A sea of chanting protesters from across Spain gathered on Saturday in Madrid for a rally against government austerity measures aimed at avoiding the need for a financial bailout.
The crowd included policemen in blue T-shirts, firemen wearing their red helmets, teachers decked out in matching green, health care workers in white and parents pushing strollers.
Many beat drums and blew whistles as they made their way through the streets of the Spanish capital to the Plaza Colon square for the rally.
Over 1,000 buses ferried people to Madrid for the protest, which was organised by Spain's two leading trade unions, CCOO and UGT, along with roughly 150 smaller organisations.
"We want to say loud and clear to the government that we do not agree, that its policies cause too much damage, that we will not resign ourselves because there are alternatives," CCOO head Ignacio Toxo told the rally.
In July, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government eliminated public workers' annual Christmas bonuses, equivalent to a seven-percent reduction in annual pay, as part of austerity measures worth 102 billion euros ($126.5 billion) to be put in place by 2014 to reduce Spain's public deficit.
The measures also include a rise in the sales tax and cuts to jobless benefits in a nation with nearly 25 percent unemployment. They follow a reduction in public workers' salaries by an average of five percent in 2010.
"I see the future as very black. My salary is getting smaller and smaller and my hours longer," said 55-year-old public sector worker Rian de los Rios as she made her way to the rally.
Like thousands of other Spanish youths, her two daughters -- aged 26 and 28 -- have left Spain to work abroad because they could not find jobs at home despite having studied at university, she added.
"We are not even able to keep our families together," said De Los Rios.
"General strike now" and "We are not paying for this crisis" were among the slogans chanted by the demonstrators.
"They have cut salaries, raised taxes, we have gone backwards 20 or 30 years," said 44-year-old fireman Roberto Saldana, who travelled all night by bus with a group of co-workers from the southern city of Huleva for the rally.
The last major march against government austerity measures was on July 19, when hundreds of thousands of people marched through Madrid. Protests were held in over 80 Spanish cities that day.
"A protest like this, with people from across the country, has a greater impact than several protests in provincial capitals," said 52-year-old hotel receptionist Rafael Navas, who came to Madrid from the southern city of Cordoba by bus with a group of co-workers.
The government hopes the austerity measures will prevent Spain from needing a multi-billion-euro bailout like the ones received by Greece, Ireland and Portugal, which come with detailed conditions and regular inspections.
Madrid has already accepted a eurozone rescue loan of up to 100 billion euros to save its banks, still reeling from a 2008 property market crash.
But organisers of the rally argue the austerity measures are hitting mainly the middle and lower classes and sparing large companies and the wealthy. They want the austerity measures to be put to a referendum.
UGT head Candido Mendez said Saturday's rally was the start of a "long" fight against the austerity measures.
"We have to fight them democratically as we are doing today," he told the crowd gathered at Plaza Colon.
The government is committed to lowering Spain's deficit to 6.3 percent of output this year from 8.9 percent in 2011.