France and Germany are among the European Union countries holding protests, and students in Rome, wearing helmets and carrying shields, clashed with police.
In Spain, some protests began at the stroke of midnight, with anger over sustained austerity measures boiling over in a country where 25 per cent of the workforce is unemployed — the highest in the EU.
An Interior Ministry official said 32 people have been arrested and 15 have been treated for minor injuries.
The General Workers Union said the nationwide stoppage, the second this year, was being heeded by nearly 100 per cent of workers Wednesday in the automobile, energy, shipbuilding and constructions industries.
Bernadette Segol, Secretary General of the European Trade Union Confederation, said people have had enough of the government cutting public spending.
"It's now getting unbearable," Segol said. "The policies which are putting pressure on wages, which are diminishing social protection and attacking industrial relations are just not working."
Ministry official Cristina Diaz said electricity consumption, a gauge of industrial activity, was down 11 per cent compared to a normal working day.
Striking workers also held up travellers as several trains and flights were cancelled across Spain and Portugal.
Anger is being directed at the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, which have demanded strict austerity measures in exchange for bailout packages in countries such as Greece and Portugal.
Richard Corbett, an advisor to the European Council, said government overspending must be addressed before there will be any real improvements.
"When you have, as some countries do, such high debt levels and still have big deficits, you have to address that question," said Corbett.