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From: The Socialist issue 773, 10 July 2013: Miliband dances to Tory tune

Search site for keywords: Portugal - General strike - CWI - Austerity - Europe

Portugal's government on the ropes again

For mass action to end rotten coalition and install a workers' alternative

Danny Byrne

In recent weeks Portugal has been plunged into possibly the deepest and most desperate episode of political turmoil since the onset of the economic crisis and intervention of the Troika (International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Union) over two years ago.

For the last week, the country has been virtually without a government, with the ruling class only now seemingly able to patch together a 'solution'. But this 'solution', as with all the others before it, will be both temporary and incapable of establishing a stable and functioning government.

It is impossible for any government, tasked to do the bidding of the Troika and capitalist elite in waging an unending offensive on workers and the poor, to enjoy any significant period of stability, given the social misery and explosions which this course implies.

It is up to the working class and the youth, mobilised and organised around the fight for an alternative, to deal this government the final blow and prevent any new 'solution' based on austerity and impoverishment.

General strike

On 27 June a powerful general strike took place, paralysing the economy for the fifth time in less than three years. It was the fourth general strike called against the two year old coalition government, composed of the PSD (party of the traditional right wing) and CDS (smaller right-wing Christian Democrat party).

The strike came as the culmination of a renewed wave of militant struggle. The weeks and months leading up to it saw a strike movement, encompassing dockers, postal workers, teachers and health staff, etc.

One of the biggest mass mobilisations since the 1974 Portuguese revolution took place on 2 March, with tens of thousands again taking to the streets on 25 May.

It was the first of these general strikes to have been explicitly anti-government. From the point of view of the CGTP (the majority trade union federation), the strike was linked to the demand for the fall of the government and new elections.

These struggles and mobilisations are increasingly characterised by a crushing consensus that the target of the working class' counter-offensive must go beyond any single attack on a particular sector or industry.

Portuguese workers and youth in struggle have their sights firmly set on doing away with the austerity regime as a whole, personified in the government which is subordinate to the Troika. This reflects a growing realisation that the battle against austerity and social decay is a political one; a question of government.

Thus, the anti-government character of the general strike, especially the CGTP's stated goal of the bringing down of the government, is of some importance. A massive general strike, openly called to do away with a capitalist government is something unforeseen in the European context since the onset of the crisis, and represents the arrival in Europe of an element of the revolutionary fervour which has characterised the 'Arab Spring'.

However, much work remains to be done in order for the abstract stand of the CGTP in favour of the toppling of the government and Troika, to be reflected in a movement and concrete strategy capable of doing so.

Ministers' resignations

The role of such a general strike in provoking and accelerating the government's crisis is obvious. Less than 48 hours later, Victor Gaspar, the hated minister of finance, seen as having directly implemented the government's worst austerity packages, handed in his long-anticipated resignation, stating that he simply saw "no conditions" for the implementation of the measures demanded of the government.

Clearly, some of these absent "conditions" are economic ones - evidenced by the continuing strangulation of the economy under the impact of austerity - but this does not tell the full story.

The conditions which make the stable rule of the likes of Gaspar (finance) and Passos Coelho (prime minister) impossible are the fundamental conditions that characterise capitalist society: ultimately they cannot please the ruling class without attacking the working class majority, upon which they technically depend to get elected to parliament/government.

For this simple reason, governments which become almost universally hated and slowly approach electoral annihilation are increasingly wracked by divisions, desertions and splits.

This feature, common to Portugal, Spain, Greece, Ireland and all countries at the epicentre of the crisis and resistance, fundamentally reflects the fear of those rulers before the inevitable rebellion from below. What better to hammer home this fear and accelerate this process than a general strike, of over 80% of the workforce? Such was the context of Gaspar's resignation.

Then the floodgates opened. Paolo Portas, foreign minister and leader of the CDS presented his own resignation, following a lengthy, cynical attempt to present himself as opposing "from within" the scale of the government's attacks on pensioners and the unemployed.

This appeared to blow the coalition apart, and the two other CDS ministers in the cabinet announced their intention to resign along with Portas. International banks were emitting communiqués to investors predicting the fall of the government within 48 hours!

However, in the absence of a final blow from the workers' movement, the government has been allowed to re-stabilise itself, with Portas and the CDS re-entering government in exchange for more weight in the cabinet (Portas himself will be promoted to vice-prime minister).

Fight to the finish!

A determined trade union leadership could have mobilised to successfully bring down the government by little more than 'lifting a finger'.

However, in the absence of a fighting leadership - calling an immediate general strike, occupations and mass demonstrations - the situation has begun to develop along a similar pattern to that which is familiar to many activists in Portugal.

Repeated and earth-shattering displays of anger and power by workers and youth - the five general strikes and unprecedented mass mobilisations on 12 March and 12 September 2012, etc - have almost invariably caused the government to wobble. But without continuity and escalation, the final push never comes and things are gradually allowed to re-stabilise.

The following up of the 27 June general strike with a 48-hour strike, accompanied by mass mobilisations (as Socialismo Revolucionario - CWI in Portugal - suggested) would have represented the next step in a fight to the finish against this government, and in all likelihood would have led to its downfall.

The CGTP leadership proposed and mobilised only for a small rally (which would undoubtedly have been much bigger were it not for the heatwave) outside the Presidential Palace, when the government had already all but patched together a new agreement. The fight for an alternative, combative strategy must now be stepped up throughout the workers' and social movements.

However, it is also crucial to take the debate beyond the demand to bring down the government. The 'Socialist Party' which currently leads in the polls is the party which signed the Troika's 'memorandum' in the first place, and pledged to respect its commitments. A so-called 'palace solution' based on an intervention by the president to set up a government of "national unity" would not represent a favourable alternative either.

The key to the situation lies in the potential of the mass parties of the Left, the Left Bloc and Communist Party, who consistently enjoy over 20% in the polls. A united front of these parties, in unity with the unions and social movements, could pose the question of fighting to do away with capitalist governments altogether and raise the horizon of a workers' government capable of turning the situation around in the interests of the majority.

For this to happen, the left must embrace revolutionary socialist policies as the only way to break from the death spiral of economic depression and deepening misery, which the rule of the Troika represents.

The Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) is the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated.

The CWI is organised in 45 countries and works to unite the working class and oppressed peoples against global capitalism and to fight for a socialist world.

For more details including CWI publications write to: CWI, PO Box 3688, London E11 1YE. email
The CWI website contains news, reports and analysis from around the world.

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