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Thousands protest Spain’s new labor reforms

Alberto Di Lolli/Associated Press

Demonstrators in Madrid protested rules that allow some Spanish companies to pull out of collective bargaining agreements.

MADRID — Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched throughout Spain yesterday in the first large-scale show of anger over new labor rules that make it easier for companies to fire workers and pull out of collective bargaining agreements.

The country’s main trade unions organized marches in 57 cities, including Madrid. They began midmorning in Cordoba in the south and ended with evening marches in Toledo and Valencia.

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Union organizers said more than a million people had marched, but official figures were not released.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government passed the package nine days ago in an effort to shake up a labor market seen as one of Europe most rigid and to encourage hiring in a country battling the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone, at nearly 23 percent. Rajoy was overheard saying that the package will “cost me a general strike.’’

“If we want Spain to grow and create employment, we had to do what we’ve done,’’ Rajoy said at his Popular Party’s annual congress in southwestern Seville yesterday.

The government’s sweeping changes allow Spanish companies facing dwindling revenues to pull out of collective bargaining agreements and have greater flexibility to adjust employees’ schedules, workplace tasks, and wages, as well as making it easier and less costly to fire workers.

“If the government doesn’t rectify this, we will continue with an ever-growing mobilization,’’ said General Workers Union spokesman Candido Mendez.

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