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Portugal: Build on the general strike action
The magnificent UK public sector workers' strike against cuts in pensions, jobs and services on 30 November was preceded by a general strike in Portugal on 24 November against austerity measures - an event barely reported in the British media. Below, in a shortened article, members of Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI, Portugal) report on one of the biggest workers' strikes in years.
It was one of the largest general strikes in the country's history, demonstrating the clear will of the working class to fight the government's draconian austerity measures.
The strike was important in several aspects. It was the first one organised against the implementation of cuts by the PDS/CDS government, which took power in May, with PS ('Socialist' Party) consent in 'opposition'.
The austerity measures go even further than planned in the deal with the 'troika', [European Central Bank, EU and International Monetary Fund]. Some measures have already been applied this year, eg the increase in the VAT on electricity and gas, and public transport fares. But the worst is yet to come.
The cutting of Christmas 'bonuses' is the most hated of these attacks among the population. But others will come, such as the imposition of 30 minutes of unpaid work every day (equivalent to 17 working days a year), which means 17 days of slave labour.
The general strike was also innovative, in two ways. Firstly, in that it was accompanied by numerous demonstrations up and down the country on the same day, which has not been a feature of past strike days.
In Lisbon, tens of thousands of CGTP (the main trade union federation) members and demonstrators from different organisations and sectors ('indignados', students, and others) took to the streets.
Secondly, the strike and demonstrations were called not only by the trade unions but also by the 15-October platform (which is composed of various organisations and individuals). This shows the support of the wider population for the workers' and unions' struggle.
In this struggle, the coming together of every sector of the working class is necessary if we want to really improve the situation and achieve a real transformation of society.
The strike was solidly supported. In the public-cleaning sector, only eleven out of 118 trucks circulated in Lisbon on strike day. 94% of firefighters were on strike. The government alleges that only 3.8% of workers participated in the strike!
On the other hand, it is also necessary to be critical of the events. The time between the beginning of the CGTP demonstration and the indignados' one was excessive. This created a gap between the two demonstrations, when joining up in one single bloc would have been desirable.
Also, the unions' demonstration was disbanded shortly after the arrival of the 'indignados' to the parliament. But despite this, many workers remained there in an impressive showing of solidarity and unity.
A sustained programme of action is necessary to take the struggle forward. Last year's strike showed how the bosses and government will do everything possible to ignore mobilisations and continue with their savage policies. The struggle to bring down this hated government and its policies will require a series of general strikes, including ones of 48-hours.
Such a plan should be democratically discussed and decided upon in assemblies and committees of action in workplaces, communities and universities and schools.
The downgrading of Portugal's credit rating to "junk" status and the announcement of the payment of €34.4 billion in interest attached to the €78 billion euro bailout deal with the troika, clarifies even further the depth of the capitalist economic crisis and the system's lack of a way out.
The same policies were applied in Greece, Ireland and Iceland without any positive economic results.
Arguing for a clear alternative to the payment of the debt and the dictatorship of the markets is essential. The mass left parties in particular - the Communist Party and Left Bloc - have an historic responsibility in this.
Such an alternative can only be realised in a struggle for a government of working people and the youth, based on a total repudiation of the debt, public ownership of the banks, the financial sector and the most important companies and industries, democratically planned and managed by workers, consumers and their organisations.
In The Socialist 7 December 2011:
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party editorial
Workplace news and analysis
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International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party reviews