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From The Socialist newspaper, 19 March 2008

Portugal: Strikes and mass protests against government

MAJOR STRIKES and mass protests are taking place in Portugal against the anti-worker polices of the Partido Socialista (PS - 'Socialist Party') government of José Socrates. On taking office in 2005, Socrates said his priority was to "revive" the economy, which has been near the bottom of the European table for years and has one of the continent's largest budget deficits.
Socrates' policy is to get bigger profits for big business by attacking the hard won rights and conditions of working people. Big cuts have taken place in public spending, pensions have come under attack and a huge assault made on public sector workers' pay, conditions and jobs.
Francisco Raposo, from Alternativa Socialista (the CWI in Portugal) and a trade union activist in Lisbon council, spoke to Niall Mulholland.

"THE SITUATION is becoming explosive. This week will see protests by public sector workers and mass action. Every part of the public sector is affected by the cuts. The health minister was recently forced to step down after protests against cuts in the healthcare sector.

The economic situation is becoming more and more desperate for working people. Unemployment stands at 9% officially, but the real figure is around 12%. Inflation is rocketing; up 5% in recent months. The national economy has been stagnant for years but the government could point to some export growth. But now that is falling, as well.

Big movements are taking place in schools. Teachers are under attack from the government and every day there are new teachers' demonstrations across the country.

On 8 March, 100,000 teachers held perhaps their biggest ever demonstration. It meant about two out of every three teachers were on the demo. This involved all the teachers' unions and was probably the biggest protest by these workers since the Portuguese revolution of 1974-75.

The mood amongst public sector workers is so angry and militant that even Menezes, the leader of the main capitalist opposition party (PSD), called on party members to support the teachers' demos and the public sector week of action.

On Tuesday, 12 March, there will be a national demonstration and strike by council workers and on Friday, 14 March, a general strike of public servants and a national demonstration by workers from that sector.

But, in the next period, all workers and the trade union movement will be forced to fight back against the government proposal of 'reviewing' the Código do Trabalho (Labour Code). A new general strike is not ruled out.

Political impact

The opposition Communist Party (PCP) recently held a huge demonstration, in Lisbon, which attracted 50,000 people - the largest demonstration the party has held since the 1974 revolution that overthrew the former right wing dictatorship.

Ostensibly, the demo was against proposed government legislation that would have restricted the rights of political parties, which all opposition left parties oppose. The government retreated on the issue but the PCP protest went ahead, anyway. It really became a protest about health cuts and attacks on the private sector. It was a very militant rally and very political, as well.

The strong influence of the Communist Party in the unions in Portugal has led other 'left' parties to make strong ideological attacks. The Socialist Party, the Left Bloc and left Catholic organisations condemn the 'Stalinist' (PCP-linked) union leaders.

It is true that the Portuguese Communist Party has a history of being pro-Stalinist. But the PCP still has strong roots amongst sections of the working class, particularly amongst blue collar workers. The Socialist Party and Left Bloc offer no alternative to workers - they want to see 'social democratic' or, in reality, class collaborationist unions.

While the Left Bloc is opposed to neo-liberalism in words, its councillors in Lisbon City Council are keeping the Socialist Party in office. This means big cuts in council funding and attacks on 11,000 staff, with many council jobs threatened.

But the crisis in the country is so deep that it threatens a split from the Socialist Party and the possibility of the formation of a new party. There are Oskar Lafontaine-type figures in the Socialist Party that may follow the path of the former German Social Democratic Party minister and leave the Socialist Party to initiate a new opposition formation, along with others.

The economic, political and industrial situation is explosive. The situation feels like we are on the verge of another 1968 when students took to the streets of France, followed by 10 million workers going on a general strike and class radicalisation across Europe.

Of course, the situation is not exactly the same. But the mood in Portugal today is radicalising all the time. If the government does not give way on key workers' demands, there is a strong possibility the unions will have no choice but to call a general strike, by May, given the mood below.

With this in prospect, Alternativa Socialista along with other militant union activists and socialists, aim to hold public events on France '68 over the next months. We can learn a great deal from this event, along with the lessons of the Portuguese 1974 revolution, for the coming class struggles."

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In The Socialist 19 March 2008:

Global economic crisis

Darling's 'more of the same' budget

Anti-war demonstration

Interest in socialist ideas on anti-war demo

National Union of Teachers Conference

Strike back against pay robbery!

Magic strike at Merlin school

School tries to evict pupils

Socialist Party youth and students

Fight for decent youth facilities

Socialist Students

Socialist Party workplace news

Anger and strength in the DWP workplaces

End the blacklist!

Support for Shelter staff

Pay more to get less

One law for them, another law for us

In brief

Socialist Party news and analysis

It's not that councillors can't's that they won't!

Sack the mayor - not the wardens!

Remote MPs' privileged lifestyle

Salford campaign reprieves women's centre

Post Office closures

No more post office closures!

Following the Essex road

Socialist Party congress 2008

Socialist Party 2008 congress

Building a campaigning, fighting socialist party

International socialist news and analysis

Portugal: Strikes and mass protests against government


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