais do Sodre transit station on the city's waterfront, subway and commuter trains, ferry boats and buses were few and far between -- and some commuters said their morning trips were extended by an hour or more."