15 September was an historic day in the Portuguese class struggle. Almost 1 million people took to the streets in over 40 cities to say, we have had enough! Out with the Troika and the government! The demo, although supported by the trade unions and left parties, was organised by a broad “platform”, and popularised through social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, on the basis of the slogan “Screw the Troika! We want our lives back!”. The same evening, tens of thousands surrounded parliament demanding the fall of the government. This sudden explosion of revolt, just when the Portuguese ruling class thought it had the situation under control, sets the stage for a rapid escalation of the class struggle in the next days and weeks.
Just over one year ago, the ruling PDS (traditional right-wing conservative party)/CDS (right-wing Christian Democrats) government came to power and with the support of the PS (“Socialist” Party) imposed on the workers, youth and pensioners the neo-liberal policies of the Troika. It has since been made clear that we and others on the left were telling the truth about their pretensions. Policies of austerity, privatisation, deregulation and the massive transfer of wealth from its producers to its grotesque accumulators were always going to carry Portugal down the same path as Greece and other countries which the IMF had previously “helped out” in the past. All of these policies, in the name of paying the debt and reducing the deficit have not resolved the problem of the deficit, and worsened that of the debt!
One year later, we are poorer, the economy remains on its knees and companies close on a daily basis due to declining purchasing power and lack of available credit. Investment is frozen, while billions of euros lie idle in the bank accounts of the rich and big companies. We have the highest unemployment rate ever – over 35% among the youth – and over half a million people emigrated in the last year. Health, education are being destroyed as public services. These are all the results of the policies of the Troika and its supporters in Portugal.
This reality is now becoming clear to the majority. And Saturday showed magnificently how when confronted with this situation, and the intransigence of the ruling class in continuing down this path, the people take to the streets and demand the fall of the government and expulsion of the Troika!
The ruling class is divided, and although it is beginning to realise that its policies are destroying the economy, it sees no alternative to making the working class pay for the crisis while millionaires continue to speculate while repeating the mantra that there is no alternative. The capitalists use basic blackmail arguments and appeal for “national salvation”, speaking of “national interests”, when in reality in Portugal and in the rest of Europe and the world, what are in question are not “national interests” of this type, but of a conflict of interests between producers and parasites: workers and capitalists.
When the people begin to realise this, the ruling class trembles and political crises open up. The Portuguese government has suffered a death wound, with the coalition split over support for the latest austerity measures attacking wages for workers – through a hike in social security contributions – parallel to new tax breaks for the rich and business owners. Following the clamour for the government to fall on Saturday, the country’s biggest union, the CGTP, has openly come out for its resignation. As it becomes clearer that the current government does not have long left, the question becomes posed of what will replace it?
The “solutions” of the ruling class
The ruling elite is afraid more than anything of the possible scenarios following new elections. Observing what took place in Greece at the beginning of the summer, when Syriza, a left anti-Troika party almost won elections, one can understand their fears. The current conjuncture could be described as one in which democracy has become too dangerous for those who govern against the people. The ruling class speak of a government of national salvation, of an enlarged coalition (to include the Socialist Party), of a “re-modelling” of the government, but not at all of new elections! Who knows whether or not the Troika will come and under the threat of cutting off funds, name our next Prime Minister, as they have done in Greece and Italy!
It is clear to us that none of these scenarios would serve the interests of the workers, young people and unemployed of Portugal. These paths would all mean a continuation and intensification of the misery we are currently experiencing: new faces, but the same policies.
For a government of the workers, young people and the unemployed!
This executive has lost all legitimacy to govern, if it ever had any in the first place. The people have clearly demanded its removal. We must push ahead, and fight to bring about new elections. And neither should we forget the other decisive demand of the multitude on Saturday: the kicking out of the Troika! It falls to us to struggle to bring this government down, win the calling of new elections and then in these elections support and anti-Troika, anti-austerity alternative which defends working class and poor interests. We call on the forces of the left to unite and build such a challenge. The forces of the Left Bloc, together withe the Communist Party and the power of the trade union and social movements united could provide the necessary strength to achieve such an alternative.
We must immediately begin to build the necessary bridges. In joint united assemblies of activists, a programme should be drawn up: one which attacks the root cause of the crisis – capitalism – and puts firmly on the table the need for an alternative of democratic socialism.
However, this must be achieved on the basis of a non-sectarian approach, and the building of bridges for an united struggle, of different left organisations, of all generations and sectors of the workers and oppressed. We should build solidarity between all struggles of the workers and poor against the destruction of our lives. A united front, of the left parties, trade union movement and social movements to fight for a government to implement alternative socialist policies is the need of the hour.
The next steps in the struggle
The momentum built up on Saturday must now not be lost. We cannot allow the struggle to be de-mobilised, or to hope that it will have been enough. The struggle of the workers and poor must follow a plan of action which steadily escalates until the government (or any alternative un-elected government) is brought down, and the Troika is kicked out. It must become a struggle for a working people’s government. Those who took to the streets on Saturday must be prepared to continue the struggle, in their workplace, school, university, community etc.
We must build now for a new general strike, supported by both union federations (including the UGT, which abstaied from the 22 March general strike) which would shut down the country. The organisers of Saturday’s demonstration have already come out in favour of a general strike. Such a stoppage would show who really controls the functioning of the economy, and intesnify the pressure on the government to fall and for new elections. We think that this strike should be democratically organised from below through assemblies in workplaces amd communities and be open to all workers, from all unions and no union, as well as the unemployed and students. In this way, all of society could participate in building for the strike, and make it Portugal’s biggest and most powerful yet.
The next mobilisations, starting with the protest at the Presidential palace on Friday for the government’s resignation, the CGTP protest on 29 September and the march of the unemployed between 5 and 13 October, should be also used to spread the idea of a general strike, to explain its importance and how it should be organised. This strike, initially of 24 hours, should not be the ending point, but rather the first step in calendar of continuous action, escalating until a victory has been won.
Saturday’s demostration took place at the same time as up to 1 million workers occupied the streets of Madrid in Spain against the brutal cuts of the Rajoy government. These events pose extremely sharply the obvious need to link these struggles up accross borders. If trade union leaders were serious about international action, a mighty Iberian strike would be easily achieved. Such a strike must be fought for by workers in the unions and outside, as well as wider co-ordinated strike and protest action throughout Europe against the international austerity offensive of capitalism, which the European trade union movement (which is meeting in Madrid next week) has the power to organise. This would show in action an international power on which to base an alternative socialist workers’ Europe, as an alternative to the capitalist EU and Euro.
Democratic Socialist Policies
What policies would a workers’ government implement to steer a country out of such a capitalist death-spiral? In the first place, an uncompromising position on the illegitimate debt racked up by Portuguese and international capitalism – a refusal to pay – must be adopted. This requires a change in approach from the leaders of the left parties, such as the Left Bloc, which confines itself to demanding a “re-negotiation” of the debt. Wealth taxes on the millionaires and billionaires (whose annual tax evasion is currently greater than the state’s entire education budget!) could then put billions at the service of society to invest in public works and job creation. The nationalisation of the banks and key sectors of the economy, under the democratic control and management of the working class, could then create instruments through which the economy could be democratically re-structured in order to put in place a plan to regenerate the country, its economy and the living standards of working people. Linking up with the workers of Europe and beyond, and international socialist plan along these lines could bring an end to misery of the European and world crisis of capitalism. Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Portugal) fights for these policies to be placed at the heart (and at the head) of the struggle to bring down the government and dictatorship of the markets.