Spanish autoworkers protest against layoff threat

Thousands of workers from SEAT car factories marched through Barcelona Thursday as part of a one-day strike to protest plans by the German-owned company to cut 1,346 jobs - or 8 percent of the work force.

Union officials said some 15,000 people took part in the rally, many carrying banners protesting the proposed job cuts. The SEAT group, which is owned by Volkswagen AG, employs some 16,000 workers in the company's factories and other facilities in the Barcelona area.

Police said several thousand people participated in the demonstration but declined to give a precise figure.

SEAT's press office said the main Barcelona factory had been shut down by the strike.

Talks over the dispute are to resume next Tuesday. A preliminary session was held Wednesday to name negotiators.

SEAT says a third of its capacity at the main Barcelona factory is idle because of an excess of workers. It says it needs to make cuts to compete better with VW and Skoda models, which are built in Eastern Europe on wages that are a fraction of what Spanish autoworkers earn.

The company reported €145 million in profit last year, an increase of nearly 8 percent from the previous year, but said it will slide into an operating loss in 2005 unless it trims its work force.

SEAT has presented the Catalonia regional government with documents justifying the layoffs. It announced them after unions rejected an earlier proposal to cut workers' shifts by 10 percent and their wages by the same proportion, the AP reports.


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