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Large general strikes have hit countries spanning the entire European Union on Wednesday, as workers across the continent coordinated protests against government austerity measures. The largest demonstrations were seen in Spain, where riot police beat back auto and steel workers marching with picket signs—and the occasional gas bomb. Major cuts in public health and welfare benefits have crippled a nation that faces a staggering 25 percent unemployment. Train and air transportation have been virtually shut down on the Iberian peninsula and some of the protesters in Madrid have even turned their anger on shopkeepers who refused to shut down for the day in solidarity. 

Similar protests were being organized in Greece, Italy, and Portugal, with smaller scale marches planned in as many as 23 countries, although the biggest demonstrations were reserved for the southern European countries hardest hit by the debt crisis.  Dozens of arrests have already been made and protests in Portugal are expected to ramp up in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, the bad economic news continues to pour in. Greece's GDP has fallen more than seven percent in the last year, and production is down all over the euro zone. Added all together there are nearly 26 million unemployed people across the whole of the European Union. That's a rate of about 10.6 percent. In the 17 countries that use the euro currency, the rate is 11.6. Don't forget it's their combination of deep government cuts and with heavy tax increase that the U.S. is facing if no answer is devised to avoid the dreaded fiscal cliff.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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